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The latest article is now up at Brooks Foreign Policy Review, here.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded 42 years ago, was created to provide a framework to advance regional stability in Southeast Asia at a time when the withdrawal of colonial powers had created a vacuum. This placed the newly independent states of the region in danger of succumbing to ethnic strife and communist insurgencies. Since the conclusion of the Cold War, ASEAN has embarked on a series of free trade initiatives, linking it to some of the Asian-Pacific regions most dynamic economies.

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This is too cute.
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Receptionists at the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama in Fukui prefecture
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, Japan, roots for accidental namesake

OBAMA, Japan (AFP) – Obama, Japan, is rooting for candidate Obama, hoping that if he becomes the US president he will put this ancient fishing town of 32,000 people firmly on the tourist map and, just maybe, choose it for an international summit.

Supporters in Obama — which means “small shore” in Japanese — have held parties to watch election results, put up posters wishing the senator luck and plan a special batch of the town’s “manju” sweets bearing his likeness.

“At first we were more low-key as Hillary Clinton looked to be ahead, but now we see he is getting more popular,” Obama Mayor Toshio Murakami said.

“I give him an 80 percent chance of becoming president,” the 75-year-old said with a proud grin.

Murakami sent a letter last year to Obama, enclosing a set of lacquer chopsticks, a famous product of this town on the Sea of Japan (East Sea) in Fukui prefecture’s Wakasa region.

“I will present you the chopsticks of Wakasa paint and I am glad if you use it habitually,” Murakami said in the English-language letter. “I wish you the best of health and success.”

Murakami noted that Barack Obama’s birthday, August 4, happens to be “Chopsticks Day” in the city.


The manager and recptionist of the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, who is also a hero in his father’s native Kenya, has been gaining in a neck-and-neck race with Clinton, in part by winning over voters in states that rarely back members of their Democratic party.

Murakami is now preparing another package for the candidate that will include a good-luck charm from the local Obama Shrine.

“For the first letter I found his address on the Internet, so I don’t know if he got it,” Murakami said. “But this time I asked the (US) embassy for his exact address, so I’m sure he’ll get it.”

Lest cynics find the city’s efforts naive, it was Obama himself who first drew attention to the connection.

Obama, speaking to Japan‘s TBS network in December 2006, said that when he flew once to Tokyo, an officer stamping his passport told him of the town.

“He looked up and said, ‘I’m from Obama,'” the senator said.

A professor saw the footage and contacted the mayor, who insists that his support for Obama goes beyond just his name.

“It seems to me that President Bush isn’t aggressively addressing global warming, but Obama would. And I like how he opposed the Iraq war,” he said.

Murakami also hoped a President Obama would sign a peace treaty with North Korea. It is no small issue in Obama, one of the seaside towns where agents from the communist state kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, setting off a long row between the countries.

The election is being closely followed by many in 1,500-year-old Obama, a port nestled by snowy hills that in ancient times supplied food to the emperor when he lived in Kyoto some 75 kilometres (40 miles) to the south.

“When you look in Obama’s eyes and hear his voice, he’s very impressive,” said resident Rieko Tanaka.

“Hillary is a bit old-fashioned and she’s the wife of Bill Clinton, so I think a new person should lead the USA,” she said.

Tomoyuki Ueda, 40, a company worker dining at a restaurant serving the town’s celebrated mackerel, said it would be healthy for the United States to elect its first African-American president.

“I think both Obama and Hillary are qualified, but if Obama becomes president he could correct problems of racial discrimination,” he said.

Seiji Fujihara, a head of the local tourism board, said he has only met a black person once, but believed Obama’s election would make the United States “more equal” on racial issues.

Fujihara started a club for self-styled Obama supporters in the city and plans “I love Obama” T-shirts.

“We know we can’t vote. But if we send out a message, we can help push him to victory,” he said.

©AFP

I wrote a few times about the changing family dynamic in Japan and the rise of the woman worker. Despite Japan’s shrinking and aging population the article makes clear the crime rate is low, unemployment is very low for a developed nation (less than 4%) and the country is still quite middle class. It does not sound like a crisis, it sounds like Japan is going the way of some less dynamic and mature European countries. It is becoming what I like to call a “museum country”, it is stagnating.

So what can Japan do? Further deregulate and import more foreigners? That might be a long term solution, but I’m not sure the social cost outweigh the benefits for most Japanese people.

I believe one of the key problems in Japan is how decisions are made. Japanese people, since the Late Tokogawa Period (and likely before) have be very high on consensus. They do not tend to like strong independent leaders making controversial and difficult decisions. They do not like this in CEOs and they especially do not tend to like this in Prime Ministers, therefore these positions are historically weak. Some of the issues that plague Japan need a strong leader, but due to the way the political and economic establishment has been historically structured this individual or “new generation” of leaders is unlikely to manifest.

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https://i0.wp.com/www.pawelpilarczyk.com/pictures/1m18.jpg

For Japan, a Long, Slow Slide

Declines in Productivity, Population Combining to Stifle Economic Growth
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2008; A17

TOKYO — As the United States frets noisily about a recession, Japan is quietly enduring a far more fundamental economic slide, one that seems irreversible.

This country, which got rich quick in a postwar miracle of manufacturing and alarmed Americans by buying up baubles such as Rockefeller Center, is steadily slipping backward as a major economic force.

Fifteen years ago, Japan ranked fourth among the world’s countries in gross domestic product per capita. It now ranks 20th. In 1994, its share of the world’s economy peaked at 18 percent; in 2006, the number was below 10 percent.

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This is an interesting article about the role of age and fame in modern Japanese politics.

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Celebrity rises to power in Osaka
By Purnendra Jain

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KYOTO – While celebrities-turned-politicians in Japan are nothing new (and prone to disgrace), an outspoken 38-year-old lawyer and TV advice show host recently elected as Osaka prefecture’s governor is raising hopes even beyond his electoral base.

Toru Hashimoto’s landslide victory this week with more than 1.8 million votes thoroughly trounced rival Sadatoshi Kumagai, who received a little less than 1 million votes. When Hashimoto takes office in early February after the four-year term of incumbent Fusae Ota ends, he will be the youngest of Japan’s 47 governors.

He also largely owes his success to female and young unaffiliated voters who frequently watch his TV shows where he discusses legal options for people with marital and financial issues.

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Ordinary citizens seeking a place at the decision-making table in China – This is a very interesting article about a grassroots political movement. The Chinese government response was interesting. It usually happens this way, if they can’t suppress the movement they negotiate. The problem is every time this happens they attempt to clamp down more to prevent this type of movement from every getting off the ground. The article seems to suggest it is a “democratic movement”, but I do not think so. These people were just trying to protect their capital investment.

Ethnic violence spreads in Kenya, with no sign of respite –  I’m not sure what to say about this now.  The two opposing sides met and came to no conclusion.  The solution is obvious.  Have a new election with serious international monitoring, but Kibaki likely thinks he will lose so will not go that route.  He figured possession is 9/10 of the law and he just needs to wait it out…while his countrymen continue to kill each other.

Stock markets see another ‘black Monday’ – I wonder how many Chinese Billionaires are there now? From what I know most of them are rich off the stock market and for some reason centered around Wenzhou.

Japanese sushi lovers shrug despite high tuna mercury levels – This is quite odd to me.  Japanese people, IMO, are quite anal about freshness and purity of food.  Tuna is a key stable of the Japanese diet and the dismissive response to mercury levels is quite odd.  I am going to consult with my wife over this later.

Military balance tilting toward China – An interesting article on the military balance between China and Taiwan.

This is pretty cool.  Its in Japanese but most of the Chinese character (kanji/hanzi) place names are the same in Japanese and Chinese so… —————–

Komura: Japan not seeking ‘rewards’ – I blogged about the Japan-Africa relationship before. This article reveals that Japan’s government is renewing its commitment to sustainable development aid measures in Africa and heavily implies they are “not after Africa’s resources like China”. This is not all altruistic, aid allocation never is. Japan is seeking a permanent seat on the security council and Africa has 53 nations. Upping aid from its current 10% on the continent might sway more to back Japan.

S. Korea’s Lee moves to revitalize relations – South Korea’s president elect, Lee Myung Bak, is seeking better relations with Japan. This is somewhat surprising to me since he has a history of being anti-Japanese, but I suppose he is a pragmatist. It is easy to be a anti-Japanese mayor, but not so easy to be an anti-Japanese president in the region. It is positive he is already seeking regional support to deal with the North Korean issue.

Liberia: Charles Taylor Trial Gets Under Way – Considering what this scum is responsible for in Liberia and the neighboring Sierra Leone, the child soldiers; drugs; rapes; mutilations; corruption; mental trauma of the victims. Taylor is a sub-human monster that should be hung like the war criminals of World War II.  Some people are not fit to live, and there is nothing wrong with culling the herd.  Here is a site that is monitoring the trial, Charles Taylor Trial.

Liberia: Market Women Help Revive Economy – There is some good news in Liberia. Not only do they have a woman president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who seems to be respectable; but women are reviving the market! Johson-Sirleaf owed a debt to these women who were instrumental in her election, so she set up a Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund; more about this in the article.  While reading the article, I saw similar dynamics in Liberia as in Sudan during the time of conflict. Women would be the ones foraging for goods, because they were least likely to be killed or forced into a militia. In Darfur, the choice was between a man possibly being killed and a woman raped, so often they sent the woman. In any case, I am quite happy with the industriousness and entrepreneurship I see in Liberia.

China and Japan really need to have a “hot line” for communication on these issues. That being said, I a hot line would not likely have helped in this situation, as I fully believed this was a message to Taiwan and Japan. Japan needs to use the leverage it now has over China to settle this issue in a favorable way. Just as relations seemed to be going well…then again I’m not sure if the top levels of the CCP approved this or not. There is a lot of internal wrangling at Zhongnanhai.

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http://sacral.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp/~chris/?plugin=ref&page=Posts%2F2006-09-30&src=sdf.jpg

China’s sudden show of force sent SDF jets scrambling

01/02/2008

BY TSUYOSHI NOJIMA, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN TAIPEI–Aggressive military action by China’s air force in the East China Sea triggered alarm in Japan that resulted in emergency scrambling by Self-Defense Forces fighter jets on two days in September.Chinese bombers made more than 40 sorties in airspace around the disputed Chunxiao gas field, known as Shirakaba in Japanese. SDF jets were scrambled 12 times, according to Taiwanese military sources.Japanese government sources later confirmed the account.China’s action initially was seen as provocative. However, Japanese experts say the exercise could have been part of the Chinese military’s readiness in the East China Sea in the event of an emergency situation in Taiwan.

China regards Taiwan as one of its provinces.

Japan and China remain locked in a dispute over natural gas resources under the seabed.

It remains unknown whether the Chinese sorties had any connection to political wrangling between Tokyo and Beijing on this issue.

Clearly, though, the strategic value for China of the area around the gas field cannot be underestimated.

Hong-6 bombers stationed at the Huaining air force base in Anhui province made 20 sorties to the area on Sept. 11 and 23 the following day, each time taking almost an identical air route.

Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone extends to waters west of the gas field as part of the nation’s overall national security interests.

Because of this, F4 fighter jets scrambled from Naha base in Okinawa Prefecture four times on Sept. 11 and on eight occasions the next day.

The Japanese pilots came within just 5 kilometers of the Chinese planes, according to a Taiwanese military source.

The waters around the Chunxiao gas field are used by U.S. aircraft carriers stationed at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and other areas of Japan when they embark for Taiwan.

“Hong-6 bombers can carry long-range air-to-sea missiles,” said Kensuke Ebata, a critic on military issues. “So it is possible for the bombers to attack vessels at sea. Personally, I think the bomber pilots were undergoing a training exercise under the scenario of blocking the arrival of U.S. aircraft carriers in Taiwan in the event of an emergency situation there.

“The flights may also have been aimed at trying to contain U.S. forces following large-scale maneuvers near Guam in August under a scenario that the United States was at war with China.”

China’s military regards areas off Okinawa to the Philippines, including Taiwan, as the so-called first line of islands.

Based on that view, long-term military planners have sought to make the waters around the Chunxiao gas field part of China’s “inland seas.” In recent years, Chinese military forces have been intensifying their activities in the East China Sea.

In May 2007, a fleet of Chinese warships departed for the Pacific Ocean via waters close to Okinawa.

“Even in the neighborhood of the Taiwan Strait (located between Taiwan and China), there has been a sharp increase in the presence of Chinese military aircraft,” said a Taiwanese military source.

“The aircraft are not only engaged in training but also showing off their abilities. China clearly is trying to show its neighbors that it regards these waters as Chinese territory.” (IHT/Asahi: January 1,2008)

China Will Make Hong Kong Wait to Elect LeaderTold ya so.

One Test and 600,000 Destinies in South Africa – This is similar to how things are done in many nations in Europe as well as Japan, South Korea, and China. I wish we would adopt this system of education  in the United States. It would never work as parents would have a fit when some school informs them there child is not “college material”. There will be law suits, arguments of discrimination, different “forms of intelligence”, etc.  Going back to S.A.’s test.  They mention that the % passed has steadily decreased over the last 5 years, but due to shoddy reporting we do not know if this is because more people talking the test than before.  The less “elite” the background of the test takers the more likely the average will drop.  In any case, it sounds like S.A. is heading in the right direction, but there are still problems of inequality based along class/racial lines, which exist in every society, but in S.A. this is critical as the imbalance is extreme.

The African Front – A long, but interesting article of how modernity and Islam mix in Kenya.

Govt to keep ‘hooligans’ away from G-8 summit – Always vigilant, Japan is taking steps to prevent barbaric foreigners, and locals who have fell under their spell, from disturbing Japanese societal harmony and making Japan lose face before foreign guest. LOL

Offering viable options for the future of Japanese society – An interesting editorial concerning the current political dynamic in the Japanese Diet.  It includes summaries of the current problems facing Japan in the way of budget, tax reform, defense concerns, foreign relations, and the environment. 

Does China have fuels reserves for Taiwan Attack? – Thought provoking post from good natured sinophobe Michale Turton. 🙂  It appears that China could sustain an attack on Taiwan for no more than 15 days.  I would imagine that China would just need to get immediate air superiority and then blockade Taiwan.  Trying to “take” the island would be a fool errand.  China does not have the force projection to occupy the island without extreme casualties on China’s side.  Then again I would not put “human wave” tactics above China, not even the 2008 incarnation of the CCP.  At that point, if they lose, the loss of face with be so bad it could likely end the CCP and lead to civil war.  No I’m not joking, it is that serious.  The CCP can not afford a loss of face that big at this point; on top of the economic penalties it would  bring to China in the short term.

Japan pledges to help China curb pollution – A lot of confidence building came out of this meet, which was good. I lived in Shanghai and I can tell you about the throat and lung infections from the pollution, all the days that were so dark you could not see the sun, etc. China needs all the help it can get with this. It is a beautifully diverse country and although I think they “have to” go through this industrialization, just as everyone else has, itis good they are taking steps to limited the environmental degradation. For more information on other points discussed check here. On a side note, sometimes people underestimate the power of goodwill programs (i.e. exchange students) to change public perception, but I do not. 3,000 students can saw a lot of thinking at home when they get back.

Taiwan presidential candidate cleared on graft – Told ya so, here.

Shuffled off to history, veneration of Ro Moo Hyun will follow – French plays the requiem for the Roh Administration in South Korea. I’m sorry but I think he overplayed Roh’s statesmanship here, in large part, due to his dislike of the Bush Administration. I’m not a fan of George W. either, but even he was not stupid enough to try military action against a potentially nuclear armed N.Korea when there was so little intelligence and N.Korea could potentially nuke Seoul and Tokyo; especially with so many American troops exposed. Sorry, Mr. French; don’t buy it. It seems the S.Korean people did not either, as they elected the political opposite of Roh.

Nigeria’s graft catcher is sent for training – This is not good; just when I was congratulating Nigeria on its anti-corruption crackdown. Although it is likely Nuhu Ribadu did not go out of his way to “bite the hand that feeds”; any crackdown on corruption is better than none at all. The people know this and that is why he has popular public support. $380 billion in graft is nothing to sneeze at.

Tokyo opposes Taiwan’s UN referendum: Fukuda – This is not shocking coming from a Fukuda Administration. He appears focused on making good relations with America and China; both oppose the referendum. Although I recognize this as the most pragmatic position for all involved I have moral issues with it. I do not understand why Britain and Canada can allow or would allow significant segments of their country to vote for independence and Taiwan, a self governing democracy, can not democratically decide what it wants to do. It makes no difference to me if they voted for independence or voted to seek political unification with China immediately. What matters is they have no choice and countries that pride themselves on democracy and human rights are doing everything they can to smoother their right of self determination.

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Update: It seems the Fukada Admin is sneaky. He said exactly what China wanted to hear in relation to Taiwan and then a couple of days later revised clarified his governments position:

Japan has recently explained that it “does not oppose” the plan to hold a referendum on its bid for a seat in the UN under the name Taiwan, but hopes the referendum will not raise tension in the Taiwan Strait, a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) official said yesterday.

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