Archive for February, 2009

Poet Bunmei Tsuchiya (1890-1990) penned a work that reads:


Because of this mother and father,

I exist here, but this isn’t

something to be said presumptuously


In a House of Representatives election called 3-1/2 years ago by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner New Komeito gained more than two-thirds of the lower house’s 480 seats, winning a public mandate for Koizumi’s pet policy project of reforming the postal service.

The current Aso administration came into existence thanks to the enormous number of seats obtained in that election. In other words, the combined will of the people in favor of the postal service privatization can be seen as the “father and mother” of Prime Minister Taro Aso.

Aso has touched on the possibility of reexamining the management structure of the four privatized postal companies. The law on postal service privatization has a review provision that allows for a reassessment of the reform’s fundamental direction. But if Aso seeks to alter the way the four privatized postal firms are run, he should consult his “father and mother” first.

When Aso was asked why, despite being one of the ministers of the Koizumi Cabinet, he had indicated the possibility of reviewing the management setup of the four postal companies privatized in October 2007, he responded angrily, saying: “I was against it [the postal service privatization]. I won’t find it amusing if I’m held responsible for it.” I wonder how different he is from a petulant child who complains to his or her parents, “I didn’t ask to be born!”

If Aso wants to redraw the blueprint of the postal service privatization, he had better seek the opinion of his “father and mother” by dissolving the lower house for a general election.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings.The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.







Read Full Post »

The legend of the “overnight castle” built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) in Sunomata (now Ogaki, Gifu Prefecture) and Ishigakiyama (now Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture) has been passed down from generation to generation.

People would have been unable to believe their eyes when they saw emerging from the morning mist a huge castle on the mountain top, where no structure had been seen at dusk the previous day.

Knocking down the stone structure of a pyramid to make it cylindrical would be no less difficult than building Toyotomi’s overnight castle. I am referring to the major task of putting an end to the brokering of postretirement jobs for bureaucrats by government ministries and agencies by the end of this year–a pledge made by Prime Minister Taro Aso.

While some of their colleagues who joined the civil service in the same year have climbed the career ladder, many bureaucrats find themselves prodded to leave their ministries or agencies before retirement age. The personnel structure of a government ministry is pyramid shaped with the veteran administrative vice minister–the most senior in the organization–standing at the peak and new recruits at the base.

The elimination of the amakudari practice of bureaucrats landing cushy jobs in the public or private sectors, would lead to many bureaucrats not on the fast track remaining in their ministry or agency until retirement age.

Bureaucrats in the Kasumigaseki district in Tokyo, where government offices are concentrated, are likely to fight every inch of the way to thwart the planned transition to a cylindrical personnel structure.

The prime minister’s spirited intention of doing his utmost to eradicate the amakudari practice, which has sown the seeds of corruption, is praiseworthy. But, this “construction project” will hardly succeed without detailed blueprints and unbending faith in the initiative.

According to some accounts, the overnight fortress in Ishigakiyama was a papier-mache castle created overnight by building a skeleton structure in the woods, covering it with paper to give the impression of white walls and then cutting down the trees surrounding it.

I hope the “11-month castle” the prime minister has confidently said he will build will not turn out to be a structure of papier–mache.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings.The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.






Read Full Post »

One of the dozens of possible winning techniques in sumo is gassho-hineri (clasped-hands twist-down) in which a wrestler puts his hands behind his opponent’s back, as if in prayer, and twists him down.

The punishment meted out Monday by the Japan Sumo Association to Wakakirin, a juryo-division wrestler who was arrested on suspicion of possessing marijuana, could be likened to gassho-hineri, with the JSA clasping its hands together in prayer. Instead of meting out a punishment of expulsion, which would mean Wakakirin would not be entitled to receive a retirement allowance, the association decided on the lesser punishment of dismissal to allow him to receive the retirement benefit if he so requests.

A favorable interpretation of the punishment might view the JSA as having shown clemency by praying for the wrestler’s rehabilitation. The organization’s chairman, Musashigawa, said: “He’s only 25. Expulsion is too severe a penalty when considering the rest of his life.”

But it is also possible to interpret the punishment in a negative light. With the lynching death of a young sumo wrestler carried out under the pretext of training still fresh in our minds and court trials on suspected match-fixing, public attention is focused on the state of professional sumo.

In light of the sensitive timing, it is difficult not to wonder whether the JSA clasped its hands in prayer in hopes the wrestler would not disclose something detrimental to the sumo world after it handed him the lesser punishment of dismissal to allow him access to a retirement allowance. I hope this is nothing more than a petty suspicion.

The JSA currently is experiencing a mitokorozeme (three-pronged attack) over drug scandals, bullying during training sessions and the controversial behavior of yokozuna Asashoryu.

I would have preferred to see the JSA hand down an authoritative tsukidashi (pushing out), instead of the more equivocal gassho-hineri punishment.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings.The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

退職金の出る「解雇」妙な暴露だけはしないでくれよ・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華






Read Full Post »

The late writer Kuniko Mukoda never simply pocketed money she happened to come across. As money that had fallen down to her from the heavens, she would accept it with gratitude.

“Even though the action of putting the money into your pocket is the same, this difference in attitude will later affect the strength or weakness of a person’s integrity,” writer Teruhiko Kuze said in “Furemosede” (Without Even a Touch), a collection of essays to mourn Mukoda’s death. (The book is published as part of the Kodansha pocketbook series.)

Kuze, who was Mukoda’s close friend, has also died.

This passage from Kuze’s essay came to mind when I read an article quoting Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto as saying, “I want talented people from outside–people who are tightfisted with other people’s money.” Hashimoto, who will soon celebrate his first anniversary in office, made the remarks during a joint interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun and other media organizations.

Interpreting Hashimoto’s expression, “tightfisted with other people’s money,” I would say it probably means he is seeking people who will not squander the money of others–taxpayers’ money–as if spending money they had just come across. Hashimoto is probably seeking people who see even 1 yen as a gift from the heavens not to be wasted.

The second supplementary budget for fiscal 2008 was approved by the Diet yesterday.

Did the government allocate the “gift” of taxpayers money to policies seen as sufficiently effective in stimulating the economy? Wasn’t there any notion of money being lavishly thrown at voters?

To borrow Kuze’s words, I am still unable to make out the strength or weakness of the integrity of the man who stuck to this widely unpopular flat-sum cash handout plan–Prime Minister Taro Aso.

The Yomiuri Shimbun. Musings.The following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun.

「他人の金にせこい」天からの頂き物として1円たりとも無駄にしない・・・ 編集手帳 八葉蓮華






Read Full Post »