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The Only Sane Man In The Room

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Today's CJT is brought to you by the letter "K" and by the numbers 5 and 7. Today is also brought to you by the always professional men and women of the United States Marine Corps and the United States Navy. Nothing stands in their way.

On His Way Out--Sort of, Maybe, In a Way
Japanophiles will have noticed recent murmurings of the impending resignation of Prime Minister Mori. How we got to this point, and why, is a twisted, complicated story which, somehow, always comes back to the letter "K". Why Mori has not yet resigned will be explained later. We must first flash back several weeks to a time when Mori was facing only three "K"s:

Under Mori's leadership, the economy has remained, at best, stagnant. Another department store chain (Daiei) has recently announced it will be cutting back on stores and workers. Even more telling, they've re-elevated the person who saved their behinds back in the 80's. The same man also warned against the uncontrolled expansion that is causing problems for most department stores. (Why he hasn't been in charge the entire time has something to do with intra-corporate politics and kissing the right posteriors.) Mori seems to have few ideas for energizing the economy other than "build more public works projects" and "blame the Foreigners." (The stock market problems, you see, are not his fault. Foreign Investment Funds, which have been propping up the stock market, recently pulled out and this has caused the problems. Dirty Foreigners.) Of course, no one has questioned him as to why it took FIF's to prop up the stock market in the first place and why it can't survive without them. (More on the stock market later.)
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KSD is a kind of business support/promotion group--along the lines of a national chamber of commerce or the American Enterprise Institute--that has funded a number of interesting projects, including bringing in workers from Indonesia, Malaysia, etc to work at Japanese firms. (A few members of this project lived and worked in your humble editor's former home of Nou.) Well, it seems that KSD was also supporting a number of members of the Liberal Democratic Party. To wit: one MP received over $70,000 for merely asking a question during Japan's Prime Minister's Questions, about a university the KSD was trying to build, and for adding a reference to it to the text of one of the late PM Obuchi's speeches. Another MP, named Koyama, received almost 700 thousand dollars for helping change the length of time that the foreign workers could stay (therefore making them easier to hire) and for watching out for KSD's interests. (500 thousand of that funded his last campaign, during which KSD helped forge lists of supporters on his behalf.) Both MP's have since resigned, although the former defends himself by saying that he never actually took the money himself, his assistant took it. (i.e. I'm not a crook, I only hire crooks). He said this in a remarkable little Q&A session in the upper house in which 1) the general public (i.e. the media) was excluded and 2) he was not required to testify under oath. (Meaning he could blame Elvis if he wanted to.) Koyama, by the way, was arrested the day after he resigned.
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As if one money scandal were not enough, about the time KSD was claiming careers, it was revealed that a vice-minister-for- something-or-other had been using a secret Foreign Ministry fund to finance his horse racing hobby. The fund's actual purpose is, well, no one really know's what the fund's actual purpose is--it's secret--but it appears it was supposed to have been used to fund Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry trips and to care for VIPs visiting Japan. Also, the position itself was new, having been created, by Mori, during the recent cabinet reshuffle. All we do know is that Mr. Matsuo, the man in charge of the fund, absconded with over 9 million dollars. He used the money to buy at least four, possibly, more race horses which he then named after his favorite hostesses from his favorite night spots. He got the money, partly, by overcharging expenses. In one case he claimed a hotel cost five times as much as it actually did. Needless to say, he also was forced to resign. By collosal coincidence, in Japan, horse racing is referred to as Keiba. (Another K, but not directly related to Mori so it doesn't count.)
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In the middle of all this, Mori got a bit of relief: In response to an on-going crimewave involving Marines and other military types down in Okinawa--the most recent involving arson--the Okinawa legislature voted almost unanimously to ask for the removal of all military bases from Okinawa. Those on the "throw them out" side included many people who had traditionally supported the bases. This prompted the Marine Commandant in Okinawa to fire off an email to his subordinates in which he told them to be confident and not worry about the "nuts and wimps" in the Okinawan legislature. The reason we know about this email is, well, no one really knows. Most likely he sent it to his entire mailing list rather than a select few and one of the Japanese office workers made it public. The Commandant apologized "unreservedly" and Mori seemed to have, if not an issue, a distraction he could work with until:
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Recently the Japanese stock market plunged below 13,000, it's lowest level in over 15 years. To make matters worse, the Japanese NASDAQ, the frontline of Mori's IT Revolution, also collapsed. Mori, as mentioned, blames foreign funds, but if you match up a stock market chart with a calendar you can trace the decline from the early weeks of his administration starting about the time he made his Kami no Kuni (Divine Nation) comment. Every subsequent and stupid comment since then has caused it to drop even more.


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A month ago, Mori was handed a gift from political heaven: A US Submarine, while joy-riding with a group of civilians, sank a Japanese fishing boat, killing four high school boys and their instructors. Now let's take a closer look at the elements of this that work in Mori's favor: A US military vessel (1) strikes and kills high school kids (2). The submarine was showing off for civilians (3) who were on board because they had donated money to repair the USS Missouri, on which the Showa Emperor surrendered his divinity and the war (4). Looking just at these four elements, can you imagine a greater gift being handed to a Japanese Prime Minister in his hour of need?

The Japanese, to a person, were hopping mad and all they needed was a leader to focus their anger. Officials tracked Mori down on a golf course and told him all this (well, 1 and 2 actually) and he responded like any skilled politician facing trouble would--especially in the wake (no pun intended) of the Russian submarine disaster last year, and the criticism Vladimir Putin received for his slow reaction: he stayed and finished the back nine. For two hours. To make matters worse, none of the members of Mori's newly created "Crisis Response Team" were in town either. (Although, as one member said: "The fact that we were not present should not imply that we were not in control of the situation.") Mori explained his two hour absence by saying that he didn't want to show up to his own Prime Minister's Residence (where his CRT was supposed to meet) without a tie. Mori was, of course, asked to apologize, which he did, in his own charming way, saying he apologized, "if playing golf was something he needed to apologize for". All of it began to die down, and Mori had a couple days to enjoy the benefits of the Ehime Maru disaster until:
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An astute reporter wondered how Mori, a civil servant, could afford to play golf, crisis or no, in one of Japan's most exclusive country clubs. The reporter soon discovered that Mori had been given a free membership by a fat cat business man who apparently just had an extra one lying around. This would not be a problem except that, at best, the 50,000 dollar per year membership constitutes taxable income and Mori had never claimed it. An odd storm ensued where reporters tried to figure out if the membership was actually in Mori's name or not. Mori was asked if he had any other memberships and he said no. Practically the next day, it was discovered that Mori did, in fact, have a second free membership at another exclusive club--this one about 40,000 dollars per year--which he also had not claimed on his taxes.
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As the Greenville incident has unfolded, Mori finds his popularity at around 7% while his disapproval rating is around 80%. (Some magazine reports have had his popularity as low as 5.4%) Needless to say members of his own coalition have been screaming for his resignation. At one point, the New Komei Party were openly criticizing Mori and seemed to be separating themselves from the scandal ridden LDP. Another LDP member seemed to imply that if the opposition would pass the 2001 budget, Mori would be out almost as soon as it was signed. Mori has sent mixed messages and speculation is rampant about who will replace him. The front runners are 1) a guy named Koizumi who was beaten out by Obuchi a couple years ago (People around back then will remember him as the youngish looking man with shaggy gray hair), 2) Nonaka, the man who gave us Mori, 3) Ogi Chikake, the woman who is currently the most popular politician in Japan, 3) former Prime Minister Hashimoto and 4) Koichi Kato, who failed in attempt to bring down Mori last year and who has been gloating all month. Early money is on Koizumi and Nonaka.

Last Monday, Mori easily survived a second No-Confidence motion and this weekend, he was expected to resign. Instead, the upper house election has been moved up and Mori says he will step down when a new leader steps forward. I suspect this means Mori will be replaced as the head of the LDP at a party convention scheduled to start today. There has been lots of talk about letting him exit with "honor" but for the life of me I can't figure out why. He himself, waking up to his situation, has said that he doesn't want to go down in history as the Prime Minister forced to resign for playing golf. Apparently being known as the Prime Minister forced to resign because he was an idiot doesn't phase him at all.
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The Japanese have been on an emotional rollercoaster following the sinking of the Ehime Maru. Every action and article has been scrutinized and a great deal has been learned about the Navy, passive versus active sonar and Emergency Surfacing. The fact that high school boys were killed has made this even more emotional than it would have been if an ordinary fishing boat had been sunk. (This is a country where the annual high school baseball championship draws bigger ratings than the professional baseball series.) To make matters worse, the government has been more concerned about its own life than the lives of 4 students and 5 sailors. This means there was no one to provide a reassuring voice or stand up, credibly and forcefully, to the USA. The news programs last month opened with 5-10 minutes about the Ehime Maru, and then spent the next 5-10 minutes trashing Mori. Sometimes they spent more time trashing Mori than the US Navy. There have been some stunningly emotional speeches by the High School principal (his description of seeing a whale at the accident site and calling out his students' names even brought tears to this cynic's eyes) and from various family members.

Also, a severe culture gap has, until recently, been wide open as many Japanese cannot fully understand why Commander Waddell (sp?) took so long to apologize to the families. I've explained that whereas an apology can keep you out of jail here in Japan--if he apologizes properly, the man caught stealing 9 million probably will never go to jail--in the USA it could actually get you sent to jail. At the same time, many in the USA did not seem to understand that Waddell's apology was the only one the Japanese wanted to hear. Bush, Powell, etc, need not have sent apologies and the apologies, although appreciated, were not really accepted. Then, an admiral met with the families here in Japan and delivered a very impressive bow, and that eased a great deal of tension. Then the XO "apologized" to the family at the tribunal. (I've explained that "I'm sorry for your loss" is how all American's feel and is therefore not technically an apology, but it was well received by the families.) Then, when Waddel apologized, you could almost feel a collective sigh of relief. The media, and therefore the public, have been taking their cues from the families' reactions. Now that the apologies are out of the way, the families seem satisfied, and the Japanese now want to see the Ehime Maru raised.
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Tanaka, the always entertaining governor of Nagano Prefecture, stunned Japan and his own legislature when he announced that he was putting an indefinite halt to seven dam projects in Nagano. His own land and transport official looked dazed--he had not been consulted--and one bitter Power What Were (the man who folded Tanaka's business card after his election) compared Tanaka to Hitler. (Hitler being famous, you see for killing Jews--killing projects, killing jews--say them fast five times and they start to sound alike. Also Tanaka and Hitler both have six letters in their names.) Recently, the land and transport official and two other officials resigned, leaving the governor with some big gaps in his cabinet. The result of this has been a drop in Tanaka's popularity--from 91.3 percent in January, to 86.8 percent last week. What seems to befuddle many Japanese, especially those in power, and the Nagano Power What Were's, is how he can make tough decisions and enjoy high popularity. The exposed nail isn't getting hammered like it's supposed to. Yet, Tokyo's Governor Ishihara, who killed a new subway line and figured out how to tax local banks, does pretty much the same sort of thing so people shouldn't be so surprised.
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A few years back, those of you trolling around Japan will remember a news story in which a series of gates were dropped across a harbor in a very impressive display of technology and showmanship. The dam, you may remember, was constructed to hold back the tide so that a land-reclamation project in Nagasaki Prefecture could be started. Well, add this one to your list of things that prove "It's not nice to fool with mother nature" it seems that this particular harbor is also one of Japans main Seaweed farming areas. They produce the seaweed sheets you see wrapped around sushi (nori, for those who've never been here or don't study cooking). Unfortunately, blocking off part of the harbor changed the harbor's currents which caused the seaweed to become malnourished and turn brown. This essentially created a seaweed shortage and has driven up the price of nori all over Japan. Farmers occupied the main prefectural office building and have been demanding the gates be opened. When it appeared this was about to happen, another group began protesting to keep them closed.
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Those hoping to see the World Cup tournament here in Japan may have better luck trying to find tickets in your home countries than I will probably have here in Japan. Not only has Japan delayed the start of sales until recently they also seem to have underestimated the local demand. Two weeks ago they finally started passing out application forms. By the end of the day all three million forms had been passed out. The World Cup Committee released two million more this week and those were gone in one day too. The internet site, also finally opened, has been unable to handle the traffic it's receiving (remarkable given that I have yet to see the URL posted anywhere). To make matters worse, local sales are tied to J-League soccer. As I understand it, you have to buy a J-League ticket, and enter a team code on your application form.

This can all be summed up if you look at the allocation for tickets to the final game:

Available:               70,000 tickets (The tickets cost 70,000-80,000 yen (about 600-700ish dollars) each.)

Public:                    10,500 tickets (15%, compared to the 40% available in France.)
VIPS, Media, Etc.: 40,000 tickets
J-League Sources:    7,500 tickets
Local Folk:               6,000 tickets
Total:                      64,000 tickets

Go figure.

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In other news: Gin, the last half of the centenarian twins, Kin and Gin, died last week at the age of 108. In January, three men were killed at Shin-Okubo station when one, a drunk salary man fell on the tracks as the train was arriving, and the other two jumped down to save him. One of the would be rescuers was a student from Korea and all this had a curious thawing effect on relations between the two countries as both he and the other man were held up as heroes. I've yet to hear the salary-man's name mentioned and there's talk of making his family pay for the clean up.

I'm sick of hearing about Ichiro and the Mariners and Shinjo and the Mets. The local media have been talking about how they've each got their first hit in the majors. The fact that it's only pre-season seems lost on them. Then again, they're treating each pre-season game of the JBL as if it were a key playoff match up. (Ooh, the Giants' lost 10-3, what does it mean? That their pitcher will be bagging groceries next week and that the manager will blame everybody but himself. Who cares?)

More as it happens. And lately it's been happening fast.


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Written March 2001
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