Sunday, 4 September 2011

Who was that Man...?

So The Man Who Kan is officially now the Man Who Couldn't. As I said before, he was dealt a shitty hand but seismic catastrophes are in the job description for a Japanese PM and I'm afraid to say that he didn't handle it particularly well. Yes, politics is riven by factions, especially within his own party, but at some point he had to stop, draw a line in the sand (after clearing away the wreckage and checking for radiation), grow a pair and, firstly, tell Ozawa to f*ck off and expel him from the party (and deal with the crook later) and then take charge of the country post-quake, show a bit of leadership, be strong, fight and all that. Sorry, but on both counts: FAIL.

So he finally did the decent thing, after the 3rd emergency budget was passed (or whichever one it was) and fell on his sword. After a bit of ministerial tooing and froing, the suits of the DPJ elected another of their own, Yoshihiko Noda, as the new #1. Of the candidates he was one of few who I didn't really want to get it, mostly as he looks like a toad (imagine a flesh-coloured Baron Silas von Greenback and you'll see what I mean), and he sounds a bit like one as well - and kudos to him if he ever starts burping really loudly in a cabinet meeting in a vain attempt to attract Renho for a ministerial debrief...

So Noda has also been dealt a pretty shitty hand by the fates, but at least he has the excuse that he saw it coming. Of course the main problem is the economy - at the moment government debt is running at about double the annual turnover of Japan Inc, meaning that we are well mired in the deepest of deep shit. That said, unlike the mountainous debt of Europe and the US, most of the people the J-govt are indebted to are the people of Japan, as pretty much all the IOUs are written to Japanese banks backed up by the savings of millions of households across the land. This is a good thing, and the only reason Japan Inc hasn't gone bust for the last 20 years, as the people of Japan are very unlikely to stop saving, take the cash from the bank and blow it all in Vegas (or, in the case of US/European debt, the Chinese suddenly saying, "hey, you know all those IOU's? Reckon we'll cash them in now...").

But with a shrinking popuation and no mass immigration any time soon, the tax base will decrease and govt income fall even before the rebuilding of Tohoku gets underway. So sales/consumption tax will probably have to go up, no defintely have to go up, from its current 5% - I can see that at 10% in the next few years and probably 15% in a decade. It's going to hurt but it's got to be done. The Tohoku clean up is, naturally, another bit blot on the landscape (quite literally) - of course things have begun and lots of work already done, I think pretty much all of the displaced people now have temporary housing, as opposed to living in gymnasiums and other evacuation centres - that's pretty damned good going, considering how many people lost their houses. But rebuilding lives, towns, communities, jobs and all the other myriad of things that go into a place to live, that's going to take some work.

And then there is Fukushima. The nuclear plant is still not safe, though the chances of it blowing up and spewing radioactive crap all over Japan have now, it appears, receded. Interesting that everyone is now happy to use the word 'meltdown' to describe 2 or 3 of the reactors - it seems that the partial meltdowns happened within days of the disaster, certainly when we were sitting at home in Tokyo wondering whether we should get the hell outta Dodge. If anyone had mentioned the 'M' word at that time we would have been on a plane without pausing for thought, as would about 12 million people around me. So in a way it is hardly surprising that no one used that word, panic would have ensued, but now the attitude is more 'we I lived through it and I'm not dead yet, so the cores melted, big deal, there's no mushroom cloud over Tokyo...'. Probably way too blase, that, but there you go.

Anyway, good luck with all that, Noda-san.