Saturday, 14 January 2012

Ikebukuro to Hakusan

shrine guardianice & leaves 3Upice & leaves 2ice & leaves 1accommodation
bicycleswalktatami, ready to gotracksthe local big fishstairway
shadowsreflectionsunicornleaves & templeleavesstatues 1
statues 2statues 3statues 4Oshogatsu (new year) decorationspreparing decorationscontemplative

Ikebukuro to Hakusan, a set on Flickr.

A wander eastwards from Ikebukuro to a little local area called Hakusan, just before oshogatsu (new year).

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Crazy Ivans?

According to my stats, between 29th December and 5th January the highest pageviews of this blog, sorted by country, are by far from Russia.

Who are all you Russians out there and why are you looking at my blog? Answers in the comments please :)

My word is my...

When the DPJ took power for the first time a couple of years ago (not counting the brief flirtation with office they had 1980s) when the Hat got elected they produced a manifesto. Like most political manifestos it was long on hot air and short on details of any concrete policies, but you expect that from politicos. I suspect it was full of things like ‘we’ll try not to rock the boat too much or fuck things up royally’ and ‘we promise to think very carefully about certain things, related to but not necessarily including things we can do anything about’ and, of course, ‘we will maintain the rule of bureaucrats so that we do the talking and they, the grey, unelected mass, do the running’. You know, the usual sort of thing.

What they did not write in their manifesto was ‘in the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake and subsequent even-more-lethal tsunami we will raise consumption tax to facilitate the rebuilding of the Tohoku region (as we won’t have enough money to do it as we’re already in hock to ourselves to a rather overstretched degree (but at least we’re not in hock to the Chinese, oil-rich Arabs or the New World Order))’. It was a tad remiss of them to leave out this important clause, indeed 9 DPJ MPs thought so and are now 9 former DPJ MPs, or, more accurately, the 9 founding members of a new political party called Kizuna (named, possibly, after a song by, variously, Aya Matsuura, Aya Ueto, Orange Range or Ayane; or maybe after an action rpg for the Wii – only the 9 will know). Kizuna also means ‘bond’ in Japanese, though I’m not sure if that’s bond as in ‘ties like our ties to the DPJ aren't very strong’ or bond as in ‘glue’ or maybe bond as in ‘the name’s Bond…’; again maybe the 9 know and they’re not saying (more likely I haven’t found out, so I’m going with the Ian Fleming option).

Anyway, it got me thinking about these 9, are they:

a) Unaware of how big the Japan’s debt currently is?
b) Woefully ignorant of what faces Japan and especially Tohoku in the coming years in terms of rebuilding, not to mention the social welfare and pension time bomb?
c) Wankers?
d) All of the above?

(by the way ‘c’ is a trick option, they’re politicians so of course they’re wankers).

Their claim is that the DPJ are betraying their pre-election promises, and their manifesto no doubt, as nowhere did it say that the party was going to raise consumption tax. Well ok, they are right, though I think the raising of this tax, from its current 5% has been on the cards for ages, if for no other reason than Japan has to pay for its current and future welfare/pension liabilities somehow, but there you go. But the real impetus has come from the quake and the need to rebuild, which Japan absolutely must do, but because the manifesto didn’t mention it these 9 have said they refuse to be party to a party that will do this. Quite how they expect the government to fund the rebuild is anyone’s guess, though as far as I can tell they haven’t actually said anything except ‘not by raising consumption tax’.

So I don’t really get what they want. What I know Japan doesn’t want, or need, is another political party, especially one of only 9 MPs. Also, what about the people that voted these tossers into power? Akira Uchiyama was voted in by the people of Chiba as an MP for the DPJ but has now become an MP for Kizuna, shouldn’t he be going back to the people of Chiba and asking them if they would still like him to be their MP, now that he has formed his own party? Same for the rest of them – but of course no chance of that until the next election, at which point I hope they boot him out.

Now I personally don’t want my tax to increase, but I can see the need for it. And it’s not like it’s going to happen overnight, it will go up from 5% to 8% in April 2014 and then 10% in October 2015 – so still some way off the 17.5% you get in the UK and will still be pretty low as the total tax take is only 17% of GDP, the lowest in the OECD according to the Economist (interesting article here).

Anyway I think these 9 are just your average grandstanding politicos, looking to get some easy short-term advantage whilst the country goes to the long-term dogs (notwithstanding the article above). OK, something like 58% of respondents in a recent survey said they didn’t want their tax to increase, so maybe these guys can see some popular support, but I wonder how the question was asked – if the question was ‘do you want to pay more tax?’ then I expect the answer is mostly ‘no’; if the question is ‘to fund the reconstruction of Tohoku would you agree to a modest increase in consumption tax, otherwise we can’t pay for it?’ then I think most would answer yes.

This is why I have a sneaking respect for current PM Noda – I think he can see the writing on the wall, the elephant in the room and that the king is not wearing any clothes (though the emperor is, I have from a trusted imperial source, fully attired). He knows that 1) they need to raise revenue 2) consumption tax is the way to do it 3) it’s not going to be popular and 4) his PM-ship is a one-way ticket to the dole queue but, as the saying goes, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. He has already said that he will not call an election on this matter but will force it through, a fait accompli if you will, which is exactly what needs to be done. I think he can see this and has decided that he’ll do it for the good of Japan before disappearing off to retire by the sea.

If he does, respect to him.

In other news:

So in many ways I guess I had a pretty successful 2011.

I didn’t die in either the most catastrophic earthquake to hit Japan in 16 years or the subsequent and even more lethal tsunami. Admittedly I wasn’t anywhere near Tohoku at the time, but there you go, good planning.

I have a great family who were all general healthy and well through the year.

I still have a job that I enjoy in a school that seems to holding its shit together in this increasingly turbulent economic epoch.

No one I know has got radiation poisoning from Fukushima (so far).

I ran a half-marathon and not only finished but finished in the top 35%

So all things considered it wasn’t too bad, then again, roll on 2012…

And finally...

In the Annual Intercontinental Bowdidge Backgammon Bonanza I'm very glad to report that Japan triumphed 25-18 in what was once again a brilliant display of backgammon skill. Bad luck and well played to the losing finalist.