This past summer, in an attempt to give the appearance it is abiding by the Kyoto Protocols, the Japanese government implemented something called "Cool Biz" and encouraged workers in both business and government to drop their ties and jackets and be "cool" while turning the thermostat up to 28 degrees Celsius. (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The term "Cool Biz" derives from two notions: "staying cool" as in "not being warm" and "looking cool" as in "Samuel L. Jackson is the coolest man on the face of the earth."
As a result, several big name politicians, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Financial Grand Poobah Heizo Takenaka spent the summer in open collars and short sleeves. At times, the Diet, with its open collared and rolled-up sleeved members, looked like a train platform full of people on their way home after work.
One television station went around with a large thermal scanner to prove that open collars release heat while closed collars trap it. It was also reported that the Environment Ministry, the government entity responsible for running the campaign, was sending job hunters home un-interviewed if they deigned to show up in a suit and tie.
The campaign immediately faced two problems. First, a great many members of the diet are not cool. Their attempts to look cool made them look like, well, people who are not cool trying to look cool, something which often ends badly. At one point, famous fashion designers and fashion experts were running around helping Diet members spice up their wardrobes As a result, several diet members, including this venerable institution's beloved Shizuka Kamei, refused to don the new style and spent the summer in suits and ties.
Second, Japan's necktie makers rebelled. Tetsuo Yamada, head of the Federation of Necktie Unions said the problem with both the slogan and the campaign was that they discriminated against neckties. Economy Trade and Industry Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said "It is unfair if the campaign singles out neckties as the villains." Financial Grand-Poobah Takenaka pointed out that, if nothing else, the campaign would help shirt makers. This, of course, missed the point and made the necktie makers even more angry and vocal.
This prompted Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda to publicly encourage the development of neckties suitable (no pun intended) for summer. At least one tie maker rose to the challenge and developed a variation of the old clip-on tie. Instead of a clip, the new tie was held in place with straps attached to snaps which glued on under the shirt collar and thus allowed a person to wear a tie while keeping a shirt's top button open without the wearer having to adopt "the haggard reporter" look. Once again, a thermal scanner was employed to demonstrate the heat levels under the collar. (The tie bombed.)
The government is now promoting a "Warm Biz" campaign for winter, where workers put their ties back on, along with a vest or sweater, and turn the heaters down or off.
In true Orwellian fashion, therefore, "Cool Biz" is actually about being warm while "Warm Biz" is about being cool.
This past summer, an elementary school kid on his way home from school at night, got his leg cut by a large metal shard sticking out of a guardrail along a rural highway. The shard had a sharp point, was shaped like a long arrowhead, and seemed to have been deliberately jammed into the guardrail's seam. A quick survey of Japan's highways revealed many more such shards embedded in guardrail seams and bolts. In fact, more than 27,000 such shards were discovered along almost every highway in Japan.
The shards, which could be up to two feet long, at first seemed inexplicable. Although some could be explained by cars hitting the guardrail and getting parts ripped off, especially on bolt heads, many were in places that couldn't be so easily explained: the seams went with the flow of traffic, meaning a car would have to be going backwards when it hit the guard rail.
The obvious explanation, to the press, was that someone must have put them there. This makes for a very busy person, however, as shards were found in every prefecture. Conspiracy theories, therefore, began swirling and visions of the ultimate passive aggressive "death of a thousand cuts" doomsday cult began dancing in people's heads right next to images of bosozoku biker gangs marking their territories.
Someone finally pointed out that many of the shards were old and rusted and appeared to have been in place a long time. They wondered why, regardless of how the shards got there, highway people hadn't yet removed them. The highway people explained that they hadn't seen them. Someone then asked the highway people why hadn't inspected the highways. The highway people explained that they had inspected the roads but hadn't found the shards. Someone asked how the highway people could miss 27,000 jagged dirty things sticking out of white guardrails. The highway people admitted that their inspection method was to drive down the highway at speed looking at the guardrails as they zipped by. It was therefore impossible for them to have seen the jagged dirty things. Someone pointed out that some jagged dirty things were almost two feet long. The highway people threw out their arms, shrugged and said "It can't be helped."
After a few months of study, the official explanation is that all the bits of metal got there as a result of side-swipe accidents. Very impressive public demonstrations where cars scrape the guard rails at various speeds have proven that loose bolts and seams were the culprits in every case. The highway people are now looking at the guardrails a little more closely. They're even tightening things.
They have not, however, explained the jagged dirty things that appear to go against traffic...
(NB: To further fan the flames of conspiracy, your humble editor's better half worked in a Japanese insurance company for 18 years and never heard of or saw pictures of such damage to an automobile. There is probably a mathematical explanation for this: Niigata gets less traffic; most of the traffic is from out of the prefecture; people from outside the prefecture are usually in more of a hurray; people from outside the prefecture would file claims at home, etc. However logical that may be, your humble editor prefers the passive/aggressive cult theory and is now actively promoting it.)
One of the key pillars of PM Koizumi's administration has been his promise to privatize the post office. Just over a month ago, after years of positioning, the battle was finally fought. The outcome of that battle has been remarkable to watch.
After managing to railroad the bill through various committees, Koizumi finally got the bill to the floor of the lower house. The vote was close as 37 members of the LDP, including the aforementioned Shizuka Kamei, rebelled and voted against the bill. In the end, the bill passed by only five votes.
This set up a showdown in the upper house and also unleashed a surprisingly vicious and entertaining media campaign. The bill's opponents brought up images of little old ladies in little tiny towns losing their mail service and having to walk through snow, wind, sleet, hail and pestilence to pick up a letter. (The fact that the same little old ladies already have to walk through snow, wind, sleet, hail and pestilence to send a letter was lost on all but people from the USA where postmen both pick up mail at and deliver mail to individual houses.) One opponent even did a photo in front of a post box. He held out his hands and said "Stop Koizumi. Leave our mail alone."
Koizumi, for his part, ordered LDP Powers What Are to threaten and cajole members and made ambiguous promises to discipline the once and future rebels in ambiguous ways. He also threatened to dissolve the lower house and call a snap election if the upper house killed the bill. This was dismissed by the opposition as they figured people wouldn't forgive Koizumi for punishing the lower house for the actions of the upper. (The next upper house election is still a couple years away.)
In all of this, the trillion dollar postal savings bank, which one paper has described as being bigger than the five largest banking groups in Japan combined, was forgotten. Given that one of those banking groups is the largest official bank in the world, one gets a clearer idea of the total size of the post office. The press, with the exception of NHK, was clearly against privatization and focused mainly on mail delivery and the number of people who would lose their jobs. Even on NHK your humble editor heard only one pundit mention the savings bank. No one mentioned how the savings bank is used to finance Japan's mammoth public works projects.
The upper house killed the bill at noon on a Monday. Koizumi called a cabinet meeting and asked the members to dissolve the cabinet. When the Agricultural Minister refused, Koizumi fired him and the remaining members dissolved the cabinet. Just after seven o'clock that same day, the lower house was dissolved and the elections were on.
There then ensued one of the strangest elections in Japanese history. Koizumi focused the LDP on one issue: Postal Privatization. He said the election was a referendum on him and the future of Japan. He also went after the LDP rebels by cutting them off from official LDP sponsorship and funding and dropping in "parachute candidates" which included the "madonnas" or "lady assassins", a group of five attractive women each of whom runs a business or is relatively famous, and "ninjas" including livedoor CEO Takafumi Horie who challenged Shizuka Kamei in Hiroshima's sixth district. (Horie lost, but livedoor got a stunning amount of free publicity.)
The rebels, who had been, for all intents and purposes, expelled from the LDP, responded by going all "This is Spinal Tap" and forming their own parties. First was Kokumin Shinto, the People's New Party, which included Shizuka Kamei and several Old Guard LDP rebels who seem more closely connected to the construction industry than the people. Second was Shinto Daichi, the New Party Mother Earth, whose sole member is none other than the CJT's beloved jester Muneo Suzuki. (This party was especially entertaining as it's fronted by a criminal and named by a rock star.) The third was Shinto Nihon, the New Party Japan, which is headed by governor Tanaka of Nagano Prefecture. (This was especially controversial as he did not run for the lower house and the press had a hard time imagining how he could be in charge of a party if he could not appear in the Diet and challenge the PM during PM's questions.)
All in all, the opposition was caught flat-footed. The Democratic Party of Japan which, in the last election, brought itself within striking distance of the LDP and reduced the LDP to a minority government, seemed to have no platform. Their manifesto gimic was useless as all parties have adopted the manifesto system and put out pamphlets stating their beliefs.
The best the DP candidates could do was say they had supported privatization before they didn't and promised they'd eventually have a better way to privatize. Their slogan was the rather gloomy "Japan: Don't Give Up" while the LDP had the more optimistic "To the Future." The DP did point out that there were other issues the LDP wasn't talking about--raising the national sales tax, cutting pension benefits, changing the "Peace" constitution--but they offered no real alternatives and seemed to get lost in the ground swell of the public's sudden desire for change.
The final result was brutal. The LDP/New Komei Party alliance gained nearly 90 seats reaching a super-majority of 327 seats. This means that even if the upper house votes down the Postal Privatization bills, the lower house can override it. Also, the LDP/NKP alliance can control all committees. Koizumi is both shocked and gloating and everyone is wondering just what he's willing to reform.
*Once again, I can't resist hitting an easy one. --DL
Japan's national soccer team and the Japanese press are more than happy to boast that Japan qualified for the 2006 World Cup finals a few moments before any other team.
We've thus seen endless coverage and analysis of every minute detail of everything about the team. Coach Zico, who produced a lackluster performance in the Kirin Cup, is once again seen as a master.
Economists are already predicting that Japan's qualification will help the economy as people rush to by large screen televisions, world cup goods, world cup tickets, and plane tickets.
Your humble editor is bracing for the onslaught. He also would like to assure people that once the CJT achieves its global hegemony, this "soccer" thing is going the way of the dinosaurs...
During the early summer, there were rumors that several members of the Diet, including PM Koizumi had attended Diet sessions while under the influence of alcohol. One person who had been clearly drunk fell on his sword for the rest and one member of the opposition coined the phrase "yopparai kokkai" (drunk parliament) to describe the LDP.
Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara is in the early running for the CJT Non Sequitor Award with his quote: "If the Prime Minister does not go (to Yasakuni Shrine) this year, I think this country would go rotten from the inside and collapse." Koizumi's visits have just been ruled unconstitutional by the Osaka High Court. Of course, given Koizumi's new power, he may go to Yasakuni, grab his crotch and say "I got your separation of church and state right here."
The world Expo in Aichi closed down last weekend after almost 22,000,000 people had visited. The last few days, large groups of the insane rushed to get a look at the expo, resulting in eight hour lines for popular attractions and stampedes that resulted in injuries and Doctor Zhivagoan incidents of children lost in crowds because daddy "promised he wouldn't let go. But he let go."
Asashoryu won his sixth yusho in a row, becoming the first rikishi in over three decades to do so. His challenger this time around was the very handsome, 6'8", 312 pound Kotooshu, a large, surprisingly slender looking Bulgarian. Kotooshu, who started out as a Greco-Roman wrestler, came to Japan a few years back to earn money to pay for his father's medical treatment. That accomplished, he's now tied a decades old record by being one of only three rikishi to get 12 wins in a row in his first basho as a sekiwake. He was leading the tournament until he hit 12 wins, and then lost four in a row, including a playoff with Asashoryu.