Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Serious Economic Decline in the Provinces

I recently had a conversation with a person I'll call O-san, an executive of a small ironworks operation in the Tohoku region. He spoke frankly about his predicament:

"There's no work now. We haven't had any orders since last September. I've asked the city and the prefecture for financial help. We borrowed 1 million yen from city hall. But the prefecture responded harshly. We received some financing from them, but they were quick to insist on repayment. They wouldn't wait. The city was willing to wait six months for repayment, but we're cornered. It's either closing down or filing for bankruptcy for us. I've been growing a few vegetables on a small plot of land and planting rice there, but you need money to get started in farming. We've been eating the food we grow on our land. We're practicing self-sufficiency."

As I listened to O-san talk, I kept thinking that there's nothing I could say to bring him comfort. I felt that anything I could come up with would sound empty, so I just kept listening. When he finished talking, I said, "All you can do is endure it."

"That's right. I'll endure it," came his reply.

The impoverishment of the Japanese is spreading rapidly. The money is not flowing, and that is a frightening concept. Poverty has become a serious issue. The truth is we're broke.
There are many reasons for the public to not support Prime Minister Taro Aso or opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, but one of the biggest reasons is that both of them -- and many other politicians -- refuse to comprehend the poverty out there. They haven't come up with adequate solutions for stemming the recession, which is the reason for the poverty.

An old joke relates how someone talking to a person of responsibility and stature said, "The people are in such bad shape that many of them don't even have bread to eat." The person of stature replied, "So let them eat cake." Unfortunately, this is no joke in Japan today. The Japanese populace is in despair because the politicians don't have a clue about their predicament.

Ozawa, Aso See Support Shrivel

After the indictment of Ichiro Ozawa's top aide in a bribery scandal Tuesday, support for Ozawa has sunk so low that he would gladly swap approval ratings with former US President George W. Bush. Yet despite his fall from grace, he still edges out Prime Minister Taro Aso. A poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun that came out before Ozawa's aide was indicted had 3.5% of respondents replying that Aso was a suitable candidate for prime minister while 6% said that of Ozawa.

The Washington Post and Bloomberg checked in with Morita-san this week to get his take on Ozawa's fall. To paraphrase, Morita says that while the Japanese people feel despair and hopelessness at their political choices, the Democrats are not likely to stick with Ozawa for long.

For the next couple of weeks, leaders within the Democratic Party of Japan will be jostling for position and a chance to become the next prime minister.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Iwakuni's Turn to Suffer

Japan Focus has translated a story from the Chugoku Shimbun on what it's like to live with the US military. As the troops in Atsugi are shifted to Iwakuni, residents in Atsugi breathe a sigh of relief. It's now Iwakuni's turn to bear the brunt of misguided US policy thanks to a Japanese government unable to say no.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

When It Rains ... Blatant Anti-Semitism on Japanese TV

This one isn't even debatable: Atsuyuki Sasa, former chief of Japan's National Security Council, blames the financial scandals in the US on the "Jews" during a Saturday morning program. Here's a translation courtesy of a source at the Wiesenthal Center (Japanese speakers, watch the video for yourself. It's irrefutable.):

「ひどい事をしているのはユダヤ人ですよ」 (Hidoi koto wo shite iru no wa yudayajin desu yo It is the Jews who are doing these awful things).

The TV host apologizes for the comments, but Mr Sasa counters:

「いつでも受けて立ち ますよ」(Itsu demo uketachimasu yo. I'll stand by my statement at any time).

Tahara and the Jewish Conspiracy: You Decide

If you speak Japanaese and you have been wondering if TV anchor Soichiro Tahara really did attribute the downfall of Makiko Tanaka and Ichiro Ozawa to the "yudaya,"or Jews, watch the video for yourself and let us know what you think.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aso's Economic Policies Trail the G-20's

It's a shame, but the rest of the world looks at the current Japanese government and sees a dismal bunch. The "anti-recessionary measures" these politicians talk about are just words with nothing to accompany them. The March 11 edition of Newsweek Japan ran an article entitled "The World is Amazed" that focused on the sorry state of Japanese politics. This is truly miserable. I've been getting a lot of requests for interviews with foreign journalists, but they're all asking the same thing: "Is Japan really OK?" I can't really answer, "No, it's not OK," so I say something like, "We have to do something. Japan will rise again." It pains me to speak this way. I'm beginning to worry that Japan will trigger a global crisis at the rate that it's going.

On March 14, the finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 industrialized countries gathered in London. Just before the meeting, Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano announced a turning point in Japan's economic policy, but all it amounted to was some increased public spending that had been requested by the American government. Without a request from the Americans, the Japanese government wouldn't have made the change. That's the miserable situation were in. Yet moving toward a policy of more public spending is a good thing. Despite the route taken, the result is good.

There were reports about the US and the Europeans being unable to resolve their differences at the G-20, but the mutual agreement that came out of the meeting put the group ahead of Japan on the path to recovery. Japan should have used the leverage provided by the G-20 agreement to unveil some aggressive anti-recessionary policies. The government should project an attitude that says, "We'll do whatever it takes."

The G-20 statement says that the countries will take action until the world economy starts to recover. The countries pledged to make sure banks are lending again. They said a financial expansion that promotes growth and employment will be treated with the utmost care and urgency. The Japanese government should faithfully execute this sort of action plan.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tahara Denies Saying 'Jews' behind Ozawa's Troubles

Did he or didn't he? TV Asahi anchorman Soichiro Tahara is saying he never said that the "Jews" were behind the downfall of former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka and more recently opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa's aide. TV Asahi officials even made a trip to the Israeli embassy, says a source in Tokyo, and aired the program for officials there, explaining that Tahara had said, "yuzai" (guilty) not "yudaya" (Jewish). It seems the Simon Weisenthal Center has backed down for the time being.

Yet people I checked with who have seen the show say there is no mistaking that Tahara said "yudaya" when talking about how Ms. Tanaka fell from grace. Even in the context of the conversation, transcribed for me by a friend in Tokyo, the word "yuzai" makes no sense:

"Amerika to (yuzai/yudayajin) ni yarareta." Tanaka was done in by the Americans and the ... guilt? I don't think so.

Will this just blow over and Tahara dodge another bullet? Looks like it.

Morita Urges Both Parties to Draft New Leaders

As Aso and Ozawa do their best imitations of albatrosses around the necks of their respective parties, Morita tells the FT that the parties should scrap the old guard and pick new leaders.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tahara and the Jewish Conspiracy

Looks like one of Japan's most prominent anchormen has decided that the Jews were behind the arrest of Ichiro Ozawa's aide. Oh boy, here we go again.

Soichiro Tahara is on a huge network in Japan: TV Asahi. This isn't some talk radio hack. Yet the media in Japan is not covering this. It's a non-issue. Compare Tahara's world-view (the Jews control everything) to Morita's (asking for calm and perspective instead of conspiracy theories) and you get a sense of how topsy-turvy things are in the Japanese media world.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ozawa's Grip on Power Slipping Fast

Ichiro Ozawa may be days away from stepping down as head of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan after a scandal implicated his top aide and Nishimatsu Construction in illegal contributions to Ozawa's campaign. Mr. Morita, quoted extensively in this piece from the Asia Times, thinks the opposition leader's political days are numbered. "Ozawa will be forced to resign sooner or later," he was quoted as saying.

Aso now faces the choice of calling for elections soon despite a nationwide dislike for the premier or waiting and allowing the DPJ to get its footing again. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Conspiracy Theories Flourish in Wake of Arrest

The arrest of the head secretary of opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa and the full-scale criminal investigation into Ozawa's office has led to rampant talk of a US-directed conspiracy against him. I've received many mails asking me why I don't pursue the idea that this is an American plot and that this conspiracy was hatched in the US. Just last week, a Middle East TV station started off its interview with me by asking, "What do you think of the explanation that the arrest of Ozawa's aide was retaliation by the US?" I've heard the same question from a weekly magazine reporter. This conspiracy theory is spreading like wildfire. But I believe this is going too far.

I've been replying that "there is no detailed evidence that proves this theory, so we're not in a position to make these claims," but the people asking the question don't seem to agree. Perhaps they have information that underscores this theory, but I don't.

Those promulgating the theory claim that the US is fearful of what Ozawa will say about the US 7th Fleet (which is based in Yokosuka). But there is so much we'd need to look into to give these claims credence: How has the US reacted to Ozawa's remarks? What is the relationship between the US intelligence community and the Japanese prosecutor's office? The list goes on.

At any rate, this theory is in full bloom. Lots of people are calling this the US and LDP conspiracy. I've felt pressure recently from more people telling me it's a problem if I don't come out and attack this as a conspiracy. This is troubling. I'm hoping for calm. What we need now is sober judgment.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Time for Conversations that Count

"The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none." — Thomas Carlyle
The government's inconsequential posturing has continued unabated since the financial and economic turmoil began last autumn. A full five months after the Lehman Shock, politicians have not produced a single policy that speaks to this crisis.

The first supplementary budget of fiscal 08, put together by the administration of then-Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, concentrated on measures to offset rising fuel costs. The second supplementary budget is powerless against this crisis because it was based on optimistic forecasts. The 09 budget is based on a framework established by the Fukuda cabinet last summer. Essentially, it caters to the fiscal reform movement.

The administration of Taro Aso has produced nothing but empty policy. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan is focused solely on politics, not policy. Ever since the upper house election in 2007, the relationship between the two houses of Japan's Diet has been similar to the "conflict for conflict's sake" approach taken before World War II by the House of Peers and the House of Representatives. It's a lamentable situation.

"Don't let trivial matters distract you from the important things." — Japanese proverb
The gap between what Aso says and does, and the disgraceful actions on the world stage by former Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa are unforgivable flubs in the realm of politics. While Nakagawa resigned, the Diet has yet to put Aso on notice. The opposition parties in the upper house should quickly call for a vote of censure.

The Diet is not dealing with the No. 1 item of interest among the public: how to break through this economic crisis. DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa, the likely victor in the next general election, issues comments on all sorts of trivial matters but has forgotten the important ones. The parties need to get together and discuss the issues that really matter!

Printing More Money
At an international gathering, Aso committed Japan to more public spending. But he's all talk. The government as a whole has not moved to loosen financial policies since the Lehman Shock. It has been passive about any spending increase. Moreover, it has been irresolute on financial policy and has connived with large banks on the ruthless credit crunch and credit withdrawals.

Because of this inaction, the economy and the living standard of the Japanese teeter on a cliff. To bring Japan back, the government needs to print more money. Issuing money would give the country new fiscal resources to rebuild. Both sides of the political aisle should investigate this option.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Move to Discredit Ozawa

Is the recent arrest of a key aide to Ichiro Ozawa connected to Prime Minister Taro Aso's recent visit to Washington DC? In other words, did Aso get the green light from the Obama administration to move against the opposition Democratic Party of Japan before it gets too popular and upsets the US-Japan relationship? At least one blogger and reader of Morita's work thinks so. Anyone else see the connection?