Tag Archives: Aso

Amateur Hour at TEPCO

2 Sep

Amateur Hour at TEPCO

Well here we are 2 years and 6 months later. The government as well as parts of TEPCO management have changed but the excuses haven’t. Their press conferences are frighteningly puerile with the media hardly reporting on it at all. There is a reason why the Fukushima problem is not being reported to a large degree in the domestic market but it does not change the facts of the ongoing situation here in Japan.

I am not surprised, are you ?

It has been widely reported on the net and from foreign news sources that TEPCO built almost 1,000 tanks to store tons of contaminated water. Yet they did not test the valves or sealant in the tanks. Further these same tanks do not have water pressure gauges either. Then for an added bonus the company said that a total of two workers are responsible for checking the tanks. Huh ?

I have a question.

Is TEPCO serious ? They must be joking right ?

The plan was to build tanks, fill them with radioactive water without testing the sealant, not to install pressure gauges, then to reduce monitoring to a minimum ? Sounds like a winning plan to me.

Who is asking about these issues in the press ? Wait don’t answer that because I am sure the excuses will be worse than the “plan” TEPCO instituted. I get that nobody wants the job; its dirty, its dangerous, its unpopular and perhaps most compellingly its taboo.

Yup thats right folks. Talking about Fukushima is taboo.

If you think about this cultural safety valve it does help put many of the other issues into better focus. War crimes ? Taboo. Historical trouble in the region and the causes of them ? Taboo too. It really does bring up an image of an ostrich with its head in the sand. Problem ? What problem ? I don’t know about any problems.
I recently tried to discuss this issue with a long time expat friend of mine that I have known for over 10 years. He seemed incapable of understanding my point that how others perceive Japan is just as important as what Japan does going forward. It became so frustrating that I gave up trying to make the point. Perhaps I shouldn’t have but if one factors in the taboo, it makes perfect sense.

After realizing this point and spending the mental downtime to better understand it I think I can better appreciate the Japanese. They want to do well, and they try their best to do things right and if they get it wrong nobody talks about it. Its a very effective method for moving forward.

Sadly by brushing everything sordid, distasteful or dirty under the carpet there are bound to be bugs and disturbances that come about as a result. So remember that round these parts its best not to talk about past mistakes.

Is that how you live your life ? Wow talk about ghosts in the closet !

As a teacher I sometimes tell students that the best way to learn is to make mistakes, yet many diligent students here do not want to take the risk of making a mistake. The system here teaches that by venturing no answer or opinion and waiting, the teacher or senior will eventually provide the answers.

I don’t think the Western methodologies of peer based guessing are any better, just different. If I had to explain it I would use the coin analogy. Both sides are effective and one does not serve a more important function than another. I suppose I should post something about teaching on the blog but the political and environmental situation just get stuck in my craw and I want to purge the gestalt.

Meanwhile Shinzo Abe left on a nuclear technology export road show to the Middle east and Africa this week visiting Bahrain, Dijbouti, Kuwait and Qatar. Japan has already signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with UAE.

Business as usual I suppose. That other stuff belongs under the carpet.

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Blunderific

16 Aug

Its been far too long since I posted on this humble little blog with the big attitude, but the gaffes, mistakes and blunders around these parts continue to pile up so I thought it best to address some of them here and now.

Its amateur hour at the office of the deputy prime minister and former PM Taro Aso who went on record stating that the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan could learn something from the Nazi’s. To be fair the subject he meant to address was how a German government party was able to transform the country. However are we to believe that nobody checks his statements or was he speaking off the cuff ? So we are dealing with either incompetence, idiocy or perhaps both ? It took less than one news cycle for the criticism to escalate to the point where a retraction and apology was forthcoming. Hardly surprising and in fact rather par for the course round these parts.

The naming of the new Japanese naval helicopter carrier Izumo is also bound to become a classic dipshyte maneuver. Izumo also happens to be the name of a cruiser used by the Japanese during both the first and second Sino Japanese wars where it no doubt killed plenty of Japans enemies in such places as Shanghai and other coastal cities. Gee what a great name selection, lets choose a title that is perhaps most likely to piss off our neighbors. Then the Japanese can blame them for not understanding their culture. Talk about having ones head your ass.

For the record I know the relevance of Izumo for Japanese people, but giving the largest warship built since WW2 such a name simply tempts derision, taunts neighbors, mocks those professing detente as well as harms what little regional goodwill that remains. The reaction has been swift and justifiable to the condescending nature of the ships name. Hopefully the deterrence it provides will more than make up for the damage its caused to relations between Japan and China.

Now of course it is Obon season here in Japan which means its Yasukuni shrine time. I won’t go into details about the place because you can learn about it yourself, but it is a magnet for creating ill will all across East Asia. Thus it is a no win situation as far as international relations and greater regional stability are concerned. Therefore its a great reason for Japanese government officials to visit there. Hey lets torpedo any and all good will gained in the region by having the Government officials visit the shrine.
Or perhaps the LDP can further strain foreign affairs by having the PM call a news conference where he can discuss the importance and significance of Yasukuni to the Japanese people. Never mind how non Japanese will take such a stance. We already know what the disastrous reaction will be after numerous such discussions over the years. After all outsiders cannot possibly understand such a delicate matter so why bother worrying about it ? Lets just shoot from the hip because its done so much good for them in the past. Its laughable how easy it is for these clowns to damage an already tension filled situation with “good intent”. Actually it might be more prudent to have Mr Aso get up there and go back to the Nazi card. That way it might not piss off the Asians as much as the Jews and Europeans.

What is my point some of you may ask ?

Simply this

Those who argue that Japanese are misunderstood miss the point entirely. The issue has very little to do with how Japanese perceive themselves, this is about how her neighbors see them.

Until the little light goes on in an otherwise empty refrigerator nothing good will come from LDP posturing. Less talking, better yet NO talking is preferable to what is being said and very likely what is going to be said over the coming weeks.

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 ?

End of January Update

31 Jan

Its been too long since I paid attention to this blog so I thought I would post some humble musings for my dear readers.

The Yen has continued its weakening and is now sitting around the 90-91 level. While from outside the country this might be worth a read in the business section or a few thoughts about how one might make some money I have to tell you that it is starting to affect things here. Gasoline prices are about to go up about 2 yen per liter, granted its not a significant change but it is what I believe to be the first in a serious of gradual price rises as the Abe government continues to devalue the Yen.

A very good indicator are food prices. In a country that imports approximately 60% of its caloric intake a weakened yen translates directly to higher prices at the supermarket. Since it is also fairly well known the supermarket margins are razor thin the company has little choice but to pass on the increased costs to its customers. Portion sizes will decrease and prices will continue upwards as long as the Yen continues to devalue. Bananas in particular which are primarily imported from the Philippines are an excellent way to check the relative strength of the Yen. The prices have already started moving higher and the number of them on the bunch are also fewer that before.

Here in town a number of supermarkets that had been in business for decades have closed. Most have reopened under new management but I suspect the number of players in the marketplace have been reduced although I have no proof at the time of this writing that this is in fact the case. Fewer players in the supermarket space will result in less choice for the consumer and additionally put more pressure upon those choosing to service the community under greater pressure not to raise prices without just cause. In my opinion its a very ugly situation that is bound to get worse.

There are other disturbing trends as well. Recently a rich money fund operator was murdered outside Tokyo. He and his wife had led a very handsome lifestyle based out of Switzerland but had returned to Tokyo for some reason or another only to find themselves killed and dumped in a shallow grave outside town. I suspect and have no proof whatsoever that this was in fact a Ponzi scheme operator who had pissed off the wrong investors. The fund had purportedly showed very high returns which in itself is a highly significant story as Japan has had 20 years of deflation. How could this couple show such great returns for so long ? After the economic crisis or what is referred to here as the Lehman shock I suspect they could not access further derivative credit and were forced to return to find new investors. When confronted for a return they could not provide it and were then killed. In classic Japanese manner the alleged murderer tried to drink some kind of toilet cleaner to off himself but failed and is now in custody. The police found him because he was the owner of the land where they found the buried bodies. Seriously you cannot make this stuff up.

The Abe government continues to say their target is an inflationary environment despite the fact that it will adversely affect many of the people who voted for them. Support levels are in the 64-66% range for now. I am fairly certain that by March 15 which is tax day here in Japan we will see the implementation of the national consumption tax rate hike to 10% up from the previous 5%. This will in fact spur a frenzy of buying as folks look to try and maximize their spending capital which the Abe government will turn around and point to as a sign of improvement. Of course it is relatively safe to assume that come the Summertime and demand has fallen off to its previous low points and with the Yen further weakened, higher prices at the gas pump and at the supermarket we will see Mr Abe’s support levels dropping well below 50%.

Its at the point we will find out exactly what kind of politician he is. I for one am looking forward to it.

Yen weakening

15 Jan

I posted some time ago that Abe’s position was mostly about hope. I thought that he was going to pay mostly lip service and it would be business as usual, but it appears I was wrong. I wonder how long the hope will last ?

Well as of right now the Yen has “weakened” to 89 to the dollar. With the Yen moving back towards making exports profitable again it appears the government can buy themselves more time before ultimately falling to the quadrillion yen debt they have built up over the decades. I have read that Zaibatsu want to reach a 106-08 range to pad their profits enough to go back to business as usual. If Abe continues to have his way perhaps we will see the magical 100 yen rate hit perhaps by March ? Its going to be interesting to see how things pan out now that Obama is back in the saddle after a long campaign season. My bet is on dollar rally until washington gets its act together and further devalues…

The market in Tokyo is up too. The Nikkei hit its highest level since April 2010. I think the question everyone is asking is “Are we seeing a new normal or is this just noise in an otherwise very dim market going forward ?” My guess is the later but I suppose the title of this blog would indicate that I am bearish on things.

Turn on the “new” nukes

6 Jan

The news is a few days old but its official. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has done on national TV and clearly stated that he supports the building of “new” atomic reactors.

He clarified his position by stating that the new nuclear power plants would be improved and that his government should build energy trust with the Japanese public.

http://enenews.com/prime-minister-japan-will-be-building-nuclear-power-plants/comment-page-1

Its a very unpopular position to take as the Fukushima crisis, poorly attempted coverup and criminal neglect has soured the population against nuclear power. Japan does not have any real energy sources and must import it from places such as Indonesia, Russia and Australia.

The nuclear special interest groups bring deep pockets, jobs programs and provide energy for Japans consumers so in the long run it was only a question of time before the atomic power door was opened. Still it should immediately reduce Mr Abe’s support numbers nationwide and bring opposition parties closer together in an effort to oust the LDP from power asap.

In the past Mr Abe has been very vague about many of his positions so for picking up the atomic energy baton and waving the flag this humble blogger can at least understand and support his decision. He actually visited the Fukushima power plant on December 29 and quite likely got a full dose of how “safe” it is now that things have been “cleaned” up.

Now if he can only speak more carefully about foreign policy things might cool down. Recently he has gone public with his wish to “reframe” Japan’s post WW2 apology. The East Asian regional powderkeg simply exploded with reactions. The Koreans in particular have a strong and deep feeling of resentment about the entire issue and it is my understanding that Japanese textbooks do not fully or accurately depict the occupation which further angers the Korean people. The Chinese too who always appear eager to point fingers elsewhere were quick to condemn the statement.

Why is Mr Abe even discussing this ? Its a losing strategy on the international front and his rural and nationalist supporters in Japan are already onboard with his election. It makes little sense and is another confirming indicator that he is flawed leader.

So in the past week Mr Abe has stirred the atomic energy hornets nest, which was more of a required move to take and at the same time has opened a giant can of worms in the region with his “forward” working statement as regards East Asia.

Can’t wait to see what next week brings.

Debt, lovely debt

5 Jan

Today I wanted to discuss the financial situation here in Japan. There are a number of commentators who watch the market and economic conditions here but perhaps my favorite person to listen to is Kyle Bass. The other day I watched a Bass video via Zero Hedge and youtube that featured Kyle saying that the sky would fall and it was a question when it would happen.

He mentions a few pertinent facts;
1. Japan pays 10.5 trillion yen a year interest on their national debt
2. Japan takes in 40-42 trillion yen a year in tax revenue
3. Japan pays almost zero interest to finance their debt

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens next.

Japan already pays 25% of its total annual tax revenue to service its massive quadrillion yen debt. How much more debt can they possibly sustain ? Its even more disturbing when you consider that very few politicians are talking about paying off this debt. The path is very dark ahead…

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is already on record saying that rural infrastructure projects are needed. Obviously the money has to come from somewhere. Financial minister Taro Aso has also gone on record saying that government spending and financial “easing” must continue if Japan is to achieve its 2% inflation goal and keep its unemployment levels in the 5-6% range.

Stay tuned

My guess is that Mr Abe cannot finish the job but Mr Aso will take over before the years end.

LDP singing the same old tune

22 Dec

LDP singing the same old tune

Tonight on NHK news there was a round table interview of an LDP representative. There were a series of questions about the nation of Japan and the LDP’s plan for the future.

If you wade through the obfuscation the answers were very simple.

The LDP is going to borrow large amounts of new debt to fuel major construction projects across the country. Earlier this week the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a meeting with the Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa. Shirakawa has an M.A in economics from the university of Chicago and is a DPJ approved nominee who was appointed by LDP prime minister Fukuda. At the time the DPJ controlled the upper house of parliament and kept the BOJ position open for 3 weeks which was a major gaffe and the first time since WW2 that Japan hadn’t had a bank governor.

Mr Shirakawa is most likely going to be replaced as soon as the LDP can muster the time and effort to do so. As a result of what will probably be Shirakawa’s pink slip and the BOJ awaiting its marching orders Abe did most of the talking. The BOJ will fall into the LDP line of promoting inflation, deregulation and economic growth. It then delivered another round of stimulus which has become rather SOP in Japan these days. It will also stand ready to open the spigots of further monetary easing early next year.

The LDP is going to begin construction of new nuclear power plants. This was an easy issue to see through as its only a question of time before the government begins to pressure the various prefectures to turn on their idle power plants. This flies in the face of what appears to be public sentiment, however this blogger feels that Japan is really in a difficult position when it comes to energy consumption. The main obstacle for the LDP to overcome is policy wonk insistence that active faults lie beneath nuclear power plants all across the country. So there will be a gradual insistence from the top that “things are fine” or if they are not “we can restructure things so they will be fine”. Thus overcoming DPJ policy that led to almost every plant closing as they phased in their usual maintenance programs.

How will the younger educated urban people feel about this ? It should be very interesting to see how things shake out going forward. I am hoping it gets testy as it is very unlike Japanese to cause others to lose face. After the Fukushima fiasco, lies and criminal mismanagement I doubt the public will approve of the LDP’s decision. Changes will start brewing shortly after the LDP forces through the policy. It is probably the right decision in the long run but as usual the party doesn’t rule by consensus but rather by edict. It will most likely be their undoing.

Further indicators include the appointment of LDP policy chief Akira Amari as minister in charge of the economic revival. Amari is a well known pro nuke guy. Amari will head the Council on Economic and Fiscal policy which the LDP will use to pass further regulation measures. In a country where regulation is paramount I for one am looking forward to how things will turn out. Will Amari be up for the task ? At 63 years old I would say the jury is still out but I wouldn’t bet on him staying too long.

It appears that Mr Aso who is himself a former Prime Minster will be put in charge of the ministry of Finance as well as becoming deputy prime minister. This blog has a rather negative spin on Japanese politics but I do hold hope for Mr Aso. He is quite capable and unlike Abe knows how to lead. Further posts appear to be held for Mr Tanigaki and Ishihara. Ishihara is a firebrand nationalist politician who has a lot of support from the Japanese conservatives because he speaks his mind and supports popular positions on among other things the Senkaku islands that I wrote about earlier in this blog.

Look for Mr Abe to focus on economics first, and then trying to fix the numerous other issues facing this country. He may quite possibly try and reform the constitution which will have a very interesting affect on the regional powers who carefully watch the Japanese. The last time Mr Abe was in office, his term was most known for a series of scandals, outrage and mismanagement leading to his leaving office and eventually the DPJ taking power.

With 40% of seats in parliament being controlled by the urban voting block I believe that Abe can keep the pork machine doling out enough jobs to keep the rural 60% of seat holders economically satisfied. I think that ultimately the major factor will be if something non economic gets in the way of the LDP’s deregulation and constitutional plans for change.

Abenomics is based on Hope and little else

21 Dec

Abenomics is based on Hope and little else

With the election hype now passed the country can get back into the business at hand. With the new LDP government staring at 20 years of deflation, a stagnating economy, already outrageous prices at the consumer level coupled with more financial printing from Tokyo and a vague promise of inflation does make magic happen. In fact it can be argued that it was the LDP who are responsible for causing the eye popping debt levels in Japan. So we are staring at what is essentially “more of the same”.

Promises of short term cash infusions of approx 2-3 years into already hurting rural communities brought the LDP back into power. This is due to the manner in which political power is determined thus putting the highly educated 30-40 year old urban dwellers in the back seat while the older rural residents get the prime spot at the table. Improving schools and hospitals against earthquake and tsunami is the rallying cry now. Yet here in central Japan the downtown elementary school is closed due to a lack of students. The sales pitch is a lot of hot air. Yes hospitals need to be earthquake resistant but I was under the impression that they were built to withstand earthquakes in the first place. Is the government saying they aren’t and thus must be “improved” ? Only another 10 trillion yen this time and all will be right with the world. From where I sit, something stinks.

Free Trade is dead too. A major LDP insider appeared on NHK tv the other night and said as much into the camera. Japan cannot sign an agreement that threatens to disturb its inefficient and antiquated distribution system nor threaten its pricing policies which keeps the domestic agriculture in business.

The yen will be weakened, yet this has been part of the overall policy of the government for years without success. Are we to believe that because Abe makes a speech and a campaign promise that it is going to happen ? I guess I am from Missouri on this position. Show me Mr Abe, where is the beef ? Yes the yen has moved into the 84-85 range in exchange to the dollar but my understanding is that the goal is about 106-08. Yet Japan must import all its energy and with a weakened yen how will they manage their import energy costs ?

The answer I see will be that the LDP will announce that the nuclear reactors will be turned back on. This will accomplish a few things, reducing costs, providing Japanese energy jobs and offering additional atomic pork to rural communities to provide needed energy to the mega cities.

The clock is ticking on the new PM and his version of the same old medicine just doesn’t add up as I see it. Perhaps having former PM Mr Aso in charge of finance will help to mitigate the oncoming financial disaster we all see coming. Lets hope so, the LDP is going to need all the help they can get. 20 years of financial hell doesn’t go away because the new PM says so.