In December, the days are short and there are so many things that must be done. But the hectic last month of the year lasted only two days in 1872, as the Meiji government switched the calendar system from the traditional lunar calendar to the solar calendar. Dec. 3, 1872, became Jan. 1, 1873. As I wrote about it before, the decision is said to have thrown the public into confusion.
The abrupt change in the calendar system was carried out for a reason. According to Shigenobu Okuma (1838-1922), the new government was in dire straits financially. But 1873 had a leap month in the lunar calendar system, which meant the government had to pay bureaucrats their monthly salaries 13 times. Then it suddenly occurred to the government that under the solar calendar system, it would only have to pay them 12 times; hence the sudden change.
Since December 1872 only had two days, December salaries were also cut. As a result, the government was able to save two months' salary payments. One might say it was a clever way to cut expenditures. While the method was somewhat highhanded, when one is hard up for money, one comes up with shrewd ideas.
Now let's focus on the current Diet session. It looks unlikely that a bill to reduce salaries of government employees to secure funds for post-quake reconstruction will pass the Diet. In this age of democracy, no person with authority can make arbitrary decisions. Be that as it may, I sense no determination on the part of the government to make sacrifices, including a reduction in the number of lawmakers and their annual salaries.
Lawmakers' salaries, which had been cut by 500,000 yen ($6,430) a month after the Great East Japan Earthquake, returned to full payment after six months. The amount of bonuses to be paid Dec. 9 to each lawmaker is 2.91 million yen, up 90,000 yen from last year. Slightly more than 40 percent of people who responded a recent Asahi Shimbun poll opposed a consumption tax hike. The results can be interpreted as popular will calling for Diet members to make self-sacrifices. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda personally cited the maxim: "Be kind to others like a spring breeze and be strict to yourself like an autumn frost." Surely you cannot have forgotten those words, can you?
Come to think of it, the origin of the Japanese term "ketsuzei" (literally blood tax) also goes back to 1872. At first, it was not a term for tax, but for mandatory military service. With the passage of time, its meaning changed, but the weight it carries remains the same. If Nagatacho sits comfortably enjoying a spring breeze, it cannot win public support.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 7
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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