The Crazy Japan Times

May You Live In Interesting Times

The News | Princess Aiko | But You Don't Go | Mad Cow Disease | Page Two

An Open Letter to Our Long Term Sufferers:
In the wake--strange metaphor for an airline attack--of the events of September 11th, much ink, airtime and handwringing has been spent in the discussion of whether or not humor is an appropriate response to a disaster of such magnitude. Whoopie Goldberg has said she doesn't feel like being funny anymore, although, quite frankly, the CJT is hard pressed to think of a time when Ms. Goldberg actually was funny; and Saturday Night Live, once at the forefront of US political humor--not surprising given that a good portion of its funniest people have been Canadian--has been wishy washy, at best. (Hey, it's worked for almost 15 years, why mess with the formula now?)

The CJT believes that humor is, in fact, not only appropriate but necessary given US "aid" drops of chicken vinagrette in packages almost identical to unexploded cluster bombs; the US quickly paying its dues to the UN and then lecturing the General Assembly about its (the GA's) international responsibilities; the image of Muppet Bert appearing on a pro-Osama Bin Laden poster; and the Japanese press playing "guess my age" with the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. (He's 34, by the way, and his favorite sport is soccer.)

It should also be mentioned that, however strongly we at the CJT feel about the need for humor, we also recognize that, in our case, it is a moot point as nothing in the CJT is now, nor ever has been, humorous in anyway whatsoever.--DL

The events of the past three months have taken their toll on all of us and have forced many people to rethink their lives and reconsider what in their lives is important. The CJT, however, as a direct result of living in Japan, is immune from any self-examination whatsoever and your humble editor promises to keep his focus and deliver hard-hitting, occasionally accurate reports on the news that effects us all--here in Japan. Let's begin with the most important issue to arise in the world since September 11th:

The Crown Prince and Princess gave birth to the latest taxpayer expense--er royal princess--on December 1st prompting an outcry of hope for the ailing economy. Most citizens agree, had the baby been a boy, there might have been hope for the economy. (There's a connection there somewhere. . .) In truth, Japan has been looking for something to take its mind off War, Stagflation, Corruption and Mad-Cow Disease (more on this later) and Princess Aiko (which translates as Love Child, by the way) has been just what the doctor ordered. So to speak. People have an excuse to celebrate and the stocks of companies making baby products have been booming. Also, the royal girl has prompted a certain-to-be-short-lived debate about why women can't inherit the throne and how to go about changing that. (No talk, yet, about about abolishing the whole expensive, anachronistic shebang, though.) The boys-only talk has been public enough to encourage Prime Minister Koizumi to recommend a delay-it-as-long-as-possible commission to explore the issue of female succession and prompted Miyazaki, the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to say that there's no reason to rush a change to the rules of succession as "there's plenty of time for them to have a boy." (Misses the point but is actually very honest if you think about it. . .)

Along with this has been a rash of news stories profiling the Crown Prince and his wife Princess Masako. We get the usual sweetness: She was so nice. He worked so hard. She has a great spirit. Etc. Just once, once, the CJT would like to hear someone say something like: She's a great person, but she really was a crappy softball player. or We'd have won if it weren't for him.

Long Term Sufferers of the CJT will remember a series of stories about Japan wanting to change it's constitution to allow it to participate in "Collective Self-Defense" (ie. Help the USA fight a war with China.) For the past two years Japan has been "reaffirming" it's pacifist constitution while at the same time working to change the pacifist interpretation of it. For the record, as your humble editor understands it: Japan's constitution does not specifally prohibit participation in a foreign war, instead it has vague comments about war as a tool of policy and "aggresive war". (ie. Please don't invade Korea or China and, while we're on the subject, don't attack Pearl Harbor either.) However, in order to rationalize 1) not spending much money on a military and 2) not sending troops off to trouble spots, Japan's ruling LDP has raised the concept of a pacifist constitution to almost mythic proportions and imposed heavy restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces.

As a result of this, the LDP has taken the aforementioned slow tack toward undoing what they've done. One suspects that Koizumi's August 13th visit to Yasakuni shrine was one part of that tack. (Hey, they may have been war criminals, but they were defending Japanese economic and political interests.) Also, recruitment ads for the SDF, on television and in print, have been much more prevalent and SDF maneuvers and drills have been more widely publicised than anytime in the last five years.

Then, September 11th happened.

After that, with open calls for Japan's participation in a "War" against "Terrorism" (i.e. yet another group of former US allies in the Middle East), Japan suddenly found itself with an actual hot war rather than a hypothetical one and they responded as you might expect them to: by bravely delaying any decisions. Suddenly, LDP hawks were lamenting that the "Pacifist" constitution prohibited anything beyond issuing band-aids and candy bars and that only during times of peace, but that hey, it is the constitution and we wouldn't want to be too hasty about changing it. The Japanese Diet first moved to change the interpretation and then argued about what the SDF should/could be allowed to do (there's was actually a debate about whether or not the SDF could carry rifles beyond Japan's border in order to defend itself.) Changing the interpretation took a month and a half. What the SDF can do has only recently been decided--sort of.

It's clear that the Diet has been stalling in the hopes that the war will go away. The government did send relief supplies for Afghan refugees--while accepting only 11 Afghan refugees into Japan--but sent them via short range C-130's which had to stop and refuel along the way thereby slowing down the process. They also engaged in a surreal debate about how to verify that the cargo planes were carrying only blankets and not weapons and what constitutes the "rear" and "rear action". In the end, only the Communist Party voted to uphold the pacifist interpretation, while the Social Democratic Party is on the verge of a split as their leadership supported the change but about one-third of their diet members did not. (It's the first time the CJT remembers hearing a Diet member utter the words: "I had to vote my conscience.")

In the end, Japan decided it would send repair and refueling ships but not advanced Aegis cruisers which, because of their missle system, could be considered an "offensive" weapon even if used in the "rear". Also, it's clear that if US ships are attacked, Japan can only repair them, not defend them. The government honestly seems to believe that the enemy will only attack US ships and not Japanese. Or, perhaps, sending the Aegis cruiser to defend the Japanese ships might send the message that Japanese troops sent off to war might, in fact, be in harm's way and that's not a very popular message in Japan.

When a Japanese representative spoke to Richard Armitage about all this, Armitage responded with a certain southern graciousness but seemed hard pressed to think of anything nice to say. He kept saying things like "I think it's great that Japan has done this. . .It's great. . .Welcome to the big leagues. . .big leagues. . .yes indeedy." (Translation: But you don't go.)

In yet another example of how politicians and bureaucrats, while serving the interests of a powerful lobby rather than the interests of the public, can hurt not only the public but the lobby they are trying to protect, we have the Japanese govern- ment's "reaction" to Japan's first reported case of Mad Cow Disease.

Not quite two months ago, the Japanese Agricultural Ministry reported that Japan now had its first verifiable case of BSE. Although Japan had imposed a ban on animal-based feed during the height of the outbreak in England, and even imposed an import ban on such feed, it knuckled under to pressure from the agricultural lobby (the LDP's most powerful supporters, for the record) and did little to enforce the ban on domestically produced animal feed. To make matters worse, although Japan purchased a highly sophisticated testing machine and process to screen for BSE, it refused to send its testers to a two day training seminar on how to use the equipment.

As a result, an infected cow got a false negative, and its meat was sold to the public. Only subsequent tests from a different lab proved the cow was infected. Almost over night, the Japanese beef industry--which produces some of the best beef outside of the USA and Canada--found itself on the verge of collapse. Like all threatened industries bearing directly on the public health, the ag lobby quickly moved to suppress BSE fears by convincing the Ag Minister and several diet members to eat beef on TV and declare Japanese beef safe. It didn't work and three chains of Yakiniku (Korean Barbecue) restaurants closed and others switched to chicken, pork, etc. Beef--Australian and Kansas beef included--has almost completely disappeared from store shelves.

Then, right as things might have been ready to recover, there was an announcement that not one, but two new cases had been discovered in Hokkaido. Investigators are puzzled over these cases as the farmers in question claim they did not use the illegal feed--much guffawing--and have "traced the source" to a calf-milk producer in Gunma Prefecture. Now, it's entirely possible that the Gunma factory is the source, however, a cynic might say this all seems like a case of "find a scapegoat" rather than "reform the industry". The CJT, of course, is never cynical.

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Copyright 2002, 2003, Dwayne Lively. All Rights Reserved.
Created October 2002