Shut up

15 Jun

Japan’s Human rights Ambassador Hideaki Ueda tells the UN Torture Committee to “shut up”.

Its a gift that just keeps on giving. It is no longer surprising and has become an amusing game of expectation as to when the next clown will step out of the car in front of an international audience. Yes clearly there are language issues but for a diplomat to use language such as “shut up” in committee is not only unnecessary but gives us an insight into the vetting process that is Japanese politics.

Time after time a parade of highly paid performers aka clowns step up to a live microphone and perform a circus act in front of the world. Domestic, International it doesn’t matter really. The next brouhaha is only a matter of time and I am left wondering at the cost in terms of political capital.

Precious meeting time when it isn’t being thrown under the bus by questionable cabinet decisions is wasted in posturing, apologizing or demands for apology. The forecast calls for more tragically humorous political comedy in our near future. Lets hope it isn’t too damaging shall we ?

July 12

9 Jun

Mark your calendar boys, girls and bots because that is the day when the upper house of the Japanese parliament will have an election. Besides the obvious conclusion that an election has the possibility to change policy, this particular election holds more weight than normal because it is in the upper house that Abe’s policies have faced opposition.

So the question is will the Suzuki, Sato and Watanabe’s go out and continue to support the LDP and their Abenomic policies ? If they do in fact go out and vote up the LDP party line thus paving the way for less resistance to Abe’s choices then look for things to really grind into gear round these parts.

120 yen to the dollar is not outside the realm of possibility.

Nor will a corresponding response from the Koreans be of any surprise. These two nations are essentially fighting over a similar market share and I highly doubt Seoul is going to sit by while Japan continues to devalue its way to an export boom.

My advice is that if you are going to be in the market for anything out of East Asia such as a car, power tools, bearings, robotics etc you wait to see how things shake out. For in waiting you are bound to see a drop in prices, especially if you are holding dollars.

On a side note we here at casa DCY have scheduled a meeting with our local bank to renegotiate our fixed rate mortgage. It should be an interesting event as those who are paying attention can see a distinct rise in rates coming down the line and are rushing to lock in low low rates now.

When and if we are successful I will do my best to update you on the process. Wish us luck cause we are going to need it.

A sad state of affairs

4 Jun

As is often the case on Sundays my wife and I settle down for a scrumptious homemade dinner. Over the years she has become quite an accomplished cook with my expanding waistline as testament to her excellent meals. Usually before eating we watch the NHL national news at her mothers house so I can get a general idea about what is going on in Japan. This is actually pretty much the only TV we watch during the week so it has become a bit of a ritual for us.

What I saw last Sunday was very disturbing and indicative of further thought so I decided to post something about it. The national news showed a story about how a drunken US serviceman had attacked a car in Okinawa. They spent precious moments documenting how the windows had been hit and the sheet metal damaged. Seriously ? This is national news ? Of all the things NHK could talk about they chose to tell a story about a damaged car ?

Later on in the program they featured a story about how numerous elementary school children have been killed by irresponsible drivers in Japan. 10 kids dead in one incident last year yet the dangerous foreigner attacking a car got priority exposure ? Hard to stomach this kind of pithy reporting. Further vexing the issue is that the NHK actually charges a national users fee for commercial free coverage. Makes me glad I don’t own a TV in my apartment because I would feel cheated by the tripe they call reporting.

Send in the clowns

20 May

Politicians are the gift that just keep on giving. Its not exclusive to just one culture, language or party either. It is somewhat surprising how quickly a politician can do so much damage to his reputation. If someone chose the single worst way to damage a position or point of contention and then tried to plan an action designed to torpedo it he or she couldn’t have done a better job than Mr Hashimoto did this past week.

He managed during a press conference last week to insult women, his ally and regional powers at the same time. First by openly stating his ignorance about the issue of comfort women, then furthering the damage to include US forces stationed in Japan and finally by stirring up bitter feelings between Japan and her neighbors. You really couldn’t write up a better SNAFU if you tried and it really is amazing how foolish and clown-like the upcoming political season is going to be this summer.

Not to beat a dead horse but the sheer ignorance followed by the botched spin job afterwards really did bring a smile to my face. Its really humorous how blatantly stupid those comments were. Now other parties are distancing themselves from the party led by Ishihara and Hashimoto. I guess they will leave them the moral “high ground” ?

I doubt it can get much funnier or tragic but lets stick around and see what else they can pull out of their collective hats.

The ink isn’t even dry

13 May

An LDP policy chief has opened declared that visiting Yasukuni is the right of every Japanese person and that a treaty signed by China and Japan that normalized relations specifically states a position of “non interference” between the 2 countries when it comes to internal affairs. This kind of statement is almost comical if it weren’t so tragic. I think the LDP’s foreign policy is now officially lets kick the hornets nest and then play in traffic.

Sad and pathetic is how I would categorize this rash and foolish statement.

If you want to visit the shrine then do so, but to openly court your regional neighbors in doing so is just folly pure and simple. I find it difficult to think of a decision or statement by a politician that could do more damage to regional stability than this one. I take that back, if the sitting PM were to make such a statement it would be far more damaging, the fact that its only a party policy boss makes it so much more palatable.

Hang on folks, this one is bound to get more interesting.

Yen weakens

12 May

For anyone that was paying attention they could clearly see where the Abe government was headed with their new and improved fiscal policy. Then yen has now moved to about 100 to the dollar and will perhaps further weaken. My hunch is that we can easily a 106-108 range by this summer thus further boosting the bottom line.

Business sites across Japan are announcing the return to profit for many of Japans larger corporations. Boosted by the weakened yen, Japan’s value added exports are seeing a nice bump. Will it have any staying power is the question. With elections approaching we will see how well the LDP can continue to grease the wheels of the voters. I have already discussed the antiquated parliamentary district issue as being a key point in how the LDP returned to power. I fully expect this round to be a full menu of “more of the same” with Mr Abe heading into the summer/fall season with higher export numbers boosting his support.

Perhaps the Japanese government will then turn its attention to its rather pathetic attempts of foreign policy. This could become a comedy of errors as pro Japanese officials continue to comment on regional issues without regard to how their comments will be interpreted by their neighbors. There seems to be a never ending parade of stupid comments sent around the world by those who speak about Japan’s strengths in terms of the other party’s weakness. For example, Tokyo’s governor Inose was critical of Istanbul’s bid for the Olympics in an interview with the NY Times and later had to issue a formal apology. This is typical of the foreign policy playbook here.

Its rather interesting because in day to day interactions between the Japanese people the words, manners and tone between them are very carefully chosen. In fact they often bend over backwards to be polite, yet when it comes to handling important international affairs the shoe somehow seems to find its way into the mouth of some well meaning politician. Hope remains but to the experienced its simply a question of time before another comment creates another fiasco.

So we head into the summer of 2013 with elections on the horizon, the nukes due to be turned back on, then yen continuing to weaken and the island controversy still brewing. It is going to get more interesting round here.

The comedy continues

23 Apr

I guess for Americans dealing with the Boston bombing news other issues have fallen off the priority list, but I can assure you that Korea remains a big problem here in East Asia. So where is the comedy in this situation you ask ? Well I can honestly tell you that at this point I am never surprised by the propensity of the Japanese to shoot themselves in the foot.

Today it was announced that the Korean Foreign Minister was cancelling his high level talks with the Abe government as a protest over Japanese cabinet ministers visiting the Yasukuni war shrine earlier in the month. You would think that it would be in both countries best interest to at least discuss trade, finance and other issues after the major announcement by the Bank of Japan to further its quantitative easing policy. For those who didn’t already know the Koreans and Japanese are fighting over a very similar export market share and I doubt the Koreans sit by and let the Yen continue to devalue without taking similar action with the Won.

So deputy prime minister and former prime minister Taro Aso publicly decides to visit Yasukuni and nobody takes the the time to inform him that he might want to wait until AFTER the high level Korean talks ? Seriously ? Who is in charge of Japanese policy Mickey Mouse ? No wait don’t answer that question because Mickey might do a better job of it than the current administration. Its a laughable situation and very illustrative of how puerile and ignorant the Japanese are when it comes to how they handle foreign policy. Perhaps they already knew that the talks with Korea wouldn’t garner any traction but why schedule them in the first place ?

Further darkening the waters its now being reported that up to 80 Japanese nationalists are en route to visit the disputed Daioyu-Senkaku islands. While I am sure they do not have official government sanction to visit the area you can be sure that privately these kinds of excursions are met with a supporting nod and words of affirmation in upper echelon circles within the government of Japan.

I wonder what other neighbor the Abe government can piss off before the month is out ?

The nukes are coming back online

19 Apr

Its only a question of time now.

A petition to close down Japan’s last 2 operating nuclear reactors was denied by a court in Tokyo this week. I believe this creates a path towards reopening the closed nuke plants once they have been determined to be “safe”. As to how the government is measuring “safeness” is anyone’s guess.

This author is highly skeptical of an energy cabinet and their declarations of safety when prior to the Tsunami the same agency proclaimed the Fukushima plant as safe. Clearly not safe. Yet energy costs are increasingly taking a bigger bite out of the trade balance which may force Abe’s hand sometime this summer when peak demand comes online.

Prior to the Great Earthquake Japan was creating about 30% of its available electric power from nuclear plants. It has also been reported that new sources of uranium have been purchased from the French by the Japanese. Why else would they be buying more fuel ?

It doesn’t take much to connect the dots in this story.

Prices are up

14 Apr

Its been awhile since I last posted but as anticipated the prices of many things here in Japan are up. Tonight the news mentioned that high end rings and jewelry are going up 10%. Meanwhile prices for food are up too as this country imports about 60% of its total caloric intake from overseas. Gas prices are up as well.

Meanwhile the Yen continues to weaken, hopefully to spur sagging exports but somehow I doubt that the Koreans who quite likely are in the same export market segments as the Japanese will sit idly by while Shinzo Abe follows his policy of further QE.

I still cannot understand why people vote to support a man who openly talks about inflation. This is in a country where it costs you $6.50 just to sit in a taxicab. However a closer look at the situation reveals why the LDP has taken power. In a word “redistricting”. The political lines in Japan have remained the same for quite some time. In fact I don’t know how long it has been since the country adjusted them but as it currently stands the educated city dweller has very little representation while the rapidly depopulating rural areas continue to send large numbers of representatives to Tokyo where they vote in large numbers to support LDP infrastructure projects. Knowing how things work helps to better understand why Shinzo Abe can openly say that a 2% inflation rate is his party’s goal.

The way I see it things are not going to get better for the average consumer and the elderly are going to be in for a shock at the supermarkets. On the other hand large corporate bonuses were paid this year so ideally the lucky recipients will spend the money boosting demand. I am not holding my breath however.

Best of luck to the PM and the LDP. They are going to need it.

Mr Abe still going strong

8 Mar

I had some free time this afternoon while eating an early dinner so decided to turn on NHK and watch the Japanese government discuss current business. There was quite a lot of talk about TPP aka free trade and while I have quite a few opinions about Japan and free trade I wanted to take the time this evening to mention that Prime Minister Shizo Abe looked very healthy and enthusiastic. He had color in his face and a stride to his step. He jumped up nimbly to answer more than a few questions.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean anything but from a guy who has been watching the PM closely since his election, Mr Abe does not show any signs of wearing down or losing his verve. I wonder how long he can continue to fire on all cylinders ?

As far as Japan and free trade goes I will post something about it in the near future. For now Mr Abe is looking genki and still has a majority of public support. His numbers are holding north of 60% and his financial policies continue to hold sway.

March 15 is tax day here so it could be quite interesting to see how the year end accounting is reported.