The Envelope, Please...

Results are in for the upper house elections in Japan. The coalition between the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiminto) and the Komei Party (Komeito) now controls the majority of seats in the House of Councillors. Until this election, while the Prime Minister was from the LDP, the upper house was dominated by the Democratic Party of Japan (Minshuto). Needless to say, this meant there was a lot of opposition to legislation for opposition's sake.

The big winner was, as everyone predicted, the Liberal Democrats. What is new is the emergence of the Komei Party as the second most powerful party.

As for actual votes, in Japanese elections voters cast two ballots: one for a candidate by name and one for a party.

In round figures, this is how the party votes ("hirei-ku") turned out:

18.4 million for the Liberal Democrats (Prime Minister Abe, chief)
7.6 million for the Komei Party (Natsuo Yamaguchi, chief)
7.1 million for the Democratic Party of Japan
6.3 million for Ishin Kai (Toru Hashimoto, chief)
5.1 million for the Japan Communist Party
4.8 million for the Minna no To
1.3 million for the Socialist Party of Japan
0.9 million for the Seikatsu no To (Ichiro Ozawa, chief)
(the rest for miscellaneous small parties)


A Word About the Protest Vote

In the recent election for Tokyo metropolitan legislators, a surprising number of communist candidates were elected. Analysts attributed this result to "protest votes". In other words, people who didn't like the major parties said to themselves something like, "I'd rather vote for a communist than for someone from xx party", and they did.

For those who are thinking of doing it again in the upcoming House of Councillors election, here is one word to contemplate: Aoshima.

In 1995, Tokyo was a metropolis teetering on the brink. Problems were legion, and leadership was lacking. A popular TV comedian--Mr. Aoshima--said something like, "If you don't want to vote for the other candidates, you can vote for me." And people did. In droves. To the surprise and shock of those who thought they were merely protesting, Mr. Aoshima won the election. He himself suffered the greatest shock, because he had no idea how to be governor of Tokyo.

Think carefully, protest voters.

You may be handing the national treasury, Japanese diplomacy, self defense, welfare, health care and human rights
--not to mention education and your children's future--to people who have no idea what to do with them. Why not think a bit, and choose a candidate who has an actual qualification for the job?


New Ambassador?

It would be lovely to have someone like this from the cultural sector for a change...

Kennedy tapped as next U.S. ambassador

Kyodo, JIJI

Jul 13, 2013

WASHINGTON – Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, will become ambassador to Japan, sources close to the bilateral relationship said.

Kennedy, an attorney and strong backer of President Barack Obama, will be taking up the post as Washington grapples with contentious defense and trade issues involving its top Asian ally. These include the realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan and negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Japan is set to join the talks on the free trade pact this month.

The White House will announce the appointment soon, the sources said Friday.

Kennedy, 55, will become the first woman to assume the high-profile post, likely this fall, if the U.S. Senate approves her nomination, they said.


A Little Honesty Would Help

The truth will come out eventually. Why not just own up to hiding toxic chemicals where children play, clean up, and make the world a little safer?

This addition to the ongoing story of toxic chemicals put in Okinawa by the US comes from The Japan Times Online:

Okinawan authorities unearth barrels at onetime U.S. military facility

Finds raise toxic chemical suspicions at ex-Kadena site

by Mizuho Aoki

Staff Writer

Jul 3, 2013

The Okinawa Defense Bureau and the city of Okinawa uncovered seven more barrels Tuesday at a former U.S. military installation in the prefecture that may have been used to hold toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War, stoking concern among residents.

Prior to Tuesday’s findings, the city had dug up 19 barrels from the same site in mid-June.

The barrels found Tuesday had been buried about 1 meter deep in a soccer ground adjacent to the Kadena Air Base that had been part of the installation until 1987, the Defense Ministry said.

The barrels had white stripes around their rims and bore “Dow Chemical” markings, a city official said. The Dow Chemical Co. was one of the main developers of Agent White and other herbicides. Some decayed barrels were also marked “30 gallons,” the official added.

The ministry and the city plan by month’s end to complete a study of soil samples and the barrels, checking for any trace of toxic chemicals, a ministry official said. The ministry said it is also considering digging across a wider area to determine if more barrels are buried in the area.

Jon Mitchell, a contributor to The Japan Times who has been investigating the Agent Orange issue in Okinawa, said that although the position of the white stripes on the barrels seems to suggest they’re not Agent White, there is a strong possibility they could be other toxic chemicals.

“Usually, these herbicides’ stripes were around the middle of barrels. But, from the photographs, it seems to be at the top. So that does seem to suggest it’s not Agent White,” Mitchell said.

Agent White is commonly known to be contained in larger barrels than the 30-gallon (114-liter) drums found at the soccer ground, he said, adding, however, there is also evidence suggesting Dow may have used smaller barrels to send defoliant to Vietnam.

“Even if this is not Agent White, then there is a strong chance that it is another type of dangerous chemical,” Mitchell said. “So it’s important that the barrels are checked and also a wider area is checked. There might be more, much deeper around the area.”

The Defense Ministry has asked the U.S. military to confirm what the site was used for when it was part of the Kadena base, but had not received an answer as of Wednesday.

“(The U.S. military) said it doesn’t have detailed documents about it. So we haven’t received an answer. But we will continue to seek an answer,” the official said.

Mitchell urged the U.S. military to be forthright.

“This is an example of American military pollution,” Mitchell said. “This is a soccer ground. This is where children play. It’s time the American government took Okinawa residents’ worries seriously. They need to cooperate fully with the investigation and come clean about the issue.”

In January, a story by Mitchell in The Japan Times shed light on a September 1971 report produced by the U.S. Army’s Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Pentagon’s main center for biochemical weapons research.

It summarized the military’s usage of chemicals during the Vietnam War, and among the locations cited is a reference to “Herbicide stockpiles elsewhere in PACOM-U.S. (Pacific Command) government restricted materials Thailand and Okinawa (Kadena).”


Making Juice--the electrical kind

(There is more to this article. For details, please go to The Japan Times online edition.)


Nuclear safety rules put onus on utilities

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Jul 2, 2013

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 8 will begin enforcing new safety standards at atomic power stations, more than two years after Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant experienced three reactor core meltdowns.

Hoping they become the world’s highest safety standards, the new rules reflect what regulators have learned from the Fukushima crisis, which was triggered by the March 11, 2011, mega-quake and monster tsunami.

Utilities are meanwhile hoping that the regulators will be lenient with reactor restarts as long as they agree to upgrade their plants to the new safety regime over time.


Hope and Surgery: A Tiny but Amazing Step Forward

Surgeons transplant part of mom’s lung into 3-year-old son


Jul 1, 2013

OKAYAMA – Okayama University Hospital said Monday that part of a mother’s lung had been successfully transplanted into her 3-year-old son in the world’s first middle lobe transfer from a living donor.

The operation made the troubled boy, whose lung function was declining, the youngest lung recipient in Japan, the hospital said.

“His artificial heart and lung has been removed, and he has begun to breathe with the transplanted lung. I believe the surgery was successful,” the lead surgeon, Takahiro Oto, associate professor of respiratory surgery at the state-run university hospital, said at a press conference after the operation.

The removal of the middle lobe of the mother’s right lung began shortly after 10 a.m., and its insertion into her son began around 1:30 p.m.

Lung transplants from living donors usually involve the inferior lobe, which has greater breathing capacity. But the boy received the middle lobe instead because it is smaller and matched his size.

The mother decided to donate part of her lung because the chances of finding a child lung donor were slim, the hospital said.

The boy underwent a bone-marrow transplant for leukemia about two years ago but later developed graft-versus-host disease, a complication in which the newly transplanted material attacks the recipient’s body, Oto said earlier.

Oto said the middle lobe transplant will pave the way for saving other babies who have not been able to undergo lung transplants.

(from The Japan Times Online)