Sunday, August 19, 2012

Samuel Hawley, "The Imjin War"

READ THIS BOOK!  I haven't been as captivated by a historical novel since Sterling Seagrave's The Soong Dynasty.  I was originally going to do a quick report on Ozawa Ichiro's Blueprint for a New Japan, but then I got bored and migrated to Netflix just finished this one yesterday and was so impressed that I decided to do a write-up while the material is still fairly fresh in my head.

As the title implies, Hawley's novel explores, in incredible detail, the background and events of the 1592-1598 "Imjin" War between Japan, Korea, and Ming Dynasty China (Okay, sue me, it wasn't called China then, sheesh...)  Where does the name Imjin come from?  Turns out, it is simply the name of the year that the war started in, 1592, according to an ancient sexagenary calendar system from China.  In this system, there is a cycle of sixty years, and "each increment in the cycle was given a name consisting of one of ten "heavenly stems" derived from the elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water, and an "earthly branch of one of the twelve zodiacal symbols: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig." (Hawley 133) The year 1592 happened to be the year of the water dragon, or in Korean, "imjin."

On a side note, I should mention that purists also use this same calendar to come up with the supposed date of the founding of the Japanese monarchy in 660 B.C by the mythical Emperor Jimmu.  The year 660 was apparently at the end of one of the 60-year cycles, and also the date of some sort of larger meta-cycle in the system.  Again, though, unless one is really a purist, it is perhaps more logical to conclude that the founding of the Empire may have been pushed to this date to fit with the calendar... (most historians agree that the Chrysanthemum Throne was founded in the 5th century AD)

In any case, this book provides a wealth of insight into the key players, tactics, motivations, and circumstances of the Imjin War.  The war, as explained by Hawley, served two purposes:  1.) To assuage the ego of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a megalomaniac dictator who united Japan after more than a hundred years of civil war, the country's so-called "sengoku" period; and 2). To channel the aggressive energies of Toyotomi's restless vassals.  These vassals had originally acquiesced to Toyotomi in part because of the generous rewards his rule offered.  Unlike his dictatorial predecessor and mentor, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi built much of his empire through his knack for offering generous settlements.  He much preferred to spare life where life could be spared.  He would attempt to spook his opponents into accepting lucrative agreements  through MASSIVE shows of force, in which they would receive comfortable fiefs and he would become their lord.   By 1592, however, with almost all of Japan united under Toyotomi's banner, there was no more unconquered land to distribute to his acquisitive daimyo (Japanese territorial lords).  Toyotomi hoped that his armies in Korea would be able to march into China, giving him a massive amount of land to divvy up among his restless vassals.

Why did I capitalize the word 'massive' a few sentences ago?  As Hawley emphasizes, the scale of Toyotomi's armed forces, as well as the resources available to him, were immense.  Likely unprecedented.  I found this point to be particularly interesting.  At the time that Toyotomi was launching his invasion of Korea, standing armies in Europe rarely amounted to more than 50,000 men.  Toyotomi's invasion force in Korea was more than 150,000 men strong.  While this number includes support troops and is not merely reflective of the samurai or peasant foot-troops (ashigaru) in his ranks, this is still a massive amount of men to assemble and transport at a single time.  Nor was this feat a one-time accomplishment.  As we will see, in a second invasion of Korea in 1597-1598, he easily mobilized another force of 140,000 men.  Even more impressive was that these numbers were outclassed by some of Toyotomi's domestic campaigns.  He once assembled nearly 250,000 men in a show of force to cow the daimyo of Kyushu into submission.

 My high school had about 2000 students, and the largest group of people I've ever seen gathered together is probably in the 5,000-6,000 range.  I can't even conceptualize what 150,000+ (not to mention 250,000) soldiers camped out in  Toyotomi's headquarters must have looked like.  Not to mention that this took place in the nutrition-scarce world of the 16th century.  Hats off to him, huh?  Maybe we should also thank the higher caloric efficiency of Japan's staple crop, rice...

I don't want to spoil all of the book, so if you are interested in reading Hawley's play-by-play account of the war itself, don't read on in this review!

Suffice to say, Hawley's description of the war is gripping.  I don't know where on earth he found such detailed source material, but his accounts of the battles and movements of the two sides is just addicting.  The most marked part of Toyotomi's invasion was the ease with which he executed it.  At the time, Korea was remarkably ill-prepared for war.  They were technologically and organizationally outclassed.  Toyotomi's forces, as had become common in Japan at the time, were equipped with deadly arquebuses, originally copied from the Portuguese in the 1540's.  Various Japanese daimyos perfected the weapon further and even came up with the first system of bullet standardization in the world, so as to make the weapons more efficient. (soldiers, unlike in Europe, did not have to carry around bags of lead pellets that worked only for their individual gun).  On the other hand, Korean forces were largely limited to bows, swords, and spears.  They did possess a superior knowledge of cannons and mortars, but this advantage was not pressed until later in the war.

Organizationally, the Koreans were hopeless.  Hawley describes a number of incidents that highlight how factionalism, corruption, and mismanagement kept Korea's armed forces at half-capacity from the get-go, Japanese invasion or not.  For example, all of Korea's top generals were kept confined in the capital, away from any sort of army.  The founder of the reigning Choson dynasty had once been a general himself hundreds of years earlier, and had used his loyal army to topple his predecessors, the Koguryo dynasty.  As such, in order to avoid a repetition of such deception, all generals were confined away from their troops.  They were thus not on hand to direct soldiers in the event of an emergency, and after the Japanese invasion, were not dispatched for some time.

Coupled with a broken draft system and poor strategic planning, Korea was ripe for the taking.  The sheer size of Toyotomi's force frightened most of the low-to-mid level Korean commanders into desertion, and consequently, the Japanese were able to march up to Pyongyang almost unopposed.  The few remaining Korean armies were quickly pushed aside.  This part of the book was truly incredible.  I was amazed at how quickly the Japanese advanced, and even more shocked by the number of Korean commanders who abandoned their posts in utter panic.  In one almost laughable example, a commander of nearly half of the Korean navy mistook a (completely unprotected) fleet of 200-some Japanese transport galleys as a large group of battle ships.  He scuttled his ENTIRE fleet to avoid it from falling into enemy hands without once attempting to approach the Japanese and determine the extent of the threat.

It was dwindling interest in the campaign on Toyotomi's part, plus the consequences of his ailing health, that doomed the Japanese effort.  Japanese troops quickly occupied most of the country's major cities, but their grasp over the country overall was tenuous.  They had advanced so quickly that they merely controlled the cities and the territory around several main supply lines, and nothing more.  Toyotomi's old age and failing health ensured that he never arrived as promised to conduct the campaign personally, and the various daimyo commanders were slowly pit against one another by personal feuds.  The rise of Korean guerrilla forces at this time also initiated a deadly war of attrition.  Curiously enough, many of the guerrilla leaders were not official military leaders.  They were often disgraced and cast-off members of the Korean aristocracy (yangban class), or local grass-roots heroes.  Added to the picture were the Chinese, who, under the do-nothing Wanli Emperor, had finally gotten their act together and sent forces against the Japanese so as to protect their Korean vassal.  Although most of the early Chinese armies were routed and halted, their efforts still put enough raw manpower onto the side of the Koreans to stabilize the situation.  Eventually, the Japanese decided to retreat to the south, after careful negotiations with the Chinese.

Even so, the Japanese weren't going anywhere, and they would still be military dominant for most of the war.  If there is one thing I can stress from my reading of the book, it was the apparent supremacy of the Japanese forces in battle.  Their daimyo leaders were tough, courageous, and mind-numbingly cruel.  The troops were disciplined, well-equipped, and extraordinarily resistant to the deprivations of battle.

Another point I would stress, however, was the strength of the Korean navy under Commander Yi Sun Sin.  Yi was originally a military man, a low-level officer left to drift on Korea's northern border.  In the intrigue and corruption-filled Korean government, he had two flaws: a tendency to enforce discipline among his troops, and a knack for reporting his superior officers' indiscretions.  Yi, however, through an obscure connection at court, was rescued from anonymity and appointed as a naval commander amid the Korean government's hurried preparations for war (they had an inkling that Toyotomi was serious about invading by about 1591). After reading Hawley's book, I think it is fair to say that the Koreans might have lost entirely without the efforts of this renowned admiral.  Under other commanders, the Korean navy performed poorly during the war, despite having superior cannons and ships.  Admiral Yi, however, led the Korean navy to superb victories on multiple occasions, destroying hundreds of Japanese ships despite his inferior numbers.

The engagement that he is most famous for took place at the end of the war in 1597, and is known as the Battle of Myeongnyang.  Here, with a fleet of only 13 ships, he wiped out a Japanese fleet of 300 vessels (about 100 of which were actual battle ships).  Yi's tactics, reasoning, and personal leadership throughout the entire war were superb, despite being under constant pressure and stress from the attacks of jealous rivals at court.  He also pioneered the use of the so-called turtle-ships, or kobukson.  It is a popular misconception that these ships were completely plated in armor, in the same fashion as the Monitor or Merrimack from the U.S. Civil War.  Many still (wrongly) believe that Korea was thus the first country to pioneer the use of armor-plated ships.  Hawley does a great job tracing how, through gradual American contact with Korea in the 19th century, this idea took root.  In reality, Yi's turtle ships were likely just heavier and better-constructed than their Japanese counterparts, and were completely covered on top by large metal spikes. Hawley suggests that the spikes provided some form of armor in and of themselves.  The kobukson also rode low in the water, which ensured that their hulls were not as exposed to attack as their high-riding counterparts.  (Fun fact - Hawley notes that the first record of armor-plated naval ships being used in combat actually took place in Japan.  Toyotomi, in attempting to dislodge the powerful Mori family near Osaka in 1576, had a squadron of iron-plated ships constructed to wipe out the large Mori fleet.  They were, of course, successful.  It is not known why Toyotomi did not use these ships in Korea).

Another key point from the book which I found fascinating was the deception and outright lies that dominated diplomacy during this 16th-century conflict.  Halfway through the war, the Chinese government engaged the Japanese forces in a dialogue, in which both sides lied their pants - or should I say kimonos, am I right or am I right? har har - off.  By this point, many of the Japanese commanders were tired of war, and recognized the futility of incorporating and pacifying a swathe of land as large as China and Korea.  As such, in negotiations with the Chinese, they said only what was most likely to strike a sympathetic cord and delay combat further.  Japanese representatives, which included a monk skilled in Chinese calligraphy and several pro-peace daimyo, concocted a story in which the Koreans were largely to blame for the war.  The Koreans, the Japanese said, were unfairly blocking the Japanese from establishing peaceful tributary relations with the Chinese. (Keep in mind, Toyotomi had every intention of conquering the Ming dynasty outright and installing the Japanese emperor as the Emperor of China).  The Japanese negotiators passed this fiction on to their Chinese counterparts, who knew full well that the Japanese were lying.  But even they decided to keep this fiction alive, passing the story on to Beijing anyway.  They were also chiefly interested in stopping the war, even if temporarily, and they knew that the Ming government would halt its combat operations if Japan expressed a desire to become a tributary state.  With this fiction in hand, they could go back to Beijing, proclaim peace, and claim riches and honors.  Any renewed Japanese aggression would just look like deception, and not be the Chinese diplomats' fault.

Meanwhile, the Japanese also fudged the truth of the negotiations in their reports to Toyotomi, who was still very much interested in crushing China.  After negotiating a ceasefire and secure retreat to Pusan, a city on the Korean coast, the daimyo commanders responsible for the agreement painted it as a "temporary" arrangement in their reports to Toyotomi.  They alleged that the Chinese were suing for peace and seeking to mollify Toyotomi with tribute.  To this end, after one of the last great battles of 1593, Toyotomi issued a number of demands, calling for, among other things, "1.  As evidence of sincerity, the imperial families of [China and Japan] shall enter into marriage relations.  The Ming emperor shall send one of his daughters to Japan to be married to the emperor of Japan as his empress...4.  If all the foregoing terms are accepted by [China], not withstanding the fact that Korea had been rebellious against our country, we are willing, in order to show our good will to Tai-Min, to divide the eight provinces of Korea into two main divisions, and to return four provinces, including the one in which the national capital is situated, to the King of Korea..."

By this time, Chinese envoys had been sent to Japan, and were technically on hand to receive this proclamation.  Yet again, however, a series of hilarious deceptions kept Toyotomi's rude demands from upsetting the delicate fiction that had been built up in negotiations over the past year.  First and foremost, the Chinese envoys were not actually official envoys.  A Chinese general had merely dressed up two of his junior officers in official-looking clothing and sent them off to Japan.  At the time, the Japanese had demanded to negotiate with officials authorized to speak directly on the Emperor's behalf.  No such official with this special authority was on hand, so for the purpose of expediency, the general conjured up some Imperial envoys of his own.  Secondly, Toyotomi's list was immediately given to pro-peace daimyo, who promptly softened the language of the demands and eventually dropped most of them altogether.  Although the dignitaries on hand did initially hear the demands (and were accordingly outraged), the daimyo hushed the matter over and ensured that no such list would ever reach the Ming emperor in Beijing.

Meanwhile, Toyotomi withdrew half his forces from Korea while China answered his request, though thousands of Japanese troops would remain encamped in Pusan for the next three or so years.  While the rest of the troops remained in Korea, one of the most prominent pro-peace daimyo, Konishi Yukinaga, worked with a Chinese envoy to transform Toyotomi's pleas into something that would be palatable to the Chinese.  In effect, all of Toyotomi's demands were eliminated, and the two crafted a farce of a letter in which letter Toyotomi "begged" the Chinese to be invested as their vassal.  This, from a man like Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who wished to conquer much of the known world.  The Chinese promptly sent royal robes and documents of investiture that would make Toyotomi the "King of Japan."

In a hilarious twist, when these envoys finally reached Japan, they were portrayed by his wily commanders as bearers of tribute.  Toyotomi and his vassals enthusiastically put on the robes and feted for several days.  Hawley describes this awkward period in wonderful, hilarious, biting detail.  In one comical situation, when the Chinese delegation attempted to perform the ceremony of investiture, the entire house of cards nearly came falling down.  The Chinese expected Toyotomi to supplicate to the Emperor's banner and kneel.  Toyotomi, staring at these strange foreigners, thought that these envoys were offering him tribute.  When it came time for Toyotomi to kneel - and of course, he did no such thing - Toyotomi's handlers alleged that Toyotomi had a painful boil on his knee which made kneeling impossible for the time being.  So, the ceremony was performed with Toyotomi standing, and all was well.

Eventually, however, Toyotomi brought in his own personal experts (they were monks) to examine the documents that had been given to him by the Chinese.  When the monks truthfully reported what was written, he flew into a rage and nearly had the envoys killed.  After the envoys were sent away he cooled down, however, and eventually requested that they not raise the issue further in Beijing.  Though appearing more calm, the egotistical Toyotomi was still not about to let the incident pass entirely.  He directed his anger towards the Koreans, who had not sent a high-ranking official along with the Chinese, and planned to invade again.  Thus, in 1597, came invasion number II.  This would be an immensely bloody campaign, waged purely to "teach the Koreans a lesson" and show the Chinese that Toyotomi was still a force to be reckoned with.  The Japanese slaughtered civilians on an unprecedented scale, wiping entire cities and towns off the map.  When the Japanese withdrew from Korea after Toyotomi's death in 1598, Korea's economy would not fully recover for more than a hundred years.  The King's burned-out palace in Seoul, Gyeongboggung, would not be fully rebuilt until 1867.  For almost three hundred years, much of the complex remained a burned out ruin, too costly to repair.

For the Japanese, the war was, on the whole, a disaster.  They did not come away with any permanent territory in Korea or China, and thousands of men had lost their lives on Korean soil.  One silver lining, though!  The Japanese were able to capture large numbers of Korean potters and scholars, leading to a renaissance in various cultural arts for Japan.  As such, in Japan, it is sometimes known as the "Pottery (yakimono) War".

All in all, a fascinating book, and I earnestly recommend it!  Also, I can't end this blog without a reference to Kato Kiyomasa.  Google this man.  I swear, based on Hawley's description, he seems to have been the physical embodiment of some sort of angry, ranting war god.  He was the most virulent and aggressive of Toyotomi's commanders, wielding a massive three-pronged spear and orchestrating some of the most crushing defeats for the Koreans during the war.  He pops in and out of Hawley's account, but eventually becomes an essential character in all the drama, serving as a counterpart to the peace-seeking Konishi Yukinaga.  On one hand, you can't help but hate the guy for his cruelty.  He committed some of the worst atrocities of the war, and I would fancy him a psychopath were it not for evidence of other positive qualities in the man.  One example from the book stands out in my memory:  "By this time the order to fall back to Seoul had reached [Kato Kiyomasa] at Anbyon on the border of the remote northeastern province of Hamgyong...Kato, in his own mind the most daring and successful of all the daimyo commanders in Korea, was not eager to of [the advancing Chinese army] was brought to Kato by an envoy sent from Pyongyang by Ming commander Li Rusong, together with an order that he surrender with all his troops.  But Kato was not the surrendering type.  By way of an answer he had one of his Korean captives, a young woman reputed to be the most beautiful in the kingdom, tied to a tree, and then with the Ming envoy looking on he impaled her with a spear.  With this demonstration of Kato's determination in hand, the Ming envoy turned about and headed west to make his report."  Yikes yikes yikes yikes.

On the other hand, Kato was also probably the most loyal towards his lord, Toyotomi.  He diligently followed his master's plan of conquest every step of the way.  He advanced into the farthest reaches of northern Korea, even attacking the Jurchen of Manchuria, and wrote constantly for further instructions from his lord.  He also consistently attempted to point out to Chinese envoys that Konishi Yukinaga was lying  about Toyotomi's intentions, but they never much cared.  During a spell in Japan, when Toyotomi's castle at Fushimi (near Kyoto) was destroyed by a massive earthquake, Kato was also the first to rush back to the carnage to ensure that Toyotomi was safe.

There is also evidence, I think, to show that Kato was a tough commander who shouldered the same burdens as his men.  At the siege of Tosan, in which a small garrison of Japanese troops was hopelessly outmatched by a huge Chinese army, he sailed into the doomed fort to take command.  After weeks of bitter cold and absolute starvation (some of the men inside the fort resorted to cannibalism), he was able to lead the troops in fending off the Chinese, who suffered enormous casualties.

As such, by the end of the book, you end up developing a strange sort of respect for the man.  He is portrayed to be much more sincere and loyal than most of his fellow daimyo, and his cruelty to the Koreans notwithstanding, he was probably one of the best Japanese commanders in Korea.  Anyway, a fascinating individual, check him out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kenneth J. Ruoff, "The People's Emperor: Democracy and the Japanese Monarchy, 1945-1995"

I really enjoyed this book.  A great read.  Starting with a bit of background information on Japan's imperial line (which probably started around the fifth century AD), Ruoff gives a good accounting of the changes that were made to the Imperial system after WWII.

The important pivot point in the Japanese monarchy's post-war history was the promulgation of the post-war Constitution.  Articles 1, 4, and 7 of the Japanese constitution severely curtailed the powers of the Emperor. Most important was the definition of the Emperor as a "shocho," or "symbol" of the state.  What exactly did this mean?  On one hand, according to General MacArthur's directives, the Emperor was still supposed to be head of state.  However, this intent was not necessarily conveyed in the constitution, and led to some controversy about what the Emperor's role was exactly.  (I have copied the text of the english-language Japanese constitution pertaining to the Emperor)


Article 1:

The Emperor shall be the symbol of the State and the unity of the people, deriving his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.

Article 2:

The Imperial Throne shall be dynastic and succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law passed by the Diet.

Article 3:

The advice and approval of the Emperor in matters of state, and the Cabinet shall be responsible therefor.

Article 4:

The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government. 2) The Emperor may delegate the performance of his acts in matters of state as may be provided for by law.

Article 5:

When, in accordance with the Imperial House Law, a Regency is established, the Regent shall perform his acts in matters of state in the Emperor's name. In this case, paragraph one of the preceding Article will be applicable.

Article 6:

The Emperor shall appoint the Prime Minister as designated by the Diet. The Emperor shall appoint the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court as designated by the Cabinet.

Article 7:

The Emperor shall, with the advice and approval of the Cabinet, perform the following acts in matters of state on behalf of the people: (1) Promulgation of amendments of the constitution, laws, cabinet orders and treaties. (2) Convocation of the Diet. (3) Dissolution of the House of Representatives. (4) Proclamation of general election of members of the Diet. (5) Attestation of the appointment and dismissal of Ministers of State and other officials as provided for by law, and of full powers and credentials of Ambassadors and Ministers. (6) Attestation of general and special amnesty, commutation of punishment, reprieve, and restoration of rights. (7) Awarding of honors. (8) Attestation of instruments of ratification and other diplomatic documents as provided for by law. (9) Receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers. (10) Performance of ceremonial functions.

Article 8:

No property can be given to, or received by, the Imperial House, nor can any gifts be made therefrom, without the authorization of the Diet.


For the most part, the Emperor was able to engage in ceremonial acts (such as giving rewards for acts that supported Japan's culture and economy), as well as visit heads of state.  His real purpose was to represent the tradition and history of the Japanese people.  However, at times, this understanding was broken.  Emperor Hirohito, for example, still requested briefings from the Prime Minister and his cabinet, which were always interpreted as being too related to the governance of Japan by the Communists and Socialists.  (A funny note - perhaps hoping to be like his samurai ancestors, Prime Minister Sato Eisuke was especially deferential to the Emperor.  He even tried to give him some kimono silk for the Empress, a gift which is expressly forbidden by Article 8.  On this point, it is worth mentioning that Shigeru Yoshida and Tanaka Kakuei were equally deferential.) 

Over the years, a few controversies have arisen about ostensibly public acts that smack of old, Imperialist traditions.  One of them was the issue of Foundation Day (post-war: Kenkoku kinen no hi; pre-war: kigensetsu), a holiday held before WWII on February 11th to celebrate the mythical origins of the Japanese monarchy, supposedly founded on February 11th, 660 B.C. (This date is pretty much total hogwash, and was made up by the Meiji government)  After several towns containing old Imperial tombs began to hold revival celebrations of kigensetsu in the 1950's, a huge national movement started to pick up steam.  A lobbying group was made, and efforts were made to hold a central rally for the cause in Tokyo.  There was disagreement by some over when a "new" Foundation Day ought to be held (some suggested the end of World War II, the date of the promulgation of the Constitution, etc. etc.)  However, in the end, enough pressure was placed on the Diet that Prime Minister Sato pledged himself to the idea in 1965.  A bill was passed in 1967, and kenkoku kinen no hi was celebrated that year for the first time, on February 11.  Ultimately, 47% of those polled still preferred February 11, so it was kept the same. 

Even so, the government did not sponsor a national celebration.  Not until Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro did a Prime Minister even attend a private foundation-day celebration, and when he did, in 1984, strenuous efforts were made to disassociate the event from Emperor worship.

Another issue that riled up anti-Imperialist forces in Japan's post-war history was the issue of reign names.  Traditionally, Japanese emperors picked names to symbolize their reign.  In times old, Japanese emperors could choose any number of reign names to symbolize different periods of their rule as they saw fit, but after the Meiji era, a single reign name was given to each Emperor.  All years were dated from the start of the reign.  So, you'd have Heisei 24 (the reign name of current Emperor Akihito) for 2012.  Much like the Foundation day issue, a national movement was created to get a majority of townships to adopt the reign-name as their official dating system.  The Diet was pressured to approve the change, and the bill was passed in 1979.  However, only government officials are required to date documents in this format.

The other interesting issue in this book was the Japanese monarchy's outlook on apologies for WWII-era atrocities.  This is an important issue, considering what happened yesterday (August 14th, 2012).  President Lee Myung-bak requested that, if the Japanese emperor visits South Korea, he give a more heartfelt apology for Japanese atrocities during WWII.  What does he mean by this, a more 'heartfelt' Imperial apology?

Emperor Hirohito, despite being pretty darn responsible for the carnage of the war, never really gave an apology that expressed much regret.  I think most of the problem in this regard stems from the fact that Hirohito had to be careful about coming across as responsible for the war.  This was an impression that the Imperial Household Agency (the agency responsible for the Imperial family's affairs) had meticulously attempted to avoid.  Hirohito had issued a vague apology to President Ford in 1975, when he said that World War II was "the most unfortunate war which I deeply deplore," and to South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan in 1984.

However, Emperor Akihito, reflecting his post-war roots, issued a far more heartfelt apology to the Koreans in 1990, looking directly at South Korean President Roh Tae Woo and stating, "While looking back upon the history of long, fruitful exchanges between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, I recall what was stated by the late Emperor Showa: "It is indeed regrettable that there was an unfortunate past between us for a period in this century and I believe that it should not be repeated again."  I think of the sufferings your people underwent during this unfortunate period which was brought about by my country, and cannot but feel the deepest regret."  Similarly, in a 1992 speech about the Japan-China relationship, Akihito stated, "In the long history of the relationship between our tow countries, there was an unfortunate period in which my country inflicted great sufferings on the people of China.  I deeply deplore this."

These apologies, of course, came after many apologies from various Japanese Prime Ministers, starting, I believe, with Tanaka Kakuei in the 1970's.  While apologies from the PM's were most certainly acceptable, there was actually some debate as to whether the Emperor had the power to issue such apologies.  Would such a statement, bearing on Japan's wartime responsibility, constitute a public act?  Funnily enough, in an attempt to remove such a responsibility from the Emperor, highly conservative organizations that were supportive of the Emperor system  (the association of Shinto Shrines, for example) actually argued for a strict interpretation of the "public acts" clause and suggested that the Emperor NOT be able to issue such apologies.

This issue leads to a finer point that I believe Ruoff identified nicely.  Among supporters of the throne, there is by no means a consensus that Japan ought to return to the pre-war Meiji Emperor system, under which Hirohito wielded a great deal of power.  In fact, the organizations most supportive of the Emperor often call for restrictions on the Emperor's power, so as to prevent the Japanese Imperial institution from being saddled by troublesome burdens, such as the issue of war responsibility.

On the other hand, there is another branch of conservative scholars which hails the current Emperor system as a return to the old model of Imperial rule.  For most of Japan's history, the sitting Emperor was likewise often a 'symbol' or 'figurehead,' managed and controlled by an ex-Emperor or Shogun.  Similarly, most of the business of government today is done by the Diet of Japan, while the Emperor stands to the side.

Finally, another interesting chapter at the end of the book outlined how Emperor Akihito, when compared to his father, was an "Emperor of the Masses."  Now, from what I've gathered, Akihito is still regarded as a fairly stiff and 'old' figure - his speech during the 3/11 crisis was derided by some as being too stiff or formulaic.  Ruoff makes the point, however, that Akihito is far more of a crowd-pleaser than his father.  Hirohito had been raised as a god-king in an extremely insular environment, and always had trouble in public appearances with common folk.  Emperor Akihito, however, was brought up in a classroom with other children, and was taught by an American tutor.  Although it was clear that he understood his own importance (Ruoff relates one story in which, during a lesson, the American tutor at Akihito's school asked each child to write down what they would like to become someday.  Akihito simply wrote, "I shall be Emperor."), he was still brought up in a far more egalitarian environment.  Koizumi Shinzo, one of his teachers, also had him read aloud - in English - an entire biography of Britain's King George V, who was known for his reputation among the people.  The exercise was intended to provide Akihito with a role model of sorts, and no doubt had an influence on his thinking.

In the 1970's, Akihito's star rose quite a bit among the people.  His marriage to Empress Michiko was sensational, as she was the first commoner to enter the Imperial family in god knows how long.  Although Michiko hailed from a wealthy family, she was still not related to Japan's old aristocracy.  Her roots, combined with the fact that the marriage was a "love match," inspired a whole generation of young men and women.  One young women even remarked, in a magazine, "I still have hope because the Crown Prince's younger brother (Prine Masahito) remains available."  This sort of statement was absolutely unprecedented in Japan's history.

All in all, an excellent summary of the post-war status of the Japanese Imperial family.  Ruoff includes tons of interesting anecdotes and details, and gives a thorough description of Emperor Hirohito and Akihito's reigns.    His accounts of the articles written by conservative commentators in the post-war era also could only have been assembled through meticulous research.  My only complaint is that the section on the Emperor's post-war legal status was a little confusing.  I wish he had given a section that clearly stated Articles 1-8 of the Japanese constitution.  It would have been a little easier to understand the rest of the content.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Michael Zielenziger, "Shutting out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation."

I'm ashamed to add a Japan-bashing book to the list, but it must be done.  This tome was, albeit biased and pretty pro-American, a solid book.

The author's premise is that, metaphorically, Japan increasingly resembles a hikikomori.  A hikikomori is the Japanese term for a shut-in, someone who rarely if ever ventures out into the world.  It is a phenomenon, given its scale, almost unique to Japan.  Although government estimates place the number of hikikomori living in Japan at 700,000, other estimates place the number higher, at nearly 1,000,000.  The cause, as outlined by Zielenziger, is essentially an inability to adapt to the rigid stresses and pressures that are forced onto the average Japanese youth.  Pressure to succeed, pressure to perform well on one's examinations, and perhaps most importantly, pressure to fit in with the rest of the group.  This final form of pressure usually takes the form of verbal bullying, which can reach ludicrous levels and even lead to suicide.  Zielinziger highlights how this problem is not unique to youth alone - it continues well into a person's adult life, suggesting why most hikikomori drop out of society in their early to mid-20's.  In fact, social bullying can be seen at every level of Japanese society (among adults, it is known as ijime).  Hikikomori essentially give up trying to cope with this pressure and the idea of fitting into society.  Instead, they retreat into their rooms to drink, pursue hobbies, sleep, or do nothing.  Japanese hikikomori rarely tune into online worlds (this is a popular misconception) and are also a huge source of domestic violence.  A majority of hikikomori are known to attack their parents or immediate family, the same individuals who give them food and money to survive.

Where does the overall metaphor come in?  The author proceeds to zip through a number of social ills that are beginning to hurt Japanese society.  Such problems, as identified by Zielenziger, include population decline, women not wanting to marry, inhospitable treatment towards immigrants, under-employment/unemployment, and an economy that is slow to adapt to the high-speed, globalizing 21st-century world.  In effect, he feels that Japan is becoming cut-off from developing technologies (mostly internet entrepreneurship), and is simultaneously suffering a demographic crisis.  Both of these factors, in turn, have transformed Japan into a virtual hikikomori, isolated on the world stage and increasingly unable to muster up the internal will necessary to change the situation.

In the end, I was a little skeptical of the book's claims, or at least, the way in which they were presented.  I have read and heard quite a bit about the systemic social pressure that exists in Japanese society, and I definitely agree that it is basically no good for Japan's ability to innovate and compete in the 21st century world.  Social bullying, as seen in Japan, results in excessive deference to one's superiors, an urge to conform, and a need to downplay one's own abilities and talents, none of which is helpful in creating a competitive, knowledge-based economy.

However, the book ended up being a quiet defense of Western values and American superiority.  Although the author was careful to throw in information about the United States' own social ills, and explain the many positive aspects of Japanese society (relative socioeconomic equality, low crime, teamwork, etc.), his tone still essentially held up America as the model of success.  I have a lot of faith in this country, and can get pretty patriotic, but I always hesitate when I hear that Japan needs to become more like the United States.  I've always thought that the Japanese have a special sort of strength - an ability to do great things when they come together.  Japanese society may be too rigid to adapt quickly to changing conditions, but give it time.  It will still do great things.

"Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan Under the Single Non-Transferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution"

(Editors: Bernard Norman Groftman, Sung-Chull Lee, Edwin Winckler, Brian Woodall

Alas, after many attempts, I give up on providing a good summary for this book.  It is just far too complicated and technical to remember it all without reading it a second time.  Regardless, I did feel that it was an excellent book, and it gave me a lot of information on the problems and deficiencies of SNTV systems in Korea and Japan especially (The book contains several parts about Taiwan, but given my relative dearth of knowledge about the country, most of it was lost on me.) 

Big picture stuff:  SNTV elections are no longer used in Japan and South Korea, except, I believe, in small specialty districts.  They have since transitioned to a mixed PR/plurality system (Japan in 1994, South Korea initially in 1985).  This decision has led to huge changes in their political organization, as well as the strength of opposition parties in both systems.  

When combined with a fourth-rate political culture and authoritarian controls, respectively, SNTV elections in Japan and South Korea were both unrepresentative and inimical to the growth of opposition parties.  Consider Japan first.  The SNTV system, when combined with districts of medium size districts (by this, I mean a 'medium' number of representatives from each district, usually 3-5), helped the LDP stay in power for years.  With the LDP swaying the minds of vested interests through strategic pork-barrel spending (and often, outright graft), it was able to crowd out the influence and the perceived effectiveness of the opposition, at that time, the Socialist party.  In turn, given that a successful candidate only needed to win about 25-30% of the vote to win, it was easy to push through an otherwise 'unpopular' candidate on the backs of more popular ones.  Popular candidates could lend their excess support to fellow LDP candidates by urging their supporters to vote strategically.  Of course, the fact that the LDP continually blocked electoral reform also increased the unfairness of the system.  Even though the population had moved to the cities in overwhelming numbers, the lack of electoral reform meant that more districts were not added to these suburban areas.  The votes of urban residents ended up equaling roughly 5 of their suburban counterparts.

Now, South Korea.  Under Dictator Park Chung-Hee and his Japan-inspired "Yushin Constitution," South Korea specifically chose a version of the Japanese system to copy its unrepresentative effects, allowing his regime to stay in office.  The interesting part of all this is that the SNTV system actually HELPED the opposition in South Korea (as it probably would have had the LDP been a little less corrupt and the Socialists a little more competent in Japan.) The low threshold necessary to win a seat under medium-district SNTV elections ensured that the opposition could gain at least one seat in many districts.  But, under the Yushin constitution, President Park still directly appointed 1/3 of the members of Parliament.  The opposition had effectively been given lip service in order to be 'bought off' with superficial levels of political influence.  While I'm not convinced that President Park knew what he was doing, the SNTV system managed to split the non-appointed seats of the legislature in such a way that a) President Park's party won a plurality of them and b) the Opposition won enough to achieve superficial representation.  Smart, huh?

I'm going to return back to the SNTV system in Japan.  It is important to remember that, while used to create a highly unrepresentative political system, SNTV was not the sole culprit, nor was is it particularly pernicious when compared to similar systems.  Several other industrialized countries using a parliamentary system (the book mentioned Sweden or Finland as a prime example, I have to go search around and figure out which) were found to be even more unrepresentative.  In effect, one of the contributors concluded that the SNTV system functioned as a proportional system with an especially high barrier for entry - the % of the vote a party must receive in order to be allotted seats.

A final note.  Another important conclusion from the book was that SNTV was largely to blame for the rampant factionalism within the LDP; one contributor went so far as to suggest that the factions might actually be identified as Japan's missing opposition parties.  In my opinion, though, this is deeply deceptive.  All of the factions were essentially non-ideological, barring the occasional emergence of a zoku giin (a member of the Diet with particular expertise) at the head of a particular faction.  The conclusion about factionalism makes sense, though.  With multiple members representing each district, each faction could feasibly pick up a seat in each district...voila, intra-party competition!

Overall, a good book, though probably one of the most technical I've read.  This one is something you might need to go through twice, or even three times.  I'll get around to it eventually.

Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan under the Single Non-Transferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Good article  I am a fan of Noda Yoshihiko; I think far too few people give him enough credit for the political grit he has brought to the job of PM.  Sad to think that he will likely be out of office in September, even though the country is immensely angry at him over the nuclear reactor startups.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Deflation, deflation, deflation...

There is a lively debate going on in the comments section, but my general thought is basically this: Japan is way too dependent on export industries that are on the lower side of the technological spectrum.  For an economy of its depth and size, Japan should not have to worry about keeping the Yen so undervalued, even now, when the currency is at its strongest.  Heck, a question - why IS the Yen still so gosh darned weak compared to the U.S. dollar?  Why haven't these small-scale manufacturer's died off a long time ago?  I know that the Japanese government used massive currency manipulation throughout the 1970's, and that the 1980's saw a basic expansion of the monetary supply (thus, more yen floating around), but what about now?  And especially with the influx of investors in Japanese government bonds and such, how on earth is the Yen still so weak?  Maybe because most JGB-holders are themselves Japanese, so they are just trading yen into the system for the government to zip the same Yen back out as government spending?  I know so little about everything.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Event I helped plan at work, lots of fun!  Was able to meet three of my heroes: Dr. Takashi Oka (whose book is on this blog), Emma Chanlett-Avery, and Yuki Tatsumi!  Sadly, no time for a photo together, but check it out!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

All Hail Michael Cucek and Jun Okumura!

Evening all!

For those that follow this blog semi-regularly, thought I would chime in quickly to update you on my reading activity this week.

As some of you may know, I am an avid fan of Michael Cucek's famous blog on Japanese politics, "Shisaku" (no joke - I have spent Friday nights reading his stuff.  Maybe not the whole Friday night, but at least enough of the night for it to be downright strange.)  Until recently, I was not familiar with a similar blog written by one of Cucek's friends, Jun Okumura.  Okumura is a former MITI/METI bureaucrat and a Counselor at the Eurasia Group, and his commentary is equally informative, hilarious, snarky, and apt.

So, where do they come in?  For the past few days, I have been procrastinating on a review I need to do for a stupendously boring book about SNTV election systems in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.  (I'm not kidding.  You will deed me the naming rights to your first-born child in gratitude for having only to read my sort-of-boring review and not the god-this-is-really-boring-book).  To escape the clutches of the dreaded SNTV system, I have been going through and reading all of the old posts by these eminent individuals, because I realized that I could stand to learn so much from their older commentary since 2004 or so.  I only started reading Cucek in 2011, and fairly loosely at the beginning, so there's a lot of ground to be gained here.

So anyway, that's what I'm up to!  I will be sure to comment briefly on my conclusions from the old Cucek/Okumura posts.  And maybe I will gather myself to finish that review...soon...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army" by Sabine Fruhstuck

Alright folks, I return from the grave to put down my first post in more than a month!  With my girlfriend's birthday and projects at work, I've had a little less time to devote to my beloved blog.  But, never fear, my reading did not stop, and I'll be rolling out three entries in the next week or so, so look out for them!  For the sake of efficiency, they might be a bit shorter than has been my wont in the past few entries.

This week we are taking a turn to the security realm with "Uneasy Warriors: Gender, Memory, and Popular Culture in the Japanese Army," by Sabine Fruhstuck.  Yes, yes, I know - the title surprised me too.  Japan doesn't have an army, only Self-Defense Forces.  What gives, Fruhstuck?

To be honest, I don't really have an answer (haha, got you).  But given the focus of Fruhstuck's research, I might surmise that the word choice in the title is no accident.  Fruhstuck's thesis argues that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces' attempts at promoting a "military masculinity" are burdened by an intricate array of historical pressures and forces, including the organization's links to the old Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).  As such, by referring to the GSDF (Ground Self Defense Forces) as the "Japanese army" in the title, I think she is attempting to draw more attention to the fact that the GSDF, regardless of its uniquely non-aggressive mission, is an army organization with deep continuities and connections to the past, even if it doesn't always acknowledge it.

Fruhstuck's points were varied, and due to the ethnographic nature of the book, it was sometimes difficult to pin down all of what she wanted to say.  (Ethnographic studies like this entail extremely qualitative, psychology/culture-heavy analysis, and can get the reader wrapped up quickly in nuanced points that are sometimes distractly)  But her research was painstaking and thorough; besides interviewing hundreds of current and former service members, she herself donned a GSDF uniform and trained alongside recruits for, from what I recall, about a week.  The broad points of her findings might be summed up as such:

 1.  The Japanese GSDF is burdened by the horrendous historical legacy of its old predecessor, the Imperial Japanese Army.  Vast amounts of energy are spent to distance the GSDF's missions and image from the aggression and jingoism that were inherent to the IJA.
  • Top-level brass in the GSDF are highly resistant to right-wing suggestions to revise Article 9 and dispatch Japanese forces abroad once more.  
  •  Service-members take great pains to not wear their uniforms around in public, especially in dense urban areas.  (This is sometimes the opposite in rural areas like Hokkaido, where GSDF bases are a boon to the local economy.)  
  • An entire new vocabulary has been created to distance the GSDF from old military terms used by the IJA.  Solders in the GSDF are not 'soldiers,' or 'heishi' but 'special group members' or 'jietaiin,' for example.  Fighter jets are not called "fighters" but instead, "special planes," or "tokubetsu hikoki."
  • In its advertising campaigns and recruitment posters, any evidence of the GSDF's military activities is almost nonexistent.  Advertising campaigns promote entirely different concepts than those emphasized under the IJA.  GSDF recruitment themes might include service to the people (NOT the Emperor), self-empowerment through service and adventure, or a peaceful world.  Posters do not, as in the US, show images of guns, tanks, or military equipment.  
  • In general, discipline under the GSDF is far more lax than the IJA, partly in an effort to recover from the IJA's reputation for having had ludicrously harsh officers (during WWII, many Japanese officers were shot in the back by their own soldiers, who were sick of their heavy-handed methods).  Training is rigorous but not back-breaking, and compared to the US military, soldiers in the GSDF are given more leeway for rest by their commanders during field drills.  
  • In general, most GSDF soldiers are pacifistic and not in favor of military operations.  Many joined because of the GSDF's role in providing assistance after natural disasters, dissatisfaction with office jobs, or the adventure of UN-sponsored peace-keeping missions (UNPKO).  In her interviews, Fruhstuck found many service-members who would quit the SDF if ordered to engage in combat.  When PM Koizumi ordered SDF troops to Iraq, suicides among GSDF personnel in Japan increased.
  • Many volunteers for the GSDF who are overtly right-wing in their interviews are not selected for service.  (An interesting point: many of the soldiers said that the right-wing types typically quit after about 6 months, once they realize that the GSDF is not the bastion for old conservative military thinking they hoped it to be.) 
2.  Despite its reluctance to bill itself as such, the Japanese GSDF is nonetheless a military organization that must instill a sense of martial pride in its members.  This necessarily entails hearkening back to certain aspects of Japan's military past and doing certain things to bring the GSDF's aggressive potential into focus.  Here are some things that the GSDF do to quietly emphasize the GSDF's role as a military force:

  • Base museums on every GSDF base attempt to instill respect for the REGIMENT (not necessarily the entire GSDF) by linking it to past regiments that were based in the area, including those of the IJA.  These museums are administrated by base commanders, who act as amateur docents for visiting recruits.  Most of the commanders, in interviews, lamented that most GSDF recruits are completely unaware of - or opposed to - Japan's history of military excellence.
  • Every year, the GSDF holds a live-fire demonstration to satisfy right-wingers who take greater interest in the GSDF's military side.  This is a high-profile event attended by hundreds of carefully selected civilians, politicians, reporters, and others.  Helicopters, tanks, paratroopers, planes, and other GSDF equipment and personnel are brought in to recreate a fictional battle in front of onlookers, filled with dramatic explosions and gunfire.  
3.  With the need to maintain a pacifist image on one hand, and the need to maintain itself as a 'military' organization on the other, the GSDF engages in a complicated and somewhat torturous process of selective memory, clever PR, and image compartmentalization.  In sum, it is a military divided in its own conception of itself.  Across the board, opinions differ: some are more 'conservative' in the old sense and appreciate the GSDF's military power, while others appreciate the GSDF for its ability to offer service and adventure.

One additional point that I found interesting was that different types of masculinity loom larger over GSDF soldiers, including that of the infamous Japanese salaryman and the American soldier.  The former is powerful because, in Fruhstuck's words, it became the predominant conduit for Japanese masculinity during Japan's "high growth" era.  Advertisements for energy drinks and office apparel aimed at salarymen emphasized their role as economic warriors on the frontline of Japan's national success - using slogans such as "advance!" or "fight!"  Meanwhile, the GSDF was sullied by the reputation of its predecessor for most of the post-war era.  The men who joined the GSDF were not seen as the pinnacle of masculine strength. Even today, it is often seen as an escape hatch for those who are unable to face the prospect of 'real' office work.

The latter image, that of the American soldier, also presents the GSDF "group member" with challenges to their self-identity.  The American military looms large over the GSDF, provoking both envy and frustration in its Japanese counterpart. On one hand, the GSDF envies the American military for the simplicity with which it can present iself: it is a military, not a public service organization, and has no bones about emphasizing its capacity to inflict violence.  (Consider your average movie trailer clips in the US when you go to the theater - there's at least one epic National Guard recruitment clip, and then you might have at least one other movie that somehow glorifies the US military's fighting capacity.  It might even include Rihanna.  And be an awful movie.  *cough* Battleship *cough* *cough*).  Moreover, from the GSDF's perspective, the discipline, technical know-how, and training methods of the U.S. military represent the cutting-edge of world military organizations.  The raw strength of the average U.S. soldier (an interesting point, this: in the GSDF, 'bulking up' and accumulating basic muscle mass is not nearly as important as it is to be mentally tough and physically sturdy.) is also looked at with a mixture of awe and curiosity, as a sign of what is entailed by being a real, active-duty military.  

On the other hand, GSDF personnel often express frustration at the US military, which they sometimes see as being intrusive in Japan's internal affairs and overly aggressive.  Sometimes, the US is just a nuisance. When the US military undertakes any life fire exercises, the GSDF has to go in and clean up the empty shell casings, because of strict GSDF liability guidelines.  When US helicopters crash around Futenma airforce base in Okinawa, too, they can be downright deadly, rather than simply a nuisance.

Some additional parts of the book also explore the experiences of women in the GSDF, which I found to be fairly interesting.  Women were originally only allowed to serve as secretaries or nurses in the GSDF until the 1970's, when, in the midst of a shortage of male recruits, Prime Minister Tanaka allowed women to serve in more roles, though still not on the "front lines."  This situation changed in 1986 with the the passage of an Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and all positions were opened to women.  However, Japan still rates low in terms of the number of women within its forces, compared to other countries (4.2% vs. 15.5% in the US).  For women, life in the GSDF is difficult, as even though it is possible to have children while serving, there is a great deal of pressure to quit and stay at home to take care of them thereafter.  On the other hand, the GSDF often attracts women who wish to go off the beaten path, so they may be better suited to deal with such pressure.

All in all, an interesting book, though I thought that some of the conclusions were not as groundbreaking as the cover implied.  Much of the book reaffirms what one might logically be able to deduce - that Japan's military is still in the midst of an identity crisis in the wake of WWII.  This is a well-established fact for those who follow Japan.  However, the specificity and depth of her research was truly impressive, and I recommend it as a source of highly intimate and rare information about the way the GSDF is managed.  One final interesting point that I enjoyed was her analysis of the role of UNPKO within the GSDF.  Although GSDF are sometimes ridiculed by fellow UNPKO service-members from other countries for being unable to fire their weapons, or even carry certain guns, the missions are nonetheless a huge source of pride for GSDF personnel.  They augur up adventure, prestige, action, and a sense of purpose in the minds of soldiers, and after coming back from such a mission, one is considered a true 'veteran.'  In many ways, then, the GSDF might be a more positive model for what a "peaceful" military ought to look like in the future, where the incentive/prestige system places greater emphasis on humanitarian involvement and contributions to society.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

More posts to come soon!

Hey everyone,

I haven't been able to put thoughts down to paper (well, the computer) for the past few weeks because of a few other ongoing projects, so my apologies for the dearth of posts.  Expect new entries next week, though!


Monday, June 4, 2012

Some Asian Economics reading!

This past month I promised myself that I would try to learn more about East Asia's economic history.  And so, I turned to a few trusty books to get the job done.  To be sure, they were complex, and having had only a few basic econ courses under my belt, I am almost sure that much of their content was lost on me.  Even so, I found them to be pretty interesting.  In my reading, I chose to focus on two principal economic issues: the causes behind Japan's 1991 asset bubble (and resulting collapse), and ongoing problems with China's export-oriented economy.

For the question concerning Japan, I relied on Bai Gao's Japan's Economic Dilemma: The Institutional Origins of Prosperity and Stagnation, as well as a shorter publication from the Woodrow Wilson Center and Sasakawa Peace Foundation, titled, "Looking Forward: U.S.-Japan Economic Partnership in the Post-Lehman World."  American journalist David Wessel and former Vice Minister of Finance Eisuke Sakakibara were the two contributors to this piece.


I'll start with Gao's book.  According to Gao, the Japanese economic collapse was essentially caused by a glut of money, a lack of regulation, new means of profit-making, the decline of Japanese banks' influence, and bullish sentiments in Japanese companies.  From what I was able to glean, here's essentially what happened:

1.  In 1985, in the Plaza Accords, the Japanese committed to a roughly 40% increase in the value of the Yen, making the currency much stronger.  Although self-defeating, this decision was made in response to U.S. pressure, as the U.S. had finally begun to lose tolerance for Japanese manipulation of the Yen, which boosted Japanese exports at the expense of American imports.
     Predictably, the rise in the Yen hurt Japanese companies, which had been export-focused for the entire post-war era.  In an attempt to avert recession, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) lowered interest rates and traded dollars for Yen (before the 40% increase took place), drastically expanding the money supply.  Companies engaged in currency conversion as well, so despite the downturn caused by the currency revaluation, they were still sitting on big piles of cash and savings.  In effect, there was a ton of cash just waiting to be invested and drive up prices.

2.  Even with the currency reevaluation, the Japanese were still running trade surpluses with the U.S. and Europe into 1986 and 1987.  In response to a government report on the topic (the "Maekawa Report"), which strongly recommended a boost in domestic consumption to solve the problem, the Nakasone administration issued a large fiscal stimulus package, which was pretty big (about 1.8% of GDP, or 6 trillion yen).  As these funds were funneled into local government projects, they boosted land prices, beginning the run-up in real estate prices that occurred during this period.

3.  The brunt of the problem had yet to come.  With the increase in the value of the Yen, large Japanese companies abandoned their traditional emphasis on exports and quality improvement in exchange for short-term profit.  This was done through quick investments in the stock market, on a huge scale.  Between 1983 and 1989, Japanese stock prices increased three-fold.  Companies also invested in other assets - most notably, real estate.  Lots of it.  It was during this time that Japanese companies became famous for investing in resorts, foreign property (i.e, the Rockefeller Center or Hawaiian cottages), and golf courses, sparking stock-market speculation and a land boom.  This is just an aside, but I should note that at the height of this land boom, the grounds of the Japanese Imperial Palace were valued higher than all of the land of California.
      To be sure, Japanese companies also invested heavily in capital and export capacity during this period.  But they didn't innovate or improve efficiency - they merely expanded the capacity to produce existing exports.  The author uses the term 'bubble technology' to describe the sorts of superficial, ineffectual improvements that were made to products during this period instead, in place of genuine innovation.

4.  Deregulation in the 1980's only exacerbated short-term speculation.  A new rule unveiled by the government increased the profitability of stock-market activity.  Originally, before the rule, if a company bought shares of another corporation in two waves, and the price of the shares had gone up by the time of the second wave of purchases, for accounting purposes, taxes would be paid on an average that included the adjusted price.  So, beforehand, taxes were paid on the old price + the new price, divided by 2.  After the new rule, however, taxes only needed to be paid on the price of the share in the first wave of buying.  As such, it made sense to not only buy more stocks, but to bid up the price of the stock rapidly in order to offset the cost of taxes, even in their reduced form.

5.  Meanwhile, banks lost influence, leading to a whole other mess of other problems.  Traditionally, in the 60's and 70's, Japanese corporations received most of their funding through large bank loans.  These loans gave banks enormous regulatory control over the behavior of companies, and kept aggressive CEO's in line.  As soon as it became more profitable to seek self-capital through the stock market, however, this trend ended.  Beginning in the early 1980's, huge corporations (Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, etc. etc.)  paid off their loans en masse, leaving banks in a lurch.  In turn, they had to compete for customers from smaller, middle-sized firms with riskier prospects.  Many loans were made to default-prone customers, and led to the unique breed of unprofitable corporations later kept alive by the government in the 1990's known as "zombie corporations."
   New bank loans also helped drive the land boom.  A unique aspect of Japanese banks is that they tend to use land as collateral when granting a loan.  Corporate strategy, product spread, and other aspects of a company are less important than the real estate it owns.  As such, by 1987, land served as the principal collateral for more than 20% of bank loans for these small and middle-sized companies, further egging on the massive increase in land prices.

6.  Bullish sentiment served as the bedrock of the whole phenomenon.  As in all bubble economies, consumers thought Japan had reached a permanent peak, and that low interest rates would go on forever.  But this was not so.  The BoJ soon began to raise interest rates to reign in the economy, and returns on stocks began to fall by 1990-1991.  On the whole, the Japanese economy began to collapse gradually between 1990 and 1992, and would remain sluggish until 1995, when it resumed course briefly but then fell back into recession.  Japan's economic outlook picked up somewhat in the 2000's, and seemed to be getting much better in 2007, but then the global economic crisis of 2008 reversed many gains.

Why did the Japanese economy underperform throughout the 1990's, during a time that is famously called Japan's "lost decade?"  I myself still need to research this question more, but let's turn to the next book to get more insight on this...

            The Woodrow Wilson Center publication, by way of comparing Japan's economic collapse with that of the U.S. 2008 recession, helped to address this sort of question.  The publication labelled this sort of economic collapse - as experienced by Japan, and now, by the U.S. - as a "balance-sheet recession."  In such a situation,  companies and banks are burdened by toxic investments that are hard to clean up.  Even with interest rates near 0%, meaning that a bank can borrow money for free and throw it into profitable investments, these bad loans still clog up the system and take time to be washed out.  It's a long, grueling process.  In Japan's case, according to one of the experts in the publication, too little action was taken too sporadically.  7 major stimulus projects were pushed between 1990-1992, but this focus was lost thereafter, and after 1995, when the economy began to improve somewhat, helpful stimulus measures were abandoned.  In short, there was no massive stimulus project to boost the economy in a meaningful way, pushing the country past its glut of toxic investments.
            Moreover, going back to a point made in Bai Gao's book, the structure of the Japanese economy during this period was all wrong.  Japanese companies had over-invested in export capacity in the late 80's, and it took a long time for Japan to reach a point where it could make use of it all.  Moreover, their technology was outdated.  Japan missed the internet revolution, and as American companies sped ahead in investments in computers and the like, Japanese companies did not catch up until much later.

Anyway, let's talk about China now.  For this subject, I turned to Chi Lo's, China after the Subprime Crisis: Opportunities in the New Economic Landscape.  Lo's book was highly technical, and at times, I struggled to get through it.  Basically, though, Lo also began his study of the Chinese economy by way of comparison with the U.S. economy after the subprime crisis.  Lo, agreeing that the U.S. was in the midst of a balance-sheet recession, felt that it is necessary to remove needless regulation and allow the economy to wash out bad loans, without huge government stimulus packages.  As an alternative, he recommended more emphasis on foreclosures, as a way of 'clearing the board' and freeing up funds for new investment.

When it came to China, Lo's points, if I were to boil them down into a basic form, are interesting.  In Lo's view, China's economy is inherently bubble-prone because of the large amount of cash that is sloshing around the system.  He also feels that its export-oriented economic structure is going to start experiencing problems.  Lo argues that China must soon make efforts to boost domestic consumption, as it can not always count on exporting to European and North American (*cough* the U.S. *cough*) countries that will increasingly be unable to afford Chinese products on the same scale.  In this effort, one principal initiative that the Chinese government must spearhead is the creation of a social safety net.  The Chinese government offers even fewer services to its citizens than Mexico, which puts a huge financial burden on its citizens.  They must pay for things like health-care almost completely out of pocket.  Hence, in a big way, the 40% savings rate you see in China right now.  As of 2009, the amount of government spending on health care is indeed rising (from about 2% to 4% of GDP), but it has yet to make a large dent.

So, in sum, an interesting round of reading.  More to come later!


Friday, June 1, 2012

"Policy Entrepreneurship and Elections in Japan: A Political Biography of Ozawa Ichiro" (Takashi Oka)

I was excited to read this book, as it was one of the few English-language biographies available at Lauinger Library on the infamous DPJ politician Ozawa Ichiro.  Before I delve into the details, I should note one thing for other interested readers.  This biography was originally written as a graduate thesis, and certainly reads as such.  Many chapters are spent proving a specific hypothesis, namely, that politician Ozawa Ichiro fit the model of a so-called “policy entrepreneur,” apparently a theoretical term for politicians who are motivated by divergent policy beliefs.  As such, unless one is immediately concerned with the ramifications of the author’s hypothesis, expect to delve through some technical details to get into the meat of the story. 

Oka starts with Ozawa's childhood.  Ozawa's father was an independent, reformist war-era Diet member, and several of Ozawa’s own beliefs trace back to him, especially his support for the U.S. security alliance and single-member constituencies, which will be discussed later.  Ozawa inherited his old man's koenkai (the highly personalized support organization used by Japanese politicians) after the late politician's death, though he chose not to use it to full effect, instead relying on the youth vote in a tough election.  Having emerged victorious, Ozawa entered the Diet in 1969, and joined the infamous Tanaka faction, a politician whom he would dutifully serve up until the mid-to-late 1980's.

Ozawa served as a Parliamentary Vice-Minister of several ministries in the Diet, but did not get his first big break until 1982, when he was made the head of the LDP party's electioneering bureau ("General Affairs Bureau," or "somukyokucho").  Here, he proved himself to be a master election strategist, ensuring that the LDP retained a majority after the grueling 1982 general election.  In 1989, Ozawa was appointed Secretary General of the LDP, and would later conduct a number of trade agreements with the U.S. under the Premiership of PM Takeshita Noboru, a distant successor of the Tanaka faction, even if not necessarily well-liked by Tanaka himself.  

Here's where we get into the most important part.  Beginning in the early 1990's, Ozawa began to push for electoral and political reform, an issue that he had first mentioned in 1969, when he promoted the idea of single-member electoral districts in Japan (keep in mind, since 1947, Japan had been using the Single-Non-Transferable-Vote system, which was heavily rigged through various means to keep the LDP in power.)  According to the author, who worked with and interviewed Ozawa extensively, Ozawa was convinced of the benefits of a single-member district system because of its first-past-the-post plurality voting method.  In such a system, one candidate is elected from one district, and whoever gets 51% of the vote wins.  This naturally incentivizes voters to coalesce into two main parties with a viable chance of breaking the 51% mark, a phenomenon known as Duverger's law.

This is not so in SNTV systems, where multiple positions exist for each district and the top three or four vote-getters are elected.  As such, SNTV elections make it easier for a politician with low levels of grassroots support (i.e, a politician from a small party or an unpopular one from a larger party) to win a seat, should they be able to rally enough voters to make it over the threshold.  If there are four possible positions in a district, for example, a candidate might need to only get 21% of the vote to secure one of the seats, rather than 51%.  Moreover, an SNTV system can be manipulated through strategic voting.  For example, an LDP lawmaker who is assured of victory could have some of his 'overflow' supporters vote for a fellow LDP candidate, pushing his comrade over the, say, 21% threshold, and allowing the LDP to garner more of the district’s seats.  It should be noted that the LDP's dominance of the SNTV system was aided by malapportionment, in which pro-LDP rural districts were given more MP's than their more liberal, urban counterparts.

Ozawa disdained the effects of the SNTV system, seeing it as a manipulable, corruption-prone device.  On the other hand, he saw the politics of those countries which used single-member districts - Britain was his chief model - as far superior.  He admired the concept of alternation in power, feeling that it offered fresh policy options and kept corruption in check.  In Japan, he felt that a plurality system would provide the public with meaningful electoral choices, and bring an end to the LDP's nearly 38-year lock-hold on power.

In 1990, Ozawa convinced P.M. Kaifu Toshiki to take the issue of electoral reform seriously (Author's note:   This probably only worked because Kaifu was one of the few LDP leaders to not be completely smeared by corruption at the time - he was selected as P.M. for this exact reason, after the disastrous "Recruit Scandal" broke in the late 80's.)  In response, Kaifu adopted a plan entailing a mixed PR/Single-member-district system, which had been suggested a number of times since the 1960's by government-created committees on electoral reform.  Such committees were typically organized by the LDP as 'cover' after a scandal, and after they issued their recommendations, were promptly ignored.  

Unfortunately, however, the First Gulf War occurred around the same time, and threw Japan into a crisis.  As the U.S. pressured it to join the anti-Saddam coalition, momentum was lost and the Kaifu administration failed to pass the reforms.  Ozawa would later break away from the LDP in 1993 with a large number of MP's from the Takeshita factionAlong with a number of other reform parties created during this period, Ozawa and his "Shinseito" ("Renewal") party brought the LDP to a crushing defeat in the 1993 elections.  This was a historic moment, as it marked the first time since 1947 that the LDP had actually lost its governing majority.

Although the new coalition would only last 10 months, under the charismatic leadership of Hosokawa Morihiro, who was chosen by Ozawa, it nonetheless succeeded in bargaining with the minority LDP to produce an electoral reform bill.  This legislation brought about the long-awaited PR/Single-district system.  Success at last!  But not quite.  Hosokawa unexpectedly resigned in 1994 after an intra-party snafu over a potential consumption tax increase, and the LDP united with the Socialists to win the next elections.  The LDP would, in the coming years, actually enjoy a resurgence under the charismatic leadership of Hashimoto Ryutaro, and perhaps most importantly, Junichiro Koizumi.  During a brief period of time,  however, from 1998-2000, Ozawa did manage to join the LDP in a coalition government and force the P.M., Obuchi Keizo, to carry out some pretty serious reforms (perhaps most importantly, bureaucrats were banned from the floor of the Diet chambers.)  

In 2009, however, the single-member district system began to mature, and a convincing opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan – formed by Ozawa and future PM Kan Naoto – took power.  Currently, Japan is still ruled by the DPJ, which has experienced a questionable record of success.  Regardless, however, the author feels that the DPJ is bound to stay, because of Duverger’s law.  According to Oka, the DPJ and its predecessors’ gradual gains ever since 1993 are a sign that the effects of the single-district system are, in fact, taking hold in Japan.  Given how many argue that Japan’s cultural traditions make it impossible for a genuine two-party system to take root, this is a controversial point. 

Oka also spent a considerable portion of the book detailing Ozawa’s foreign policy stances.  Once regarded as a member of Japan’s “new right,” Ozawa believes that Japanese Self-Defense Force members ought to be able to enter combat, as long as they fight under the aegis of the United Nations.  In Ozawa’s thinking, U.N. missions are a form of ‘collective defense,’ and by participating in such operations – no matter the role – Japanese soldiers are not necessarily fighting an offensive war on Japan’s behalf, which is outlawed by Article 9 of the Constitution.  Instead, they are merely fighting on the world’s behalf.  Ozawa sees such a step as absolutely necessary, should Japan ever wish to become a ‘normal’ nation and face its international duty squarely.  However, his opinions on this matter are controversial, and disavowed by many.

Alongside foreign policy and electoral reform, Ozawa's stances on other issues are also explained in great detail.  Like many members of the DPJ, Ozawa believes in a more liberal, non-interventionist economic policy, and at least in the book, feels that Japan ought to open its domestic market to more competition with foreign companies.  In a way that is uncommon among Japanese politicians, he also feels that the country ought to place more emphasis on the individual, rather than the group, should it hope to become a 'normal' nation with 'normal' politics.

Throughout the book, I often sensed that the author may have ‘played up’ Ozawa’s virtue or foresight at times, and obscured some of his true policy positions.  Given the author’s relatively close connection to Ozawa - Oka himself was an adviser to the politician - this is not necessarily surprising.  For example, Oka does not consider opposing points of view when it came to a real estate scandal concerning Ozawa.  He simply argues that Ozawa is innocent.  Moreover, I was also skeptical of several explanations offered by Oka about Ozawa's policies.  For example, while Oka argues that Ozawa believes firmly in Japan’s alliance with the U.S., I am aware of several other sources that suggest the opposite, almost painting Ozawa as an advocate of a Japan-China alliance.  Moreover, while Oka suggests that Ozawa is pro-trade and pro-liberalization, Ozawa is an opponent of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, suggesting another area where Ozawa's stance in the book has either changed or is presented incorrectly.  Only more research and reading will be able to sort these dilemmas out, and I look forward to reporting back to you on them.  

Ultimately, I learned a lot from the book, though I still feel that there is much more to examine about Ozawa's stances on various issues.  I recommend this book, then, not necessarily for its content on Ozawa, but more because of its portrayal of various efforts at electoral reform after the 1980’s.  I have found that it is difficult to find accounts of these events with similar levels of quality, and as such, this book is a valuable source.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Tanaka Kakuei: The Making of Postwar Japan

I picked this book up a while ago as part of an (ongoing) effort to better understand modern-day Japanese politics.  I had read that Tanaka Kakuei was once dubbed Japan's "shadow shogun," and his name came up pretty often in other books, so I thought it was a good starting point.  And indeed it was!  As I have since come to learn, Tanaka was one of the most influential politicians of the post-war era, and many aspects of Japanese politics - good and bad - can be traced back to him.  Although short, this book gave an excellent overview of his political activities, as well as Tanaka's general legacy in the context of international affairs and Japanese politics up until the 1990's.  Although he was in office for only a short time ('72 to '74), he was nonetheless an incredibly powerful force for more than 25 years afterwards, even in illness.  In my mind, his influence is vaguely reminiscent of Japan's old retired-Emperor system, where the retired Emperor actually held all the power, while a young, faceless Emperor warmed the formal position.  

On one hand, Tanaka Kakuei was about as corrupt as they come, and was infamous for getting his way through strategic - and mostly illegal - donations of cash.  Nor was he averse to taking bribes.  His involvement in the 1976 Lockheed Martin Scandal - in which Lockheed Martin bribed Japanese politicians to purchase the Lockheed L-1001 TriStar Airbus for All Nippon Airways - was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to Tanaka's dubious financial dealings.  As the inheritor and owner of a large construction company, Tanaka had always mixed business and politics, and was not averse to using money to grease the wheels of government.  According to the author, in 1957, when he was appointed as the unprecedentedly-young Minister of Posts and Telecommunication in the cabinet of Nobosuke Kishi, it was rumored that he had simply slipped Kishi a backpack (perhaps an odd choice of container?) filled with 3,000,000 yen.  

He was also well-known for wining and dining bureaucrats to win their allegiance, and his business dealings were egregiously self-enriching.  Tanaka invested his assets in a number of 'ghost companies' run by his own relatives, who would promise to oversee his money while he used internal, government information to promote their business (ironically, a practice that, until recently, was only partially illegal in the U.S...).  His ascent to the Japanese premiership was also partly paved through money.  In a dead-heat LDP intra-party election for Prime Minister against Fukuda Takeo, Tanaka supposedly slipped Nakasone Yasuhiro, the leader of a smaller faction and a future Prime Minister, an undisclosed sum of money to break the tie.  Unsurprisingly, Tanaka won.  

Of course, focusing on these aspects ignores Tanaka's considerable political prowess, popularity, and accomplishment.  Tanaka was a remarkably effective legislator, and was re-elected by record margins even while imprisoned because of the care and attention that he lavished on his backwater Niigata district.  One stat given in the book is that "In 1982 [he was still in office at this time], the residents of his prefecture paid an average of $541 in taxes and received per capita public works of $1,644.  In contrast, Tokyo residents paid $3,060 for public works of $815."  This was chiefly done through his expert administration of his koenkai, which are local groups used by politicians to raise funds, obtain support, etc. etc.  Tanaka's koenkai was called the Etsuzankai ("Niigata Mountain Association"), which had offices and members in every town in the district.  Etsuzankai networks would keep tabs on constituent requests, and Tanaka was especially careful to respond to their needs.  

As Prime Minister, Tanaka's signature domestic achievement was to make controversial investments in Japan's infrastructure through deficit spending, which would fundamentally reshape Japan's landscape.  On one hand, the bullet-train system was expanded and rural areas received an unprecedented amount of investment and industry, arguably providing the basis for Japan's economic rise.  On the other hand, the system benefited legislators like Tanaka, who used their influence to locate high-profile - but superfluous - projects in their own districts.

Tanaka is perhaps best-known for his involvement in foreign affairs.  He re-established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1972, conducted some of the most constructive talks with the U.S.S.R. on the subject of the Kuril Islands in years, and was influential in opening access to oil and other resources throughout Southeast Asia.  As the author notes, Tanaka also showed boldness during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, when he broke with the U.S. to side against Israel, so as to partly meet Arab demands and work to ease strains on Japan's oil supply.  

On a final note, Tanaka was also a notable mentor and friend to future Japanese Prime Ministers and power-brokers.  Nakasone Yasuhiro, one of Japan's most well-known and longest-serving Prime Ministers in the 1980's, obtained his position largely because of Tanaka's support (it was thereafter dubbed the 'Tanakasone' administration).  In general, all of Japan's Prime Ministers throughout the late 1970's and 1980's needed at least tacit support by Tanaka in order to get elected.  Nowadays, the infamous Ozawa Ichiro is a living embodiment of Tanaka's legacy.  Ozawa was supported and shown favor by Tanaka early on in the 1970's, and although he broke with Tanaka in 1985, he now seems to be following in his mentor's footsteps by attempting to be a "shadow shogun" of the Democratic Party of Japan.  

I should also mention that Tanaka, for all his corruption - and yes, womanizing - is still very popular in Japan today.  His gruff style of politics is much admired, and in light of Japan's current generation of politicians, who are seen as action-averse and timid, his ability to 'get things done' is looked at wistfully.  It might be similar to how, in the U.S., a small plurality of people remember Richard Nixon fondly, choosing to appreciate the overall character rather than to focus on his foibles and corruption.  

All in all, an excellent read!  Due to time constraints, I had to stick to this shorter overview of Tanaka, but I hope to read more about him in the future.