AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Ichigen koji (267)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 22, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Those people opposed to participation in the TPP negotiations do so on the premise that Japan will absolutely lose. In that case, can we win with in a free trade agreement with China and South Korea, the EPA/EIA with the EU, or the RCEP with ASEAN? We won’t know unless we try. The key is what happens when the treaty provisions are written into national law at the end of the process. It would be pointless to sign a treaty without the attendant domestic law.

- Takahashi Yoichi, economic advisor to the Japan Restoration Party, Your Party, and others

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Government, International relations, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji  (265)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 20, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

From the global perspective, both the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party are “big government”. The problem is the mid-range welfare benefits with a small taxpayer burden. That makes us an advanced “fiscal child abuse” country which forces excessive burdens on the younger generations and future generations.

- Oguro Kazumasa

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Quotations | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (261)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 16, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Look at Greece. When you let public employees and public employees’ unions get away with everything, the country collapses.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru

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Normalization

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

img_1492486_35686268_0

Foreigners are making a big commotion about how Japan is moving to the right, but that’s all those people have been saying for the past 60 years. We’re not on some clock, and even if we are moving rightward, militarism is not going to return. So, just how far to the right is Japan moving then?

- The Tweeter known as Aceface

JAPAN will go to the polls on Sunday to select 480 members of the lower house of the Diet, and, as a consequence, a new government. This will be an important election for several reasons. One is that it will be the first election after the Democratic Party of Japan betrayed the public’s trust in the same way the Liberal-Democratic Party did post-Koizumi, while demonstrating unspeakable incompetence in the bargain. Thus, the politicians are facing an electorate who does not want to get fooled again.

Another is that it will be the expression of the political will of a younger generation of Japanese for whom debate of events several decades ago in a world long dead and gone has no meaning. Why should they? Their parents were born after the war. It is as of little interest to them as America’s victory in that war is for the Millennials in the United States, many of whom don’t know the difference between Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.

Regardless of who wins — and it looks now as if a negotiated coalition could result — there will be more people in the Diet representing ideas that make some people outside the country uncomfortable. There is growing interest in amending the Japanese Constitution to remove the indignity of Article 9, the peace clause. Everyone has the right to defend themselves, including the Japanese. Americans once thought, and many still do, that self-defense is a natural and inalienable right. Events over the years have shown the Japanese are no more likely to become involved in malevolent adventures abroad than any other country. Events in recent years have shown they are a lot less likely to become involved in those adventures than some of their neighbors.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru isn’t running for the Diet, but he —- and Chinese behavior — has made constitutional reform a legitimate issue for public discussion. Some detractors label him a dictator and use the word Hashism as a code word for his movement. That reaction to what he represents shares much in common with those in America who tar with the racist brush those who criticize Barack Obama for spending too much time on the golf course or employing the poison ball brand of Chicago politics he was schooled in.

Dictatorial? Mr. Hashimoto wants a national referendum on the question. What could be more democratic?

The Osaka mayor also said:

We must create the defensive capabilities and policies for Japan to defend its sovereignty and land by itself.

He and many like him would draw the line with China which needs to be drawn and continue cooperation with the United States. He’s written:

China has become a great power with responsibility, so it also has to behave responsibly. Demonstrations are one thing, but they have to stop the violence. It would also be a good idea to end the childish threats to cut off all relations whenever disputes occur. The international community jeers at them behind their back….

…Japan should be proud of the path it has taken in the postwar period. It should be proud of the more than JPY 3 trillion in ODA they’ve given to China. It should say what needs to be said to China. But we should also be aware that it won’t be so easy to wash away our past behavior.

As for other territorial disputes:

We cannot change South Korea’s effective control of Takeshima with military force.

He therefore proposed joint management of the islets while taking the case to the International Court of Justice. (Prime Minister Noda’s government is backing off their threat to do so. They’re waiting to see who wins the South Korean presidential election and thought sub-ministerial discussions with the Koreans have gone well lately. All of that is pointless considering the hard-wired Korean intransigence.)

He’s also in favor of downsizing government, rethinking the government’s social welfare responsibilities, decentralizing government authority, and controlling the out-of-control public sector unions.

Another result of the election is that Abe Shinzo, who also wants to amend the Constitution, and who passed the legislation enabling national referendums during his term as prime minister, might be serving a second term.

That the Chinese, the South Koreans, and some in the United States throw up their hands as if they were maidens threatened with violation and exclaim “extreme right wing!” or “nationalism!” says more about them than it does about the Japanese. Ending the renunciation of warfare and enforced pacifism is not right-wing, nationalistic, hawkish, or abnormal. The abnormality lies with those who object because they might lose their favorite diplomatic weapon. Are Japanese born with some geopolitical original sin that afflicts no one else?

The real complaint is that Japan is moving to end the postwar regime. That would inconvenience too many people not only in China and South Korea, but also the United States. Who knows? If they keep going down this road, Japan might actually start to tell the Americans no. Can’t have that, can we?

William Choong in the Straits Times of Singapore understands. He discusses both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Abe in this article, and says:

(I)t is important to see things in perspective. Japan’s rightward shift does not mean that it will go all the way right and revert to its odious World War II-era aggression. Instead, Japan is moving right to the centre.

In the long run, Japan will become a “normal” country – it will retain the right to wage war, assemble a standing army (as opposed to self-defence forces), and contribute substantially to the provision of regional and global security.

(Forgive him the “all the way to the right” line. Pre-war Japan had fascist political tendencies, and those are always statist — and therefore of the left.)

Mr. Choong also quotes University of Macau Prof. Wang Jianwei on China’s proper response:

Japan should sign a formal statement of apology for its wartime crimes, ban visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by its prime ministers, relinquish its bid to control the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and resolve the dispute through negotiation.

If Japan were to agree to such conditions, China could, writes Prof Wang, recognize Japan’s “normal” country status and even support Tokyo’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.

Why the Chinese need another apology from the Japanese government after having received more than 20 already, JPY 3 trillion in ODA as de facto reparations, and signed a treaty normalizing relations that pledged to let bygones be bygones is not explained. In any event, China would be no more likely to keep its promise about supporting a Security Council seat than the South Koreans have kept their promises in bilateral negotiations over the years.

In a larger sense that few people outside the country can understand, Sunday’s election is not about government. Japan has all the government it needs, and like everyone else, needs a lot less of what it has.

Rather, the vote on Sunday will be another step in Japan’s reclamation of its nationhood. When that reclamation is complete, then it will be normal again.

*****
It’s been a long and winding road.

Posted in China, Government, International relations, Military affairs, Politics, Social trends, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (256)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 11, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

If we listen to everyone who says that (funding) is necessary, we’ll never be able to rebuild our finances.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, while still governor of Osaka Prefecture

Posted in Government, Quotations | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (255)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, December 10, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Isn’t it a problem with people, rather than with the form or the system? If we select a politician with leadership ability, the bureaucracy will obey.

- A veteran (unidentified) Democratic Party member on why it should be easy to control the Japanese bureaucracy.

If it were a question of do as I say, it would have been done a long time ago.

- Takenaka Heizo, a veteran of the Koizumi Cabinet who fought the Finance Ministry for five years

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Interview with Watanabe Yoshimi

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Watanabe Yoshimi

WATANABE Yoshimi, the president of Your Party, the first of the Third Force reform parties, gave an interview published in the press last week. Here it is in English.

What is your strategy for victory in the lower house election?

WY: The key to victory is whether we can segregate the candidates of the so-called Third Forces and avoid going head-to-head against each other in election districts. An inability to do that will create the worst result, which would be crushing each other.

You’re competing with the Japan Restoration Party in some districts.

WY: We took our time to select good people and meet our target of 70 candidates. In those places where we couldn’t reach a compromise, we have no choice but to go head to head.

You weren’t able to merge with the Japan Restoration Party.

WY: We reached a broad agreement with the party in policy discussions, but the gulf between us is too wide to allow a merger. As soon as they merged with (Ishihara Shintaro’s) Sun Party, the opposition to nuclear power disappeared. Civil service reform is the A of the ABCs for both Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party, but this has also disappeared. Won’t the people wonder what happened and view this suspiciously?

What are the points at issue in the lower house election?

WY: We intend to fight on the policies of growth without a consumption tax increase, small government, and regional devolution as opposed to centralization. Governance by the bureaucracy in Japan has resulted in a deflationary economy. The political class is no longer the control tower of governance. National strategy has been left entirely to the vertically divided central government bureaucracies. We will restore the Japanese economy by creating a real control tower and implementing a competitive growth strategy.

You’re calling for a suspension of the consumption tax increase and converting the tax to a revenue source for local government.

WY: Allowing an increase in the national government tax will facilitate bureaucratic governance. The dependency on central government will become chronic. That’s why we want to make that tax a local government revenue source. The starting point for this debate is a new state/province system with regional autonomy.

How will you achieve “zero nuclear energy”?

WY: Nuclear energy is the extension of the electric power supply system based on regional monopolies. If each of the utilities can achieve mutual adaptability, we can secure enough energy at peak periods without nuclear energy. We will promote the deregulation of power generation and the separation of the generation and supply systems through the entry of new companies into the industry. More consumers will choose their power sources. That way, nuclear power will gradually fall away.

What will the framework of government be after the election?

WY: That all depends on the outcome. If the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito become the largest bloc, they will probably have to create a coalition with the Democratic Party to supplement their own forces and create a stable government. That’s because gridlock would still exist in the upper house. It is very likely that the system of three-party collusion will be maintained.

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Ichigen koji (246)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 1, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

Regardless of how harshly they criticize each other, it is the fate of the Democratic Party, Liberal Democratic Party, and New Komeito to be forced to work together after the election. Gridlock will prevent the operation of the government otherwise. While the people are diverted by disagreements over policy, they are being decieved by the concealment of the real points at dispute. More important than policy is the logic of numbers. Policy can be fudged, but the numbers can’t.

Even if Abe and the LDP were to score a large victory in the election, the Abe election policies will not be achieved without the cooperation of the DPJ in the upper house. That’s why the three parties share a common destiny. What those three parties really fear is the growth of the so-called Third Force. That’s why the DPJ and the LDP have to put on a strong show of opposition to each other.

-Tanaka Yoshitsugu, journalist. The emphasis was in the original.

Posted in Government, Politics, Quotations | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The end of analysis as we know it

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 30, 2012

DO editors have any real standards to determine whom they will select to write articles about Japan? Field-specific expertise certainly isn’t a requirement. If anything, field-specific expertise about Japan seems to be a negative attribute in the selection process.

Here we go again: Someone calling himself Chan Akya wrote an article titled The End of Japan as We Know it for the peculiar Asia Times website. (That site offers columns by the excellent David Goldman, AKA Spengler, regular pieces from a North Korean propagandist, and nothing of value about Japan.) The author’s noisy parade of ignorance is amplified by an infatuation with his prose and inner dialogue. That makes this analysis particularly difficult to wade through.

He even presents us with the intellectual’s version of “some of my best friends are Japanese”:

At many levels, I have a deep admiration for the Japanese people; their work ethic, aesthetic values and personal discipline all set them apart from the globalized mainstream.

That deep admiration unfortunately did not inspire him to learn anything about the country.

He begins with a discussion of Keynesian economics and the series of budget deficits the country has run since the late 90s. While that is true enough, there is no mention of the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 90s, the resultant problem with the non-performing debt held by financial institutions, and the role of the five-year Koizumi administration, particularly Takenaka Heizo, to prevent the problems from overwhelming the financial industry, and to drastically reduce the annual budget deficit. While the Japanese political class since then has failed to uphold its fiduciary responsibility, the economy has not been the unending dismal swamp that most people outside the country think it is.

Exacerbating the current situation in Japan is the collapse in the political system where, yet again, a coalition government is set to fail and new elections announced in December. Alternatively one could argue that political paralysis, much like in the case of the US and Europe’s lame duck governments, is merely the populist rendition of a sclerotic economy. The reason for the linkage of course is that the Japan is the living (ahem, some may argue that point) embodiment of the situation where the turkeys not only outvoted thanksgiving, they also allocated all the gravy to themselves.

Every word in that paragraph is wrong, including the a’s, an’s, and the’s. (Ahem yourself; don’t even think about going there on this with me.) An earlier unquoted passage, by the way, makes it clear he’s referring to the voters as turkeys.

Here’s what he doesn’t know:

* The Japanese political system is not collapsing. It would be easy to make the case that it is healthier than the political system in the United States. People who rely on the usual inadequate Anglosphere sources and who think the national legislature constitutes the entire political system cannot be expected to understand this. How unfortunate that they cannot be expected to refrain from writing about it.

* The voters have been expressing for years exactly what they want, and what they have wanted is massive central government reform. That is not easy to achieve in any system with its encrusted vested interests, nor is their fault that they haven’t received it. This election will be just the latest in a series of monumental exercises in throwing the bums out. That line about “the turkeys outvoting Thanksgiving” (of course!)? It is tantamount to a public declaration of a functional illiteracy of matters Japanese in general, and trends among the electorate, sub-national politics, and the perpetual battle with the bureaucracy in particular.

* This was a coalition government in only the most technical sense of the term — the remaining party in the coalition has fewer than 10 Diet members. The coalition was formed with two mini-parties solely to pass legislation in the upper house. It was a Democratic Party of Japan government. Period.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has done all the usual gimmicks – promises of more subsidies, the vaguely worded reforms and of course obligatory visits to the Yasukuni shrine designed to get geriatric Samurai warrior votes on its side…

Isn’t he the clever wordsmith? Yasukuni shrine visits didn’t hurt Mr. Koizumi with the non-geriatric non-samurai independent voters, but what he doesn’t know about this issue would fill several books. Included in that lack of knowledge is that none of the LDP successors of Mr. Koizumi made any of the “of course obligatory” visits to Yasukuni. Incidentally, since the LDP promises have yet to be translated into English, he can’t be expected to know their content, either.

…with the active support of the farming and construction lobbies it appears that the LDP is headed back to power albeit in a coalition framework.

Were the author able to read Japanese, I could recommend several books and articles about how these special interest groups no longer have the electoral strength they once did. He would need to read at least one article on how the farming lobby supported the DPJ in the last lower house election, but all of that would be chanting sutras into a horse’s ear.

We do not know yet how the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan is likely to fare…

Yes we do. The possibilities range from bad to near extinction.

…so convoluted are the fortunes of the party when examined against the popularity of its individual politicians.

Apart from its incoherence, the full sentence is an astonishing display of ignorance. The unpopularity of all three individual DPJ prime ministers is remarkable for its depth and the intensity of emotion it generates. It aligns almost perfectly with the unpopularity of the party as a group.

After trying various approaches, the party has now settled itself on the bandwagon of expanding the middle classes – presumably through more tax breaks and other ideas that run counter to the current orthodoxy around value-added taxes; however the party led by the outgoing prime minister has also embarked on a controversial policy to secure funding for grandiose construction projects with the issue of bonds to which it would like the Bank of Japan to directly subscribe.

The party that is making news and causing controversy because it wants the BOJ to subscribe to construction bonds is the LDP — the opposition party. While it is true the DPJ can’t provide a full accounting of the funds for Tohoku relief and reconstruction, that is due to their incompetence and inability to say no to the bureaucracy.

“Presumably through tax breaks”? The DPJ was the engine that drove the increase in the consumption tax increase from 5-10%, and they’re also engineering increases in income and inheritance taxes. One who presumes to have the knowledge required to write an op-ed about Japan should know that.

Or that Japan doesn’t have a value-added tax, assuming that’s what that reference is all about.

At long last he gets down and dirty:

At the other end of the spectrum, the right wing has become more active with the triumvirate of Shintaro Ishihara and Takeo Hiranuma’s the Sunrise Party and Toru Hashimoto’s Resurrection Party. All the politicians in the triumvirate have a somewhat unfortunate history of egging on xenophobic tendencies; the triumphalism of Ishihara in the late ’80s with his call for Japan to become more assertive against the US; and the unfortunate racial stereotypes he espoused which brought to mind the propaganda of Goebbels have not been forgotten yet anywhere in Asia or the US.

Get used to this. You’re going to be seeing so much of this bologna in the future, it won’t be possible to slice it all — even the small end that isn’t past its sell-by date. Notice how he dodges the commitment to call them Nazis or fascists: it “brings to mind the propaganda of Goebbels”.

Having spent some time studying the content of German propaganda, and much more time studying Japanese politics and politicians, I can say this comparison would occur only to those people whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp. This calls for the invocation of Godwin’s Law. He loses.

* Messrs. Ishihara and Hiranuma have had “a somewhat unfortunate” (sic) history of egging on xenophobic tendencies, but neither of them will be pinning yellow and pink identification badges on non-Japanese or stuffing them into ovens. Mr. Ishihara’s electoral success over the years originates in the name recognition value of being the first prominent celebrity politician in Japan. That success is by no means automatic; the party both these men formed for the 2010 upper house elections flopped badly. Their alliance with Mr. Hashimoto has nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with domestic considerations. The people who vote for them will not be driven to do so for xenophobic reasons.

Incidentally, the author also refers in another section to “a horrifying collapse in exports” without mentioning that it was attributable almost entirely to a byproduct of Chinese xenophobia and ethnocentrism.

* Hashimoto Toru’s party has an official English name: Japan Restoration Party. Evidently he can’t be bothered to spend 10 seconds to visit their website and get it right.

I would be curious to learn more of Mr. Hashimoto’s history of xenophobia that the author alleges. The Osaka mayor is a one-man political content provider. He’s written several books and is the world’s leading political Tweeter (95+% of which is related to political discussions and debates), so it’s difficult to keep up, but I can’t remember seeing anything overtly xenophobic. That includes the content of a website of a virulent “it’s positive to be negative” leftist Brit who slapped together a collection of unpleasant Hashimoto statements.

* As for the call for Japan to become more assertive against the US, that has little to with either the right wing or xenophobia. Japanese throughout the political spectrum have been growing weary of that shotgun wedding of convenience, and that trend is accelerating as the people who were children in the early postwar years head into retirement.

It is also worthy of note there is no mention of the fact that a large share of the incumbent Democratic Party of Japan membership consists of global governance types who think the nation-state is an anachronism. If that’s the context, perhaps what most people would consider normal patriotism would be seen as xenophobia.

Take stock for a moment: an ancient political party that seems hopelessly anachronistic, an incumbent political party that appears altogether confused, a right-wing organization that is built on idolizing an extinct past; does anyone hear the faint echoes from the future of other democracies in Europe and perhaps the US?

Yes, let’s take stock. The ancient political party is all of 57 years old. The name of the “right-wing organization” whose name he can’t get right is not built on idolizing an extinct past. Their original motivation is the decentralization of government and the regional devolution of authority. That none of them “idolize an extinct past” demonstrates the author is either making stuff up or listening to people who are making stuff up. In a Japanese context that party’s core domestic reform agenda is fresher and more forward-looking than any major political party in the US or Western Europe. (It is also a full-fledged party, not an “organization.”)

Again, the only people hearing “echoes from the future” are those whose minds are bent into a distinctive warp, anxious to seem perceptive by blindly setting up a comparison with anti-immigrant parties in Europe that the media mistakenly refers to as “right wing”. (Most of them are really Big Statists, from what I can see.)

It cannot be emphasized too strongly:

Conditions in Japan do not and will not resemble those in any European country, nor conform to the illusions of drive-by Western commentators.

But enough of this; the rest of his analysis is based on conjecture just as foamy. (He too quickly accepts the idea that Japan has renounced nuclear energy; I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that. It doesn’t bode well for the movement that Hashimoto Toru has left it and Kamei Shizuka and Ozawa Ichiro have joined it.)

My thinking is quite simply that Japan has reached an economic point of no-return; this will be now played out politically to provide a dignified burial of the country’s ambitions.

Through a stroke of synchronicity, the following article appeared on the same day as this op-ed:

The first of a new generation of high-speed, magnetic levitation trains has been unveiled in Japan, designed to operate at speeds of more than 310 mph…

Designed by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the state-of-the-art trains are scheduled to go into use in 2027 and link Shinagawa Station, in central Tokyo, with Nagoya.

At present, it takes 90 minutes for a conventional “shinkansen” bullet train to complete the journey between the two stations, but the new technology will cut the trip to 40 minutes.

The vehicle has no wheels – doing away with friction and, hence, providing a smoother and quieter ride at a faster speed – and is propelled along a track through electromagnetic pull.

That’s just 15 years away.

Japan will be the first nation to build a large-scale maglev route and hopes to be able to export the technology once it has been perfected.

And I expect they will be successful.

Had Chan Akya or the media’s editorial class known the ABCs of political conditions in Japan, the electorate’s intense interest in reform and readiness to punish politicians who lack that interest, and indeed, the capacity for innovation and survival of actors in the free market system in general and the Japanese in particular, this article would never have been written, much less been published.

How unlucky for us.

My thinking is that chances are very good Japan will survive the coming Dark Ages better than either the United States or most of the EU. That round red sun is more likely to be rising than setting.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, Mass media, Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

The real losing dogs

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 28, 2012

SEVERAL years ago, novelist Sakai Junko coined the expression makeinu, or losing dog, to refer to single people over the age of 30.

The term has other useful applications, however. Is that not the perfect descriptor for a left-of-center political party that loses the confidence of left-of-center newspapers? That’s exactly what happened to the Democratic Party of Japan. This article by the Asahi Shimbun is several months old, but it explains very clearly one of the most important reasons the party lost the trust of the Japanese public, and lost it almost immediately after they took office.

Among the Democratic Party of Japan’s many pledges when it came to power was to loosen the hold that bureaucrats had on policy issues and put politicians in charge.

Yet it never challenged the Finance Ministry, the bastion of the nation’s bureaucratic hierarchy.

In reality, the Finance Ministry has gained more clout under successive DPJ administrations, winning over prime ministers Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan and now Yoshihiko Noda.

One of the key persons appearing in the story is former Budget Bureau chief Katsu Eijiro, who I’ve mentioned several times on this site.

In late September of 2009 (N.B.: one month after the DPJ took power), Kan (Naoto), who was national policy minister, was irritated because the government had not been able to decide on a basic budget policy due to a lack of revenue for the DPJ’s campaign policies.

Which everyone knew would happen even before the election, but then I interrupt.

Katsu, chief of the Budget Bureau, appeared. Kan asked when the basic budget policy should be drawn up if the budget was to be compiled by the end of the year.

“The DPJ has a grand manifesto,” Katsu said. “If you issue a sheet of paper and tell us to compile the budget based on the manifesto, we will follow the instruction.”

Kan was visibly relieved. “That makes it easy,” he said.

The meeting effectively put Finance Minister Hirohisa Fujii, not Kan, in charge of compiling the budget under the first DPJ administration.

Fujii, 79, is a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat. He became a Diet member after Hatoyama’s father, who was an administrative vice finance minister, advised him to go into politics.

“I don’t think politicians can make correct judgments on details of the budget,” Fujii said. “The Finance Ministry has a tradition encompassing more than a century. What is expected of politicians is to make decisions.”

Fujii was instrumental in installing Noda as senior vice finance minister under him.

Doesn’t that tell you all you need to know? Well, most of it, but not quite all:

Heizo Takenaka, who battled with the Finance Ministry over the initiative in budget formulation when he served as a Cabinet minister under Junichiro Koizumi, said tax increases, not spending cuts, benefit the Finance Ministry.

“The Finance Ministry derives its power by allocating money from a fat pocketbook,” he said.

Twas ever thus, in every country, but particularly in Japan. That’s why the relationship between the bureaucracy and the political class is always an issue here. Ending bureaucratic control of the government is one of the primary issues that has motivated the regional parties.

You know what they say about reading the whole thing? Read the whole thing.

Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Wet cement

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I wonder about these people who would take advantage of Hashimoto Toru’s popularity to win a Diet seat (by joining his party, the Japan Restoration Party).
– Maehara Seiji, head of the Democratic Party’s Policy Research Committee

We’ll act in such a way that we don’t become what the Democratic Party is now.
– Matsui Ichiro, Osaka governor and secretary-generation of Japan Restoration, in reply
————-
The key is when and to what extent Mr. Abe approaches the third forces (reform parties). I would really prefer that the electorate votes with that knowledge. But considering his position, it is probably to his advantage to keep that quiet for now.
– Yamazaki Hajime, journalist on economic matters and a fellow at the Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute

THERE are eight million stories in the naked city, intones the narrator at the conclusion of both the film and television version of The Naked City, and this has been one of them. Shifting the dramatist’s eye to Japan’s lower house election scheduled for 16 December, there are what seems like several thousand stories, and the reform/regional parties that are fomenting revolution from the bottom up account for quite a few of them.

Telling some of those stories requires a list of the dramatis personae, however, and that’s where we’ll start.

* Hashimoto Toru, the mayor of Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, who became the nation’s most prominent regional politician to call for the devolution of government authority with stronger power given to local government. That has been an issue for more than two decades here, but he’s the man who achieved ignition and liftoff. He started a local party/movement called One Osaka that is now a national party known as the Japan Restoration Party.

* Watanabe Yoshimi, a former Liberal Democratic Party member and minister in the Abe and Fukuda cabinets with responsibility for governmental reform. A supporter of devolution and radical civil service reform to tame the Japanese bureaucracy and its political influence, he left the LDP when prime ministers Fukuda and Aso abandoned that course. He then created Your Party with independent Diet member and former MITI bureaucrat Eda Kenji.

* Kawamura Takashi, a former Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He ran in several elections for party president, which means he sees a prime minister when he looks in the mirror in the morning. He resigned from the DPJ to run for mayor of Nagoya on a platform of cutting municipal taxes and the remuneration of city council members by half. This is part of an ongoing movement for sub-national governments in Japan. He struggled to get his policy package passed by municipal legislators (natch), and stunned the political world and the country both when he resigned, ran again to make the election a referendum on his policies, and won in a walk. There’s more at this previous post.

He’s formed a local party called Tax Reduction Japan that is now a national party with six five members in the Diet. They want to reduce the number of lower house Diet members by 80 (to 400) and cut their salaries in half.

* Omura Hideaki, a former Liberal Democratic Party of Japan member and lower house MP. He forged an alliance with Kawamura Takashi during the latter’s second run for mayor of Nagoya. He was elected governor of Aichi, in which Nagoya is located, on the same day. He shares the same general political principles.

* Ishihara Shintaro, former upper house and lower house MP, and governor of the Tokyo Metro District. Everyone knows who he is.

The stupefying ineptitude of the Democratic Party government, the inability of the Liberal Democratic Party to reinvent itself as a coherent alternative during three years in opposition, the futility of seeking real reform from either of them, years of public dissatisfaction combined with a willingness to support anyone willing to take an axe to the waste and abuse in the public sector, and younger generations reaching middle age, have resulted in the national prominence of Hashimoto Toru. It soon became a question of when, not if, he would establish a national political organization. The answer was soon rather than late — less than a year after winning election as Osaka mayor, after spending three years as governor of Osaka Prefecture.

Here’s what he said at the time:

True reform for Osaka requires further amendments to (national) law. But even when we try to do something locally, we run into the wall of Nagata-cho (a metonym for the Diet) and Kasumigaseki (a metonym for the bureaucracy), who control the mechanism of Japan. We have to change Japan from the roots.

In addition to regional devolution, Mr. Hashimoto’s group also calls for the cutting the membership of the Diet’s lower house in half to 240, and cutting their salaries and publicly funded party subsidies by one-third.

At that point the narrative became one of wondering who would and would not become his political allies. Not only did they need to team with simpatico regional parties, Japan Restoration needed someone or some group with a national reputation. Eliminated right away were the establishment LDP and the labor union-backed DPJ, but everyone had discounted that because both were part of the problem and not part of this solution.

In an intriguing move, the Osaka mayor approached former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in August to ask whether he would be interested in switching from the LDP to Japan Restoration. Mr. Abe expressed a strong desire to form some sort of alliance, particularly because they share an interest in amending the Constitution. But Mr. Abe eventually chose to remain in the LDP and run for party president, a campaign that he won.

While both men would surely like to work together, the LDP is unlikely to support the long-standing Hashimoto proposal to convert the consumption tax into a funding source for local government, and end the current system in which the national government allocates public funds. The shape and nature of any alliance will probably be determined after the election. The results will determine who needs whom, and the extent of that need.

* Hashimoto and Your Party

Speculation on ties with Japan Restoration had always started with Your Party, the first real national reform party. Several of their most important positions meshed, including the creation of a new system of sub-national governments with greater authority and civil service reform. They both also came out for eliminating nuclear power (probably for populist reasons), though Mr. Hashimoto has since backed away from that one. Further, Your Party supported Mr. Hashimoto in the election for Osaka mayor, and they share some of the same advisors.

At one point not long ago, people assumed that there would be a formal alliance. Rumors circulated that they had cut a deal in which Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi would become the first prime minister if they won enough seats in the aggregate to form a government.

But that’s not how it worked out. The reason seems to have been a dispute over who was going to be the boss. Your Party held talks with the people from Osaka before Japan Restoration was formed, and they wanted them to join the existing party before they created their own. Knowing that his poll numbers are better Your Party’s (they can’t seem to hump it into double digits), Mr. Hashimoto refused and suggested that they disband and rearrange themselves.

Relations took a turn for the worse when three Your Party members, said to be unhappy with Watanabe Yoshimi’s leadership, quit and joined Japan Restoration. That caused more than a few unpleasantries to be hurled in the direction of Osaka.

But discussions resumed because an alliance remains in both their interests. They talked about cooperation to implement eight common policies, which at that time included opposition to the consumption tax increase, opposition to nuclear power, support for regional devolution and the state/province system, support for civil service reform, support for constitutional amendments, support for election system reform, economic growth policies, and foreign policy (they both favor participation in TPP).

The calls for a solid alliance seem to have come from Your Party, and Japan Restoration has turned down the offer for now. There was a meeting with Hashimoto Toru, Matsui Ichiro, and Watanabe Yoshimi at which blunt words were spoken.

Mr. Watanabe suggested they jointly offer an “east-west” slate of candidates for the lower house election, with Your Party covering the east (Tokyo and the Kanto region) and Japan Restoration covering the west (Osaka and the Kansai region). Mr. Matsui rejected it, and here was his explanation:

Their policies have not gained ground in the Diet, and they have become a group who can’t achieve them. Politics means taking responsibility for results. That requires a team that can create a decision-making approach.

Gov. Matsui also told Mr. Watanabe in so many words to come down off his high horse: “It was our idea to create a new type of political organization.” The Your Party boss responded that they’ve been calling for political reorganization from the day they formed the party (which is true). He asked again for an equal merger, and again he was rejected.

Mr. Matsui later said they will continue to talk to avoid running candidates in the same election districts, but it will be unavoidable, and they will try to minimize it.

Perhaps Japan Restoration has some foresight about Your Party’s fortunes. Mr. Watanabe campaigned several times for a Your Party candidate in a local election last weekend in his home district in Tochigi, but the candidate lost to one backed by the LDP and New Komeito.

Affairs are still in flux, however. Just yesterday Hashimoto Toru said Japan Restoration would probably be able to field only 100 candidates in time for the election. (One reason the major parties want an earlier election is to prevent the smaller parties from building a full candidate list.) He made a reference to working with Your Party if they also ran 100 candidates — in other words, supporting the east-west alliance he rejected a few weeks ago. Watanabe Yoshimi also gave a campaign speech today calling for the support of Japan Restoration.

Whatever is going on here, you won’t be able to read a reliable account of it in either the Yomiuri Shimbun or the Asahi Shimbun, the nation’s two largest newspapers. The Asahi is opposed to Mr. Hashimoto because they’re of the left, and the Yomiuri is opposed to him because he’s anti-establishment.

* Omura and Kawamura

As the story at the link above shows, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki formed a regional alliance for the Triple Election in February last year. Both also organized political seminars this year to train people who supported their ideas for elective office.

Mr. Kawamura was the first to create a political party: Tax Reduction Japan. Mr. Omura followed by creating the Aichi is Top of Japan Party. The trouble started when he converted that party into the Chukyo Ishin no Kai, or the Chukyo Restoration Group, in August. The name is intentionally modeled on that of the Japan Restoration Party. His group was formed specifically to align with the Hashimoto group and fulfill the conditions for becoming a national party.

That cheesed off Mr. Kawamura, who was on an overseas trip at the time. He was miffed because the Aichi governor told Mr. Hashimoto about his plans, but didn’t tell him. The Nagoya mayor flew off the handle, saying their relationship of trust was broken and they couldn’t work together any more.

Some people saw it as a deliberate snub by Mr. Omura to break off ties with Mr. Kawamura. The former (at the left in the photo) is the straight-arrow policy type, while the latter (at the right) is the unkempt populist with a desire to be a major player. For example, he wondered if the Chukyo region would be relegated to being the subcontractor for Osaka.

Hashimoto Toru encouraged both of them to patch up their differences, because working together is would benefit everyone, and the policies were more similar than different.

And that’s just what the two men seem to have done while the media spotlight was pointed in a different direction. They announced an agreement to work together for the coming election after discussions that lasted late into the night of the 19th.

* Hashimoto and Omura and Kawamura

During the Triple Election campaign in Nagoya and Aichi, volunteers from the Osaka group went to the region to help both candidates because of their general agreement on devolution. Since then, however, it’s been a long strange trip that keeps getting stranger.

When Omura Hideaki created the Chukyo Restoration Group, Hashimoto Toru said that despite the name, they were unrelated to the Osaka group. They were independent and they hadn’t thought about an alliance for the national election. He added that Aichi support for their positions would be the condition for any alliance.

But then in October, a group from Osaka went to Aichi for a conference with letter from Hashimoto Toru asking Mr. Omura to form an Aichi Restoration Party. The alliance seemed like a natural: Not only are their policies similar, but they share policy advisors in journalist Tahara Soichiro, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat Takahashi Yoichi, and Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s jack of all trades, Takenaka Heizo.

The Aichi governor said that an alliance would take time, however, because he was still working with Kawamura Takashi. A blurb of two or three sentences appeared in one newspaper earlier this week announcing that Aichi and Osaka had worked out an agreement. In fact, Mr. Omura would be given the leeway to choose the candidate for one of the Aichi Diet districts in the election.

But just this morning, Mr. Omura announced that he would resign his position as advisor to the Osaka party to focus on his ties with Kawamura Takashi.

Your guess is as good as mine about this one. The best I can come up with is that working with Mr. Kawahara is a better way to solidify his position in Aichi.

—–
Meanwhile, Kawahara Takashi’s attitude toward an agreement with Hashimoto Toru was 180° in the opposite direction. He was so anxious to create an alliance that a hand was coming out of his throat, as an old Japanese expression has it.

He’s long been friendly with Ozawa Ichiro, but when he spoke at a political seminar for the People First Party, the new Ozawa Ichiro vehicle, he said his priority was working with Hashimoto Toru and former Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro. (That might also have been a function of his assessment of the extent of Ozawa Ichiro’s political influence in the future; i.e., not very much.)

The problem, however, is that both Mr. Hashimoto and Mr. Matsui have been giving the Nagoya mayor their cold shoulders. Mr. Kawamura thought a merger with Japan Restoration was going to happen when he reached an agreement to do just that with Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party, but no one else thought so. Mr. Ishimura thought it might be a problem with the tax reduction name in his party, and Mr. Kawamura obligingly offered to change it.

But Hashimoto Toru said the name had nothing to do with it: it was all content. He also said, however, that “In today’s circumstances, tax reduction is the wrong message.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the Osaka mayor is a tax hiker; rather, his position has always been that there should be a public debate and a consensus formed about what public services people want to receive. After reaching that consensus, it will then be time to figure out how to pay for them.

Mr. Kawamura, on the other hand, seems to favor the Starve the Beast approach: Don’t give the public sector the money to begin with. It isn’t widely known, but he also favors establishing neighborhood citizens’ councils to determine how public funds will be spent. In other words, his approach is the reverse of Mr. Hashimoto’s.

The Nagoya mayor is also opposed to TPP participation, while the Osaka mayor favors it. They were both anti-nuclear power, but Mr. Hashimoto has since modified that stance. Also, two of the five Diet members in Mr. Kawamura’s national party, which was formed at end of October, were LDP postal privatization rebels that former Prime Minister Koizumi threw out of the party. Hashimoto Toru supports the privatization of Japan Post.

Another reason Mr. Hashimoto cited for being unwilling to work with Tax Cut Japan is that another one of their Diet members, Kumada Atsushi, a lower house MP from Osaka, switched his party affiliation from the DPJ, but not before he accepted JPY 3 million to offset his campaign expenses. That’s not the sort of person he wants to work with.

Matsui Ichiro offered a blander rationale:

It’s not possible as of now. We haven’t had any policy discussions. There’s not enough time.

But wait!

After weeks of letting his tongue hang out in the national media, insisting that it would be easy to overcome the differences with Japan Reform, Mr. Kawamura announced today that he — he! — was rejecting an alliance with them. He’ll work with Aichi Gov. Omura instead.

But wait again!

Lower House MP Kobayashi Koki, Tax Reduction Japan’s acting president, said the whole point of the party going national was to work with people like Japan Restoration. After Mr. Kawamura’s announcement, he said he wanted to leave the party and join Japan Restoration. He got approval for both of his requests.

* Hashimoto and Ishihara

That brings us to strangest story of them all — the merger of Japan Restoration with Ishihara Shintaro’s four-day-old Sun Party and the appointment of Mr. Ishihara as the head of the party.

It was strange because Hashimoto Toru insisted that it wouldn’t happen, for several reasons. The first was policy differences — Mr. Ishihara and the Sun Party support nuclear power and oppose participation in TPP. Those positions are the opposite of those of Japan Restoration. The second was outlook. Mr. Hashimoto said an alliance was out of the question if the members of the Sunrise Japan party, the group that the Tokyo governor formed two years ago, joined the Sun Party. He explained that there would be no union with “pure conservatives”. (By that he means paleo-cultural conservatives.)

Another factor is that Your Party wants no part of Ishihara Shintaro at all. An alliance would threaten any cooperation with them.

The Osaka mayor said talks would get nowhere unless they changed their policies. What happened is that he changed his, even after Sunrise Japan joined the Sun Party. Here’s the list of common policies they agreed on:

1. Convert the consumption tax to a regional tax and cap the rate at 11%.

Making the consumption tax a regional tax will make a close relationship with the LDP difficult.

2. Begin discussions to achieve a state/province system

3. Implement measures to support SMBEs and microenterprises.

4. Social welfare funding sources: Eliminate the portion of central government tax revenues allocated to local governments, optimize social insurance premiums, reexamine benefit levels, and supplement the funding with revenues from the income tax and asset tax.

5. Take a positive attitude toward TPP negotiations but will oppose them if they’re not in national interest.

This is a compromise for both men.

6. Create rules and other safety standards for nuclear power.

Not only has is that a reversal of the Hashimoto position, it just might end opposition to nuclear power as a political issue. An NHK poll taken this week found that only 9% of the electorate considers it to be their most important issue.

7. Urge China to take Senkakus dispute to ICJ.

8. Prohibit corporate and group donations to politics.

[[UPDATE: Yankdownunder sent in this link showing #8 is now inoperable.]]

Mr. Ishihara suggested that he and Mr. Hashimoto share the party presidency, but the younger man declined and took the de facto number two position. His thinking was that he still has a job to do in Osaka, and Osakans would be displeased if he gave up his position a year into his term for a Diet seat.

Said Mr. Ishihara after the deal was cut:

The popular will is filled with fluffy ideas, such as ‘nuclear power is frightening’. Populism is flattering those ideas….The largest, most definite segment of the popular will, however, is ‘This country is in trouble. Do something!’ We must change the structure of governance by the central bureaucracy…

…People talk about a ‘third force’, but we have to become the second force. We have to discard our minor disagreements in favor of our greater agreements and fight together. I’ll be the one to die first, so I’ll pass on the baton later to Mr. Hashimoto. There’s no other politician who acts as if his life depends on it.

Putting aside the question of whether this merger pays off in votes and Diet seats, there are advantages for both parties. Don’t forget that Ishihara Shintaro was the co-author of the Japan That Can Say No. He now is allied with a popular and adroit younger politician who can create the environment in which public figures will stand up for Japan, rather than truckle to other countries. He’s also popular enough to drive the issue of Constitutional reform — and several other previously taboo issues besides.

For example, this week Ishihara Shintaro said this week that Japan should conduct a simulation of the use of a nuclear weapon as a deterrent. He added that he was not calling for a public discussion of whether Japan should now make nuclear weapons, but that it was only his personal opinion.

It might be only his personal opinion, but it has now been broached for public discussion. He added:

Saying that you won’t have nuclear weapons means that your voice in world affairs carries absolutely no weight. Even the US gets all wobbly when it comes to North Korea’s nuclear program.

There will also be no sucking air through the teeth and saying so sorry to China:

It would be desirable if Japan-China relations were friendly, but it would not be desirable at all if Japan became a second Tibet due to Chinese hegemonism.

For his part, Mr. Hashimoto is now allied with someone who has a power base in Tokyo/Kanto, giving the party a real east-west presence. That ally also has a national presence, which Mr. Hashimoto is still developing. It should not be overlooked that the most popular politicians in the country’s two largest cities are now allies working to reduce the power of the central government. (And Nagoya is the third-largest city; even without a formal alliance, Kawamura Takashi is likely to work with them more often than not.)

The drawback is that this merger creates a political party with as much internal incompatibility as the Democratic Party of Japan. One of Hashimoto Toru’s most prominent advisors and supporters is Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru. Also in the party by way of Sunrise Japan is that most paleo of paleo-conservatives, Hiranuma Takeo. Here’s what Mr. Hiranuma thinks of the Koizumi/Takenaka policies.

Perhaps it is the hope of the folks in Osaka that they’ll have outlived the paleos when the time comes they are no longer of use to each other.

*****
I’m no psephologist, and I have no desire to become one, so there will be no predictions from me about this election. You can hear all sorts of wildly varying predictions now anyway. The weekly Sunday Mainichi thinks the LDP and New Komeito combined will win 280 seats, giving them a lower house majority. They project the DPJ will win only 90 seats. The weekly Shukan Gendai, however, wonders if the LDP and New Komeito can reach 200 seats, and they think 75 is a real possibility for Japan Restoration.

The polls are all over the place, and as of this week, close to half the electorate is still undecided. A recent NHK poll found public interest in the election to be very high, and turnout could soar. That means anything in this election is possible, and all sorts of possibilities are flying around. There are now 14 political parties qualified to take part in the election, many of which will not exist at this time next year. One of them is a two-man party formed by a DPJ renegade and ex-People’s New Party head (and before that, ex-LDP honcho) Kamei Shizuka. Mr. Kamei formed his old party as a receptacle for the vested interests of Japan Post after he was dumped from the LDP for opposing privatization. He was a junior coalition partner of the DPJ for the specific purpose of allowing the DPJ to pass legislation in the upper house, and his reward was a Cabinet ministry. The party name for this dynamic duo is The Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. (Oh, yes it is!)

The cement in Japanese politics is now wet. The political realignment that people have been waiting for has arrived, or at least the first phase of it. The Big Bang election that just as many people have been waiting for has also arrived, or at least the first in a series of large bangs. If nothing else, the political class will finally learn what they can expect from the voters for betraying their trust and expectations after three years with the DPJ in charge. If they don’t now, they never will.

Afterwords:

* Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko said this week:

I will not participate in a competition to lean rightward.

This is the self-described conservative speaking.

On the other hand, he has no choice, whatever it is he really believes.

Roughly 40% of the current DPJ MPs have close labor union ties, and the party’s largest source of organizational support is labor unions.

* During a 15 November TV broadcast, DPJ lower house MP and member of the Noda faction/group, said: “Noda’s attitude changed after he made the deal with Abe. He dissolved the Diet because Abe could put him in the Cabinet — particularly because the Finance Ministry wants him to see the consumption tax through.”

Sitting next to him was former agriculture minister, former DPJ member, and for another month anyway, lower house MP Yamada Masahiko. He heard this and marveled, “Oh, of course that’s what must have happened!” The announcer changed the subject.

Some people expect an LDP-DPJ-New Komeito coalition based on the consumption tax increase passage. Perhaps this has all been a chaban geki designed to stifle the local parties while the stifling’s still possible.

* Said LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru:

The LDP’s biggest foe is the LDP from three years ago, not the DPJ.

He’s right.

* Prime Minister Noda is demanding that all candidates sign a loyalty oath to the party’s policies. That was the excuse Hatoyama Yukio was looking for to retire from politics. It will save him the embarrassment of losing his Hokkaido seat outright, which was a real possibility.

* Former TV comedian and popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo, who palled around a lot with Hashimoto Toru in 2008, is mulling a run as a PR representative for Japan Restoration in either the Tokyo or Kyushu bloc.

He considered running again for Tokyo Metro District governor — he lost to Ishihara Shintaro last year — but decided against it.

But that was earlier this week. Today he said he was still thinking about which he would do.

* Only the old-line journalists are talking much about Ozawa Ichiro in this election. I suspect he is a man whose time has come and gone, and people see him as holding a losing hand. Both Hashimoto Toru and Matsui Ichiro have said they weren’t interested in any arrangement with him. One reason is that his unpopularity would wound Mr. Hashimoto in the same way that Abe Shinzo’s decision to readmit the Japan Post rebels to the LDP wounded him.

* There are other local Restoration parties in addition to the ones discussed here. Three of them are in Ehime: One for the prefecture itself, with four prefecture council members, one for the city of Matsuyama, with 13 city council members (29% of the council), and one for the city of Seiyo, with seven council members (one-third of the total). They’re all working together.

*****
Everybody needs to go to the same karaoke box and belt this out:

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Big bluster and the big bang

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, November 18, 2012

Left, nay; right, aye

(They are) people who brought forth self-interested proposals using our common property, such as “the new public commons” and “from concrete to people”. Those ideas are now so tattered no one will ever be able to wear them again.

- Ushioda Michio, member of the Mainichi Shimbun editorial committee, on the Democratic Party of Japan

ONE of Japan’s sports traditions is the national high school boys’ baseball championship at summer’s end. Teams play a single-elimination tournament for the right to represent their prefecture in the national round, and the prefectural winners play a single-elimination tournament to determine the national champions.

One tradition within that tradition is for the players of a losing team at the national championships to scoop dirt from the playing field to take home as a souvenir. The Yomiuri Shimbun observed a similar scene in the lower house of the Diet on Friday when Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolved the Diet for an election next month. Several members, particularly first-termers from the ruling Democratic Party, pocketed the blue and white (actually plain) wooden sticks they use to cast their recorded votes. They know they’re not likely to use them again.

Big bluster

Speaking of baseball, one ancient observation about the game is that it doesn’t build character, it reveals it. The same can be said of politics, although it might be better to say that politics exposes character — or the lack of it.

Mr. Noda’s speech to the Diet dissolving the chamber was an exposure that revealed he never transcended his only defining characteristic before he became Finance Minister — big bluster. Every day for more than 20 years, he stood outside his local train station and delivered a political speech haranguing the commuters as they headed off to work. We’ve seen before that the content of those speeches bore no relation to his actions once he entered national government. The speech he delivered on Friday was just another page from the same script. It was a minor marvel of political surrealism.

He began by congratulating himself for a heroic performance in facing up to a difficult job, an assessment shared by 17% of his fellow citizens. He blamed most of the difficulties on the pre-2009 Liberal Democratic Party administrations, which suggests that someone’s been translating Barack Obama’s speeches into Japanese. He did not mention that the annual budget deficits of the DPJ governments are 500% higher than the 2007 Abe/Fukuda deficit, and roughly double the annual deficit when Koizumi Jun’ichiro took office in 2001. That suggests he borrowed the excuse for the same reason Mr. Obama created it.

The prime minister then hailed the great reforms achieved since the DPJ took control of the government three years ago. If you give the man on the street a week, perhaps he’d be able to think of one. He dismissed the Koizumi 2005 lower house landslide as a single-issue election, and said this election will be conducted on the basis of overall policy and the direction of the country. What he chose to ignore is that the single issue of Japan Post privatization represented the most important issue in Japanese domestic politics — breaking up the old Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business. Mr. Noda’s DPJ chose to turn back the clock, halt the privatization process, and place a Finance Ministry OB in charge of the operation.

And speaking of turning back the clock, the prime minister used that phrase while warning that the LDP would take the country back to the political Stone Age. One wonders why he thought it was convincing. He and those bothering to listen knew one reason the people gave up on the DPJ long ago was that their behavior was even worse than that of the old LDP.

He also attacked those who share the growing interest in amending the Constitution and ditching the pacifist peace clause. While the prime minister allowed that “sound nationalism” is necessary, it must not degenerate into “anti-foreigner rhetoric”. Unmentioned was that few people think Hatoyama Yukio’s claim that the Japanese archipelago was “not just for the Japanese”, bestowing permanent resident non-citizens the right to vote in local elections, and giving public assistance to a group of private schools run by a Korean citizens’ group affiliated with North Korea constitutes “sound nationalism”, if they had any idea what that means.

What perhaps drew the most derision was his rationale for dissolving the Diet that he presented during Question Time on Wednesday: He had promised to do so if certain legislative conditions were met, and he didn’t want to be considered a liar. If being thought a liar was so horrible, came the chorus of the media and the reading and thinking public on the Internet, why did he and his government break all of their promises in their 2009 election manifesto — starting with the promise not to raise the consumption tax?

The strangeness continued at the news conference following his speech. Mr. Noda criticized the LDP for their reliance on people from multi-generational political families. LDP President Abe Shinzo, for example, is a third-generation pol whose father was foreign minister and maternal grandfather was prime minister.

Of course Mr. Noda did not mention the first DPJ prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, who (with his brother) has one of the longest political bloodlines in the Diet. He is the fourth-generation politico in his family — his great-grandfather was a Diet member in the 19th century.

The DPJ seems to be serious about this, though it is unlikely to have much of an impact on the electorate’s choices. Mr. Hatoyama got in trouble with his party for abstaining from a vote against the consumption tax increase, though he ran on a manifesto promising no consumption tax increase in four years. While he says he is willing to stay in the party he bankrolled with his mother’s money, he also thinks the DPJ could refuse to certify him as a party candidate. Mr. Hatoyama says he’s heard rumors that because Koizumi Jun’ichiro won acclaim for refusing to back former PMs Nakasone and Miyazawa in 2005, the party could give the same treatment to him.

How like the DPJ to misunderstand the difference. Mr. Koizumi made that decision based on the ages of the other two men (both were well over 80). But considering that Hatoyama Yukio was just as unpopular as Mr. Noda is now, and he might very well lose his seat anyway, the party could be looking for a way to present a candidate with a better chance of winning.

They’ve taken this strange step one step further. DPJ member and former 64-day prime minister Hata Tsutomu (in a different party) is retiring from his Nagano constituency as of this election. His son Hata Yuichiro is a DPJ upper house MP and the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport in the current Noda Cabinet. He wanted to resign his upper house seat and run for his father’s lower house seat, but the DPJ told him they would refuse to certify him.

In other words, he’s worthy of a Cabinet post and an upper house badge, but unsuited for the lower house. There’s no guarantee, incidentally, that the person they do certify for that district will even be from Nagano. (Meanwhile, LDP Secretary-General Ishiba Shigeru told them to knock off the performance politics.)

Big bang

The Japanese like to create unique names for events, and the wags have created a few for this one. It’s variously been referred to as the suicide bombing dissolution, the narcissism dissolution, and the flight-from-being-called-a-liar dissolution

Someone close to Ozawa Ichiro in People’s Life First Party said, “This is the ‘kill everybody’ dissolution.” By that he meant the prime minister took the step to forestall a dump Noda move in the party, knowing the DPJ would lose a lot of seats. He added, “This will kill all of us, too.”

But LDP head Abe Shinzo looked forward to it:

We in the LDP and the people have waited three years for this day. We are going to boldly confront them with policy.

My favorite comment came from Fukushima Mizuho, the head of the Social Democrats:

This dissolution was a coup d’etat by the prime minister. The social security reform and the dissolution were arranged by the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito. The people weren’t consulted.

No, socialist activist lawyers masquerading as social democrats don’t know much about constitutional democracy or electoral politics, do they?

The most pertinent observation, however, came from Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi. He thinks this could be Japan’s political Big Bang.

The Japanese electorate has for years told the political class what it wants very clearly, and held them responsible when they don’t listen. They went big for small government, privatization, and reform in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. When the LDP turned its back on the Koizumi path, the exasperated public gave the opposition DPJ power in the 2009 landslide. Within months they were exposed as inept charlatans, and now all that land will slide on them.

You wouldn’t know it by reading the Anglosphere media, but voters in Japan spontaneously created their own combination Tea Party and Hope and Change movement long before either arose in the United States, both more ruthless than their American counterparts. They are quick to support the people who say what they want to hear, and just as quick to withdraw that support when they don’t walk the walk.

It’s a funny old world. All eyes were on the American presidential election this month, and few eyes will be on the Japanese election next month. The vote in Japan is of much greater interest, however. It will be a more compelling display of democracy in action than the one held in the United States.

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All you have to do is look (110)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 17, 2012

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko dissolves the Diet on Friday afternoon. Note his expression compared to some of the other people in the Cabinet, particularly Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro at the far right.

A Diet ends its term with a banzai cheer (followed by applause), and that’s why people are lifting their arms. There is a “proper” way to raise your hands: Like an NFL referee signaling a touchdown with the palms facing each other over the head.

The younger postwar generations are more likely to raise their hands with the palms facing to the front.

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Ichigen koji (232)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 17, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

The Democratic Party government has been a perverse condensation of all the problems of postwar Japan. It’s not possible to do anything unless you realize the meaning of negative examples. The party has neither a program nor a view of the state.

- Sakurai Yoshiko, former newscaster and now commentator/journalist

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Ichigen koji (230)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, November 15, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

A symposium was held at Southern Methodist University in Texas about reform in Japan. Former American Ambassador Thomas Schieffer and I delivered the keynote addresses. Why did Japan stop the reform process, even though it was successful? Why do politicians say that gaps in society have widened, even though they have shrunk? Why aren’t these most basic of questions asked in Japan?

- Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru

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