Sunday, 30 December 2012

ABE: BIG TALK, ANGRY BIRDS AND THE HORSE'S MOUTH

Edited highlights from an interview between Toshio Motoya, Hakubun Shimomura and Ourmani Nabiko. Full, original interview here.

Motoya: Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. Shinzo Abe, who you supported, was successfully elected in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election; it’s his second time serving as president. Congratulations.

Ourmani: I had no part in that, really I didn't.

Shimomura: Thank you very much.

Motoya: I am also very happy, because I felt that Japan would not change if Abe did not become president. I immediately sent a congratulatory message after the election. Directly before Abe became prime minister six years ago, I was the vice chairman of the Society for Shinzo Abe as President. He attended a meeting at my home, and we became quite close.

Ourmani: How close? Is this code for, you know, a love that cannot speak its name? A love that is now permissible in more US states than ever before? I realise you can't admit to being gay lovers, but if that's what you are implying, squeeze my hand under the desk and whisper "yes, I know." I won't think anything less of you, promise.

Shimomura: Yes, I know.

Motoya: Abe and Nobutaka Machimura were candidates in the recent LDP presidential election, and the Machimura faction was split in two. Many people, centered on former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the original leader of the faction, were telling Abe to hold off. You achieved a great deal by encouraging Abe to make this decision, and helping him be successfully re-elected even amidst these unfavorable conditions.

Ourmani: Boooooring. What's the most ridiculous thing you have ever said?

Shimomura: It was a miracle that he was re-elected.

Motoya: I’ve heard you have many connections with Abe.

Ourmani: We've covered that (winks). Move on.

Motoya: You have many things in common with Abe’s ways of thinking; you are the vice chairman of Creating Japan, the Diet members’ caucus for which Abe serves as chairman. I also view you as a kindred soul. I have spent 21 years conveying my idea of genuine conservatism via my published books and Apple Town, this magazine. I also run the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest, in which Toshio Tamogami won the Grand Prize, and have opened a private school called the Shoheijuku. Currently, a total of 23 National Diet members, as well as ambassadors to Japan from 26 countries, are participating in the Shoheijuku.

Ourmani: Awesome. I've written a few books too. Have you read Reconstructing 3/11 about how the politicians of Japan deserted the people when they were most needed? Or Guts Pose: Diary of a Japanese election gone bad, that's all about how Abe won a landslide despite being universally detested as a lilly-livered, silver-spooned nonentity?

Motoya: For these and other reasons, I welcome the appearance of President Abe.

Ourmani: Oooh, hark at you.

Shimomura: I supported Abe in the recent presidential election because I felt a strong sense of crisis regarding the state of Japan today something I suspect motivates you as well.

Ourmani: Well, I have been buying a lot of dollars recently, getting out of yen since Abe took over, you know?

Motoya: Yes, I feel the same way.

Shimomura: When Abe became prime minister six years ago, I was appointed as Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary. Five years ago, Abe abandoned his administration, saying that his health was poor. Now, I have been taking action since the end of last year while insisting that Abe should run in this election. Former Prime Minister Mori said this was premature; he thought the LDP should recapture political power, and then Abe should return to the position of prime minister after serving in a series of important cabinet minister positions. However, I felt that the era would not wait that long.

Motoya: Now is certainly not the time for taking leisurely actions.

Ourmani: Sorry, what did you say? I just got a high score on Angry Birds. Awesome.

Shimomura: Right now, Japan is not functioning as a nation. Last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake was a divine revelation, showing that Japan will be crushed if things don’t change. The members of the National Diet need to be woken up; we need to react to this great disaster in a direct way, and to change this crisis into an opportunity. If not, why is the point of serving in the National Diet?

Ourmani: Well, you have to get the trajectory right. If you don't the birds miss their target and you are in danger of failing to clear the level.  

Motoya: I feel the same sense of danger. Recently, China and Korea are displaying unpardonable attitudes.

Ourmani: Gangnam Style! Absolutely.

Shimomura: I agree. Due to the current Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government’s defense policy, the Senkaku Islands and Takeshima have been stolen away. It’s only natural that the National Diet members who are watching wistfully without taking action are criticized and asked why they are serving in these positions. It’s at times like this that the National Diet members must stand up. I believed that Abe, who has firm views on the nation, history, and the world, should serve as a leader. He’s probably the only politician with the ability to make over this country.

Ourmani: He's the only Japanese premier that can do the horsey dance without even trying.

Motoya: I think so too. However, he abruptly resigned from his previous post…

Ourmani: Because he's a wuss. C'mon, you know it's true. You've been hanging out in think tanks too long. You should get out more, you know, read a book or watch a movie.

Motoya: When Japan was occupied, the US appointed intellectuals with socialist views to the position of media censors. That is the fundamental reason for the bias of the Japanese media.

Ourmani: Do you have a cloth? When you said that, I just spat my drink all over Shimomura-san, though I don't think anyone would notice with that tie. Does his mother still dress him, or is it his lucky tie from 1974?

Shimomura: That may be true. We must reflect on this, and utilize our reflections in the future.

Motoya: Another thing that has changed since Abe’s previous term as prime minister is the promulgation of information technologies (IT). The number of people who read newspapers is decreasing, while the number of people read news and share their views online is growing. The online public opinion has great power.

Ourmani: It's all about the hits, baby. Abe should do a nude calendar for charity, that would get some hits, maybe coverage in Gawker or HuffPo at least. 

Shimomura: I agree. We must think in a multi-faceted way. We need to construct a good relationship with the US, but we must also strengthen our relationships with China and other Asian countries.

Ourmani: Hmmm. Hold on fellas, I've got an idea. I'm thinking Jackie Chan, Shinzo Abe, Psy, the girls from Kara, Taylor Swift? ABE48?

Motoya: This will be extremely difficult underneath the current constitution.

Ourmani: What? Abe's constitution? Yeah, He probably doesn't have the stomach for it. Stomach? Geddittt?

Shimomura: I don’t think that’s very realistic.

Ourmani: Sorry, just brainstorming. Sheesh. Thought you folks in think tanks were all about thinking outside the box and all?

Motoya: I agree entirely. Ridding Japan of the postwar regime should involve breaking free from brainwashing. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

Ourmani: Gangnam Style, c'mon, gotta be, right?

Shimomura: I believe Japan possesses the potential to be revived in the future. Both you and I have made our way without depending on anybody else. There are many opportunities for everybody; Japan is a country in which endless possibilities are opened for people who work hard. I will do my best in order to protect this.

Ourmani: That's OK and all, but not very catchy as a "word for the youth."

Motoya: I hope that young people will pursue large dreams. In my graduation essay from elementary school, I said that I wanted to become “president of the world” when I grew up (laughs). I don’t think that dream will be realized.

Ourmani: No, I think not. Have you had your nap Motoya-san? Why don't you dream those happy thoughts after lunch, yeah? Have a large lunch and a little dreamy-poos later, yeah?

Shimomura: That’s a large dream! (Laughs) Maybe you haven’t achieved it, but I think many of your other dreams have come true.

Ourmani: Yeah, like being here today. A dream come true. Totally awesome. 

Motoya: Thank you very much for joining me today.

Ourmani: (blows kiss)

Friday, 21 December 2012

GUTS POSE, AND THE MAYANS WERE WRONG


My latest book, Guts Pose: Diary of a Japanese election gone bad, is now available. All details are here including the world's first review written before the book was even a book. And in other firsts, I'm fairly sure it is the first book on sale about the Japanese election of 2012 in any language anywhere in the world. You can buy it for any Kindle from any Amazon outlet around the world, or if you are skint, you can just read the first drafts on this blog for free, but the finished version has fewer typos and a previously unpublished afterword by me and a beautifully written foreword by Shisaku blogger Michael Cucek, for which I'm humbled.

The Mayans were wrong about the end of the world today, but maybe they had the Japanese elections in mind, in which case, they weren't far off.

Carry on.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUAL VIRTUE

By now, I had hoped to be shooing the handful of human visitors to this site toward Amazon Kindle shops to form an orderly virtual queue and purchase the cleaned up first drafts of the 30-days that didn't shake the world, the Japan Election Diary notes that have been reincarnated as Guts Pose: Diary of a Japan election gone bad.

But I'm still waiting for the file to clear the Amazon servers to go on sale. It could happen at any moment. Or a few days from now. Like all great acts of God, natural disasters and longevity of Japanese Prime Minister, we just don't know. I hope it makes it to people's Kindles before the end of the world, er, tomorrow or before folk have lost all interest in the election (that happened before it began — ed).

So, I have resigned myself to the fate that Guts Pose is unlikely to be a Christmas No. 1, and at this rate, it'll be lucky to make it on the virtual shelves this year. Ho hum.

But I console myself that had I tried to publish Guts Pose with a legacy publisher, a) they wouldn't have touched it even with a pair of kitchen chopsticks and b) even if they had, I wouldn't hear back form them for at least a month, probably six.

So, the wait continues, but it should be a matter of hours, not days.

Check in here to see if it's landed, if you care. If not, a Merry Christmas to you anyway.

Carry on.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Japan election results: My two yen

Folks popping by here for my take on the election may be disappointed as I'm in the throes of turning these Japan Election Diary notes into a book, should be published within 24 hours. But I will say this:

Abe won, kinda. Yes, yes, his LDP got a landslide and the DPJ dissolved almost into third place behind Ishin no Kai, Ishihara and Hashimoto's variety show. But before we go believing Japan has turned right wing or reactionary or whatever, just bear in mind a few facts:

1. Turnout was abysmal. I think 59 percent of the electorate.
2. Noda of the DPJ held on to his seat.
3. Ozawa got in.

The pendulum of government swung into the reactionary camp, but the country is the same on December 17th as it was on December 16th: disillusioned with its leaders and unhappy with the options it was presented with.

Just need better options. But don't look to me, I can't even vote.

See you tomorrow.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

TERMINAL ONE -- Japan Election Diary: Day 30


The front seat passenger had lost her voice. She is a Japanese teacher. In London she wears kimono. Today, she was in a trouser suit. "I feel more comfortable living in England. I will never leave," she'd told me the night before. I'd remarked to her how ironic that one who feels more comfortable abroad makes a living by selling her home culture. She didn't see the irony.
This morning, I realised I'd been talking about myself. I made a few stabs at conversation, but it was clear this would be a silent trip to Narita Airport, an hour away through the country lanes and back streets of Inzai that the pitch-perfect polite lady in my satellite navigation saw fit to direct me. But at least she was talking to me.
I occupied myself with focusing on the road ahead as the early morning mists rose from the asphalt disguising the lay of the land that my electric lady pointed out to me. I hadn't even realised it had rained the night before, but then we'd closed the storm shutters to keep the warmth and party noise to ourselves.
This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
Japanese election
 gone bad

features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.
 
Now we headed east into the rising sun. Its light dazzled us. A car in front disappeared into the light. I could only keep on the left side of the road by focusing on the silhouettes of oncoming cars that shot past me. I squinted and pulled the sun visor down.
The teacher lifted her hand to do the same but there was no visor.
"Sorry, my daughter ripped it off in a temper tantrum when she was five or six."
"That's OK. Put the radio on. To something you like," she whispered.
I pressed the preset for Eagle 810, the station for US troops in Japan. They play good rock music sometimes, a fair trade for 60 years of occupation, I thought. It's Sunday, maybe Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion would be on...
"... the coroner reports the ages of the 20 children gunned down in Connecticut were all five and six..."
The ever-present faces of Japanese politicians on roadside posters looked different now. They were still smiling, still pumping fists, posing guts and staring longingly at the sky, but they had different faces from the ones I had seen minutes before in Abiko. This was Inzai. Or Narita. Or Connecticut?
The voice on the radio changed. He was talking about the Seventh Fleet whose job is to protect freedom all the way from Japan to the Indian Ocean. He was telling us about Operation Liberty, a curfew on sailors from drinking off-base. He didn't mention the latest rape and drunken brawl that had necessitated this operation.
I checked the rearview mirror. The 17-year-old girl was looking out the window, the eleven-year-old was asleep. I was glad she was able to rest. Both girls had lost relatives in the tsunami, but the 11-year-old had lost her mother and father, her grandparents and her little brother. Everyone. We wanted to get them away from Japan and tragedies for a week at least, show them that there is a world of opportunity for them.
On the way back from the airport, Jimi Hendrix was jamming. Then he was picking out The Star Spangled Banner between the feedback. The governor of Connecticut came on the radio and said he was shocked. He said after a tragedy was not the time to be thinking of causes and explanations, it was a time to bury the dead and hug loved ones. He said you couldn't explain tragedies like this. And suggested it was something to do with God.
I disagree. Tragedies are all too easy to explain. Finding solutions is the hard part, but then that's why we have politicians; to offer solutions. Not condolences.
The first voters were making their way back from the polls as I turned off the engine, at home in Abiko.

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.



Saturday, 15 December 2012

TAKE BACK JAPAN -- Japan Election Diary 2012: Day 29

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.

Santa Claus doesn't think much of the Liberal Democratic Party's slogan.

"Take back Japan assumes it was theirs in the first place. A little presumptuous, don't you think?"

If you're a foreign man of a certain age and girth you can presume that you will be asked to be Santa at this time of year.

"I want to know where you take Japan back to? If it's a shop can we get a refund?" 

"You should read the story at the bottom of today's Japan Times about how old people hold the keys to the election," Santa said.

"In a nation of old people, that's not a very bold statement." 

"Yes, but they have certain concerns that others don't."

"Like getting the maximum pensions with the least tax? Maybe. But is it possible that old folks might just as easily vote with their grandchildren's future in mind, rather than their own?"

"Maybe."

But Santa didn't sound convinced. 

***

I had naively set out on this diary with the hope of reaching some greater understanding of what this election means from my vantage point, but with just one more day to go to polling day, armed only with a twitter stream and a newspaper subscription, I'm no closer to a satisfactory answer. Maybe it was just a stupid question, or my arsenal is lacking in firepower.

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.




This being a diary and all, it is beyond my remit to offer meaning beyond reportage. Meaning is supposed to come later when we have time to let the dust settle from the result. But I don't know the result, and even if I did it shouldn't have any bearing on what went before. By all accounts the LDP looks all set to take back Japan with an outright majority and to decimate the current government. Maybe that's a sign of a healthy two-party democracy or if the DPJ fails to return to power in the election after next, maybe that means post-war Japan has reverted to its default state of one-party rule. Maybe. With half the electorate undecided, we can invent whatever meaning we like.

One thing that's becoming evident to me is the good guys and bad guys, or the left and right fit of policies is pretty meaningless. Perhaps those labels always were. There was a time when US Republicans championed black rights and the Democrats were the party of cotton, after all. For Japan, when you have a populist like Hashimoto being anti-nuclear and pro-global free trade, and an establishment business candidate like Abe promising more public works and an end to free trade talks, policies add up to little more than ideology-free whims or gambles for votes. 

Maybe some good comes of all this politicking, but that's a sort of desirable by-product from a natural process, like yeast eating through sugar and crapping out the alcohol and CO2. It just does it's thing, we decide what benefit, if any it serves. It makes our bread or ferments our beer. But it would happily do that without us.

***

As you can maybe tell, I'm at the edge of my knowledge, so I should step back from the brink. Seems to me lots of guff has been written about the failure of politics or the disillusionment of the electorate like that's a new phenomenon. Happens every time you don't get what you want from Santa.

But I have one more day to get it right. Until tomorrow.

Go to DAY 30

Friday, 14 December 2012

ROUNDTABLE DIPLOMACY -- Japan 2012 election diary: Day 28

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.



Japan scrambled four F-15 fighters this morning after a Chinese civilian plane was spotted flying over the Senkaku Islands off the coast of China. These are the rocks that Beijing, Tokyo, Taipei and of course prime ministerial candidate Shintaro Ishihara claim as their own.
By the time the jets got there, the Chinese plane was nowhere to be seen, but the stylised diplomatic drama was over, having stuck to conventions to make its points. China was testing the waters, or sniffing the air, and Japan responded with a show of force. The US, which made the McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle, said it was nothing to do with them.
It reminded me of one day a dozen years ago when my mother was still alive...

***

The round dining table had seen better days. It was a little chipped and worse, it was looking out of style, a remnant from an earlier age. I had been weaned from my mother's milk to eating solids off its once smooth surface. Later, I'd spread my books and notes over it to struggle through summer papers during university days. But on this day, it seemed smaller. I could barely fit my knees beneath it.
I was sitting next to my new wife. My mother was fetching wine glasses from the kitchen, her partner was turning down Roxy Music blasting "Love is the drug" from the living room. I held my wife's hand and we both shared a private smile.
My mother returned to the front room and counted out the cut roast potatoes (four pieces each) and her partner carved the chicken. I sipped the chilled white wine. Zinfandel. The first time I'd ever tasted it. I didn't pay attention as I put the glass down and it slipped off the coaster spilling a little on the tablecloth that my mother had spread that day in honour of our visit.
"Oops!"
"Oh, you're so clumsy! You're always doing that," my wife said.
"Heh, heh," I smiled and dabbed at the spill with my napkin.
Without a word, my mother got up from the table and disappeared upstairs. She came back and plonked something on the table next to the sprouts.
"Look at this."
It was a 1:72 model of Vickers Armstrong Wellington medium bomber flown by the RAF during the war for night bombing raids over Germany.
"My son made that when he was a child. A child. Tell me now that my son is clumsy. A clumsy person couldn't make that."
My wife sat in a heavy silence. All pretence of jollity gone. It was what you might call a pregnant pause, but this was years before we had any kids.
My wife was aware that she had made a terrible diplomatic blunder, but couldn't for the life of her think what it was. I shrugged apologetically to her but said nothing to my mother, caught as I was between a rock and a hard place.
I wanted to scream, "This has nothing to do with me!" But of course it had everything to do with me. It was about authority over me. My mother's was waning and my wife's was growing.


***

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.
I hadn't the heart to tell my mother that actually I'd made the model as a young teen, as a farewell to childhood, one last attempt to make a decent Airfix, with all the parts painted before you glue it together, like you are supposed to do, not the plastic cement hell that squadrons of Spitfires, Meteors, Hurricanes and Lancaster bombers had been consigned to when I'd been a pre-teen, too eager to hurry the production line to assemble an air force for the bedroom than to follow the instructions. 

And the modest deficiencies of the RAF planes were nothing to my USAF B-29 Superfortress whose Atomic bomb doors were so plastered with plastic cement that they'd turned to liquid before sealing shut, never to be pried open in anger again.


***

"I leant a valuable lesson from your mother that day, you know."
"Watch where you put your wine glass?"
"That was your lesson. No, in Japan you have to put yourself down. You don't boast about your husband, your kid or your family to others, you put them down. But in the West that won't work. You have to stick up for your children. You have to show pride in them.
"Are you going to start singing You Raise Me Up again?"
"No. Would you listen to me? You don't put yourself or your own people down."
"So?"
"So we were both doing the right thing, your mother and I."

Go to Day 29


Thursday, 13 December 2012

GUTS POSE -- Japan Election Diary 2012: DAY 27

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.


Another day, another nuclear scare in Abiko. I didn't know until after tucking in to tan-tan spicy ramen at lunch that the North Koreans had fired off a rocket that morning. I breathlessly (with a mouthful of noodles) went though my Twitter feed on my phone and learnt that our problem neighbours had launched a rocket (if you believe it has civilian purposes) or missile (if it's military) and it apparently flew over Japanese airspace in Okinawa on the way to its conquest of space.

The Japanese Defence Minister reckoned our neighbours hadn't put a satellite in orbit, the American NORAD folks said they had. Whatever the truth of the matter, I wouldn't advise cancelling cable for it anytime soon. Then my fried rice came and I lost track of the missile on Twitter. I perhaps shouldn't be so dismissive of the development that will no doubt be the splash in the Yomiuri Shimbun and my Japan Times tomorrow, not to mention the subject of some predictable op-eds in a few days arguing for some implausible solution while Japan plays helpless and the United States government claims the moral high ground. Their rockets are missiles and our missiles are rockets, remember? Anyway, I wanted to know: how would it affect the election? Would Abe and Ishihara's assertive policies play better to the electorate given the North Koreans' provocative act? Did this set meal come with fried rice and gyoza dumplings or just fried rice?

I remember my mother-in-law running to the window to see if she could glimpse the missile flying over the Lawson's convenience store after watching a TV news report about one of Kim Jong Il's rockets readying on the launch pad. That was some time back before the earthquake, but these days, given the choice of North Korean storyline of evil geniuses bent on world domination or bumbling despots who can't even feed or clothe their own people, I'm tempted to go with the latter. Besides, you don't have to be much of a betting man to know which is more likely: one of their missiles actually hitting Tokyo, or one of our nuke plants melting down. We know how that story ends.

Forget the fireworks. What about something real?

***

Our Man in Abiko: In your activities as head honcho of It's Not Just Mud, do you have much to do  with politicians?

Jamie El Banna: As little as possible. I've met a few mayors and people from city hall etc, but that's about it. And even that is too much for my liking. There's just no real benefit for me to talk to or try and ask for help from such people, and I'm not fond of fruitless efforts, so why bother? I like people of action, and there're precious few politicians/people in authority who fit that bill. The mayor of Ofunato is nice though. The Ishinomaki mayor is pretty useless.

OMIA: That's odd. We get the image that these local pols are heroically battling against the odds to help their communities. This isn't the reality? Haven't any national pols visited Ishinomaki to survey damage etc?

JEB: Battling against the odds? What's that mean? You mean battling against the reality of life post disaster? Nothing heroic about that, everyone is having to do that. The reality is that there are only a handful of local politicians who have general approval from their respective communities. The usual election posters are up, but it's even more nauseating than usual. Imagine middle-aged men striking a fighting pose, with a messages akin to "I will lead us to the new tomorrow". Puke.
National politicians? I'm sure plenty have been to various areas for photo ops. Oh sorry, to "survey".

OMIA: In what ways are people still suffering? Is there any sense that the authorities will have things under control, or are they part of the problem?

JEB: Well for most people the future is a scary thing. People still feel like they don't know what's going on, or how long they will be in temporary housing for. Most of the suffering is emotional. While things are in control, they are, at the same time, not so much. That uncertain future makes things feel like no-one knows what's going on.

***

From Wikipedia:

The fist pump is a celebratory gesture in which a fist is raised before the torso and subsequently drawn down and nearer to the body in a vigorous, swift motion. The fist pump is sometimes carried out in parts of the Western Hemisphere, Europe, and Japan (where it is known as guts pose) to denote enthusiasm, exuberance, or success and may be accompanied by a similarly energetic exclamation or vociferation. The gesture may be executed once or in a rapid series.

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.




Go to DAY 28

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

KILLING TIME -- Japanese Election Diary 2012: Day 26

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.


At this time of year the Japanese go a little crazy. The already obsessive (by Our Man's standards) cleaning routines go into overdrive and every surface inside and out of the house, every square centimetre of bug screen has to be doused in detergent, bleach or sandblasted to within a millimetre of its internal integrity. It's no doubt tied in to ancient rituals of purity and cleanliness.
In Our Man's household, this means it's time for nude bathroom cleaning.
"Do I have to do it in the nude?"
"It's the best way. Remember my favourite cat T-shirt?"
"Errr..."
"You don't because I haven't worn it for a while because the last time I cleaned the bathroom the mold-killer spray ruined it."
"Won't the spray ruin me, if I'm in the nude?"
"Don't be silly."
"I'm the one being silly?"
"The secret is to have a hot shower first, then you won't be cold when you open the bathroom window and door. And you won't ruin your clothing if you are naked."
"But..."
"You can wear a flu mask if it makes you feel better."
I wonder if Abe cleans the mold out of his bathroom in the nude? Does he wear a mask?
Granted, it's not a pleasant image, but after an hour of spraying and scraping mold in the nude before work this morning, the mold-killer vapours were getting to me. From this, I concluded that I must be made up of largely the same stuff as mold, and the same must surely be true of Japan's politicians.
Between taking the vapours and warming my feet in the shower stream, I had another thought. (This, by the way, is not unusual as I do all my best thinking in the shower. Whether it's the blast of hot water or the sterile environment free of distractions, I have no idea, but there you are, it works for me.) I thought more about the press writing all about the foreign policy differences of the candidates and how Abe is a hawk and, I suppose, Ishihara is a buzzard, it kind of made sense: Keep everyone looking out the window, worrying about what the neighbours are up to and maybe no-one will notice the mold in the bathroom. If voters were given a chance to reflect on the mess 50 years of Liberal Democratic Party politics had left, the legacy of corruption that had allowed Fukushima to happen, they'd perhaps give the tenants of the Lower House a bit more time to clean up. But of course in Japan, all housecleaning has to be completed before the end of the year.

***

Michael Cucek has correlated some interesting numbers on the last opinion polls before the only ones that count in four days, and Our Man has taken the liberty to cut and paste the ones that made sense to him:
This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Democratic Party of Japan 14%
Liberal Democratic Party 22%
Nippon Ishin no kai 8%
Your Party 2%
Japanese Communist Party 4%
New Komeito 5%
Tomorrow Party 2%
Other parties 3%
Don't know/don't care 40%

"What is the issue you think most important?" from the latest NHK poll (December 7-9):

Economic measures 33%
Social welfare and pension reform 22%
Energy policy (including nuclear) 11%
Administrative reform 9%
Recovery from the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami 8%
Foreign policy 6%

Ordinarily Our Man doesn't believe in opinion polls, but if he suspends his instinctive distrust of experts' numbers, he can draw the following conclusions: The DPJ is unpopular, but so is everybody else. Sabre rattling with China, South Korea and even North Korea is always going to be on the lunatic fringes. Folk want to get their own house in order.

Conclusion? Japanese aren't nearly as crazy as their leaders.

***

"I've decided who I'm going to vote for."
"Well done, you've achieved the impossible."
"I just eliminated the people in order of who I can't vote for."
"OK, but that might not leave anybody. So who can't you vote for?"
"The Communists, I mean, that's just silly these days. And the Minna party. I can't vote for someone who has only been a professional bowler."
"What about the Mirai Tomorrow People, er Himei -- The Princess?"
"I don't know anything about them. I saw her name in hiragana and thought it was "scream" like that painting.
"Abe?"
"I don't understand how anyone can vote for the LDP. I mean, has everyone forgotten how they stopped the government from doing anything about Fukushima?"
"Guess so."
"I like Noda. He's not the son of a politician and he's from Chiba. He picked up the government and kept everything going when no-one else would."
"So you're voting DPJ?"
"They are anti-nuclear?"
"Pretty much."
"Then probably. I think I need to do some research on the internet on the Abiko candidates."
"Good decision, dear."

Go to DAY 27

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

STRANGE FRUIT Japan Election 2012 Diary: Day 25

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.

Ode to (a post-Fukushima) Autumn

Season of misinformation and mellow fruitlessness!
Close bosom-friend of the radioactive sum;
Conspiring with TEPCO's record to play on our fears
With Geiger counters round the thatch eaves run;
To bend with incompetence and doubt,
And fill all statements with suspicion to the core;
To swell the profit margin and plump the regulators
With sweet payoffs, to set budding more plants,
And still more, later poison for the generations
Until they think radioactive ash will never cease
For Fukushima fear has o'er-brimmed our clammy selves.


Putting up the outdoor Christmas lights was a wrench this year. It's not that I have so many, although every year we would buy one more string of lights so that come December the garden was a little brighter than the year before.

That was until 2011. With Fukushima so fresh in our memories it was an easy decision to make. How could we justify the wanton burning up of electricity on such frivolity when the nation had only just got through summer by rationing electricity to factories and encouraging all to avoid the instinctive urge to flip the switch on the air conditioner at the first beads of summer sweat? Sure, it was a silly argument practically speaking -- just as the starving of Ethiopia couldn't derive any benefit from my children finishing everything on their plate, how could the victims of the tsunami and Fukushima meltdown have their suffering eased by me not clambering around the persimmon tree with a stepladder? They couldn't, but there was a principle at stake: How could we flaunt it, while so many survivors had nothing? We couldn't, so the lights stayed in their cardboard box behind the sliding doors of the dusty top compartment of the futon cupboard.

That was until today.

"Are you putting the Christmas lights out this year or what?"
"I don't know if we should."
"Well, if you don't hurry up, Christmas will be over, so you should do it today."
"Yeah, but Fukushima and all..." I let my voice trail off, as if I knew of a wisdom better left unsaid.
"Well, the kids would like it."

Practically speaking, the bunker's Christmas lights can't burn up more Siberian liquid gas than the iPhones we recharge a couple of times a day, so where's the harm? OK, two wrongs don't make a right but why was I letting it bother me so? Ultimately, Our Woman was right. The joy the kids would get from the pretty lights outweighed any moral butterflies I was giving myself. Besides, I told myself, we'd limit the number of hours the lights were on and hey, ultimately the only moral thing to do was to do nothing at all, and what's the point in that? I don't know how valid these arguments are, but they were enough to short-circuit my spinning moral compass.

So, I found myself wrapping the bare persimmon branches this morning with multicoloured lights. And it was easy this year. We'd lopped off half the limbs after last year's bumper harvest went straight into the recycling bag. No matter how safe and marginal the level of elevated radioactivity of Abiko's persimmons last year, the prospect of them in our stomachs was not appetising to us or our neighbours, and why take the minuscule chance of radiation poisoning when it was completely avoidable?

The feeling was mutual from our tree. This year it bore us no fruit.

***

Martin Fackler wrote a good profile of Shintaro Ishihara, the 80-years-young firebrand, in The New York Times today. And the (London) Daily Telegraph, had a piece about how the right was propelling Abe to a landslide victory.

All true up to a point. But I take issue with the idea that Japan is simply swinging to the right. It may well do after December 16th through the policies imposed on it from above, but what we have here is a practical failure from the left more than a moral sea change. The Democratic Party of Japan promised to tackle Japan's problems with a head-on confrontation with the bureaucrats on behalf of We The People. Not only did they fail to win that battle, they didn't even die trying. They just gave up. And they shall die for this betrayal.

Nobody likes Abe or the Liberal Democratic Party much. Most sane folk know they represent a step backwards. Most sane folk think Ishihara is entertaining and a refreshing dose of forthrightness in an otherwise staid field, but not too many think much of his policies. Except he has a proven track record of sticking two fingers up at the bureaucrats and somehow getting things done. Crazy, stupid counterproductive things, but all the same. Given the options, what's a moral person to do?

***

"My mother's seriously thinking now of voting for Ishihara."
"What?"
"I told her that could mean war with China."
"Does she know that in Abiko that means she'll have to vote for a pro-bowler?"
"Yes, but she said she couldn't face seeing Abe on TV again. And said it was Ishihara's last chance."
"Last chance for what?"
"Last chance for anything."


This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Go to DAY 26

Monday, 10 December 2012

THE PRINCESS - Japan Election Diary 2012: Day 24

Click here to go to Day 1 of the 2012 Japan Election Diary.


I'm a couple of Irish coffees short of a quorum, so please excuse me if I suddenly veer violently off the subject, but these are the perils of writing an entry every day as the Christmas season approaches.

Though strictly speaking, Christmas is little more than an excuse to torment shoppers with Muzak versions of Christmas carols and Wham's Last Christmas (how I wish it would be). In Japan, it's New Year that is important, Christmas is just the garnish to an already full plate of bonenkai and shinnenkai end and beginning of year parties that grace every salaryman's social menu.

And Our Man is no exception. He was honoured to have spent the afternoon at a Christmas party playing charades and getting pleasantly sozzled at the home of a Japan Times copy editor who between games of Chinese Whispers (Our Man learnt this is now called The Telephone Game in politically correct circles) made polite inquires about this humble diary of the election. He noted though that Our Man's occasional references to the Japan Party of the Future or Party of the Future Japan or whatever I have been translating Mirai (Future) no ('s) To (party) is not correct. Their official English name is the Tomorrow Party, if Our Man remembers the conversation correctly. It might possibly be the Party of Tomorrow too. Either way, it seems fitting given yesterday's sign off, "Tomorrow never knows," and Our Man could claim that as a deliberate reference, thus proving Our Man's political knowledge and qualification to write a book about Japanese politics...

But sadly it was just a happy coincidence.

Further evidence, should you require it, of Our Man's ignorance is the discovery that one of the Abiko candidates has a bit of name recognition. Yumiko Himei who is running for the Tomorrow folks won her Okayama constituency seat for the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009 defeating Liberal Democratic Party bigwig Toranosuke Katayama, to win her first election to the upper house. The “princess’ (“hime” in Japanese) defeat of the ‘tiger’ (“tora” the first character of Katayama’s first name) was a gift to Japanese headline writers. I'm not sure why, maybe there's a children's story of a princess defeating a tiger, I don't know.

Prepare yourself, we will briefly pause to hear the princess pontificate after her victory in 2009:
"I want to change politics starting with each individual. People took my hand and with tears in their eyes urged me to do something to change their current circumstances…I think that in this election campaign, people’s hopes and beliefs in this new kind of politics could be felt in each vote. I take my responsibility very seriously, and will aim to create a politics that can make everyone happy, a new kind of politics in which the majority of people can join together to create a wonderful nation, starting here in Okayama.”
I wonder if the people of Okayama have stopped holding her hand, although they may have tears in their eyes now that she has abandoned them for the people of Abiko, whom I have found to be on the whole not very tearful at all. Certainly not about this new kind of "politics that can make everyone happy" that our princess transparently failed to deliver. Still, it was a tall order when folk can't even agree on what music makes them happy. And while I, for example, much prefer the Rolling Stones to Wham, I found it far more unbearable one late night in the Big A 24-hour supermarket to hear Start Me Up in Muzak form than Last Christmas in any form. I had the sudden urge to slam my trolly into the display of year end mochi bowls and throw together a mochi mountain so that I could clamber up to the polystyrene ceiling tiles and rip the speakers from their wires, lest anyone else should have to hear this sacrilege. See what happens when you try to make everyone happy?

Anyway, this "new politics" the princess hailed in 2009 sure sounds old-school now. Anyone would think she was becoming a career politician, seeking to run in any old seat and hope for enough votes that she got back in to parliament on proportional representation, rather than the local girl made good that she appeared to be back on her debut in her hometown constituency. But let's not look back, let's look to tomorrow, eh readers?

Speaking of yesterday, Our Man notes he read then that there is some concern that the level of interest in the election and the sheer number of parties running (12 at last count) could invalidate the results even more than normal in this illegal election. Apparently, if a candidate fails to muster 16 percent of the vote, the result is ruled invalid. Our Man can't find a link to the story that was the splash in the Japan Times a couple of days ago and can't remember what the penalty for failure to comply is. Our Man favours locking all candidates in Big A for a day with a selection of easy listening favourites on loop every 20 minutes or so.

With only five candidates running in the Abiko ward, it's mathematically impossible for every single candidate to get less than 16 percent of the vote, although given the lack of trust in the politicians, Our Man wouldn't bet against it happening anyway.

See you tomorrow.

This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Go to DAY 25