The Hashist

One of the most curious things about the boyishly telegenic and viscerally ambitious Toru Hashimoto (pictured left), mayor of Japan’s second city, Osaka, is his name. Not how it sounds—Hashimoto is a common enough surname and Toru a familiar enough given name—but how it is written. Here it is in Japanese order, two-character surname first:

橋下徹

The problematic character is the middle one. Hashimoto is almost always rendered as 橋本 (usually) or 橋元 (more rarely), but to write it 橋下 makes me (and I suspect the average Japanese person) want to read it as “Hashishita” rather than “Hashimoto”. And thereby hangs a tale.

Although seen from Tokyo as the personification of Osaka boosterism, Hashimoto was actually born and brought up, until his fifth year of elementary school, a few stops out of Shinjuku station in the heart of Tokyo, which is why a Japanese acquaintance described his ability to speak persuasively in the Osakan dialect as “bimyo”, ambiguous.

His father’s roots, however, are in the Kansai region of western Japan where Osaka lies, specifically in an impoverished mountain-flank hamlet of some 60 dwellings whose name the media are collectively too terrified to reveal, because this is no humdrum hamlet but what is known in euphemism-drenched contemporary parlance as an “area subject to discrimination” (被差別地域), which, decoded, means a home to Japan’s once mightily despised and now largely ignored undercaste of tanners, gravediggers, and butchers, among other occupations deemed tainted, who down the centuries have gone by a myriad of names, among them eta (穢多, “mass of filth”, a word now so intensely incendiary that my PC PC simply refuses to summon it up), shin heimin (新平民, “new citizens”), burakumin (部落民, “village people”), and dowa (同和, “same as the Japanese”), the currently acceptable term.

When all citizens were required to take surnames sometime after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, it appears that all the residents of the unnamable hamlet into which Hashimoto’s father was born chose, or were assigned, Hashishita (橋下) and that was the reading by which his father was known when, sometime after World War II, he left the hamlet for the city of Yao in Osaka Prefecture, where he took up residence in a dowa district (同和地区) and fell into yakuza circles, ending up as one of the three main movers and shakers (三羽烏) in a gangster gang. The father married outside of the dowa community and Hashimoto’s parents moved to Tokyo in the late 1960s, where Toru was born in 1969. In the early 1970s, the father grew estranged from his new family and drifted back to Osaka alone, where he gassed himself to death over debts incurred to other gangsters when young Toru was in the second year of elementary school. Soon after, Hashimoto’s mother changed the reading of her surname to Hashimoto from Hashishita, seemingly in part to sever ties with the rest of the Hashishitas but also because of the negative connotations of the name, for Hashishita (“under the bridge”) carries implications of vagrancy and homelessness whereas Hashimoto (“foot of the bridge”) does not.

Three years after Hashimoto’s father killed himself, Toru, now in the fifth grade of elementary school, and his mother moved to Osaka, where they ended up—coincidentally or not, it is hard to be sure—in a dowa district of Osaka City. His mother, although apparently eligible, refused the rent reduction the city offers to dowa (同和減免措置) and Toru, although his junior high school offered a special education program for dowa (同和教育), was adamantly opposed and took the regular classes. While it is clear that Toru was aware of his dowa heritage from an early age—his father is buried in a cemetery reserved for dowa in Yao—it seems that he only learned of his father’s gangster background from the media after he rose to fame. In public, at least before the investigative journalists from the weeklies broke the story of his father’s background, Hashimoto would deny his dowa roots, saying, “Although we lived in a dowa neighborhood, we weren’t dowa ourselves, so we couldn’t get subsidies, which really hacked me off. I don’t do the dowa problem”.

Although by his own admission not particularly academic, Hashimoto made it into Tokyo’s prestigious Waseda University at the second attempt and, after passing the bar exams, registered as a lawyer with the Osaka Bar Association in 1997 at the relatively young age of 28, striking out on his own the following year as a specialist in corporate compliance and M&A, among other fields. He subsequently gained notoriety on Kansai-area talk shows as a celebrity lawyer for the extreme forthrightness with which he expressed his opinions, of which he has many, and was catapulted to his first taste of political power on a nebulous platform of change (slogan: “an Osaka where children laugh”) in the January 2008 Osaka gubernatorial election, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party, in which he won an absolute majority of the votes cast. He resigned as governor before the end of his first term and in November last year succeeded in both winning the Osaka City mayoral election and maneuvering an ally, Ichiro Matsui, into the governorship.

So who is Toru Hashimoto, what does he believe in, and what does he want? There’s something of the shtark, the spiv, the shyster about him—you feel that he’s always about to peel back the jacket of his suit to reveal row after row of Rolex knock-offs on silken racks in the lining. He was cautioned for stealing a bicycle in junior high and, while still a university student, could be found running a tidy little wholesale sideline in leather jackets until someone ripped him off. As a lawyer, he acted as an advisor between 1999 and 2004 for a small-business loan firm (less politely, a usurer) called Cities, regarded by lawyers for the heavily indebted as one of the most intransigent and recalcitrant of any company of its type—and that is saying something. In July 2010, when the brouhaha about the possible extinction of the consumer finance (read: loanshark) industry because of new regulations was at its zenith, he proposed a special-zone concept for the money-lending industry (貸金業特区構想) that would relax the incoming restrictions on the maximum that can legally be borrowed and restore the pre-reform maximum interest rate of 29.2% on loans of less than Y200,000 (just over $2,500) with durations of a year or less. As a friend who is intimately familiar with the underbelly of Japanese loansharking world—and who shares with many Tokyoites a certain metropolitan disdain for Osaka and all its works—said with deep glee, “It is just such an Osaka-rashii idea, just so typically Osaka!”

Hashimoto is also an ardent supporter of the legalization of casinos and, even more controversially, wants to restore some of Osaka’s red-light districts that were cleaned up ahead of The International Garden and Greenery Exposition in 1990. He is on record as an admirer of cockroaches, as they flee quickly and have an acute sense of danger, and had some eyebrow-raising things to say on the subject of rules in general in his 2006 book, Mattou Shoubu:

Unless we build a Japan in which people who sneak through the cracks in the rules are applauded, this country will not survive in the international society of the future.
「ルールの隙を突いた者が賞賛されるような日本にならないと、これからの国際社会は乗り切れない。」
Wringing out ideas that get around the rules, isn’t that what’s most needed in today’s Japan?!?
「ルールをかいくぐるアイディアを絞り出すことこそ、いまの日本にとって一番必要なんじゃないか!」
It’s only clear rules that are the basis of actions, and where there are no regulations defined by clear rules, then I don’t care what anyone does.
「明確なルールのみが行動の基準であって、明確なルールによる規制がない限りは何をやっても構わない。」

Hashimoto’s political and social philosophy, such as it is, strikes me as being grounded in the Victorian self-help mentality of a Samuel Smiles. Like many a successful man of humble origins, he simply cannot fathom why everyone should not be able to prosper, as he has, by dint of industry and application. In a prefectural assembly debate in 2008 he defended the cuts his administration was making in support for poor students attending private high schools: “In today’s world, the first and foremost principle is self-responsibility. No one is going to save you.” (今の世の中は、自己責任がまず原則ですよ。誰も救ってくれない。) This is tempered, to be fair, with a belief that those unable to clamber into the sumo ring of competition, such as the disabled, should be offered all due assistance. Though partly of dowa stock himself, he won support from the (very) far right in the Osaka gubernatorial election for his pledge to cut the dowa measures budget to zero and in another 2008 prefectural assembly debate, had the following to say on the dowa:

I was brought up in a so-called dowa district. The dowa problem hasn’t been solved at all. But just because there’s still prejudice, the question of whether they should be given special preferential treatment—well, that’s a different matter.
「私はいわゆる同和地区で育ったが、同和問題は全く解決されていない。ただ、差別意識があるからといって、特別な優遇措置を与えていいのかは別問題。」

Despite having been bullied himself at school because of his inarticulacy in the Osaka dialect when he arrived from Tokyo, Hashimoto has no shred of sympathy for the victims of bullying:

There’s bullying wherever you go. If you can’t get over something like that, what are you going to do in the rest of your life?
「いじめなんてどこの世界にもある。それ位乗り越えられなくてどうするのか。」

In some ways, Hashimoto reminds me of nothing so much as a crusty old hang ’em and flog ’em Tory from the shires, a breed now nearly vanished from the shores of Britain. Although in an interview he has claimed his sole memory of his father was of having had the living daylights thrashed out of him, aged three, by the old man for throwing chopsticks across the dinner table, he has boasted elsewhere, immune to the layers of irony, that he beat one of his own kids for 50 minutes straight for having been caught bullying—beaten for bullying, I should add, not for having been caught. He called for the swift hanging of the perpetrator of an indiscriminate knife attack in 2001 at an Osaka elementary school that left 8 students dead—and was duly rewarded. Of the near gang-rape of a fourth year elementary-school girl (who was thus about 10 years old) in the Kansai city of Amagasaki in 2006, Hashimoto hinted that she might have been asking for it, although how a prepubescent girl asks for something about which she knows nothing beggars my feeble imagination:

It all hinges on whether they took off the girl’s clothes, or whether she took them off herself.
「女の子が服を脱がされたのか、自分から脱いだのかによって話が変わってくる。」

Hashimoto has a rusty axe to grind about education, about which his beliefs are a perplexing brew of the sensibly iconoclastic—he is a vociferous critic of Japan’s cram-and-rote-learning system and a supporter of a more diverse entry system for state high schools, with non-academic criteria such as sporting ability to be taken into account—the mainstream global right—classes streamed by academic ability and school vouchers—and the dismal pedagogy of the Gradgrind: he wants useful education, whatever that might be, not education imposed from above, and believes the core curriculum should be stripped down to reading and writing, the abacus, and the inculcation of respect for one’s superiors. He is a remorseless foe of Nikkyoso, the Japan Teachers Union, which although a shadow of its onetime self I think Karel van Wolferen was right all those years ago in identifying in The Enigma of Japanese Power as the only liberal-leftist opposition to the paternalist monolith, and a backer of former Transport Minister Nariaki Nakayama (now, aged 68, settling comfortably in to that political retirement home for old fogeys, The Sunset Party of Japan), who, possessed by a form of hysteria, once dubbed Nikkyoso “the cancer of Japan”.

As any ill thought through and hastily articulated political worldview is bound to be, Hashimoto-ism is a bundle of contradictions: he wants to arm Japan with nuclear weapons and bring back conscription, yet—at least since the Fukushima disaster—has come out against nuclear power. While in favor of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, he hopes the gods forefend that foreigners, no matter how many generations their families might have been in the country, be allowed to vote in even local elections. Hokkaido University professor Jiro Yamaguchi coined the brutal portmanteau “Hashism” to condemn our Hash’s authoritarian tendencies, amply documented in a comment made in June last year:

In Japanese politics these days, the most important thing is dictatorship. Having so much power you’re called a dictator.
「今の日本の政治で一番重要なのは独裁。独裁と言われるぐらいの力だ。」

and in a 2009 slanging e-mail match with his own staff:

You’re frighteningly unconcerned that the prefecture has lost Y38bn [about $500mn] by failing to forecast water demand. No one seems worried. If this was a private-sector company, the whole lot of you would be quivering in shock! … Organizations in which people’s pay is guaranteed no matter what happens are terrifying.
(抜粋)「水需要予測の失敗によって380億円の損失が生まれたことに関しても、恐ろしいくらい、(職員の)皆さんは冷静です。何とも感じていないような。民間の会社なら、組織あげて真っ青ですよ!!(略)何があっても給料が保障される組織は恐ろしいです……」

A female prefectural bureaucrat had the temerity to send him a rebuke, to which he responded:

First, don’t give your boss any sass. I’m your boss. I’m the head of this organization. Time to acquire some common sense. As the head, I’m giving you a serious warning. If you’ve got a bone to pick, come to my office and I’ll hear you out. 
「まず、上司に対する物言いを考えること。私は、あなたの上司です。組織のトップです。その非常識さを改めること。これはトップとして厳重に注意します。あなたの言い分があるのであれば、知事室に来るように。聞きましょう。」

Ultimately, the poor woman was given a—probably career-destroying—official reprimand. Around here, we’ve come to call this kind of toy-throwing tantrum “pawa hara”, power harassment.

But like many a politician on the make, what Hashimoto believes in most ardently is himself. Unlike the others, though, he’s not in the least ashamed to admit it:

What’s wrong with a lust for power and glory as a motivation for becoming a politician? Why do politicians blather on about serving the people, serving the country—such bullshit! (Literally, “it makes my arsehole itch”.) Setting one’s sights on being a politician, that’s the pinnacle of a lust for power, a lust for glory. After that comes doing it for the people, doing it for the country. Us politicians have to grudgingly serve the people so as to satisfy our lust for power, our lust for glory. 
「別に政治家を志す動機付けが、権力欲や名誉う欲でもいいじゃないか」「なんで『国民のために、お国のために』なんてケツの穴が痒くなるようなことばかりいうんだ?政治家を志すっちゅうのは、権力欲、名誉欲の最高峰だよ。その後に、国民のため、お国のためがついてくる。自分の権力欲、名誉欲を達成する手段として、嫌々国民のために奉仕しなければいけないわけよ。」

As a shoot-from-the-hip, take-no-prisoners politician possessed of many an unsound view, Hashimoto has amassed down the years a glorious rogues’ gallery of gaffes that deserve to be framed and exhibited, as Doonesbury does with the wisdom and wit of a Bush or a Gingrich. Here’s a random assortment:

People who like [the traditional performing arts of] noh and kyogen are weirdoes!
「能や狂言が好きな人は変質者。」

Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the practitioners of noh and kyogen and their trade associations.

Whoring by the Japanese in China is a kind of ODA.
「日本人による買春は中国へのODAみたいなもの。」

Astonishing how much offensive condescension can be packed into so few words. This talk-show spasm did at least provoke an impromptu and tear-stained on-air apology the following week.

Shitty boards of education
(クソ教育委員会)

This was said in reference to municipal boards of education that refuse to disclose percentages of correct answers scored in scholastic tests at the local authority level. In a language almost bereft of swear words and yet with vast scrolls of verboten taboo-to-broadcast expressions, this is more shocking than it might seem to outsiders. Hashimoto was rapped over the knuckles by his own mother for this; he apologized but did not withdraw the comment.

On a Fuji TV program in 2006, Hashimoto infringed one of the many taboos by using the banned word “cripple” (びっこ引いている), which elicited an immediate apology from both him and the compere, Sawako Agawa, to whom he said on-air a couple of months later, “If it was up to me, I’d knock you up straight away” (いまの僕なら阿川さんを即妊娠させられますよ), which earned him a complaint from the Osaka Bar Association that he had brought the dignity of the profession into doubt.

In 2008, Hashimoto had a contretemps with the ever-so-slightly left-of-center Asahi Shimbun, which had published an editorial critical of his posturing:

The world would be better off if the Asahi disappeared. It’s a totally foolish institution. I hope it goes out of business soon. The paper seems to think it’s fine to badmouth the powers that be.
「朝日新聞がなくなった方が世のためになる。全く愚かな言論機関。すぐさま廃業した方がいい。権力の悪口を言っていればいいと思っているのではないか。」

If the number of adults that just badmouth people like the Asahi does increases, then this country’s done for!
「人の悪口ばっかり言っているような朝日新聞のような大人が増えると日本はダメになります。」

Hashimoto is by no means a fan of NEETs, young people not in education, employment, or training, an acronym that originated in the UK and spread swiftly to the Far East:

Lock them up and set them to forced labor!
「拘留の上、労役を課す。」
Folk who don’t pay taxes aren’t entitled to live. 
「税金を払わない奴は生きる資格がない。」

With NEETs not having anyone in particular to stand up for them, these comments went uncensured.

One of the most contentious left-right tug-of-war freedom-of-conscience issues is that of forcing teachers to stand, face the Rising Sun, and sing Kimigayo at school ceremonies. Here’s what the Hash thinks:

Civil servants who repudiate the flag and the national anthem should quit. Antics that make light of their unsackability are absolutely intolerable.
「国旗国歌を否定するなら公務員を辞めればいい。身分保障に甘えるなんてふざけたことは絶対許さない。」

And finally, a dig at the sleepy Sea of Japan backwater (he’s got me at it now) of Tottori, a long put-upon butt of jokes:

Tottori’s got about 600,000 people, but 40-odd members of the prefectural assembly. Six would be enough!
「鳥取県は60万人くらいの人口で、議員が40数人いるんですかね。鳥取県議なんて6人でいいんですよ。」

Osaka has 109 prefectural assembly members for 8.9mn people, one for every 80,000 citizens, while Tottori has 35 for 585,000 people, one for every 17,000 citizens, so Hashimoto might be said to have a point, but this is not the sort of comment with which a politician can get off scot-free, and Hashimoto, having trampled on delicate provincial sensibilities, was forced to murmur an apology.

Although not gaffes, two quotations about his children—he now has seven—reveal him to be a stay-away, hands-off dad of orthodox ilk, as uninterested in their welfare as his father was in his:

I’ve got seven kids but I haven’t had anything to do with their upbringing, so the wife asks me how I can spout off about childrearing.
「私も、子どもは7人いますが、全く子育てをしなかったので、妻から『子育てについて何を語るのですか。』と言われました。」

I’ve got six kids but if the wife wasn’t around, spending 30 minutes with them would be about my limit.
「僕は子供が6人いるけど、妻がいなければ子供と一緒にいるのは30分が限界かな。」

At least some of these gaffes would in the West be darts toxic enough to stun the advance of even the most bull elephant of politicos but here, while we assiduously sort them into categories—was it a “slip of the tongue” (失言), a “problematic utterance” (問題になった発言), or the amorphous catch-all, “words or deeds that became a talking point” (話題になった言動)— the culprits soldier on. After all, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, a wholly unreconstructed racist and misogynist whose gaffistry makes Hashimoto look like a rank wet-behind-the-ears amateur, is on his fourth successive term, and nothing, but nothing, he says, even his declaration that the Great East Japan Earthquake last year was divine punishment (天罰) for the greed of modern Japan, can stop him in his tracks. Why this occurs, I can only speculate: that these populist demagogues are in many cases channeling the opinions, sometimes repressed by decorum, of an on-balance archly conservative electorate more than willing to indulge the odd gadfly here, the grumpy maverick there, if only for entertainment value, as long as they do not get too close to the levers of power. 

But there are always specifics at play, too, and the popularity of Hashimoto in his Osaka bastion can be explained by his eagerness to shake a devolutionary fist at Tokyo, the center of power in a highly centralized state, and the woes of Osaka itself, expressed as well as anywhere on the website of his new party, Osaka Ishin no Kai (大阪維新の会), glossed variously as One Osaka and the Osaka Restoration Party.   

Per capita prefectural income in Osaka Prefecture fell to Y3.08mn (c$39,000 but around $31,000 at PPP, very roughly the same level as Spain or South Korea) in 2006 from Y3.57mn in 1996, down by close to Y500,000 (14%) over the decade. In Osaka City, the decline was even more dramatic: the city’s per capita income was Y4.12mn in 1996, close to Tokyo’s Y4.27mn, but while Tokyo’s rose to Y4.82mn in 2006, Osaka City’s fell to Y3.44mn (down 16.5% on the decade), creating a gap of around Y1.4mn. The prefecture has the highest welfare rates in the country and unemployment blackspots as bad as anywhere, and with many of its leading corporate lights such as Sharp and Panasonic now adrift in seven seas of misery, the troubled present augurs more pain to come.

On arrival as governor in February 2008, Hashimoto inherited a monstrous prefectural debt of around Y6trn (approximately $10,000 a head), the legacy of a decade of fiscal mismanagement and deficits, and his first act was to declare a financial crisis and vow to cut the budget by Y100bn (about $1.3bn) a year. He managed to prune Y244bn over three years in what I’ll concede was a gutsy performance that started with his own salary, which he slashed by 30%, and that naturally earned him a host of enemies. As Osaka mayor, he will doubtless be anxious to take the same scalpel to the bloated municipal body, and in a city where the average bus driver earns somewhere between Y7.5mn ($95,000) and Y9mn ($115,000) a year, depending on which source you consult, and a third of sewage maintenance workers reputedly were until recently pulling down more than Y10mn ($130,000) annually, few could dispute that there is flab for the trimming.

As governor, Hashimoto can also be credited—to a degree—with cleaning up crime: Osaka has long been notorious as the crime capital of the country (these things are of course relative—Osaka is no Detroit). Some pragmatic initiatives—thousands of CCTVs and bright LED streetlights, ring-fencing the police budget from the worst of the cuts—helped reduce the number of reported crimes by 24% from 2007 to 2010, ahead of the 17% reduction recorded nationwide. Finally, after 35 inglorious years, Osaka ceded the title of national pick-pocketing champion to Tokyo in 2010. And for such an avowed autocrat, Hashimoto governed with a surprisingly liberal streak in some respects, pushing Osaka up the national information disclosure rankings, as compiled by the National Ombudsman Conference, from 28th out of 47 in 2007 to first in 2010.

The policy for which Hashimoto is now best known, however, is an arcane one: he wants to make Osaka Prefecture the administrative mirror-image of Tokyo. As he perceives it, the problem is that, although the population of Osaka is similar to that of a New York or London, administratively it is a patchwork quilt of 43 separate local authorities—33 cities, 22 of them with more than 100,000 people, nine towns, and a solitary village—which breeds overlapping provision of services and general inefficiency. The plan is to merge Osaka City with 10 of its surrounding cities, turn them into 20 wards, aping the 23 wards of Tokyo, and then turn Osaka Prefecture into a city. Without delving deeply into the minutiae of the pros and cons of the plan, its single biggest drawback, to this observer leastways, is that it rests on a specious piece of a priori reasoning: that to make Osaka look, administratively, like Tokyo will make it behave, economically, like Tokyo. It won’t, because the causes of the gaps that have opened up over the last dozen or so years between the capital and the second city—globalization, technological advance and commoditization, and the steady whittling away of the industrial base, to name but three interlocking phenomena—are not going to be ameliorated, let alone sent into reverse, by a dose of administrative tinkering.

No matter: Hashimoto is a—very resolute—man with a plan. To push it through, though, he will need not only the unwavering commitment of the wavering people of Osaka and the unqualified support of the heads of all affected municipalities, which has not been uniformly forthcoming, but also approval of revisions to the relevant laws by both houses of the Diet, which will require cross-party consensus, all of which will be a very tall order indeed. My suspicion, though, is that he is using the plan as a means to an end, that end being to orchestrate a revolt of the regions and vault himself onto the national political stage as a Napoleonic colossus astride the horse of a new, third-party force. He wouldn’t be the first dowa boy made good in national politics by any means—former minister for post-earthquake reconstruction Ryu Matsumoto, whose career imploded so spectacularly and entertainingly in a blizzard of boorishness one Sunday last summer, is the grandson of the founder of the Buraku Liberation League—but he would be the first with a gaze fixed so snake-like on the ultimate political prize, the keys to the Kantei. It was, I believe, former PM Taro Aso—no friend to the dowa—who said that it would be impossible for someone of dowa lineage to become prime minister. In Hashimoto, we might just see that assertion put to the test.  

Whoever said that Japanese politics was dull?

 [An apology, a justification, and a recommendation: This post relies on intelligence gleaned from a handful of websites, a couple of articles from the business weeklies, and a smattering of general knowledge. Amazing what you can unearth through just a little fossicking in the leaf-litter, though. The original Japanese quotations I inserted as something is always lost in translation: to take one tiny example, “zettai yurusanai”, rendered here as “absolutely intolerable”, loses the insistent aggression of the double-t plosive in “zettai”. Finally, for those seriously interested in the ins-and-outs of politics, Japanese style, I can do no better than recommend Michael Cucek’s splendid blog, Shisaku. How he stays so immaculately well informed is a constant wonder and mystery.]

About these ads

59 responses to “The Hashist

  1. You’re missing an important fact about Osakan government: trying to remodel it on Tokyo’s straightforward chain of command is not just combating Osaka’s economic difference from Tokyo but essentially transforming the essential culture of a city run on connections, a sort of corrupt buddy-buddy government writ large. Here are two cool news reports about the Osaka Metro, which has a six-person office devoted to answering vending machine complaints:

    Well, that and I disagree with basically your entire premise of Japan being a right-wing country with little patches of leftism, but here is not the place to argue cross-cultural political philosophy.

  2. Hashimoto and Akimoto, two different hydras of the same fascist beast, rocking its uncontested way across Japan!

    As a former Osakan, though, I do like Toru’s gusty provincial performance, though, as Spike so trenchantly points out, it is perhaps all a lot of hot air that will likely add up to little, given the grim reality of Osaka’s economic prospects.

    By the way, though, I think you are too modest about your translations! This one is the dog’s bollocks:
    まず、上司に対する物言いを考えること
    First, don’t give your boss any sass.

  3. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you. The line “he would be the first with a gaze fixed so snake-like on the ultimate political prize, the keys to the Kantei” is perfection.

  4. Great stuff. I wondered if you would be interested, Spike-san, in writing an essay for the http://www.abikofreepress.com 3/11 project? Michael Cucek has already, and it’s a beauty. Drop me a line if you are. Thank you.

    • Well, that’s a very generous and thoughtful invitation, OMiA (if I may call you that), but as I find it next to impossible to write to orders or deadlines, have nothing of particular profundity to say about the multiple disasters of 3/11, and as what I do think–which is that, aside from the ramifications for national energy policy, on which I’m no expert, and the micro-level tragedies of rebuilding long-shattered communities such as Kamaishi, the events of 3/11 will prove as ephemeral in their consequences as the Kobe quake did–is not, I’d guess, what you or your putative readers want to hear, please allow me to decline. I look forward to the fruits of the project, though.

      • That’s a shame.

        No orders involved, other than to finish in time for me to paste it together before 3/11/12. You do yourself a disservice though. Your wit and nose for bullshit would have carried you through. And there is no editorial line to this one. The argument that 3/11 will in the end benefit the forces of reaction and cronyism is one that I personally think is more likely than the narrative that “everything has changed”. But that may be just my innate cynicism.

        But whatever, I respect your decision, and please, call me Ourmani.

        Carry on!

      • IMHO it won’t be ephemeral. Radiation changes the whole match. I do think most of that prefecture, including the cities where NE Shinkansen passes thru, are eventually doomed and an alternate way would have to be found, linking Niigata-Yamagata-Morioka to retain connections to Hokkaido.

      • Any, erm, evidence for that? (My favourite question of all time.)

  5. NEETs are an odd social group, because by not participating in the economy, I don’t think politicians know what to do with or for them. If anything, they are treated like any other kind of poor folk.

    I assume some of the eccentricity, if that is the appropriate word, in Japanese politics comes from the same population aging you have described when talking about economic issues, so I wonder, for whom do the young minority vote, and who are going to take over when the elder population cannot vote for the status quo?

    • “for whom do the young minority vote, and who are going to take over when the elder population cannot vote for the status quo?”
      Good questions. Increasingly, as in other mature, nay senile, democracies, I suspect the young don’t vote much, although I admit I don’t have the data on hand to prove this–and I’m surprised I’ve not seen much in the vernacular media on the subject, now you mention it (though it may well have slipped under my radar screen). More research required! One thing we can say for certain is that there’s no organized political party that sets out explicitly to court the young and/or utterly disenchanted, as there are in a few European countries. As to the second part of your question, well I hate to be glibly cynical (OK, no I don’t really), but with the median age set to rise from 45 currently to 55 by 2050 (numbers off the top of my head), the “elder population” can always vote for the status quo.

      • “As to the second part of your question, well I hate to be glibly cynical (OK, no I don’t really), but with the median age set to rise from 45 currently to 55 by 2050 (numbers off the top of my head), the “elder population” can always vote for the status quo.”

        This trend being the case, currently what percentage of “oldsters” turn out for elections and what percentage does this constitute of total votes cast?

      • “This trend being the case, currently what percentage of “oldsters” turn out for elections and what percentage does this constitute of total votes cast?”

        Without bothering to access the stats, the answer to the first part of your question is “a much higher percentage than the youngsters do”, as is true of course in all senile democracies, and the answer to your second part of your question would be about a third, I’d guess. Add in the over 50s and take into account the rural bias in electoral districts and you’ll get close to half the votes by weight. To give you a really accurate picture, wait for my “Japan: The gerontocracy” post…

      • That median age is an interesting figure, it does not match the US “Baby Boom” as much as I expected. Good answer to a relatively impossible question. ;)

      • To give you a really accurate picture, wait for my “Japan: The gerontocracy” post…

        Elsewhere I was able to develop my argumentation from the previous thread a bit more, and one part of the debt dynamic of Japan really struck me . . . that the baby boom cohort is apparently trying to dump quadrillions of debt onto today’s junior highschoolers to repay. . .

        The thought is laughable, really. Here’s what I said:

        “Will the Japan of 2025 be able to support the retirements of the ~30M aged 65+?

        “This graph: http://i.imgur.com/R0PJn.jpg is a pretty good picture of the evolving situation this century, and shows that in 2025 there will be 10M less working-age peeps compared to today.

        “If Japan’s finances are so screwed up now, how are they going to be put in order in just juu-su few years?”

        If today’s boomers can’t get things shikkari, I fail to see how the following generation is going to do any better, how they’re going to be in any position to pay the taxes the preceding generation shirked and put into “savings” instead.

        But thanks to the demographics, per the graph above retired people are going to rise from 1/5th to 1/3rd the electorate this century.

      • “The baby boom cohort is apparently trying to dump quadrillions of debt onto today’s junior highschoolers to repay…”
        Of course. It will try and bequeath those highschoolers with as much of its residual financial assets as it can keep from Leviathan’s maw, although given that the highschoolers will have to pay up one way or another, the state will almost certainly get it, by hook or by crook, in the end.
        “If Japan’s finances are so screwed up now, how are they going to be put in order in just juu-su few years?”
        Actually, there’s a delightfully simple solution, there really is. Just raise the consumption tax to 25% and the retirement age to 70. Done. The political will is what’s lacking, and I supect that political inertia will eventually need a crisis to force the hand of the “iron triangle”. How horrific that crisis will have to be, and when it will come–well, only Buddha knows.

      • “Just raise the consumption tax to 25% and the retirement age to 70.”

        At the cost of derailing Hashimoto here, this appears to me to be rather weak at clawing back money from the people who *should* have been taxed, 1990-now.

        I was re-reading the The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence yesterday and the intro bit on the ‘construction state’ still seemed spot-on, with the hundreds of trillions of yen being shoveled into stimulus works since the Tanaka days.

        Japan is closer to the US than the Nordic states on the Gini scale of things and to close out the baby boom by socking everyone with regressive taxes and delayed pensions seems patently unfair.

        I’d rather like to see how much money could be raised by a land value tax before that. As I mentioned earlier, I love trying to estimate the total land value of just the 23区. I might even try to do this systematically some day . . .

        Last year a friend paid ~¥2000万 for 100m2 of land out in Nishitokyo — taking that modest valuation for just half of the 23区’s land area, that would be a tax base of $600B. 5% tax on that land value would yield $30B/yr, doesn’t seem like much but it would cover the minimum pensions of 2.5M people. A 5% tax on the *actual* land value of the 23区 would be quite an interesting number — the cheapest land I see in Shirokane-dai is ~¥6000万/100m2 (the highest is ¥14,000万/100m2); extending this tax system outwards to all of Japan would theoretically bring in a frightfully large amount of revenue, even if the lower quintiles of land value got off lightly (as they should).

      • “At the cost of derailing Hashimoto here, this appears to me to be rather weak at clawing back money from the people who *should* have been taxed, 1990-now.”
        Consider the Hash derailed. But actually, the consumption tax, at a sufficiently punitive rate, would get a lot of people who should have been taxed, as the old consume more than they save.
        “I was re-reading the The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence yesterday”
        And there aren’t many people who could say they read it once, let alone twice… Thought it was great in c1999, less so in the last year or two when I revisited parts of it for Spike’s sweet sake. And I haven’t thought much of G Mc C’s posts at Japan Focus at all. Afraid he falls into the paleosocialist category and what’s worse, writing outside his area of expertise. Did you ever read “Japan under Construction: Corruption, Politics, and Public Works”, by Brian Woodall, BTW? Very dated now, but very informative. One of the books that most influenced me in my early days. Used from $17 on Amazon, no doubt cheaper elsewhere.
        “Japan is closer to the US than the Nordic states on the Gini scale of things”
        About midway between the US and the Nordics the last time I checked, circa Canada levels. Not absolutely outrageous but you’re absolutely right to point out that Japan is not some egalitarian utopia, as a lot of ill-informed journalists that jet in for the day and file their reports saying they’ve seen no poverty seem to think.
        “and to close out the baby boom by socking everyone with regressive taxes and delayed pensions seems patently unfair.”
        You can argue, and I would, that the consumption tax, taken over a life cycle, is not that regressive. See my “The case for a consumption tax hike”:
        http://spikejapan.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/minispike-the-case-for-a-consumption-tax-hike/
        Delaying pensions seems patently unfair? Surely that, if implemented swiftly, would hurt the boomers most? Wouldn’t that be just?
        Love your land value tax, but can you imagine the stink it would raise? And why, if taxed at the point of acquisition, wouldn’t it hurt the younger generations more than the old? Anyway, the consumption tax is the only tax game in town, right now.
        You really should join the SSJ-Forum mailing list, where assorted luminaries such as Richard Katz debate these things quite intelligently. Here, for instance, is a mail today from Gregory W. Noble, professor of politics and public administration at the Institute of Social Science, University of Tokyo, with which I basically agree:
        “Given the cogent objections Richard Katz raised to increasing the consumption tax, why is Noda still pushing the issue? John, Nobu and Paul have provided additional evidence for my original proposition that the alternatives are also unattractive, and that the political dynamics might not be as resistant to a tax increase as they appear at first glance. Yesterday’s news that the major parties reached tentative agreement on a 7.8% wage cut for public servants further paves the way by showing that the government is sincere about cutting its own costs before asking the voters to pay more in taxes.
        “In addition, Japanese policymakers have good reasons to focus on increasing the consumption tax fairly soon rather than waiting, and putting primary emphasis on consumption rather than other taxes. I agree with Richard that ideally it would be preferable first to improve tax collection via strict implementation of a taxpayer ID number, and then raise taxes on real estate, personal income and estates before turning to an increase in the consumption tax, and I hope his efforts at persuading Japanese policymakers bear some fruit. And indeed, as in the US, there is broad support, at least in principle, for raising personal income tax rates. It is also important to recognize, however, that the focus on consumption taxes is not just happenstance, but is the outcome of extended policy debates. Policymakers finally have achieved a rough consensus on what to do. As late as Abe’s time, it was at least somewhat plausible to argue that expenditure cuts should come before tax increases, but after several more years of restraint on expenditures and explosive growth in public debt, that period has passed. Policymakers now largely agree that consumption and personal income taxes must go up, while corporate taxes should stay the same or decrease. In contrast, even after more than three decades of effort, the government has consistently failed to implement taxpayer ID. Maybe the DPJ, less dependent on farmers and small business owners than the LDP, will fare better at passing taxpayer ID legislation-but then again, maybe not. Or maybe not in time. As a native of California, I can attest that it is also difficult to raise taxes on real estate.
        “Moreover, there are compelling reasons why governments around the world, including European social democracies, the liberal UK, and Japan’s neighbors in East Asia, rely heavily on VAT and other consumption taxes: taxes on consumption raise prodigious amounts of revenue relatively efficiently and with minimal distortion and corruption (introduction of mandatory invoicing in Japan would further improve transparency and honesty); they encourage savings, investment, and growth; they do not penalize exports; and they are relatively stable across the business cycle.
        Consumption taxes are quite good at capturing revenue from groups that might otherwise escape the tax system altogether, such as farmers, small business owners, and the elderly, and in that sense they are quite fair.
        Consumption taxes are regressive across income classes, but exempting food and other necessities or taxing them at a lower rate can ameliorate the effect; at any rate, regressivity is fairly limited when considered across consumers’ life spans. Last but not least, the spending consumption taxes enable is relatively progressive.
        “Arthur Alexander and Richard Katz suggest that Japan’s fiscal problems are still manageable and that increasing the consumption tax too soon could worsen the economic situation. There is some truth to this: as I suggested in my earlier post, while fiscal crisis has moved from the unthinkable to the thinkable, it is probably still several years from posing an immediate threat. But raising tax rates will take time, and in the meantime the financial situation at all levels of government grows steadily more perilous: in 2010, the debt to GDP ratio exceeded 220% and even net debt reached 117%, far over the Reinhart and Rogoff warning line of 90% (after which crises become more likely and growth slows; see their update at http://voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/5395), and nearly double the levels in the US (92%/65%) and UK (77%/69%).
        Parsing the debt into levels of government and types of holders is useful, but events of the last few years have shown how dangerous it is for all levels of government (and banking systems) to indulge in over-leveraging. Whereas it took an interest rate of 7% to spark a crisis in Italy, an increase in interest rates even to the relatively normal rate of 3% would devastate the value of bank holdings in Japan.
        Moreover, the “balance sheet recession” of the 1990s and early 2000s has largely passed, and with it the need for extraordinary government stimulation to overcome private sector weakness: the corporate sector has steadily decreased its financial leveraging, and surveys of businesses suggest that the backlog of labor is largely exhausted (though it reappeared briefly after the Lehman and Fukushima shocks).
        “The most interesting question revolves around timing and trust in government. Of course, trust in government has declined everywhere over the last few decades, and some scholars argue that that is not entirely a bad thing. Levels of trust also respond, however, to perceptions of how well the government is doing its job. Richard’s proposal to wait until growth is firmly under way before embarking on fiscal consolidation makes sense for the US, with its relatively high potential growth rate and moderate levels of accumulated debt. Even in the US, though, that view is hotly contested. In Japan, waiting for the ideal time all too easily could become yet another excuse for inaction, and further fuel anxiety about Japan’s future. Of course, the best way to restore a degree of confidence-and thus spur consumption and investment-would be for the economy to recover, and we all hope that happens soon. But letting Japan’s alarming fiscal situation spiral further out of control is hardly a recipe for restoring confidence. Making serious efforts to restore fiscal balance, and not just vague promises about future sobriety, might help. In practice, the current proposal to implement increases in stages, beginning in two years, would probably coincide with Richard’s proposal to wait for an upturn in the economy. But it would also provide a clearer, more definitive signal that political leaders are taking decisive action. In contrast, waiting for a full-scale upheaval of the party system to work itself out and produce a government capable of taking painful steps to rein in the deficit seems like a risky wager indeed. By that point, a full-scale debt crisis could well become not only thinkable but imminent.”

      • But actually, the consumption tax, at a sufficiently punitive rate, would get a lot of people who should have been taxed, as the old consume more than they save.

        By definition the retired consume more than they save, but the question there is what exactly are old people consuming in their retirement. I’m just in my 40s and I don’t plan on buying anything else in my life that I don’t have to.
        You can argue, and I would, that the consumption tax, taken over a life cycle, is not that regressive.”

        Sure, I’m a believer in the idea that in the end all taxes come out of rents — the important thing is to just actually levy the taxes and not postpone them with borrowing.

        But now just taxing people’s (and the next generation’s) consumption so that the boomer’s savings don’t go *poof* is just taking money from one pocket to the other.

        When you tax something you get less of it. Except land ownership. There’s trillions of yen to be taxed there, and it ain’t going anywhere!

        Heh, I see I’ve already beat that drum here . . .

        Delaying pensions seems patently unfair?

        Well, yeah, taking 5-10 years off is essentially halving them. Japan has an underemployment problem, wouldn’t it be more efficient to pension the boomers off now and get more productive people working?

        I’m not up on the mismatch between what has been paid into the social pensions and their funding commitments, so it may not be that unjust to halve them.

        Surely that, if implemented swiftly, would hurt the boomers most? Wouldn’t that be just?

        I don’t want to hurt just anyone, just those who have grown fat over the past 2-3 decades of economic boom & bust. I would also like to see Japan gets its affairs in order, at least as well as the nordic countries operate. And to do this, you’ve got to go where the money is.

        But I acknowledge that a LVT would cause as many problems as it solves, since the entire country is still mortgaged to the hilt (see this for a sad example), and the one thing the LVT regime is good at is deflating land values.

        Noble: “As a native of California, I can attest that it is also difficult to raise taxes on real estate.”

        The key thing here is to not tax owner-occupied residences much at all. Prop 13 arose from understandable outrage, but the citizenry in its wisdom gave away the store, allowing corporations a free ride in their extensive commercial land holdings. Another fault of real estate taxes is taxing the value of the improvements. This is generally dumb, though environmental impact taxes should be on the table (I’m looking at you, Azabu Tower).

        Any discussion of taxes without honestly looking at the immense commercial land value of Japan’s cities as a tax base is, well, sad to me.

        But expected. Too many golden oxen get gored with that, better sock it to granny when she needs to buy a new fan or refrigerator.

        Though I’d guess a healthy consumption tax would encourage more recycling and repairs. With all the stuff Japan already has, maybe nobody will have to buy anything any more. Great.

      • By definition the retired consume more than they save, but the question there is what exactly are old people consuming in their retirement. I’m just in my 40s and I don’t plan on buying anything else in my life that I don’t have to.
        Actually, I’d hazard a guess that at least some and perhaps a chunky minority of retired people don’t consume more than they save. I have a miserly but wealthy aunt who fits this bill. As to what they consume, well, 60″ TVs, Caribbean cruises, Toyota Crown Majestas–all the good things in life! You may not plan on buying much else, Troy, but has it occurred to you, two-time reader of The Emptiness of Japanese Affluence, that you are perhaps not cut from quite the same cloth as your fellow men and women?
        But now just taxing people’s (and the next generation’s) consumption so that the boomer’s savings don’t go *poof* is just taking money from one pocket to the other.
        It is at least conceivable that ad valorem taxes could be reduced at a future date when governments’ fiscal positions have been righted, although it seems unlikely. If you really want to hit the boomer savings, then it would be very simple in theory to impose an annual tax on all deposit and checking accounts in the land. But politics is the art of the possible (and other cliches)… All I really meant by my original post, in which I glibly advocated a 25% consumption tax and a retirement age of 70, was that the solutions are out there and they can be expressed very straightforwardly.
        When you tax something you get less of it. Except land ownership. There’s trillions of yen to be taxed there, and it ain’t going anywhere!
        I think you’d be surprised by how little consumption taxes have hit consumption in countries other than Japan (and even here the case history is highly debatable). A bit of a mystery, to me, that one. And, no, you don’t get less land, but as you say later, you would likely get declining prices for it, and as we are (except for a tiny blip around 2007) in a 22-year bear market for land even in Tokyo, where currently REITs trade at discounts to their NAV in the expectations of future declines in it, it might not be wise to provoke the bear further, goodness knows there are enough other provocateurs.
        Japan has an underemployment problem, wouldn’t it be more efficient to pension the boomers off now and get more productive people working?
        Warning, warning! Lump of labor fallacy alert! Why not reduce the mandatory retirement age to 50? That would be sure to get youth unemployment down–or would it?
        But expected. Too many golden oxen get gored with that, better sock it to granny when she needs to buy a new fan or refrigerator.
        Wait a minute, I thought granny, aka Mrs Watanabe with her multimillion yen savings, was the one that needed to be hit? You’ve confused me now. Who exactly are these fat cats that you want to hurt?

      • oops, the link to the sad story about the Seiko empire losing its Shirokane-dai estate-fit-for-a-daimyo was here.

        (I found about this while virtually floating over the city in bing and seeing something quite out of place)

      • in a 22-year bear market for land even in Tokyo

        Lower the price the better! I’d love to build a 10-20 unit gaijin apartment to provide low-BS housing services to FOB people (like I was 20 years ago), but Tokyo’s land prices are still rather prohibitive on that front.

        Lump of labor fallacy alert!

        http://ecologicalheadstand.blogspot.com/2010/12/older-workers-and-phony-lump-of-labor.html

        Why not reduce the mandatory retirement age to 50? That would be sure to get youth unemployment down–or would it?

        It’d certainly get more people out of make-work BS jobs like Yakult distribution. Maybe get some freetas working more, too. The more I think about it, the better this idea is.

        Wait a minute, I thought granny, aka Mrs Watanabe with her multimillion yen savings

        Point taken about the savings issue — the bulk of this boomer savings has just been plowed into JGBs, a really stupid thing to have done given Japan’s demographics and the concomitant fall of Japan as an industrial, wealth-creating society.

        Now that it’s time to cash these JGBs, the JG has to find the ¥, and hopefully tax what it should have taxed in the first place. I don’t know if LVT is any magic bullet for this, but I’d like to see the idea at least explored.

        Humans and real estate is kinda like fish and water — we’re so immersed in it that we don’t actually see it. It wasn’t until coming back from Japan in my 30s that I began to understand the pervasive role real estate plays in the economy.

      • “Actually, I’d hazard a guess that at least some and perhaps a chunky minority of retired people don’t consume more than they save. I have a miserly but wealthy aunt who fits this bill.”

        Describing my mother-in-law to a T. Having grown up in the post-war years (the like co-hort in the U.S. being those people who grew-up during the Great Depression), she’s not cheap, but frugal. Otoo-san’s something different altogether, but decidedly less so since the Bubble burst.

        I think splashing it out was for the children of this generation, the kids who came of age during the Bubble. Now they are all in their 40s and 50s and are finding things pretty uncomfortable.

  6. For a mini-spike, you sure managed to cover a great deal of the hot topics surrounding Hashimoto – just great. A humorous and thoughtful post!

    I often marvel at the monstrous gap between public (read: media) sensitivity towards the “slips of the tongue” from politicians depending on their rank. While they assuredly have some specific targets which they hunt relentlessly like Ozawa, I find on the whole anyone below daijin themselves, or with no close link to a current daijin, while occasionally elevated by some media outlets, is free to say as they wish as their comments will often be shrugged off as superficial political theatre. Once you hit the daijin-tier however, even the slightest error while in spotlight can often cause such a massive hullabaloo that the media firestorm ends with their resignation in a matter of days. Hashimoto, while admittedly he is constantly in the media, remains on the whole to be shown in quite a positive light, I’ve felt. When his party crashed an undoukai in Osaka for some campaigning last year, all that was televised was an angry old Osaka ojisan, and a collected Hashimoto – he looked great. How the media coverage will change as he rises up the political ranks (which I’m sure he will) is anyone’s guess however.

    By the way, I went and listened to one of his public addresses in my town prior to the double election, and he truly does have a way of firing up the crowds – he’s good at mixing just the right amount of the “stagnating shiyakusho” narrative with detailed examples of his accomplishments thus far… it was at least quite entertaining.

    • “I often marvel at the monstrous gap between public (read: media) sensitivity towards the “slips of the tongue” from politicians depending on their rank.”
      That’s a very astute comment, I think, and your elaboration on it is equally insightful. It may be that the Hash is unable to stop himself shooting his big
      gob off under the national media glare, but then his preternatural ambition, coupled with a measure of self-awareness, suggests he just might be able to. After
      all–although I didn’t spell it out fully in the post–many of the “gaffes” were made on Kansai TV programmes in his pre-gubernatorial days where you have to
      strike a pose just to get invited back. I was going to add a paragraph on this theme, comparing the gaffe as a vehicle for advancement, Hashimoto style, and
      the gaffe as a true expression of belief, Ishihara style, but I ran out of (self-imposed) time. All very interesting…

  7. Spike is arguably the single best English-language writer on Japan these days. What a treat to find that he’s written a new essay!

    Jiminto leader Nonaka Hiromu, ubiquitous in the late 90s/early 00s in political media coverage, and certainly the _eminence grise_ behind the Prime Ministers of the era, was quite famously from a dowa background.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. Nonaka was indeed of dowa roots, although I have little recollection of him; could have been a phase in which I tuned J politics out. He was actually the victim of an snide aside from ex-PM Aso that led me to label the latter “no friend of the dowa”. Now aged 86, he’s kun-ichido in the Japanese honours system, which does make you wonder whether–if only for a few special individuals, or not–the “dowa mondai” might be on its way to some kind of resolution.

  8. Thanks, as always, for the insightful commentary. There was quite a bit here about Hashimoto of which I was not aware, and which now gives me pause about supporting him in any of his efforts to move 維新の会 onto the national stage. (I would encourage him to do more to improve Osaka’s lot before trying to tackle anything larger…)

  9. I find your posts informative,and fascinating.You touch on things the average expat never sees or understands.Thank you .
    Missy in NYC

  10. I’m confused by your selective approval of comments; if you have an unwritten comment policy, you really should let people know about it before they waste time writing comments that won’t be approved.

    • Hey, gimme a break! Some of us have day jobs and families, you know! I don’t–can’t–won’t–spend 18 hours a day sitting around the home PC. There’s no comment policy, written or unwritten, I might have deleted two (truly offensive) comments in three years. Come one, come all…

  11. very interesting kind of change my view of Osaka from now on ^^

  12. First off, thanks again for stealing a couple hours form work this morning. It’s no that I’m that slow a reader, but there is a compounding effect of bouncing between Spike and what I’m supposed to be doing.

    “As Osaka mayor, he will doubtless be anxious to take the same scalpel to the bloated municipal body, and in a city where the average bus driver earns somewhere between Y7.5mn ($95,000) and Y9mn ($115,000) a year, depending on which source you consult, and a third of sewage maintenance workers reputedly were until recently pulling down more than Y10mn ($130,000) annually, few could dispute that there is flab for the trimming.”

    As we Americans like to mouth frequently in cyberspace, WTF!?

    Our Rethugs think that most of our civil servants are grossly overpaid. After reading this, the guys down at the waterworks and bus barn wish they’d been born Japanese.

    • It’s funny, an Australian friend of mine just told me how unsurprised he was by the bus driver and sewage worker average wages. In Japan’s case, it’s almost certainly regulation-driven, in Australia almost certainly resource-driven. Japan’s wages will come down faster.

  13. Hashi has been an advocate of establishing an alternate capital in Kansai area for a long time. With Kanto slowly being claimed with radioactive particles,Hashi’s ideas seem to gain ground slowly.

    The most likely site is said to be the site of the Itami airport. Already developed, nobody to give compensation to, etc.

    It appears that as time goes on and Kanto becomes less habitable due to radiation, Hashi’s power will significantly increase in the coming years.

    • “Kanto slowly being claimed with radioactive particles”
      Kanto is not “slowly being claimed with radioactive particles”, where *do* you get these nonsensical ideas from?!?
      “Hashi’s power will significantly increase in the coming years”
      OK, I’ll take a double bet with you: the first being that his power does *not* significantly increase in the coming years, and the second being that, even if it does, it won’t be due to Kanto becoming “less habitable due to radiation”. Give me a stake and odds…

  14. Stupendous writing, as always. Mr. T.T. would love all of this…if only he could read English…

    • Thanks L.L. I think Mr T.T. probably *knows* all of this already, not only because he is stupenously well informed about the “ura” side of Japan, but because the language gap remains so wide that the knowledge gap between what the average Japanese person knows about their society and what even the well informed foreigner knows remains vast. To give you but one example: this post was actually inspired by an aside at a lecture by a professor emeritus at a US university who specializes in Japanese politics and society (and who shall remain nameless), an aside in which he conveyed his suspicions of Hashimoto but also his ignorance. I sent him a link to the post, to which he replied:
      “Thanks so much! This is amazing, I knew almost nothing of this. I’d just been trying to learn more about Hashimoto (there was a long interview with him in Asahi, which you can get in English on the web) so your timing is great. Really fascinating.”
      I would guess that there are at most a couple of hundred Westerners on the planet capable of following Japanese politics with any precision (and I wouldn’t necessarily count myself among them). Quite a scarily narrow funnel, don’t you think?

  15. My wife (Osakan bought up in Tokyo) says that she prefers Hashimoto to Ishihara but has some misgivings about Hashimoto, that he is slightly right wing in some way.

    Very interesting article and amazing use of Japanese translations to elucidate points. I would say rather than “Don’t give your boss any sass”, what he is trying to say is “Think about what how you speak to your boss”.
    Nice try though.

    • ‘My wife (Osakan bought up in Tokyo) says that she prefers Hashimoto to Ishihara but has some misgivings about Hashimoto, that he is slightly right wing in some way.’
      Slightly right wing? Ya think? Preferring Hashimoto to Ishihara, not much of a choice is it? Like the choice between having a leg or an arm amputated, say.

      ‘I would say rather than “Don’t give your boss any sass”, what he is trying to say is “Think about what how you speak to your boss”. Nice try though.’

      Thanks for the input. Having been a professional translator for, ooh, a dozen years now, though, I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

  16. A dozen years? That explains a lot

    • Here, Adrian. Here’s a crown made of gold, festooned with rubies and topped with a diamond as big as a fist. I dub thee King Gaijin of Japan, supreme commander of the One True Translation, guardian of the Massive Shoulder Chip and official purveyor of Shit Comments to Websites.

      Long live the King!

      • No-one could ever take that away from you Simon

      • Gentlemen, gentlemen, please! I admit I was peeved at the condescension of “Nice try though”. First rule of blog commentary: have some idea of exactly who you’re tussling with. Not that I would claim my Japanese is finger-licking perfect. And “Think about how you speak to your boss”, I’ll concede, is probably a more literally accurate translation, although it sidles around the thorny issue of the precise nuance of “物言い”. But I wanted to convey what Hashimoto might have said had he been a native (US English) speaker. If he had been a British English speaker, of course I would have had him saying, “First, don’t give your boss any lip.” Such are the trivial pleasures of the ventriloquist translator. I think there’s another (overlapping) justification for a looser translation, too: this is by Japanese standards a breathtakingly blunt communication, and that should be reflected in a similar register in the English. Anyway, sweet dreams to all.

  17. excuse the typo that should have read “Think about how you speak to your boss”

  18. I have to say I do support the Osaka metrpolois idea.
    Though…..wow. I thought he was just a Japanese Alex Salmond but he is that but with much more evil politics.

  19. I’ve been a self-admittedly naive supporter of Hashimoto for one main reason: I enjoy his knife-to-the-throat-of-bureaucracy style of politics, and I truly hope he can make progress in eliminating the horrific fat padding the waist of the Osaka government. The thinking here being that if some kind of precedence is set down, hopefully Tokyo will follow suit (again, most likely simple wishful thinking).

    This article definitely gives me pause, though, bringing me back down to the ground in remembering that everyone in government has a hidden agenda. I will say, however, that when you’ve got people like Minister Coffee and Cosmonaut Yuai at the top levels of government, swallowing a bit of right-handed political shit definitely seems to be the lesser of two evils if ultimately we can flush out all the career imbeciles and money grubbers.

    Thank you for a very good article!

  20. Fascinating entry. Thanks for this.

    I do have to admit being curious about why you consider some of Hashimoto’s positions to be “a bundle of contradictions”. Specifically:

    “While in favor of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, he hopes the gods forefend that foreigners, no matter how many generations their families might have been in the country, be allowed to vote in even local elections. ”

    I don’t see any contradiction between the former (joining an international free trade framework) and the latter (refusing non-citizens the right to vote). Indeed, both are standard US (and Canadian, and a host of other countries’) policy. If one wants to vote, one needs to be a citizen. Now, if Hashimoto was to be for international trade but against allowing foreigners to ever acquire Japanese citizenship (which he may be, I don’t know) and therefore permanently barred from ever being able to have a say in their country of residence, that would be different.

    But being against foreign suffrage? That’s just common sense.

    • I do have to admit being curious about why you consider some of Hashimoto’s positions to be “a bundle of contradictions”. Specifically:
      “While in favor of Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, he hopes the gods forefend that foreigners, no matter how many generations their families might have been in the country, be allowed to vote in even local elections. ”

      I suspected–indeed, half-hoped-that someone might call me on that one. At the philosophical heart of (economic) liberalism (in the UK sense, rather than the US sense), is the free movement of goods, capital, and people. If people do get to move freely, then they need to be given rights, otherwise their freedom to move is closer to a voluntarily compromised slavery, and among those rights should be the right to vote. “No taxation without representation!” as some inhabitants of the British colonies on both sides of the Atlantic rightly proclaimed, two and a half centuries ago.
      We should also take into account the special circumstances of the long-term Korean (and to a lesser extent Chinese) residents of Japan, around whom this local debate revolves. They are now third- or fourth-generation residents of Japan who for understandable historical reasons do not want to be deprived of their ties to the peninsula (or mainland). Because benighted Japan doesn’t allow dual nationality for adults, they are forced to choose between nationality or suffrage. Surely it is illiberal to deny long-term foreign residents their electoral voice and liberal, and therefore contradictory, to embrace a free-trade agreement, even one as flawed as the TPP?
      I don’t see any contradiction between the former (joining an international free trade framework) and the latter (refusing non-citizens the right to vote). Indeed, both are standard US (and Canadian, and a host of other countries’) policy.
      That other countries embrace the same or similar policies, whilst simultaneously espousing free trade, doesn’t make them any the less contradictory. BTW, the UK, generously (but not without its own contradictions, too) allows all Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Irish Republic the right to vote in general elections, and society doesn’t yet appear to have collapsed, despite this gross infringement of “common sense”.
      In my ideal world–not one we are going to see any time soon, but never mind–permanent legal foreign residents of a developed nation should be allowed to vote after a 5-10 year period of residency as long as they have no criminal record. How could anyone possibly argue against that?

      • “If people do get to move freely, then they need to be given rights, otherwise their freedom to move is closer to a voluntarily compromised slavery,”

        Oh please. Hyperbolize much? “Voluntary compromised slavery?” You just made that expression up, didn’t you? No-one, including myself, was forced to come live in Japan. Japan does not “owe” us a right to vote. Basic human rights, yes, in accordance with UN agreements and declarations Japan has signed, but “voting” is not a basic human right. It is a right of citizenship, or a privilege citizens can bestow on non-citizens.

        But comparing voluntary immigrants to “slaves” just because they cannot vote… That’s just over the top. Next thing you might suggest that Pakistani immigrants be allowed to commit “honor killings”, because that is part of their own culture, and denying them that and forcing them to comply with the societal and legal norms of their new home is “enslaving” them?

        ““No taxation without representation!” as some inhabitants of the British colonies on both sides of the Atlantic rightly proclaimed, two and a half centuries ago.”

        Context, dear sir, if you please. I have heard that argument repeatedly, mostly by Americans but also all too frequently by folks who could be excused for knowing the phrase but not the context.

        The American colonists decried “taxation without representation” because they were British subjects, the same (in theory) as British subjects in London, and yet they could not elect representatives to Parliament. Instead, they were given crown-appointed representatives.

        Which might have assuaged some, however then Parliament had the gall to assess special taxes on the American colonies – taxes that fellow British subjects in Britain did not have to pay, nor for that matter British subjects in other colonies. When the American colonists complained, their (non-elected) representatives sided with Parliament and the Crown.

        The above is of course a simplified version of events, however I hope the point is clear: “No taxation without representation” only ever referred to a very specific set of circumstances where citizens of a country were being taxed separately from many of their fellow citizens, and denied proper representation in the halls of government to protest that taxation. It has never meant that “anyone who pays taxes to a country is entitled to the right to vote in that country”.

        “We should also take into account the special circumstances of the long-term Korean (and to a lesser extent Chinese) residents of Japan”

        What exactly, aside from their own stubbornness, makes their circumstance “special”? I don’t see as it matters a whit how long they have been in Japan, they choose, of their own free will, to NOT become Japanese citizens. Alright, some do not have a choice, as they have engaged in criminal activities (a disqualifier for naturalizing), but that’s not exactly a “bad thing” in those cases.

        Now, granted, Japan should in my honest opinion make things simpler for the Zainichi who wish to naturalize. I think an open admission that those with Special Permanent Resident status are either former Japanese nationals (from before 1945) or the direct descendants of same, and therefore are eligible to “reclaim” their lost citizenship through a vastly simplified method. However I think we both know that even if Japan did that, a certain percentage of Zainichi would still refuse to take Japanese citizenship, under any circumstances (even up to and including Japan losing complete control of its faculties and allowing dual nationality). Should we still allow such intransigents to vote? When you have people very clearly stating “NO! We do not want to be one of you!” why on Earth should a state allow them a say in government?

        “They are now third- or fourth-generation residents of Japan who for understandable historical reasons do not want to be deprived of their ties to the peninsula (or mainland).”

        Such a tired Canard – are Italian-Americans “deprived” of their ties to Italy? Or Irish-Americans? Many Irish I have known consider Irish-Americans to be “more Irish than the Irish”, so obviously taking another country’s nationality has no effect on emotional ties to one’s (or one’s ancestor’s) former homeland.

        “Because benighted Japan doesn’t allow dual nationality for adults,”

        Neither do Korea or China. Nor any other country, when you think about it. If a person holds French and German passports (for example), and is living in France, then they are French. Only. And when they go to Germany they are German. Only. If they get into trouble in one country they cannot whip out their other passport and say “call my embassy!”. Ask Chris Savoie how that worked out for him…

        “Surely it is illiberal to deny long-term foreign residents their electoral voice and liberal, and therefore contradictory, to embrace a free-trade agreement, even one as flawed as the TPP?”

        Again, two different issues, not related to one another, aside from the fact that both are perceived in certain quarters as being in Japan’s best interest. Hashimoto apparently holds that view, so again, where is the contradiction? A is in Japan’s best interest, and B is in Japan’s best interest, and arguments can be provided to back both views, so where is there a “contradiction”?

        “BTW, the UK, generously (but not without its own contradictions, too) allows all Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Irish Republic the right to vote in general elections, ”

        Yes, but all Commonwealth citizens would, by virtue of being Commonwealth citizens, belong to countries that hold the British Queen to be Head of State of their own country. Ireland – well, giving the Irish the right to vote is the least the British can do after all they put the Irish through for several centuries.

        EU citizens can vote in local elections as well, but that is a procedural matter related to Britain being part of a larger framework called the EU. And it is reciprocal – British citizens can vote in local elections in another EU country they may be resident in.

        Japan is in no such position.

      • Sorry, one more: “permanent legal foreign residents of a developed nation”

        Only developed nations? Bigot! ;-) What do you have against the rest? And since when is China a “developed nation” (since you advocate giving Chinese the vote…)?

    • I would also add that a Japanese commentator once–astutely, I think–described Hashimoto as a combination of a military bureaucrat (by which I assume he meant a miliary bureaucrat in the Imperial Japanese Army) and a free-market fundamentalist. Those are not easily reconcilable intellectual positions.

  21. Pingback: Aggiornamenti flash | il diritto c'è, ma non si vede

  22. You say “dowa (同和, “same as the Japanese”)
    It’s an abbreviation of doho-yuwa 同胞融和 – brothers in harmony.

  23. Pingback: Okay, Now This Is a Saga. « Aliens in This World

  24. This is off-topic. I’m passing along some outside commentary that includes some thoughts by Hugh Hendry on Japan that you might find interesting.

    http://www.zerohedge.com/news/hugh-hendry-back-full-eclectica-letter

    The letter is interesting, though I do apologize for the place I found it.
    You’ve been quiet for a while. I hope you’re doing well.

    • Many thanks for the link–have only had time to read the Japan bits, but Mr. Hendry has some very perceptive things to say about 6501, 6503, 6723, and 7261 (might get into trouble if I mention their names…)
      Yes, I have been quiet–distracted by events. New post coming today or tomorrow, though it’s not about the world of finance by any means.
      Thanks again.

  25. Pingback: Toru Hashimoto declared wartime comfort women “necessary” | Trends in Japan - Tokyo's latest Lifestyle, Culture and Innovation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s