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Japan’s Joe Biden Problem

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/10/2020 - 12:57am in

Published in Japan Forward 22/10/2020

How long before Japan looks back on the Trump presidency with nostalgia?  It may be sooner than you think.

If Joe Biden wins the U.S. presidential election, as polls currently indicate, the focus of his policies will be overwhelmingly domestic.

As noted by James Crabtree, associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School  of Public Policy, the four priority areas Biden stressed at the Democratic convention were green energy, racial justice, health care and affordable housing. Foreign policy didn’t get a look-in.

As he tackles these and other complicated issues, the last thing Biden will want is a high-risk confrontation on the other side of the Pacific. This could provide an ideal opportunity for China to advance long-held strategic ambitions, just as it did in the South China Sea during the similarly domestically-focussed Obama administration, in which Biden held the position of vice-president.

In all likelihood, North Korea will be on the backburner too, giving Kim Jong-Un full rein to expand his activities. Japan may find itself dealing with any regional flare-ups alone or in co-operation with other friendly powers, while the new president offers only comforting words and gestures.


Biden is committed to restoring the multilateralism and democratic alliances that President Donald Trump junked. He would sign up to the Paris climate agreement and mend relations with key NATO allies such as Germany.

Regardless of the merits of such an approach, it will by definition involve a downgrading of relations with Japan, which had become the U.S.’s paramount partner under Trump.

One thorny issue that is likely to come up is Japan’s relations with South Korea. Trump distrusted the South Korean approach, intensified under President Moon, of triangulating between China and the United States while being protected from its aggressive northern neighbour by the American military.

Hence Trump’s demand for a quintupling of the payments that South Korea contributes to the expenses of U.S. forces in Korea and the hard line on trade. Japan, by contrast, was treated gently, despite Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2016.

Under Biden, we may well see a reversion to equal treatment of Japan and South Korea and attempts to bring them together by “knocking heads.”

Biden himself is a moderate, but his party, and particularly the intellectuals and media organizations close to it, are highly sensitized to “culture war” issues.  For them, historical disputes over the comfort women, forced labour and other matters dating back to the colonial era mean that Japan will always be the guilty party and therefore the one that must make concessions. Regardless of the realities.

A trivial but telling example of virtue-signalling drowning out realpolitik occurred early in Obama’s second term. American Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy tweeted her “deep concern” about the annual dolphin cull at a small Japanese fishing town. Such “inhumaneness”, she said, was opposed by the U.S. Government.

Japanese twitterati  exploded in indignation over her remarks, and the Japanese government’s blunt riposte came from none other than Yoshihide Suga, the current prime minister.

While this was happening, China was busily stepping up the island-building programme that would soon give it effective control of the South China Sea. There were no tweets about that.

It is a cliché that US-Japan relations are stronger under Republican rather than Democrat administrations, but one that has substance.  The “Ron-Yasu” relationship between Ronald Reagan and Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 1980s provided the template.

"Ron and Yasu" at Camp David in 1986 “Ron and Yasu” at Camp David in 1986

In the early years of this century, Junichiro Koizumi developed a good relationship with George W. Bush, unforgettably marked by Koizumi’s Elvis Presley performance at Graceland. Likewise, Shinzo Abe, breaking protocol, visited Donald Trump just days after his election victory in 2016, and was the only world leader to develop a constructive relationship with him.

Not coincidentally, these are the three most successful Japanese prime ministers of the last fifty years. Meanwhile, no such relationships were created with Democrat presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

During the Cold War years, the rationale was clear. The Republicans were more hawkish on national security and viewed American bases in Japan as an indispensable bulwark against communism on the Soviet Union’s eastern flank. At the same time, their attachment to free market ideology made them less troubled by trade friction and job losses.

For the Democrats, who had a vast blue collar constituency, it was the other way round. That is why in the 1980s the blood-curdling protectionist  rhetoric came from Democrat politicians like Richard Gephardt, Ernest Hollings and Tip O’ Neill.

In the post-Cold War world, the situation is more complex. Under George W. Bush, who was fighting several wars simultaneously in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, Japan was valuable for its political support and status as the linchpin of U.S. power in East Asia.

Under Obama, who was keen to steer clear of foreign entanglements, that was much less the case. At times he seemed to flirt with a “G2” approach in which the U.S. and China would co-operate on global issues such as climate change.

President Donald Trump overturned the free market / free trade orthodoxy of the Republican Party, yet  the confrontation with China that developed under his presidency once more raised the value of the alliance with Japan – militarily, but also in terms of high technology and finance. Cold Wars tend to benefit Japan.

Where does Biden fit in? As an old-school Democrat with appeal to blue collar workers, he is no free trader. In an April article for Foreign Affairs magazine, he stated “I will not enter into any new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy.”

That would seem to scotch any immediate prospect of the U.S. joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, which is now led by Japan and known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Much of Biden’s article is idealistic in a somewhat retro way, but also cautious as he promises to “elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy.” Worryingly, he affords Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which has a GDP the size of Italy’s, equal billing with China. Given the emphasis he puts on repairing relations with NATO allies, the impression is of a much more “Atlanticist” approach.

The Biden China policy consists of building “a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security.”  Which sounds fine until it collides with the concrete reality of Chinese intransigence and the differing national interests of allies.

Joe Biden’s approach may be excellent for the U.S., yet pose serious risks for Asian allies. Instead of staking its security on the twists and turns of American politics, the time is ripe for Japan to amend its pacifist constitution, beef up its defence capability and organize its own network of alliances.

Kidnapping Plans, Nooses and the Boogaloo Militia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 11:22am in

Nine months ago, I sat across the table sharing a pizza and a beer with a man who almost certainly was armed. I asked him, "How do you think tomorrow is going to go?" He replied, "Either nothing's going to happen or we're going to... READ MORE

Harvey Weinstein Dates Princess Mononoke: How Studio Ghibli Went Global

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/10/2020 - 9:07am in


articles, culture

Published in Japan Forward 9/10/2020

Miyazaki and I… were first shown clips from Fantasia 2000, which was then in production. Asked what he thought of the film so far, Miyazaki replied simply “hidoi … totemo hidoi” (terrible … really terrible), which I translated as “interesting … Mr. Miyazaki finds the animation very unusual and very interesting.”

You can see why Steve Alpert was indispensable to Studio Ghibli’s global ambitions. He really knows what should get lost in translation and what should stay. “Sharing a House With the Never-Ending Man”, his highly entertaining memoir of his fifteen years at Ghibli, gives an insider’s view of how cultural products are translated and transformed, also how art and commerce collide in the world of cinema.

Alpert was the right man in the right place at the right time. Ghibli recruited him from Disney’s Japan arm in 1996 as board director and senior executive tasked with bringing the creations of anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki to international audiences. A business school graduate experienced in the ways of the American entertainment industry, he was also a Japanese speaker who had studied Japanese literature at graduate level and had ambitions of becoming a literary translator.

If the combination of skills was perfect, so was the timing.  Miyazaki was about to launch two masterpieces, Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001), that would prove beyond doubt that anime could be serious art while doing serious business at the box-office. In the process, Miyazaki would himself be transformed from a purely domestic Japanese phenomenon to a globally recognized auteur.

Events moved fast. In 2003 Alpert would find himself at the 2003 Oscars, where Spirited Away won the award for Best Animated Feature. At the Berlin Film Festival, he was alone on stage to receive the kinkuma-chan (Golden Bear Award), the elusive Miyazaki having declined to appear in person.

Alpert also received the ultimate accolade when he was on the receiving end of an expletive-laced rant by Harvey Weinstein, ending with the threat “OR YOU’LL NEVER WORK IN THIS F***ING INDUSTRY AGAIN.” Alpert, of course, was a Ghibli executive who lived and worked in Tokyo.

Disney had bought the rights to distribute Ghibli films overseas, but the marketing department had objections to the contents. As Alpert summarizes, “My Neighbor Totoro —the dad gets naked and bathes with his daughters! We can’t show that in the US. Pom Poko —the raccoons use their scrotums to do magic.  We can’t have children looking at animal scrotums. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind—when she’s flying we can see her ass…  Only Yesterday — the girl is talking about getting her first period; we can’t show that to children.”

The solution was to turn the films over to the Weinstein Brothers’ Miramax, which Disney owned at the time. Alpert had no inkling of the “Me Too” troubles that were later to put paid to Weinstein and Miramax, but he does hint that the company’s reputation for sensitivity to artistic values may not have been entirely deserved.  At a meeting to discuss Princess Mononoke, he was bombarded with questions by Miramax personnel.

“This guy Lord Asano, who is he? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Who were the samurai working for? Why were they attacking a village? Why were they attacking Lady Eboshi? She’s a bad guy, right? Who is this guy Jigo and who does he work for? Why does he want the Deer God’s head? Is he a good guy or a bad guy? Why is the Deer God a god? Is that a Japanese thing? Is he a good god or a bad god?”

To be fair, Alpert does praise the contributions of English language script-writer Neil Gaiman and the Hollywood talent – such as Minnie Driver, Billy Crudup and Gillian Anderson –  who had the difficult job of giving voice to the characters. Even the film’s Japanese distributors had been uncomfortable with certain aspects  – such as limbs being sliced off and characters who were lepers and prostitutes. Miyazaki smiled, thanked them for their feedback and ignored it.

In Alpert’s telling, Miyazaki is an enigmatic figure, generous and self-effacing, but with a will of steel. When a film is completed, Miyazaki is wont to suggest that the team of animators should be fired, to give them a sense of what is at stake, and then rehired for the next production. Nobody is sure whether he is joking.

One revealing anecdote concerns Miyazaki being offered vintage port at a posh New York restaurant. Though he rarely eats out and doesn’t drink much, he sent the port back on the grounds that it was not forty years old as claimed. The waiter protested that it was. Miyazaki was adamant. The bottle was checked, and it turned out he was right. Miyazaki brings the same kind of accuracy to his anime work. As with Akira Kurosawa, every detail has to be right, including those that the viewers would never consciously notice.

Miyazaki was dubbed “the never-ending man” by his colleagues because of his indefatigable creative energy.  But artistic accomplishment is not enough for an independent film company to enjoy four decades of extraordinary box office success. Alpert’s memoir is also business story as it portrays two powerful characters who provided the commercial infrastructure which enabled Miyazaki’s talents to thrive.

Toshio Suzuki, producer and marketing strategist, subverts every stereotype about the risk-averse, consensus-seeking Japanese salaryman.  An instinctive contrarian who pays no heed to conventional wisdom, he is in Alpert’s view “one of the most brilliant people to ever market anything.”

Then there is company president Yasuyoshi Tokuma, the old school entrepreneur whose gut instinct led him to back Ghibli and Miyazaki in the mid-1980s. A blustering teller of tall tales who is also a fount of wisdom, the late Tokuma is described as “your grandfather on steroids.” He deserves a book in his own right, but short of that we have his recipe for personal and career success.

Don’t let anyone write the screenplay of your life. Make your ambitions high. Real men don’t apologize. And always remember, if you need money, the banks have plenty of it.

Words to live by.

“Trump Won Re-election Before a Single Vote was Cast….”Listen up! Audiobook out today

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 8:19am in


articles, audio

Don't panic! It's a warning, not a prediction. Go on the Hunt for America’s Vanished Voters with Greg Palast, in How Trump Stole 2020, the unabridged audiobook out today. Support our work while making your ears happy. Have it on secretly during... READ MORE

Why Would Yvette Nicole Brown and Leonardo DiCaprio Post This?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 04/10/2020 - 6:28am in



The most important 60 second message of 2020

We want to thank Yvette Nicole Brown for lending us her voice, Leonardo DiCaprio for... READ MORE

Cancel Culture: The Scourge of the Voter Purge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/10/2020 - 10:10am in

Hundreds of thousands of voters have been struck from the voter rolls and they have no idea. There's no question that this attack on the voter rolls is affecting voters of color and young people. Asian Americans, African Americans, Hispanic voters are being removed by the hundreds of thousands from the voter rolls of America. And this could absolutely change the outcome of ... READ MORE

Dispatches from Our Man Inside the Proud BoysThrilled by Trump’s Message to them in Debate “Stand Back and Stand By”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/10/2020 - 10:54am in

[Portland, OR] This past weekend, hundreds of Proud Boys, affiliated groups and militia members converged on the city of Portland. Last time they came to Portland, there were multiple injuries, many arrests, and one of those traveling with the ‘Boys’ was... READ MORE

Wisconsin “Movers” Didn’t MoveCourt Heard Lawsuit to Purge Voters Based on List that is “Wrong and Racist”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/09/2020 - 4:03am in

Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court may choose our President. That is, justices will hear arguments in a lawsuit that would force the state to remove 129,000 from the voter rolls on grounds they’d moved from their registration addresses. But a report by the nation’s top experts in address verification... READ MORE

Wisconsin “Movers” Voter Purge List Errors39,722 Face Loss of Vote for Moving Despite not Having Moved

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 8:39am in

On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a suit brought by a right-wing think tank demanding the state purge — cancel the voter registrations of 129,000 alleged "movers"— voters who moved out of their town or out of state. The Greg Palast Investigation Fund experts found... READ MORE

Palast Lawsuit Threat to Georgia Sec of State RaffenspergerJoins with Black Voters Matter to Reverse Illegal Purge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 7:14am in



Breaking News: The Secretary of State of Georgia admitted to CNN that they did not use a postal service licensee (we did!). Meaning his entire purge is illegal under the National Voter Registration Act, Section 8(c)(A). Let the people vote, Mr. Raffensperger. His office has reportedly said,... READ MORE