The Crazy Japan Times

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Page One | Enemies Like These | Certain Unalienable Rights | Sorry State of Sumo | Quotes of the Year

The Democratic Party of Japan has, since it was formed in 1996, been the largest and most successful opposition party in Japan. It has managed to hold itself together despite the competing egos of its two main leaders Yukio Hatoyama (whom long term sufferers will remember from past issues) and Naoto Kan, the more rugged looking, more charismatic of the two. Both were leaders of the two parties that merged to form the DP. Unfortunately, the DP has self-destructed in a very public, very humiliating way.

It began with a party leadership election. For the past year, Hatoyama has served as the party's official leader. Although he's criticized Koizumi at every turn, he has shown little ability to dent the LDP stronghold on Japanese politics. Therefore, the leadership election was considered a watershed event for the party's future as the youngish members were demanding a change in focus and style. The election started with several men running: Hatoyama, an Old Guard member named Tanaka, Kan, and three youngish members. The OG member dropped out early and the three youngish members conferred and chose one person to run rather than risk splitting the youngish vote. The three remaining candidates then ran an aggressive election that resulted in Hatoyama being re-elected by a scant few votes, thanks in part to his platform of reform and no more business as usual.

Then, as soon as he was elected, Hatoyama tapped OG Tanaka to be the party's second in command and Chief Policy Secretary. The party members almost literally crapped en masse as appointing OG Tanaka to head the reform of the party makes about as much sense as appointing Henry Kissinger to lead a fact finding commission. (But who'd be stupid enough to do that?) Less than 10 hours after Hatoyama was elected, there were already calls for his resignation as party leader and the youngish members threatened to run for the hills and form another party. Hatoyama quickly removed Tanaka as CPS and appointed another member, but this angered the OG members who also threatened to split.

Things calmed down a bit as the North Korean abductees returned and Hatoyama got some breathing room. However, early last month, Hatoyama proposed a merger with the Liberal Party. This was the last straw for many OG members, especially a man named Kumagai, who had been a supporter of OG Tanaka, and one of the most vocal and effective attackers of PM Koizumi.

Kumagai met with leaders of the New Conservative Party, the tiniest member of the three party governing coalition and proposed a merger. He'd bring several OG members of the DP with him if the New Conservative Party agreed to make him the head of the new party. The New Conservatives agreed and a new party formed which then set about finding a new name. Because there was already a party called The New Conservative Party they decided to call themselves The Conservative New Party. (This IS Spinal Tap, folks.) There was, however, the problem of Kumagai being one of Koizumi's biggest critics and now the head of a governing coalition party. However, Kumagai sat down with Koizumi and explained that he'd meant all the insults in their Pickwickian sense and that because they both only wanted what was best for Japan they should be able to work together. Koizumi said, sure, fine, whatever and everything was peachy. The New Conservative Party had eight seats, but three members left when the merger happened. Kumagai brought seven seats giving the Conservative New Party and the ruling coalition a net gain of four seats.

Naoto Kan is now the head of the Democratic Party and he's appointed one of the party's youngest members as his Chief Policy Secretary.

Japan got a rare double when Japanese were awarded the 2002 Nobel Prizes for both Physics and Chemistry. The Physics prize went to Professor Koshiba of Tokyo University. He's a jolly man in his 70's with a habit of nodding off during press conferences and special receptions. He's also the man who first proved that neutrino's have mass by creating a huge tank of deuterium deep underground surrounded by handmade glass receptors. The receptors record infinitesimal flashes of light given off when the neutrinos collide with hydrogen atoms. This proved that neutrinos have mass which changed our understanding of atomic particles which is important to people who understand physics.

The real star, however, quickly became Koichi Tanaka of Shimatsu Corporation. Tanaka is an unassuming, neurotic man who first discovered a way to analyze very fragile protein molecules by treating them with a metallic solution. This has helped in the study of diseases, including BSE, and the improvement of medicines. Tanaka won the hearts of the Japanese public by being painfully ordinary. In his first press conference he was still wearing his work coveralls and hadn't bothered to shave or comb his hair. His wife called during the press conference--she'd heard about his award while riding home on the train--and he shyly took the call on his cell-phone and told her what was going on. Your humble editor was impressed that his wife didn't make him say "I Love You" in front of the entire nation before she hung up.

Tanaka, it was soon revealed, had pretty much done everything against the usual Japanese plan. He'd turned down a promotion to supervisor more than once because he says he's not a good teacher. He also prefers doing his own thing and has apparently never done well as part of the group. His discovery came when he made a mistake mixing a solution in the lab. Rather than cover up his mistake and therefore waste the mix but avoid potential damage to his career, he went ahead and ran the solution through the machine. When he looked in the machine's viewer, he saw a protein molecule.

The Japanese public loved him, especially when it was pointed out he wore the same tie to several interviews. He also was worried because he heard he would have to dance at the award ceremony. The press caught on and we learned everything there was to know about Tanaka. He was quickly dubbed the Nobel Salaryman and the press pointed out all his ordinary flub-ups and foibles. In front of the Foreign Press Club he was asked what he would like to say to the women who chased him around and wanted to meet him. He said, in English "I hope I were single." (He meant "Leave me alone.") When he got to Stockholm for the Nobel ceremony, we saw him get zapped by static electricity when he went to shake someone's hand. Actually, we saw it dozens of times. We saw him push the wrong door while going into a building.

We saw Tanaka so much that the Nobel Award Ceremony Coordinator had to ask the Japanese press to stop moving their cameras while he gave a presentation at Stockholm U. (Apparently this is the first time they've had to do this in the over 100 year history of the Nobel Prize.) During press conferences the press all but ignored Koshiba. When one reporter asked what Tanaka planned to do with the money, the coordinator stopped the reporter and told him to ask a more appropriate question. Basically, rather than the usual 20 or so science writers Japan usually sends to the Nobel ceremony when a Japanese wins, over 100 Japanese newspapers, tabloids, magazines and TV stations sent reporters and crews. They surrounded his hotel and became a big enough nuisance to bother other guests. To make matters worse, Shimatsu was passing out Tanaka's daily schedule, allowing the press to arrive places ahead of him. After the criticism went public, Shimatsu apologized and stopped passing out the schedule.

Koshiba, for his part, was very gracious and more than happy to let Tanaka suffer the attention. In many ways, Koshiba's discovery was more revolutionary for his field, and he's significant because he's one of the rare Japanese Nobel Laureates whose worked his entire career at a Japanese university. Past winners, including the man who invented an electrical conductive plastic, were all working at US or other foreign universities when they made their most important discoveries.

Tanaka, for all his shyness and apparent goofiness, does have some grit. Several groups protested his Nobel, saying it should go to, or be shared by, the man who developed the machine Tanaka was using. Tanaka said flatly that there was no Nobel for development and no one else had proved they'd viewed a protein molecule before him.

Koshiba is looking forward to a much more pleasant retirement. Tanaka is now enjoying a 100,000 dollar bonus from his company, a lab of his own, and a special professorship at Kyoto University. Other Shimatsu employees, while excited for him, are curious to know where that 100,000 dollars came from, given that their bonuses were cut last year.

A bizarre and very Japanese spat occurred in western Tokyo over the construction of a condominium complex next to a tree-lined street in western Tokyo. The judge's ruling in this case has created, not only a new human right, but a new headache for developers.

The street in question is several decades old and leads from an old train station to an old university and there has always been a gentleman's agreement among developers to limit the size of buildings along the street to just above the height of the tops of the trees (about 65 feet). However, in 1999 a developer began building a 14 floor condominium complex next to the trees. Local residents began protesting and in 2000 an ordinance was passed officially limiting buildings along the street to 70 feet so as not to destroy the street's pleasant scenery. The developer continued construction arguing that the ordinance didn't apply to buildings already under construction. That logic beat back several injunctions to stop construction.

However, this year, a judge issued one of the greatest rulings in the history of jurisprudence. He ruled that the building was not illegal because, as was proven before, construction began before the 2000 ordinance was passed. Therefore, the 2000 ordinance did not apply. However, the height of the building did violate the right of the local residents to enjoy a view of the trees uninterrupted by tall buildings. Therefore, because the building violated the local residents' human rights, the top seven floors would have to be cut off. This applies only to the building up against the trees. The equally tall building just 50 feet back from the trees is not included in this ruling. The developer also has to pay three families next to the complex 10,000 yen a month until the top seven floors are cut off. By colossal coincidence, a former judge published a book this year about how Japanese judges are deliberately isolated from society and taught to avoid common sense in their rulings.

The sport of Sumo continues a slow and steady decline thanks, in no small part, to politics behind the scenes. Yokozuna Takanohana missed eight basho in a row, citing injuries, and it was only after the 7th that the Yokozuna council broached the notion of retirement. (By comparison, when Hawaiian born Akebono missed two basho, the council, led by Watanabe Owner of the Yomiuri Group, began screaming for him to retire. He sat out two more then came back to win two basho in a row and then retire.) Takanohana came back in the 9th basho and secured a terribly easy looking 12 wins. He even did a henka, or jumped aside at the start, a very un-Yokozuna like move. For the uninitiated, Yokozuna are expected to power through their opponents not resort to tricks. If an opponent jumps to the side against a Yokozuna it is considered an insult. For a Yokozuna to do a henka is unheard of. The wins looked so easy that even your humble editor's better half is convinced that a fix was in. In her words, Takanohana's stable master (his father, by the way) "bought a katchikoshi,"or a winning record, to placate the Yokozuna Council.

Takanohana then sat out the last basho in November and the only woman on the Yokozuna Council suggested it might be time for him to retire. Watanabe Owner quickly jumped in and pointed out that they were, none of them, doctors and therefore it was not their place to judge. (Actually, that's exactly what the Yokozuna Council is supposed to do to protect the honor of the Yokuzuna title.)

Fortunately, there are some exciting new comers, including the Mongolian born ozeki champion Asashoryu, who's one of the best wrestlers to rise up through ranks in a long time. He mixes Mongolian flair with good old fashioned power sumo. The Yokozuna Council is now keeping their eye on him. If he does well, he could be a Yokozuna by the middle of the year. Musashimaru is still going, but has pulled out of the January basho with a recurring wrist injury. Your humble editor expects he'll retire by the end of this year. Takanohana, is going to fight in this basho, but don't count on him going the distance. Your humble editor expects his retirement, too.

The annual list of popular catch phrases was published last month. The phrases of the year were, as always, fairly ho-hum, with prizes going to "World Cup" and "Tamachan" (the seal long term sufferers will remember from the last issue) and a special prize for "Godzilla" presented to Hideki Matsui. Also nominated were "Beckham-sama" or "Beckham Our God" in honor of Posh himself, "Muneo House" and "Double Shot Nobels." As always, your humble editor's favorites were left off the list: "Takenaka shock" being his favorite catch phrase. Therefore, to rectify that:

For best quote of the year, the nominees are:

"I hope I were single."
--Nobel Laureate Koichi Tanaka

"Tears are a woman's greatest weapon."
--Prime Minister Koizumi. (For the story behind this quote, click here.)

"No bank is too big to fail."
--Financial Poobah Takenaka

"Je m'appelle. . .Cameroon."
--The mayor of Nakatsue Village celebrating the early morning, five day late arrival of the Cameroon soccer team to their training facilities in his town. When the Cameroonians agreed to train there, the village went all out to be gracious hosts. All city workers, including the mayor, studied French and citizens made floppy hats with Cameroon's colors. When the team failed to arrive on time, the city went into crisis mode (the public was actually barred from city hall during a crisis meeting) and you could hear the sounds of harakiri knives being sharpened. When the team finally arrived, the mayor was so excited, he said that delightfully twisted French sentence about three times and looked ready to kiss every Cameroon player. The Cameroon team proved to be gracious guests and extended their stay by the number of days they had been late. Nakatsue village, by the way, is the only town to turn a profit off the World Cup, as their hats have been popular since the day Cameroon failed to arrive and the town is now a popular tourist destination.

"It is impossible for a person in the hospital to give an interview to the media."
--Toru Hasuike expressing crystal clear logic after Charles Jenkins gave an interview (albeit a rather dodgy one) to the media from his hospital bed to help pressure the Japanese government into letting Hitomi Soga return to North Korea. (It was during this interview that he said, in response to a question: "I'll be arrested if I go to Japan. I'm a deserter from the American Army.")

However, the award for Quote of the Year for 2002 goes to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda for his wonderful assessment of the murder of Diet member Ishii, who was killed by a man neighbors saw skulking around his house for over 90 minutes, and whose driver bothered to neither 1) help Ishii when he was attacked, 2) take Ishii to the hospital nor 3) chase down the killer (who eventually turned himself in to the police):

"It is abnormal that a Diet member was killed by violence."

That's all I know. More as I know it.



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Created January 2003