Hatoyama, Okinawa, and understanding the Japanese

If this is possible, right?

When I checked the Japan Times website today, there was an article about the slight tension, or chill, in U.S.-Japan relations this autumn.

Of course, this goes to the confusion that the DPJ has been sowing in the 2006 accord between Japan and America. The one that involves the realignment of forces on Okinawa.

According to the Japan Times:

The United States appears increasingly concerned about the new course of Japan’s foreign policy, raising the specter of a showdown between Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and President Barack Obama at their summit in Tokyo next month.

At the center of the widening gap is the fate of the 2006 bilateral deal to reconfigure U.S. forces stationed in Japan, especially the relocation of the Futenma air base in Okinawa.

Was this unexpected? If anyone at the U.S. Embassy here in Tokyo was not sending up the flag warning that there was some turbulence on the horizon, then I wonder what good all that time on the dinner and event circuit is worth.

I am just a simple blogger. I don’t have all the answers, by any means. Even though I might, as many people who write blogs do, act like it.

But the DPJ had been sending signals that “anti-Americanism” was going to be part of its platform. I saw this all along the way. But to me, this was less reprehensible than the two-faced-ism of the LDP (Jimintou). LDP took the near-free military coverage and pretended to be with us in other ways, while promoting military officials who blamed us for World War II and said Pearl Harbor was a Japanese defensive response to American aggression in the 1930’s.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The Okinawa talk wasn’t just electioneering to get votes on Okinawa. The people really did mean to renegotiate things that were already decided.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Gates said it best, which was the 2006 deal was a deal, and Washington does not intend to renegotiate it. This also means that the U.S. will not hold itself to the bargain: moving troops to Guam in 2014.

The DPJ’s view is that an election since then has occurred, and so there should be a renegotiation in light of changed circumstances.

And so, it looks like there will be a renegotiation regardless.

You even see the cold war heating up in things like the Savoie case. Debito is surprised that western nations are making such an issue over child abductions to Japan. But in the context of even bigger things, then, no, it’s not a surprise. The new Hatoyama Government is coming in and indicating that it’s going to make a stink about things. Which means that America and its more solid allies are going to make a stink about things.

The U.S. Embassy’s screw-up and the Japanese notion of contract. The people who I feel dropped the ball on this one was the Embassy. Sure, people there knew that there was this tension in Okinawa involving the bases. And that the Okinawans didn’t see things the same way as the Japanese. Certainly not the same way as the Washington establishment did.

But this goes to a little more than saying, “hey, hey, ix-nay on the 50th anniversary-ay” of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. This is the one that kept Japan from being blown up by the Chinese. I would think the Embassy would also have been preparing Washington for the inevitable spat that DPJ would start once it gained power.

Everyone saw this coming. Except the guys out there “appreciating the culture” and hitting the dinner circuit with the ACCJ guys.

In Japan, a contract means nothing. A treaty, when you boil it down, is a contract. So treaties here mean nothing.

Instead, the governing principle is relationship. When you negotiate a contract here, or a treaty, you are really negotiating a relationship. This is how the Japanese look at it, almost as a rule. They do not have our Westerrn notion of a contract, a deal made between parties that is supposed to be inviolate. The idea just doesn’t exist here.

Believe me, I know. If I started blogging about the number of labor and contract situations I hit, in just four plus years, where my Western understanding of what the agreement was hit into the Japanese concept of what the relationship is, I would use up a month’s worth of posts.

It becomes, of course, a Japanese shade of gray. And if you are a regular reader, you might recall what I said when you start playing Japanese Shades of Gray: you lose!

So the idea of “breach”, of going back on the deal in an agreement, is different here. The contract only matters if it is an advantage to one party. Then, otherwise, that party will ignore it. Or try to renegotiate.

Even laws, (and this cracks me up), are treated as subjective outside guidelines to the relationship. This one really cracks me up, because one of the things Occupation Japan agreed to was the Rule of Law. So already we see, ordinary Americans living here for some time, that the Japanese backslided on solemn promises they made to our country years ago—when we gave them theirs back.

The fact that the Embassy wasn’t telegraphing this shit along the way is a serious screwup. They should have been saying that the Japanese will want to renegotiate Futenma if the DPJ wins. With the reasoning that America didn’t have any relationship with the DPJ—not that America already had a deal in 2006 with Japan.

Remember: contract is shit. Law is shit. It’s the relationship. That’s how the culture here works. MacArthur let that reform slide.

Let’s take this closer to home locally. For example, the U.S.-Japan Social Security treaty, which I blogged about recently and probably more than anyone else in the world.

How did that treaty turn out?

Well, the Japanese who worked in America, even for the shortest time, got a piece of our wonderful social security system. Or they got a promise for Uncle Sam to pay. (As we say in accounting, a “receivable”.) The Japanese get this without having to negotiate with their employer every friggin’ time as to whether they will be covered.

There are more Japanese working in America than Americans working in Japan—and that doesn’t even include first generation nisei from America who come back to Japan and find jobs. Japanese love them because they look Japanese and usually speak the language, unlike those other Americans.

An American working in Japan finds that the social insurance system is one big negotiation! I remember I had one job where I should have been in the better system, the shakai hoken, but the employer felt that that was subject to negotiation! Oh really?

Interested unionist groups like General Union in Osaka make this a whole big project, trying to get people covered in the right social insurances.

And that’s how it goes. America’s side, Canada’s side, Australia, etc., takes the contract seriously. Japan looks it like it was something done in furtherance of the relationship, but not something written in stone that Japan should have to adhere to. That would upset the relationship! But thank you for supplementing our retirees’ pensions with money from your various honorable treasuries.

Thank you for letting us take, we’ll get back to you about the give part. Not contract, relationship.

And you don’t want to upset the relationship, do you?

Like that.

Hello, Embassy. Is any of that news to you?

Where the Embassy screwed up is that they should have been taking Americans complaints all along. And even if they didn’t do anything with them, at least have that catalogue of the things done to Americans in Japan that would make people go hmmmmmmmm. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm.

Instead, the Embassy played it like being that one-or-two-step away from the street prostitute like they are good at doing. “Anything that makes you happy, Japan Government! Just as a long as we can sit here without worry on our exotic assignment, not helping out our citizenry who pays the taxes to support our very jobs! Just let us do the diplomatic version of whoring for you, and we’ll be just fine!”

This is what was going on, when they weren’t kowtowing to American big business in Tokyo, usually to companies here with “International” in their name.

Now the States has to renegotiate a done deal, and they have no “hand”–in the sense of a list or a battery of other breaches by the Japanese–that they can use as part of the overall re-negotiation of the “relationship”.

And I don’t disagree with the Japanese that some things about Okinawa are worth discussing again. Sure. But I think America would like to know when a deal is finally a deal in Japan.