The Crazy Japan Times

There Is None Righteous, No, Not One

Breaking Up | Muneo Madness | The Bloodletting | Foot in Mouth Disease | Non-Nuclear Principles | Page Two

A lot has happened in Ye Olde Nippon since the last CJT: An Olympics, a World Cup Soccer event your humble editor understands was quite popular in the 95 percent of the world unfortunate enough to live outside the United States, and a series of scandals that bring to a close, or nearly to a close, a series of stories that long term sufferers of this publication will remember or will have blocked out of their memories and which this missive will drag, kicking and screaming, back into the memory centers of their brains.

Let us begin, therefore, with the most important news event of the past several months: the divorce of singer Namie Amuro and her husband TRF SAM (capitals his, name his).

That’s right, after a brief five years of marriage, the dynamic duo of a has-been singer and her once-was-but-briefly dancer husband ended this week when the duo announced that their busy schedules allowed them nothing resembling a family or home life and that it was best if they just went their separate ways in every way except professionally. Those who were in Japan from 1995-97 will remember Namie Amuro as the diminutive, buck-toothed 19 year old superstar who single handedly changed Japanese fashion and created an entire generation of over-tanned, over made-up, orange and copper-haired “KoGals”. That look, by the way, has only recently begun to fade away, literally, and been replaced by a pale, white make-up look called “Bihaku” or “White Beauty.”

Long term sufferers and readers of the last CJT will remember a long, verbose, painfully detailed description of the feud between Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and MP Muneo Suzuki in what one pundit dubbed The Makiko and Muneo Show. You would, therefore, not be surprised to know that this show is only now coming to a close. Suzuki has been arrested and is on his way to jail (translation: a fine and a suspended sentence) and Makiko Tanaka is very close to being bounced out of the Diet. To explain how this happened we must first examine:

In a grievous dereliction of duty, your humble editor took a vacation in March and April and was therefore out of the country when most of the first few resignations happened. However, these first few weeks did mark the end of the road for Koichi Kato, the man who led the ill-timed, aborted coup against then PM Mori last year. Kato had become an un-person in the Liberal Democratic Party and last April he was bounced out of the LDP and then resigned from the Diet when it was dis- covered he had “misappropriated” his secretary’s salary. In fact, he and Kiyomi Tsujimoto, an outspoken and entertaining woman from the Social Democratic Party, were receiving salary money to pay secretaries they didn’t actually have. Both lawmakers were suspended from their parties and quickly resigned their seats. At the same time, another highly placed member of the LDP was caught with a mistress and forced to resign from the Diet as well.

With this much blood floating around in the water and the Japanese public growing more and more angry, the Japanese “Communist” Party suddenly announced that it had internal Foreign Ministry documents that proved Muneo Suzuki had used his influence to win construction contracts for companies in his constituency. The contract in question was for the construction of a community center on one of the Russian held islands off Hokkaido and was part of a “Can’t we all just get along” strategy led by Suzuki and others. ( Japan and Russia, you will remember, have never officially ended WWII, the ownership of these four islands being the main sticking point.) According to the document, Suzuki had limited the choice of contractor to two companies from his district in Hokkaido . Moreover, he apparently received 45,680,000 yen (397,000ish dollars) in political donations as a “gratuity” for helping out his constituents from the firm that won the contracts.

Suzuki denied any part in the project until it was pointed out that the locals had nicknamed the community center “Muneo House” and he was on film at the ribbon cutting ceremony having a great time and hugging teary eyed Russian babushkas. His story also changed when he was put under oath in front of the Diet. He then quickly pointed out that, because he had limited the selection to TWO companies rather than ONE, he had not actually committed a crime. The money he received was simply, as my fellow Republicans often describe Enron’s donations to President Bush: an unsolicited expression of support for Muneo Suzuki with no strings attached. (Insert snickering here.) Pressure mounted for Suzuki to step down from the LDP, which he did about the same time as Kato and Tsujimoto. (It was at this point your humble editor was out of the country researching shopping malls and seafood restaurants in Palm Beach, Florida.) Suzuki, however, refused to give up his Diet seat.

This latter act created, or should have created, a substantial constitutional crisis as Suzuki was elected under proportional representation rather than a direct election. By resigning from the LDP, he should have been forced to give up his seat to another LDP member. Instead, the vote of his constituents was essentially usurped and their vote for the LDP was suddenly turned over to an independent. Fukuda et al said they’d look into it and decide if anything needed to be done (translation: Don't hold your breath.)

There then ensued a bizarre string of scandals all centered on Suzuki. His long-time Zairian/Congolese assistant had to step down when it was discovered he had used his own influence to gather bribes and win foreign aid for his country and he had an illegal passport and visa. Apparently when Zaire became the Congo again, he never bothered to get a new diplomatic passport and Congo never bothered issuing one. No fewer than three members of Suzuki's staff were arrested, including the man who laundered the aforementioned “donations” and cited them as coming from more than one source. Also arrested was one employee of the Foreign Ministry, a man named Sato, who had, almost literally, carried Suzuki’s briefcase at the FM. At one point it got so bad that it seemed as if Suzuki were standing in the middle of a group and the police were shooting people on each side of him.

Then, last month, after months of LDP sandbagging, it was revealed that Suzuki had taken a direct 5,000,000 yen (43,000ish dollars) bribe from a lumber company to help them weasel around a logging ban. Yamarin, the company in question, had been nailed with a seven month logging ban for logging in protected forest areas. They then bribed Suzuki who intervened with the proper ministry and the ban was lifted. Yamarin’s execs all made convincing witnesses and Suzuki’s only defense was that the execs were in error: he’d taken only 4,000,000 yen (35,000ish dollars) and that therefore Yamarin’s word couldn’t be trusted. (That’s all more or less a direct quote.) A few days later, the “Men In White Gloves” showed up carrying boxes and cleaned out Suzuki’s offices. A week later, Suzuki was arrested and we haven’t heard much from him since. He has not yet been forced to give up his Diet seat, it should be noted.

Lest you think that Makiko Tanaka emerged from all this unscathed:

After the last CJT, Tanaka got involved in a short transition spat with the new Foreign Minister which culminated in PM Koizumi claiming that his position as Acting Foreign Minister (a position he gave himself and which he held for just over a week) qualified him to complete the transition briefing with the new FM in lieu of Tanaka. After this, Tanaka got a short reprieve, and a certain amount of vindication, from the press as the revelations about Suzuki came to light.

However, a few months ago, bye elections were held to replace seats opened up by retirements and scandals and illnesses. Tanaka, who long term sufferers will remember was reprimanded the last time she helped out during an election, not only refused to campaign for the LDP candidate in Niigata, she openly expressed support for an opposition candidate who happened to be from her home area of Nagaoka. As a result, the LDP lost that seat and another seat, one of which—-your humble editor being once again on the ball cannot remember which—-they had held for over 50 years.

The LDP were not pleased, to say the least, and they started talking about yet another reprimand. Then, a couple months ago, the tabloid magazine Friday, known for having once had its editor attacked by a very drunk and very pissed of “Beat” Takeshi Kitano, and for it’s up skirt/down shirt photos of celebrity women and girls, published an article which claimed that Makiko Tanaka had misused her secretary’s salary in a way similar to Kato and Tsujimoto. Although the magazine offered only an unnamed source as evidence and, unlike Kato and Tsujimoto, Tanaka actually had a secretary, both Fukuda and PM Koizumi announced, after the magazine had been on the shelves only a few hours, a formal investigation would be launched. A cynic—and as always, your humble editor is never cynical—might think one of them was the unnamed source (more on unnamed sources later.)

The investigation was almost laughable and at times seemed rather Beckettian with both sides having different conversations at the same time about differing realities. Tanaka would turn in documents and the investigating committee would say she hadn’t. Tanaka would refer them to the television coverage of her turning them in. The committee would say she hadn’t turned the proper documents in. Tanaka would turn in more documents and the committee would say she hadn’t. The culmination came when the head of the committee announced that they wanted Tanaka to testify under oath and “After we hear what she has to say, the committee will decide on her punishment.” (That’s a direct quote.) That was followed quickly by an apology letter from Tanaka to the committee being leaked to, and published in, yet another tabloid. Tanaka, while admitting she hadn’t turned the money over to her secretary in a timely manner, refused to hand in any more documents that might be made public and, although the committee chair softened his previous quote, she was nonetheless suspended from the LDP for two years. This means she will get no campaign support from the LDP if Koizumi dissolves parliament before the end of the suspension. Tanaka is now, rather symbolically, relegated to a seat on the side of the diet very close to the door.

Prime Minister Koizumi’s popularity got very little help when he made yet another trip to Yasakuni Shrine to “honor the war dead” (i.e. pander to his ultra-conservative backers.) This was an especially heinous act given that it came a few weeks before the Korea/Japan World Cup and a only a few days after he’d assured the leader of Korea that Japan was coming to terms with its history. To make matters worse, a tabloid cited an unnamed LDP source as saying that Japan’s three Non-Nuclear Principles (that Japan will neither 1) make nuclear weapons 2) store nuclear weapons nor 3) allow nuclear weapons within its borders) were not actually a part of the constitution and could easily be set aside to allow Japan to begin building a nuclear arsenal.

The shit-storm that then ensued was so severe and so damaging to Koizumi that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda was forced to come forward, announce he was the unnamed source and defend his statement. He said that he had not intended to imply that Japan was considering abolishing the three non-nuclear principles which were a key foundation of Japan’s pacifist constitution but that he was merely suggesting that the principles were not actually written in the constitution and were therefore not a part of the constitution although they were the foundation of it. Besides, his words were taken out of context. (Something like that anyway.)

For the record, Japan, as has been mentioned before, is not happy with its position as the richest country nobody listens to. Also, the idea that they should have some sort of deterrent has seemed especially pressing given the possible North Korean incursion mentioned in a previous CJT and the recent naval battle between North and South Korean forces. The notion of acquiring a nuclear arsenal has been bandied about before, but never under a PM who pays (open) homage to Tojo.

To make matters worse, it was discovered that the Self-Defense Forces and the Defense Agency had been keeping lists on people who had requested information about the SDF under Japan’s recently enacted Freedom of Information Act. This in itself was not so disturbing. The fact that the lists 1) consisted of information not entered on the application forms, including addresses, jobs, political party affiliations, and attitudes about nuclear weapons and 2) were passed around to all branches of the SDF and DA, WAS found to be rather disturbing, or more specifically “not appropriate.” The people who assembled the lists, officially of their own volition, have been punished as have many of their immediate supervisors.

Koizumi hasn’t helped put hearts and minds at ease. At a recent PM’s questions, during which the leader of each opposition party is granted a whopping four minutes to ask questions and digest the answers, Koizumi was asked if he would write the three principles into law. Koizumi scoffed and said that the principles were such a part of Japan ’s sense of self that a law was redundant: “The three non-nuclear principles are assumed. Therefore, a law is not necessary.”

The PM’s popularity has continued to drop, by the way, for a variety of reasons, especially his unwillingness to take a stand on LDP and cabinet level scandals and his habit of caving into the Powers What Are in his own party and subsequently watering down reforms. Although he recently passed a bill privatizing the Post Office, it was mostly window dressing: Private companies will be allowed to deliver letters, but only if they have 100,000 post boxes in place first. A similar law requiring a company to produce millions of gallons of beer to get a brewer’s license kept small brewers out of the beer industry until a few years ago. The Post Office itself will not be required to remove any of the boxes it currently has in place. Also, the real power of the Post Office: its banking and lending business, which make it the largest bank in Japan, if not the world, have not been touched. The Economist had an excellent article about this if you’re interested in more details.

It’s clear that Koizumi remains in office because 1) despite his drop he is more popular than his party and 2) there’s no suitable replacement. However, when asked about Koizumi’s dropping popularity, Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa offered some of the greatest spin/denial your humble editor has ever heard. He said that, although it was true that the bubble of Koizumi’s popularity had finally burst, this was actually a good thing as he was, in effect, no longer over priced. He had shed his “fair weather supporters” and was now down to a solid base who understood what he was trying to do. (Insert snickering here.)

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Breaking Up | Muneo Madness | The Bloodletting | Foot in Mouth Disease | Non-Nuclear Principles | Page Two

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Created October 2002