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Taro Aso Embarrasses the Abe Government

SNA (Tokyo) — The following stories were reported today by the Shingetsu News Agency.

Taro Aso Crisis

—Finance Minister Taro Aso departs for Washington DC to attend a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in the midst of several scandals swirling around the ministry he heads. One problem: the Diet did not give Aso permission to leave town, but he did so anyway, ignoring media questions.

—Taro Aso clearly needs to resign, or be fired, as Finance Minister after official document rewritings, Junichi Fukuda, now this G20 business. It hasn’t happened yet because Aso himself is shameless and because Abe badly needs Aso’s support to be reelected as party president. All major opposition parties (minus the Japan Innovation Party as usual) uniting in call for the resignation of Taro Aso as Finance Minister.

—It appears that Shukan Shincho‘s April 26 issue will include an explosive gaffe by Finance Minister Taro Aso who declared that the way to prevent sexual harassment at his ministry is for news organizations to deploy only male journalists.

—Taro Aso’s brilliant response to TV Asahi‘s protest letter regarding sexual harassment of its reporter: “As the complaint was only a single sheet of paper, my only thought was that it would have been easier to read if they had used a bigger font.”

Politics

—Junichi Fukuda once again denies that his actions amounted to sexual harassment of female journalists, in spite of the audio tapes strongly suggesting otherwise.

—Liberal Democratic Party dinosaur Bunmei Ibuki criticizes — get this! — the unidentified female reporter who was sexually harassed by Finance Ministry top bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda. He says it was immoral for her to provide the tape recording to Shukan Shincho.

—Japan Federation of Newspaper Workers’ Unions attacks Finance Ministry response to sexual harassment charges, especially the demand that female journalists must report their claims to the ministry: “Not only is it intimidation of the victims, it is unacceptable for putting pressure on and attacking the media.”

—Opposition lawmakers gather in the Diet Building to hold red #MeToo signs, a particular reproach to the Finance Ministry sexual harassment scandal and the Abe government’s very weak response to it. It seems that Shinzo Abe isn’t interested in letting women “shine” any longer.

Mainichi Shinbun reports that it was Junichi Fukuda’s own subordinate who was tasked with conducting the investigation of his boss. What could ever go wrong with that approach? The conflicts of interest between the investigators and the investigated just goes on and on.

—Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera says he has no intention of protecting the Self-Defense Forces officer who accosted an opposition lawmaker and repeatedly accused him of being “an enemy of the people” for pursuing scandals at the Defense Ministry.

—Opposition parties are opposing Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera’s trip to the United States. They argue he needs to stay in the Diet and do some more explaining about documents being hidden in his ministry.

—Democratic Party lawmaker Hiroyuki Konishi: “Unless Defense Minister Onodera and Chief of Staff Kawano resign, in the future there will be a coup d’etat by the Self-Defense Forces.”

—Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to defy the Diet’s lack of permission for him to leave and will go on his scheduled trip to the United States.

—Wataru Takeshita replaces faction head Fukushiro Nukaga, turning the Liberal Democratic Party’s Nukaga Faction back into the Takeshita Faction. This may have ramifications for the party presidential race in September.

—“Democratic Party of Japan” will NOT be the name of the new political party to be created next month. Although it is popular among the lawmakers, they will choose a name that won’t create confusion with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. Name of new opposition political party expected to be selected on Tuesday next week.

—Goshi Hosono makes clear that he will not be joining any political party and will become an independent when the current Party of Hope is dissolved next month. Having burned so many bridges, he might not have been welcomed in any party even if he had asked.

—Liberal Democratic Party senior lawmaker Hajime Funada thinks Shinzo Abe is done as prime minister: “The third election of Shinzo Abe as party president has turned from a yellow light to a red light… If these scandals continue, he’ll have to resign before the election.”

—The “CDPJ Partners” program has been launched by the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan with their trademark social media savvy. This is part of their effort to build up grassroots progressive politics in Japan.

—Opposition parties boycotting Diet deliberations, demanding that Taro Aso be dismissed as Finance Minister and that Tadao Yanase be summoned as a sworn witness in the Kake Gakuen scandal. Japan Innovation Party, as usual, stabs the rest of the opposition in the back and supports the government.

—Education Ministry reports receiving e-mail from the Cabinet Office on April 2, 2015, confirming that Imabari city officials would be meeting Tadao Yanase at the Kantei. It would appear that the only organization that can’t find documents about the Kantei meeting is the Kantei.

—Party of Hope leader Yuichiro Tamaki: “There is no doubt but that Tadao Yanase lied in his testimony to the Diet.”

—Communications Minister Seiko Noda says she will set up meetings with female journalists to discuss what kind of government policies might be set up to support them. Noda continues promoting her female empowerment message as part of her own drive to become prime minister.

—Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda marched in yesterday’s street protest in Shibuya regarding sex crimes against young women. We are not immediately aware of any precedent for an incumbent government minister joining a protest march in the streets.

—Opposition party gathering in the Diet Building demands the resignation of the Abe administration, citing “concealing, falsifying, and fabricating documents; pressure; sexual harassment; and the loss of civilian control over the military.”

International

—A US Marine helicopter made an emergency landing at Kumamoto Airport. Although the mishap didn’t occur in Okinawa this time, the helicopter and crew itself is based, you guessed it, at Futenma Air Base in Okinawa.

—It’s not immediately clear that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe achieved anything of substance in his latest meeting with US President Donald Trump. In fact, it may have been largely about Trump pressuring Abe on trade issues and Abe resisting.

Jiji Press headline: “Abe Plays Golf with Trump for 3rd Time.”: Is Japan a banana republic or what?

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fails to secure exemption on steel and aluminum tariffs in his meeting with Trump (in spite of the golf). Essentially, Abe will be coming come empty-handed when he desperately needed a win. He should of known that Trump is not a friend when you’re down.

—Now reviewing video footage of the Trump-Abe press conference. Had to chuckle when Trump repeatedly mispronounced the prime minister’s name. Note to Trump, your “good friend” is Abe, not Abi.

Asahi Shinbun: “Abe has made his foreign policy agenda heavily dependent on Tokyo’s relations with Washington, particularly his personal ties with Trump, without making sufficient efforts to improve Japan’s relationships with its neighbors and hold constructive talks with their leaders.” This problem of Japanese diplomacy relying overmuch on the US-Japan Alliance and dismissing the critical need for stronger relations with the Asian continental powers goes far beyond the issue of Trump. But it is good to see the Asahi briefly wake up to this long-term failure.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has returned to Japan after his visit to the United States. When he reads the news headlines here, we can forgive him if he feels like he should get back on the plane.

—Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga protests Russian military exercises near the disputed Southern Kuriles / Northern Territories.

—South Korea Foreign Ministry: “It is our government’s basic position that a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine cannot be justified under any circumstance since it is a symbolic structure glorifying Japan’s past colonial rule and aggression.” Among the lawmakers visiting Yasukuni was Masahisa Sato, the former military officer and now Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs. Like other Japanese rightwingers, he continues to do his part to ensure that Japan’s relations with its East Asian neighbors remain poor.

—Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sends a ritual offering to Yasukuni Shrine.

—North Korea issues surprise statement: “We will discontinue nuclear tests and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire from April 21… The northern nuclear test ground of the DPRK will be dismantled to transparently guarantee the discontinuance of the nuclear tests.”

—South Korea president’s office: “North Korea’s decision represents meaningful progress for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which the world wishes for… It will create a very positive environment for the success of the upcoming inter-Korean and North-US summits.”

—Abe government meets latest North Korea declaration with its usual icy tone about the how it is still too little and that pressure must be maintained, etc., but Prime Minister Abe does manage to squeeze out the comment, “We welcome the forward movement.”

—Trump administration denounces China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea as “forces of instability.” True, those states each do have some problems of one kind or another, but how can anyone take seriously such a condemnation from the world’s biggest “instability” source, Donald Trump?

Economy

—Democratic Party not committing to support a united opposition candidate for Governor of Niigata. With Rengo pushing from the background, they may be ready to betray the anti-nuclear movement in the prefecture once again.

—Ruling coalition likely to run Hideyo Hanazumi as their candidate for Governor of Niigata Prefecture. Hanazumi spent his career as a Transport Ministry bureaucrat and served as Niigata Vice-Governor for a couple years. Currently he is a senior executive in the Japan Coast Guard.

—Yukio Edano makes clear that the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan is willing to join with the Japan Communist Party and others to support an anti-nuclear candidate in the Niigata gubernatorial elections. A specific candidate name hasn’t been mentioned yet.

Society

—Volcanic eruptions have occurred at Mt. Io, in the same Kirishima mountain range between Kagoshima and Miyazaki as the recently erupting Mt. Shinmoe.

—Smoking to be completely banned within the Foreign Ministry building starting in May. National anti-smoking legislation has largely been defeated by ruling party dinosaurs, but the relatively forward-thinking Foreign Minister Taro Kono can at least bring his own domain in line.

—Governor Yuriko Koike renews her effort to enact a smoking ban in Tokyo that would be stronger than the ruling party proposals. Under Koike’s proposal smoking would be banned in any bar or restaurant that hires employees.

Note: There were no separate “Today in Japan” reports issued on April 19 and April 20.

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