The April 16 tragedy of the MV Sewol in the territorial waters of South Korea has been exercising an impact on the local economy of Tottori Prefecture. This has occurred mainly due to the fact that the accident, in which more than three hundred people appear to have lost their lives, has deeply undermined the South Korean public’s faith in the safety of ferry boats.
It is apparent that early 2014 has already been an exhilarating period for the Japanese hard right. They have one of their own as the nation’s prime minister, his popularity has been enduring, his coterie filled with fellow travelers, and the liberal opposition beset by a degree of disarray that has probably never been seen before in postwar Japan.
Japan is completing steps to launch a derivatives market for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). While oil has long been traded in both spot and future markets, LNG remains very much the province of long-term fixed-price contracts. Japan is one of the biggest consumers, accounting for some 40% of world imports.
It has been little noticed in the mainstream media, but Japanese conservatives and their allies desiring to erase the painful history of the so-called Comfort Women have been taking their campaign of denial to the US White House. They are doing this through the “We the People” online petition section of the White House official webpage.
Recent news from Southeast Asia has been dominated by maritime conflicts, and then trade negotiations in second place. However, nature has once again reminded us all that it is not just conflicts among nations that threaten the life and property of citizens. The reminder has come in the shape of a terrible typhoon, known as Haiyan or Yolanda.
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
As anyone who studies Japanese political history of the 1930s can attest, the rightwing forces in this nation can be a fractious lot. Once the spirit of nationalism rages, any sort of moderate, compromising behavior can be denounced as treason. Shinzo Abe came to power as a spokesman for the hard right, but after ten months of reasonably cautious behavior, a good chunk of this movement is ready to turn against him.
The people who wrote this constitution lived in a world more dangerous than ours. They were surrounded by territory controlled by hostile powers, on the edge of a vast wilderness. Yet they understood that even in perilous times the strength of self-government was public debate and public consensus. To put aside these basic values out of fear, to imitate the foe in order to defeat him, is to shred the distinction that makes us different.
Deputy Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister-cum-Minister of Financial Services Taro Aso, who is a former prime minister, grandson of the legendary Shigeru Yoshida, and related by his sister’s marriage to the imperial family, is increasingly becoming an international laughingstock and a political embarrassment to the Abe administration. After his latest gaffe, there is widespread speculation that Abe will simply dump him from the cabinet in the reshuffle expected next month.
Since we are based in Tokyo and not in Washington DC, we may not be the best source available for understanding US government policy, even its policy toward Japan and Asia. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to notice that the Obama administration is taking an unexpectedly cool posture toward Shinzo Abe and his band, and that this is having a major political effect here as well. It is also obvious that the Obama policy toward Japan is radically different than what US policy was a decade ago under George W. Bush.