The Crazy Japan Times

May You Live In Interesting Times


Foot in Mouth | Foreign Relations | Tax Fraud | What Goes Around | Quotes of the Year | Other News | PS | Page One


Makiko Tanaka, the often too-outspoken Foreign Minister has had a wild few months. In the early morning after the 9-11 attacks she read a statement that claimed the US Defense Department or US Government or Someone Important had relocated to an undisclosed location in Arlington. It has since been claimed that this was classified information and should not have been announced in public. Although your humble editor is suspicious of this claim (he doubts the US gov would pass out such information, even to allies) he asks that people in the USA, Canada, etc., who may have heard of this please let him know if this was reported outside Japan or if there's been any fallout state-side. Either way, Tanaka was forced to apologize for the gaff even though, if it was classified, she was clearly set-up by her staff. (One would expects it would have had "Warning: Classifed" written on it in big red letters, unless someone copied it and gave it to her.) Later, Tanaka dug herself into an even bigger hole when she was late to a meeting with the Pakistani ambassador. Her excuse: her ring was missing. She later, in an angry outburst, suggested that maybe her aid had stolen it. She had to apologize for this too.

The final insult came when Tanaka was refused permission to attend the first meeting of G8 foreign ministers in the wake--that metaphor again--of September 11th. It seems Tanaka was needed to observe debate over the fiscal 2001 budget. In her place, Japan sent a lower level official which seemed to prompt a last-minute change from a formal G8 ministers gathering to a much less important gathering of hacks and wonks. ( CJT has no proof of this but suspects that Japan, recognizing how embarrassing it would be to be the only nation present at a foreign ministers' meeting without an actual foreign minister, lobbied to change the meeting. Or, someone more level headed than the Japanese government sought to save Japan such embarrassment.) Also, Japan sent former Prime Minister and former Finance Minister Keiichi Miyazawa to speak at the UN. (If you've lost track: Japan's senior diplomat was home observing budget passage and the former Finance Minister was sent abroad to handle diplomacy.)

Tanaka's future seemed very bleak and the Old Guard of the LDP has been hammering away at her in order to get Koizumi to reshuffle his cabinet. Koizumi, you will remember, is one of the first PM's in Japanese history to choose qualified people for important positions (Tanaka being an exception) and leave them there rather than reshuffling the cabinet every few months to give every LDP member a chance to be Minister for a Day. Koizumi, to his credit, seems to recognize that since there's no way the OG LDP really care about foreign policy or Japan's international image, they must actually be attempting to derail his plans to reform everything from the post office to the government office that manages highways. He also had poll results in hand that said if Tanaka were fired, his cabinet's popularity would drop almost 20 points. As a result, he announced that he had no intention whatsoever of reshuffling his cabinet either now or anytime in the near future. To say Tanaka seized the day after this comment is an understatement.

First, Tanaka marched into the personnel office of the Foreign Ministry and demanded that they draw up transer papers for several people she's been trying to get rid of. When the office refused, she locked herself in until they brought the papers. Although this seemed like the last act of a crazy woman, and she left without the papers, what it accomplished was to make public one of Tanaka's biggest problems: Although she is the head of the ministry, she cannot move people without the permission of her vice-minister and other subordinates. If the vice-minister doesn't sign a transer, the transfer cannot happen. In other words, she can't reform the ministry because the ministry won't let her. It protects itself not the interests of the Japanese people. The ministry, without realizing what Tanaka was doing, sent its spokesman out to criticize her and tell her she should follow the established "procedures and traditions" of the ministry. When OG LDP moved to chastise Tanaka, they found her job approval ratings were shooting up after a serious dip and they backed off. (One TV station described Tanaka's strategy as "Make an Enemy.")

Second, Tanaka arranged for a three day trip to Pakistan--she could go only because it was a three day holiday and therefore the Diet was not in session. Once in Pakistan, Tanaka was dazzling. She visited refugee camps and cried when the refugee children sang for her. Her meeting with Musharraf went so well, Musharraf actually extended it an extra half hour. Tanaka returned with an even higher job approval rating and there have been no leaks about erratic behavior or tardiness. The biggest complaint has been that she did not go to Pakistan sooner; however, it was quickly pointed out that a previous cancellation was not her fault, but the fault of her subordinates. The press has said almost nothing, which for Tanaka is a huge improvement.

Finally, last week, Tanaka revealed that 324 people in her ministry were going to receive reprimands and two people would be fired for padding expense accounts, kick-backs and other forms of corruption that extended into almost two-thirds of all departments and offices in the ministry and totalled well over a million dollars. (Procedures and traditions indeed. . .) She apologized for what she'd found and promised to be more dilligent in her search for corruption. To her credit she didn't gloat--publicly--and even NHK News, the government's offical mouthpiece, gave her high marks for the first time since she's been minister.


Shizuka Kamei, a sour faced former minister and a member of the LDP Old Guard entered the foreign relations arena when he suggested that China needed to reflect on its role in the 1937-45 Sino-Japanese War. Japan may have done some bad things that require contemplation and reflection, but "Japan could not have carried out the war by itself." (If there were no Chinese, the Rape of Nanking could not have happened, you see.) Kamei then went on to compare the Sino-Japanese War with the Opium War of the 1840's. He pointed out that he doesn't see China lobbying Britain for an apology and doesn't understand why they expect one from Japan. (Hey, you don't hear Opium War survivors complaining; why should we listen to Sino-Japanese survivors. . .)


The most recent breaking news in Japan, in addition to Princess Aiko, is the arrest of Sachiyo Nomura, wife of the now former Manager of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team. Long Term Sufferers will remember Sachiyo as Sachi, one half of a strange TV feud with a woman named Michi, and as the woman who claimed 1) that she'd been to Columbia University and 2) that Columbia was easy to get into. Well, it also seems Sachi was also an incompetent tax evader and she is under arrest for failing to report over 2 million dollars in taxes. She not only claimed her clothes, underwear etc as "uniforms" she also declared that her son Kenny--who lives in Los Angeles--was an executive in her company and paid him a handsome salary complete with bonuses. The problem is--and this is what's incompetent--she neglected to inform Kenny of this generous benefits package.

When the Japanese Tax Authorities went after her, she called Kenny and explained what was going on. Kenny, of course, wisely chose not to play along as he recognized that 1) if he said the money was his, the Japanese Government would come after him for failure to declare income and 2) if he said the money was his, the US Internal Revenue Service would come after him for failure to declare income. Sachi's solution was for him to pretend he didn't know Japanese. No word how this would help him with the IRS. We know about this conversation because Kenny was astute enough to tape record the entire conversation and turn it over to the proper authorities. Sachi is now facing two years in prison and five years probation and the ultimate loss of her company.

The arrest has also effected her husband, the aforementioned manager of the Hanshin Tigers. He has managed his team for three years and they've been at the bottom of their division for all three years. Last year, he was looking forward to having Tsuyoshi Shinjo batting in the line up, and then his owners dealt Shinjo to the New York Mets. Despite his deplorable managing record, Hanshin inexplicably signed him to a new contract, with the caveat that if Sachi were arrested (the investigation started a few months ago) he would be fired/asked to resign, which he did in rather abrupt fashion two nights ago. In his place, Hanshin has hired the manager of the second to last during last season Chunichi Dragons: Hoshino. (Hoshino, some of you may remember, likes to beat up umpires.) The Japanese baseball establishment is as speechless about this hiring as they were with Nomura's renewal.


Governor Tanaka of Nagano--the political outsider who killed several dam projects--was back in the news, briefly, when he finally gave his enemies a foot in the door. It seems that Tanaka has, on two occasions, flagrantly violated the law. In the first instance, while attending a special outdoor Kabuki performance, he bought boxed lunches for himself and five other people. Total: 10,000 yen (80 dollars-ish). In the second instance, a man came to visit Tanaka at his glass-walled office. It seems the man's son was in desparate need of a heart transplant, which of course, given Japan's weird law about using organs, could only be done in the USA and the man hoped Tanaka could help him. Tanaka did, by giving the man 50,000 yen (400 dollars-ish) out of his own pocket. Now, while these, especially the latter, may seem unassailable, what makes them a crime is that they apparently happened during a national election and could constitute paying for votes. Even though Tanaka was not running and he is not a member of any political party. He also may have been required to report the payments, or get a receipt, but the press has given this so little coverage its hard to be sure.


The coming of December means that the special committee that chooses Japan's quotes of the year announces their selection and the out and out winner this year was Prime Minister Koizumi who contributed no less than 8 quotes including "Show the Flag"--his explanation for why Japan needed to send the SDF to aid the USA; "100 Bales of Rice"--a traditional amount people should save no matter how bad the harvest--and "Reforms without Sanctuaries". He also contributed "Wide Show Cabinet" to describe how well his cabinet looked on TV (although it also has overtones of "leading by poll") and "E-Politics" which the CJT doesn't remember him saying. Other winners included "yadda ne tara, yadda ne" a line from a popular Enka tune that translates to "When I said no, I meant no." Also from a song is "Ashitagarusa" or "Tomorrow is another day" sung by a group of comedians led by the ever popular duo, Downtown. Your humble editor's personal favorite, of the ones that won awards, was made by a fisherman who, after a storm, drifted out of control for almost 800 miles before beiing rescued. He said he thought would die "But humans don't die easily." When he received his award he joked that it would be sad if he died soon after receiving the award.

All in all, the public and your humble editor were disappointed with the choices. "When I said no, I meant no" and "Tomorrow is another day" are good, as is "But humans don't die easily." The rest are ho-hum and fail to meet the committees stated standard of relavance and ubiquity. Much better are Koizumi's comment to Takanohana Kantoshita!"You moved me!"; "Final Answer?" from Japan's version of Who Want's to Be a Millionare and said when the nervous contestant has finally chosen an answer; "Taliban" which has been everywhere for obvious reasons; "I need a toilet break" uttered by Foreign Minister Tanaka during a particularly inane round of questioning in the Diet; and "Stabaru" which is a short form of Starbuck's (Sutabakusu) made into a verb (eg Stabarimasenka? Do you want to go to Starbucks? Stabarimasho. Let's go to Starbucks.) Japan, it should be noted, has finally, mercifully, entered a coffee boom, with Starbuck's leading the way. Overpriced coffee shops that charge four dollars for half a cup of watered down coffee are converting or dying and unapologetic coffee addicts like your humble editor are crying "free at last, free at last". (Well, if not free, cheaper anyway.)


The end of the Japanese baseball season brought a rush of retirings and firings among the managerial ranks. First to go was Nagashima, Mr. Giants, the very popular, manager of the Tokyo Giants. This has meant we have had to suffer through countless retrospectives and no one has bothered to point out how bad of a manager he actually is. (The CJT has never seen a manager call pitches from the dugout before, but Nagashima did it all the time.) Also gone: the manager of Siebu; the manager of Chunichi (who, as mentioned, is now with Hanshin) and the manager of Orix, who tought Ichiro everything he knows then pretty much wasted it.

Also in baseball: "Tuffy" Rhodes of the Osaka Buffaloes tied Sadaharu Oh's record of 54 home runs despite the best efforts of the Daiei Hawks (managed by Oh). As happened with Randy Bass during the 80's when he got to 53, Rhodes was repeatedly walked. Soon after he tied the record, he faced Oh's Hawks and they didn't even try to hide what they were doing. Of the 18 pitches Rhodes received during the game, only three were actually in the strike zone. He went so far as to hit at pitches clearly out of the strike zone in order to have a chance to touch the ball. No word on if Oh called Rhodes to congratulate him when he tied the record.

World Cup Fever is rising as Japan finds itself in a group it may actually have a chance to get out of. It's still easier to get tickets in Europe than Tokyo. Japan and Korea are getting along, sort of, but there's still 173 days to go.

That's all for now. But with the Olympics coming up, watch out for the CJT's traditional (did it once) Olympic report and review.

Stay Crazy,

DL

ps--All joking aside. Japan has had excellent, balanced coverage of the War in Afghanistan and the interview where they asked the Taliban ambassador his age and his favorite sport was actually inspired. It's not only the first time the ambassador smiled, it was the first honest attempt we'd seen to make him seem human. They also have a couple excellent commentators who seem to have a good knowledge of weapons and tactics. They also have an idiot or two. My personal favorite lame analysis came late in September after Japan broadcast a Condeleezza (sp?) Rice interview. She outlined, quite astutely, how the current war was not at all like the reaction to Pearl Harbor (civilian target, no clear enemy, no shore to storm, etc.) When it came back to the studio, the anchor asked the analyst why Rice would make such a comment--since even the Japanese were, reluctantly, comparing September 11th to Pearl Harbor. The commentator put on his best smug Japanese commentator look--those who've lived here will know what I mean--and said. "I think she was trying to show respect for one of her country's allies. She knows how important Japan is as an ally and she wanted us not to be offended." In fact, the opposite has been true. Japan has been almost irrelavant and Japan practically had to beg to be included. (The USA went to NATO, rather than, Japan, for a handout.) As for offending Japan, I doubt that Japan was on Rice's mind at all. Although this notion might surprise a commentator or two.


Return to Page One



Haven't suffered enough yet? Subscribe to the Crazy Japan Times. Full of praise or damnation? Tell all in the Guest Book.

Foot in Mouth | Foreign Relations | Tax Fraud | What Goes Around | Quotes of the Year | Other News | PS | Page One

CJT Home Your Humble Editor | Links CJGuide Home


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