Tag Archives: business in japan

Under control

21 Sep

“Let me assure you that the situation (in Fukushima) is under control”. These were the words spoken by the Japanese prime minister as part of his Olympic presentation.

Let me ask you a question my dear reader, do you think Mr Abe knows if the plant is under control ? What are his qualifications for such a statement ? If your answer is yes he knows about nuclear power plant safety then perhaps you can explain to me how he understands this because the evidence is quite to the contrary.

In fact within days of Mr Abe’s Olympic speech word from a Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) spokesman was that the plant was indeed NOT under control. Don’t believe me look it up for yourself. There was of course a retraction later in the news cycle but the truth was out for all to hear. The Prime Minister of Japan is a liar.

For those who have read this somewhat irregular blog you already know how much value I put in TEPCO official statements due to the fact that they have been lying since day 1 of the ongoing catastrophe. However when someone admits on the record to the situation not being under control I tend to give it more moral weight since as far as I know the tragic comedy of errors going on in Fukushima is currently running out of control.

From failing seals to a lack of pressure gauges, leaking radioactive water, rusting bolts to approximately 1300 used fuel rods currently sitting on the 3rd floor of reactor building number 4 the entire story is one of epic black swan failure.
Wait it gets better. Tokyo Governor Inose who prior to the Olympic bid was criticizing the media for alarmist reporting on the situation in Northern Japan has now done an about face. He publicly contradicted Shinzo Abe on Fuji TV saying the situation was “not necessarily under control”.

So much for taboo you are asking right ?

Yet the story gets more interesting. Mr Abe after making his pledge to the IOC dutifully went to visit the stricken plant in an effort to get things under control. He received a special suit for his tour complete with a name plate personalized by TEPCO. Yet the Kanji characters used to write his name were misspelled. This isn’t a foreign language we are talking about but the acting Prime Minister of Japan’s name being spelled incorrectly. A spokesman apologized for the gaffe but this just indicates the level of competence we are dealing with around these parts.

I would prefer to say it is yet another confirming indicator that something is fishy.
I want to point out something that may have been overlooked by many who are paying attention to the terrible situation here in Japan. Despite everyone’s best efforts, and some lies and some obfuscations the situation is most certainly not under control. So what would cause Mr Abe to make such a statement ? Is he that desperate to make his mark that he was ready to stand up in front of the world and lie for history books ?

Further along that line of thought why would the IOC believe such a statement. Are they capable of assessing such a promise and if not why didn’t they seek out information on their own instead of simply acting on good faith ? Certainly they deserve perhaps more criticism than the unfortunate Shinzo Abe who is simply trying his best in a tight spot. After all the IOC has to answer to the international community don’t they ?

Finally I want to state my objection to the fact that Mr Abe can stand in front of an international audience and make promises about things beyond his control and yet cannot make that promise to HIS OWN PEOPLE. Not to me, the international community living in Japan, or those overseas peoples with an interest in what is happening at the plant, but to his own constituents. Doesn’t he have a responsibility to the children of Japan ? To those who voted him into office ? To everyone affected by the events of the horrific earthquake and tsunami ? Where was his promise to them ? Why wait to make a statement about the plant at all ?

Clearly the prime minister is doing what he feels he must do, and perhaps the national thrill at winning the Olympic bid did cause hope and dreams to return to the Japanese people. But at what cost ? The record is not a good one so far and I remain unconvinced that anything involving the Daichi plant is anything remotely close to being controlled. It looks like TEPCO and Mr Inose agree with me.

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.

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.

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.