AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Omura H.’

When eligibility makes you ineligible

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

* I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

* The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taken one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office.

-H.L. Mencken

THERE’S little to add to Mencken’s observations about politicians except specific examples that illustrate his point. It would be easy to find those examples just by shutting your eyes and sticking your finger on a random point on a world map. But two examples from Japan sprang off the newsfeed yesterday, so we’ll use those.

The first involves Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, mentioned this week in a post about regional reform parties. He’s the leader of Tax Reduction Japan, which had six Diet members. Mr. Kawamura’s wanted to formally merge with other reform parties, but those desires were unrequited. He was even jilted by Ishihara Shintaro and his Sun Party days after they accepted his proposal. They chose to walk down the political aisle with Hashimoto Toru and Japan Restoration instead.

Kawamura Takashi and Kamei Shizuka

The latter group ostensibly rejected his overtures because of his policy positions — anti-TPP, anti-nuclear energy, and anti-consumption tax increase. Rather than modify any of those positions, he chose to keep them. He spun this as his own rejection of an alliance with the new Japan Restoration. That caused him to lose one of his six Diet members, with the possibility that two or three more might also flake.

The requirement for political parties to receive public funds as a subsidy is five Diet members, and that puts Mr. Kawamura in a bind. He was thrown a political life preserver by Kamei Shizuka and his two-man Anti-TPP, Anti-Nuclear Power, Achieve a Freeze of the Consumption Tax Party. In other words, they are kindred policy spirits.

Unfortunately, Mr. Kamei is one of the breed that combines cultural conservatism with a preference for Big Government. He so opposed the privatization of Japan Post and its banking and insurance business that he was thrown out of the LDP. He then formed the People’s New Party to cleave to those bureaucratic interests.

Mr. Kamei followed that up by becoming a junior partner in the DPJ coalition, who fiddled around with his single issue hobby horse for three years while using his party’s votes to maintain an upper house majority. His primary contribution to the DPJ administration was to require financial institutions to suspend their acceptance of loan payments from struggling businesses, while being reimbursed by the government. In short, he lacks even a rudimentary understanding of the free market.

He also personally selected an ex-Finance Ministry official to take over Japan Post just months after the DPJ won election on a promise to keep the bureaucracy at arm’s length.

So that’s who Kawamura Takashi the reformer is interested in being partners with. And now he’s talking about working out an arrangement with Ozawa Ichiro the fixer and his drolly named People’s Lives First Party. If you’re going to jump into the septic tank, you might as well dive head first, right?

For that matter, they might as well join the Social Democrats. They’re pushing the same three policy positions, though they go full-bore socially democratic by calling for an increase in the income tax rate to a maximum of 50%. (So is Japan’s Communist Party, for that matter.)

The two men even say they are interested in working with the Greens, which have yet to take off in Japan. Now I ask you…

Meanwhile, five political groups in the Nagoya City Council, including those from the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito, urged Mr. Kawamura to forget about national politics and concentrate on his job in the city. They say his involvement with the political party is causing problems in municipal administration.

All of this leaves on-again off-again ally Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki hanging in mid-air. Recall that Mr. Omura and the Nagoya mayor resolved their disagreements that resulted from the former’s interest in being a local branch of Japan Restoration. Mr. Omura was given a position as advisor to Japan Restoration, and as part of that deal, given the authority to select a candidate to run from an Aichi district in next month’s lower house election. He gave all that up earlier this week to maintain his local alliance.

Now he says he won’t back any candidates in Aichi this time. It looks like he made the wrong choice.

On the last loop

That brings us to former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio. Japan’s first junior high school girl to serve as prime minister was in Hokkaido this week to talk to supporters in his Diet district after announcing that he wouldn’t contest the election. The Mainichi Shimbun included this passage in its Japanese-language report:

In regard to the issue of moving the American Futenma air base in Ginowan, Okinawa, Mr. Hatoyama declared just before the 2009 lower house election that he would move it outside the prefecture at a minimum. After he became prime minister, he returned to the plan developed by the LDP-New Komeito administration to move the base to Henoko in the same prefecture. This generated a fierce response from local citizens.

The Mainichi doesn’t say that his promise also included moving the base outside the country as the ideal beyond the minimum, that his government spent six of its eight-month lifespan flopping like a fish dumped from a net on the deck of a trawler over the issue, and that it became apparent during the first month of the process he was unsuited for national government. The Mainichi also doesn’t mention that Wikileaks suggest he never seriously intended to move the base out of Okinawa to begin with.

Here’s what Mr. Hatoyama said in Hokkaido.

I want to be involved in the future in some way with the Okinawa issue, and want to cooperate to make ‘outside the prefecture at a minimum’ a reality.

Now you know why the Americans dismissed him as loopy, and more than a few Japanese agreed. What point would there be in telling him he could have made that a reality when he was prime minister, but chose not to? It would float in one ear and pass unobstructed to float out the other.

Indeed, Mr. Hatoyama lacks even the sole talent that Mencken attributed to politicians. He has no particular talent for getting and holding office. What he does have is a famous political name and vaults full of money.

Eldridge Cleaver once said that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Kawamura Takashi and Hatoyama Yukio offered themselves as solutions to the problems the public wants resolved. It didn’t take long for both them to expose themselves as part of the real problem.

Afterwords:

Talk about wet cement: Kobayashi Koki, the man who left Tax Reduction Japan for Japan Restoration, was rejected by Japan Restoration and is mulling a return to Tax Reduction Japan. The Ishihara branch of Japan Restoration was willing to admit him, but the core of the party in Osaka is said to have “very harsh opinions” about him.

The two parties are offering candidates in the same district in two cases: One in Aichi and one in Ibaraki.

The Wild West is probably a better analogy for the state of Japanese politics now than wet cement.

UPDATE: The Kawamura-Kamei party has now expressed in public an interest in getting it on with Ozawa Ichiro’s People’s Lives First party. Mr. Kawamura said he wants to create as large a party as possible, and that the group should be considered Reform Team B. That’s in contrast to Japan Restoration and Your Party, which he dubbed Team A.

A Yomiuri Shimbun article said some people perceived this as a “middle-of-the road, liberal force”. With the paleo Kamei Shizuka and the policy-as-disposable-tissue-paper Ozawa Ichiro? It is to laugh.

*****

Maybe they should all think about living together on a Yellow Submarine.

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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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New directions in Japanese politics

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The) next (lower house election) will be the last chance to change Japan…We must sweep away the old politics of Japan and create the new…If there is a call for what is happening in Osaka to be extended throughout Japan, One Osaka will answer the call.

- Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, 28 June, in Osaka

SOME people say that governments at the subnational level make the best public sector laboratories. Groups and politicians at that level in Japan are beavering away at the lab workbench to produce useful new devices. The National Political Establishment (NPE) is at work in their own lab, but they’ve spent their time creating mini-monsters which they proclaim to be beautiful in form and function.

Here’s a look at some of the beauties and the beasts.

Vouchers

The Osaka City government under Mayor Hashimoto Toru will implement a program to provide vouchers to low-income parents in Nishinari Ward, enabling them to send their children to private-sector, extra-curricular educational institutes. Not only did the magician pull the voucher rabbit out of his hat, he kept the rabbit invisible from the teachers’ unions until the measure was adopted.

Roughly one in four people in the Airin district in the ward receive public assistance. The voucher program will begin in September and be extended throughout the city starting with the new school year in April. There are about 950 eligible junior high school students in the ward. Up to about 70% of junior high school students in the city will be eligible for a JPY 10,000 voucher every month to use both at juku (supplementary educational institutes mistakenly referred to as cram schools) and other institutions. The reports mentioned sports instruction; one example might be swimming schools for children, of which there are many in Japan. (This probably also applies to small classrooms offering lessons in calligraphy and other such pursuits.) They will not be used for regular private schools. The institutions offering the instruction must register with the city.

University professor/author/blogger Ikeda Nobuo was impressed:

“The amount of work he (Hashimoto) has accomplished in six months as mayor is more than four years’ worth of work for an ordinary mayor. Most of it involves intricate problems local to Osaka, so the Tokyo media doesn’t cover it, but the real Hashimoto can be seen in those local policies. I understood what he was doing when I spoke with him on a debate program in Osaka.”

The praise from Mr. Ikeda is noteworthy because he is pro-nuclear power and had a short but intense Tweet battle with the mayor over that issue. Mr. Ikeda was stunned because this is the first educational voucher program in Japan, and it has received next to no publicity. He says it resembles the system first proposed by Milton Friedman 50 years ago of supplementing tuition costs by giving vouchers to parents, rather than giving public funds to public schools.

“This, in effect, will privatize public schools, which will arouse strong opposition from public school teachers. That’s why no country has ever done it. Some American states have voucher programs, but the federal government does not. President Bush proposed something similar in 2002, but it was buried by the intense Democratic Party and labor union opposition. It was brought up as a topic in the Abe administration, but seldom discussed. During a conference with DPJ officials, I suggested they quit their giveaways such as the child support allowance and implement educational vouchers. They told me: ‘As soon as they hear the word voucher, the Japan Teachers’ Union says they will never permit it’.”

Teachers’ unions: God love ‘em. What would education be without them?

Mr. Ikeda adds that unions might have withheld their opposition because the vouchers are not for regular education, and thinks they are unlikely to be adopted at the national level. He hopes the program becomes so successful that other local governments will adopt it in their regions. He notes that the OECD has come out in favor of a switch to a “rational system” of vouchers for nursery schools, but Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry ignores that.

Finally, he says the important aspect to consider is that public subsidies are being provided to consumers, similar to Mr. Hashimoto’s negative income tax proposal, which redistributes income directly to individuals without passing through intermediate companies or other organizations. It is a significant change in Japan’s welfare and education policies.

“The opposition to Mr. Hashimoto’s policy of introducing competitive principles in education is strong, but parents will not accept the argument of maintaining the current system under the guise of neutrality in education, when students cannot even speak English properly.”

There are reports the local Kansai media has started with the sob stories, however: The heartless Hashimoto reforms are depriving the poor children of places to go to.

It’s a waste of time to get aroused by the news media any longer. They’re only fulfilling their primary function — to entertain. Expecting them to do anything else is pointless.

Personnel expenses

The mayor proposed sharp cuts in expenditures for the municipal transportation bureau earlier this year. The city’s bus drivers in particular receive a salary 38% higher than their private sector counterparts in Osaka, according to the Nikkei Shimbun. The bus operations alone have been in the red for 29 straight years. He was able to coax out JPY 4.2 billion in cuts from the bureau this year after four bargaining sessions that ended on the night of the 10th. This includes a 20% across-the-board cut of management salaries, and a 3%-19% reduction for regular employees. The new, lower salaries take effect in August. Nakamura Yoshio, the head of the city’s transport workers’ union, said the primary concern of the union was to protect jobs.

Arts subsidies

We’ve seen before that Hashimoto Toru was able to eliminate subsidies to musical groups as governor of Osaka Prefecture, and is now involved in debates to rethink the local subsidies to the traditional art of bunraku. He’s also made an issue out of the public funds the city gives to the Osaka Philharmonic.

After much discussion, the city has decided to cut 10% of the orchestra’s subsidy in the upcoming fiscal year, and continue the reductions in subsequent years. Said the mayor:

“The Osaka Philharmonic now recognizes they have to move in the direction of self-sufficiency. I have some respect (for the person assigned) to create a course toward self-sufficiency in four years, with a three-year preparatory period in the interval. That differs from unthinkingly providing operating subsidies, as has been the case until now.”

Here’s why he thinks the subsidies should be reduced or eliminated:

“The Osaka Philharmonic has completely forgotten their work of attracting an audience. They do not hesitate at all to demand that a certain amount of their income be guaranteed, regardless of the amount of audience revenue or whether or not an audience comes, just because they practice a sophisticated art.”

The city will establish an Arts Council of third party evaluators in August to handle the subject of all subsidies to the arts.

The political class

Reporter to Mr. Hashimoto: When working to achieve an Osaka Metropolitan District, should the number of city council delegate be reduced?

Hashimoto: Politics now should be conducted without excuses. If the Democratic Party of Japan had cut civil service expenses by 20% and the number of Diet members by 180 when their coalition had a majority in both houses, their support rate would have stayed 90% forever. Things have come to this pass because they failed to use their opportunity. Whether or not the Osaka Metro District becomes a reality, it is the mission of politics to show the direction toward reduction if there are too many legislators.

The point he makes in the second sentence is a point I’ve made many times: Japan’s electorate has demonstrated time and again what it wants and the type of politicians it wants to support, but other than Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the NPE time and again ignores them.

Speaking of expense cutting, One Osaka will introduce legislation to reduce from JPY 510,000 to JPY 420,000 the research allowances city legislators receive in addition to their salaries. These allowances have been a point at issue at the sub-national government level throughout the country for the past few years. Local governments have found they can save money simply by requiring receipts and expense accounts for these allowances. When that happens, more unused funds are returned to the treasury every year.

Ward officers

There is a definite sense of a “Go West, young man” phenomenon in Osaka for people wishing to take an active part in the political experimentation. After his election as mayor, Hashimoto Toru solicited applications from around the country for people to serve as the chief executive officer of the city’s 24 wards. They came, they applied, and the hirings were recently announced.

The youngest new ward chief is a 27-year-old former NHK reporter, and the oldest, at 60, is the former head of the prefectural labor committee office in Iwate. One is a former Kansai Electric Power company employee, and another was the mayor of Kasai in Hyogo. The man selected for the post in Nishinari, where the educational voucher program has begun, was the former chief municipal officer of Nakagawa-cho in Tokushima.

Eighteen of the 24 now live outside Osaka. The other six are incumbents already on the job. The 18 new ward chiefs will start work in August — except for the two who now live overseas.

One Osaka is also taking on the issue of government involvement in social welfare expenditures. That story requires a post of its own, however.

Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet, spoke to the students of the One Osaka political juku earlier this week. He commented:

“After the discussion with the class was over, I talked with Mayor Hashimoto, Gov. Matsui, and One Osaka Policy Chief Asada. I honestly hope their aspirations and energy will be the savior of Japanese politics, where ugly battles over political advantage continue keep progress at a standstill.”

Perhaps this phenomenon might be best understood as the Koizumi Reforms V.2.

Bring ‘em on!

Your Party

Your Party is the sole ally of One Osaka among the national parties. Last month, the party submitted a bill to the Diet to convert the national pension system to a pay-as-you-go scheme. The objective is to ameliorate the problem of a younger working population growing progressively smaller transferring its income to an older retired population growing progressively larger. Their plan was devised by first term upper house member Sakurauchi Fumiki, a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat who is said to be an expert on accounting.

The party also submitted a bill that would require party primaries to select candidates for Diet seats. Officials in all parties now select their candidates. By making the candidates responsible primarily to the voters rather than to the party, it would go a long way toward ending the nonsense of an insistence on straight party line votes in the Diet, with punishments for those who buck the bosses, either through conscience or personal interest.

Neither bill will be approved, but it is a glimpse of coming attractions in the event the regional rebels and their allies take control of the national government.

Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka recently issued a revised version of its eight statements of principle for the next lower house election. It too included a passage calling for a pay-as-you-go pension. Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi read the document and said, “It’s difficult to find any (policy) areas that differ from Your Party.”

He added:

“If Mr. Hashimoto himself decides to run in a general election, the impact would be tremendous. Then, each of the political forces would not have to fight separately, but work together in accord on policy and principle to stop higher taxes, prevent the resumption of nuclear power generation, and achieve regional sovereignty. Conditions could be created for a decisive battle with the tax increase coalition of the DPJ and LDP that defend groups with vested interests, starting with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

“In that event, there would be no meaning in contesting 100 or 150 seats. We must put up candidates in all 300 election districts and win a majority.”

Maybe he won’t run, but from a media report on the 28th last month:

Mayor Toru Hashimoto announced his local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group will assist candidates nationwide in the next Lower House election who favor fundamental tax reforms that would greatly reduce the central government’s power of the purse.

Hashimoto made the announcement at an Osaka Ishin no Kai fundraiser Thursday night that was attended by 1,500 people, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, a close Hashimoto supporter who is expected to field his own candidates in the next Lower House election.

The Osaka mayor criticized the way the Diet handled the recent passage of legislation to raise the consumption tax, and said changing the structure of the tax system to give local authorities more control over how the money is spent will now be the major campaign issue.

“We can change Japan by simply making the consumption tax a local tax and abolishing the system whereby the central government allocates a portion of tax money to localities. Financially, this will allow local governments to become more independent from the central government,” Hashimoto said.

Head ‘em off at the pass

The Democratic Party, their coalition partner the People’s New Party (yes, they’re still around), the Liberal Democrats, their New Komeito partners, and Your Party have reached agreement to reconcile their separate bills to create an Osaka Metro District, the signature issue of Hashimoto Toru and One Osaka. (The three bills were those submitted by #1+#2, #3+#4, and #5 respectively.) It will allow the creation of special districts resembling the 23 wards of Tokyo, which Mr. Hashimoto wants to provide with more autonomy. The chief executive officers of the wards would be chosen by election. The new bill, which will be submitted by all five parties this Diet session, will enable any specially designated city (which has authority resembling that of a prefecture) to merge with surrounding local governments if there is an aggregate population of two million.

Your Party has favored such a plan since the party’s inception, and they also propose an administrative reorganization of prefecture-level governments into a state/province system.

Mr. Watanabe again:

“Looking back on the course of events, this groundbreaking plan was created with One Osaka, and it overturns existing national law based on Your Party’s regional initiatives. The LDP and New Komeito have come closer to our position. DPJ had various (internal) issues, but they’ve compiled a plan that moves in the same direction. It’s not perfect, but it is the first step in changing Japan’s governance mechanisms.”

The other four parties, however, are backing the legislation because they think it’s an inexpensive way to co-opt the mayor and his movement, and thereby protect their seats against a local party revolt.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about that, even after the bill passes. For the NPE to give in a little to the regional rebels might have the same effect of implementing glasnost and perestroika during the Soviet endgame — hastening the process of change, rather than preventing it.

Nagoya

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi might be one of the first to take advantage of that new law in addition to One Osaka. He’s proposed a new twist to the Chukyo Metro District concept that would encompass both Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, governed by ally Omura Hideaki, another local rebel. Mr. Kawamura calls it the Owari Nagoya Republic (Owari being the name of an ancient settlement and later a domain in western Aichi), which would have a population of four million. He’s anxious to discuss it with Mr. Omura.

Gov. Omura, however, was initially lukewarm and said the republic was a different concept than the idea they both ran on in the February 2011 election they won by landslides, and they shouldn’t change.

“I don’t know whether he wants a merger with the surrounding municipalities or a regional alliance. This won’t turn out to be anything but talk unless the details are ironed out.”

Other Nagoya city officials said they understood the city and the prefecture had different ideas, but the city should keep the republic concept in mind. Mr. Omura said that Nagoya City Hall should put some more thought into the matter to determine what they want to do.

They’ll probably find common ground. They’ve got the wind at their back, and they realize it’s in their interests to work together.

Mr. Omura isn’t impressed with the NPE either, by the way:

“Moving toward a tax increase without governmental reform and without a growth strategy is nonsense. The discussions between the DPJ and the LDP were just to rig the game.”

And Mr. Kawamura opened an office for his local Tax Reduction Japan party in Tokyo on Monday. Another of his money-saving ideas is eliminating the pensions of national and local legislators. Your Party lower house member Kakizawa Mito attended the opening ceremony, but said he felt a bit out of place because Ozawa Ichiro was there as well.

The beasts

The NPE is offering new ideas of their own, and the one thing they have in common is that all of them are bad. Start with this from the Nikkei Shimbun to see what I mean:

Allowing company employees to retire at age 40 would give Japan’s labor market a much-needed churn, according to a government report outlining a long-term vision for the nation.

The “Frontier” report, issued Friday by a National Policy Unit subcommittee, recommends polices for maximizing individual and corporate productivity, with the aim of transforming Japan by 2050.

Employment policy holds prominent place in the vision. Blaming the current retirement age of 60 for hindering job turnover, the report calls for loosening employment rules to allow people to retire at 40, an age when many workers reach management positions. Companies choosing this option would be required to provide income assistance to early retirees for one to two years.

What the Nikkei article doesn’t mention, but a Japanese-language article in the Mainichi Shimbun did, is that the proposed system would allow people to work to age 75 if they want to. The idea is to create a mechanism enabling people to leave at age 40 after grinding away for some monolith, and then switch to a small, vibrant growth company.

It is not the business of government to decide when a company should let a person retire, much less act as if it were a vision for transforming the nation. Nor is it their business to require a company to pay a stipend to a person who decides to take a hike at 40 and get retraining to work somewhere else.

Freelance journalist Wakabayashi Aki recommends the government go first and put it in practice themselves, seeing as how they’ve come up with other ideas that are a model for the private sector. She cited the 20-day paid work furloughs and extending maternity leave for teachers from one year to three.

The report also recommends creating worker retraining programs, placing term limits on all employment agreements and eliminating the distinction between full-time and temporary workers.

That’s another step closer to the fascisto-progressive ideal of the corporative state. The private sector is allowed to retain ownership of the company as long as they do what the public sector wants them to do.

The proposals are certain to meet with stiff resistance from workers opposed to being pushed into early retirement, and from firms who see training young employees as an upfront investment to be recouped later.

As well as from those who realize that no one in any government anywhere has the capacity to dictate how a company should run its affairs. Had they the capacity to do so, they’d be running companies themselves.

Then again, some governments in Japan do. About 20 years ago, there was a boom in what was called the Third Sector, or in the United States, public-private sector partnerships. Companies and local governments found ways to go into business together for some do-gooder reason or another. More than 70% of them are in the red. One mini-shopping mall in my city went bankrupt within two years.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Hashimoto in Osaka has an idea how to deal with the Third Sector, too. The city and prefecture of Osaka, in partnership with another local city and a quasi-government agency, had a 70% stake in the Osaka Textile Resource Center, which was capitalized (excessively) at JPY 2.75 billion. The private sector ownership included the chamber of commerce and industry, a few companies in the textile industry, and some trading companies.

The center was created in 1990 to support and improve the textile business based on the Textile Vision of the old Ministry of International Trade and Industry in 1988. It was involved with consulting work, research surveys, design development, training, and event planning. It lost JPY 73 million in 2011, and the prefecture covered its liabilities that year with a JPY 1.033 billion loan. Nevertheless, it essentially stopped functioning last summer.

Mr. Hashimoto cut off the city stipend, and it went out of business on 15 June.

Speaking of other operations that are losing money, the Japanese government is 200% in the red. But they want to create a vision to transform Japan by redefining the employer-employee relationship?

The fertility rate would improve if people had more choices for when and where they work, the report contends.

And the cow jumped over the moon.

Said Mr. Noda about the report: “We must present a pioneering model for the state to the world.”

What makes politicians and their orbiting bureaucrats and academics think they need to create a model for the state, when it’s beyond their abilities to operate the existing ones? Every modern model created for a state has flopped face down in the mud, often accompanied by industrial-scale deprivation and death.

Some people think government is broken and needs to be fixed. That’s got it backwards. This is as fixed as government ever gets. What we’ve got now needs to be broken, rethought, and reorganized into the smallest possible units that prevent anarchy.

Not working is good for the economy

The government and the DPJ are discussing a plan to create three day weekends by providing a compensatory day off if a national holiday falls on a Saturday. That’s already the case with Sunday holidays. They think this will stimulate domestic tourism.

Don’t laugh — these are the same folks who think raising the consumption tax will encourage people to consume more.

And these are the same people who think they can create a pioneering model for the state.

As the report had it, this will be included in the Cabinet’s Japan Revival Strategy, which will also include sections for the creation of new industries, in light of the Tohoku disaster.

How can they expect to create new industries when they can’t even balance a budget?

They’re also still talking about a long holiday (a week or so) in the fall, similar to the Golden Week holiday in the spring, to be taken in shifts in regional areas. The stimulation of domestic tourism is also the objective with this plan.

It is unlikely to happen, however, because corporations throughout the country realize that a long holiday in one part of the country will be a long semi-holiday everywhere else. Politicians would realize it too, if they had ever spent quality time in the private sector.

The Japanese nanny state

From a generic media report:

As of last Sunday, restaurants were prohibited from serving raw beef liver by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, which advises heating the liver to its core before serving, especially during summer.

The ministry reviewed the hygiene standards for beef in the wake of a series of food poisoning cases at a yakiniku barbecue restaurant chain in spring last year.

The O-157 strain of E. coli bacteria was found to exist in beef liver, and no effective method of disinfecting raw liver has been determined.

The ministry is calling on food and beverage establishments to take such measures as heating liver to its center for at least one minute at 75 C, and using separate tongs, chopsticks and cooking utensils for raw meat.

Restaurants that violate the guidelines will be reprimanded by local governments.

Said Komiyama Yoko, health minister:

“We will make every effort to make sure that (the regulation) is being properly complied with.”

Another source reported that rather than reprimands, those who violate the ban could be sentenced to up to two years in jail or a JPY two million fine.

This from a country that has been eating the poisonous blowfish as haute cuisine for centuries.

Sankei Shimbun journalist Abiru Rui blogged about the subject. He was speaking casually to an aide of an LDP Diet member, and the ban came up in the conversation. She was unhappy:

“I don’t want the government to decide what I can eat! The DPJ government has spent all its time pursuing creepy, wooly-headed ideas, but this is the first time I really hate what they’ve done….”

Mr. Abiru noted that if the LDP were to propose lifting the ban on liver, it would conform to the spirit of self-help, and asked: If you strongly supported lifting the ban on the principle of individual freedom, wouldn’t you risk being branded a neo-liberal?

“Maybe.”

In other words, she was ready for it and didn’t care.

The Japanese left likes to use that expression as if it were a trump card, but they never seem do it in the presence of neo-liberals. Perhaps they’re worried they’ll get stuck with the Old Maid.

Maybe I should have Cafepress print up some neo-liberal t-shirts.

Russell Roberts recently observed that some people would never intervene in the lives of their neighbors, but are anxious to make society at large conform to whatever their cause du jour happens to be.

Those on the other side of the spectrum of government intervention often lack this humility (of intervening in the lives of strangers). They claim to know what is best for others–what they should eat, how they should behave in the bedroom, whether they purchase health insurance, and what is the best use of other people’s money. When these plans go awry, when they cause harm to those they would help, they fall back on their motives–after all, they meant well.

The Seamoon is back

Generic media report (GMR):

An army of reserve soldiers that was never mobilized after last year’s disasters has been cited as an example of waste by Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who also called for tighter control of government spending.

Funny how the Seamoon finance minister and his party couldn’t dispose of much waste at all with their policy reviews, even though they and everyone else knows where to find plenty of it. Or that he voted for his party’s three consecutive record-high budgets. Or that this minor example of government waste is the best he can do, when other people suggest that entire agencies and ministries could be eliminated entirely.

But with the likely passage of the consumption tax increase, his programmers in the Finance Ministry want him out in front on “tighter control of government spending”, much in the way they spread the silliness, parroted by the lazy English-language media, that Kan Naoto and Noda Yoshihiko were “fiscal hawks” during their terms as Finance Ministry press secretaries finance ministers. (The fiscal equivalent of wings, talons, and a knowledge of hawk behavior are requirements for fiscal hawk impersonators. They were the fiscal equivalent of wingless birds with webbed feet.)

International edition

From another generic report:

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde has praise for Japan’s move to raise its sales tax to curb the swollen national debt.

Here’s what Ms. Lagarde knows about taxes:

Christine Lagarde, the IMF boss who caused international outrage after she suggested in an interview with the Guardian on Friday that beleaguered Greeks might do well to pay their taxes, pays no taxes, it has emerged.

As an official of an international institution, her salary of $467,940 (£298,675) a year plus $83,760 additional allowance a year is not subject to any taxes.

Lagarde, 56, receives a pay and benefits package worth more than American president Barack Obama earns from the United States government, and he pays taxes on it…

Officials from the various organisations (IMF, et al.) have long maintained that the high salaries are a way of attracting talent from the private sector. In fact, most senior employees are recruited from government posts.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

China

Still another generic report:

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s political group will seek a referendum apparently with the goal of easing the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, policy proposals obtained Thursday that may be part of the group’s campaign platform for the next general election indicate.

Asian neighbors are concerned, due to historical reasons, with Japan’s move to amend its constitution, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

The standard Chinese response whenever another nation has an issue with their behavior is to dismiss it by saying it is unwarranted interference in their internal affairs. Yet whenever another country does something that rubs their fur the wrong way, such as giving a visa to the Dalai Lama or former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, or arresting fishing boat captains that run amok, they react as if they were a 70-year-old nun who had just received a proposition for anal intercourse from a sake-soaked derelict who’s lived in a cardboard box under a bridge for the past two years.

The absence of humility manifests in many different ways.

*****
Whichever directions become tomorrow’s ephemeral path to the promised land, the double disasters of the Democratic Party government and the Tohoku/Fukushima problems have had the salutory effect of arousing the public, particularly the reading and thinking public. The betrayal by the DPJ and the institutional response to the destruction caused by the earthquake/tsunami has demonstrated to everyone the necessity for taking the responsibility to take action on their own. That process has started.

There’ll be some changes made.

Afterwords:

Just 12 days after another declaration of One Osaka’s readiness to participate in the next national election, Mayor Hashimoto took everyone by surprise yet again on 10 July:

“Prime Minister Noda is amazing (sugoi). He’s worked out an agreement between five parties on a bill to create an Osaka Metro District, he’s raised the consumption tax…he supports the collective right to self-defense, he wants to join the TPP, and is also talking about a state/province system. He has expressed his sense of values and his central beliefs…There are divergent opinions within the party, but he has indicated a specific direction…He is implementing the politics of decisiveness. I think the DPJ rate of support will rapidly recover.”

Remember, two weeks ago he criticized the DPJ handling of the consumption tax and cited it as one of the reasons One Osaka would establish a national presence.

Also:

“There are people in the LDP and DPJ whose thinking is similar. We have hopes for a political reorganization. ..The thinking of many mid-tier and younger members of the LDP is similar to the prime minister’s. If affairs continue to proceed on this course, they could create a new group, and I think their popularity would soar.”

That immediately started speculation of a One Osaka – Noda DPJ alliance, although it might be possible to interpret his transcribed statements as forecasting just a rump DPJ/LDP alliance.

But Mr. Hashimoto also noted the difficulties of working with Mr. Noda as long as the DPJ maintains its ties with the public sector unions, the party’s largest support group. Among the mayor’s principal accomplishments in politics has been his readiness to pick a fight with those unions — and win. He can’t expect, nor does he want, any part of an alliance with them.

Thus, the remnants of the post-Ozawa Democratic Party would have to split further into (a) the labor union left and (b) everyone else. That would leave not so many of everyone else. Further, a realignment with elements of the DPJ and the LDP would cause a split between One Osaka and Your Party, and their members constitute an important part of the One Osaka political juku.

I would not read too much into this, for the nonce anyway. Mr. Hashimoto says all sorts of things. Four years ago, when he was Osaka governor, he said Hatoyama Yukio was sugoi. A few months ago, he said Ozawa-sensei was sugoi. It is unlikely that he takes Mr. Hatoyama seriously, and he had this to say about Mr. Ozawa when talking about Mr. Noda’s sugoi-ness:

“(The new party is) Ozawa-sensei’s idea. There are different ways of thinking, and he chose to take that action.”

You can feel the wet blanket, can’t you?

And speaking of Mr. Hatoyama, his criticism of Noda Yoshihiko on the same day was pertinent to the discussion:

“He can’t even govern the party, so how can he be expected to govern the nation?”

With Hashimoto Toru, actions speak louder than words. He’s a lawyer, after all. Better just to wait and see what he does. It’s impossible to know his strategy. What we do know is that he will do something.

*****
The NPE might be off course, but Off Course never were. This performance of Ai wo Tomenaide (Don’t Stop Love) appeared on their live double LP in the pre-digital age.

I’m knocking on the door to your heart.
And your heart is softly, softly starting to shake.

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Almost pointless

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 5, 2012

None of this is worth critiquing. It’s just like a comic book. It’s not possible to say that those who would leave everything up to Mr. Ozawa are “representatives of the people”.
– Ishiba Shigeru, former Defense Minister and LDP policy chief

TELL it as a generic story and the citizenry would rise as one with a hearty cheer, carry the protagonist on their shoulders, and storm the seat of government to take control.

A national legislator with a knack for retail politics turns his back on the monolithic party that nurtured him and strikes out on his own. He publishes a book with his vision for the country. The introduction has such an arresting image that people are still moved by it 20 years later. He forges a coalition of eight small parties that brings down the monolith, which brings down his coalition the following year. He forms a new party and joins the monolith in another coalition, but leaves again when he sees he can’t change them from the inside out. He merges his party with the primary opposition party, molds them into a credible force, and teaches them how to win elections.

Three years after that opposition party has taken control of government in a landslide victory, most people either dismiss them as incompetent amateurs or despise them. Now coopted by the establishment, the party leaders decide to break one of their critical primary election promises and join forces with the other establishmentarians, including the remnants of the monolith, to force through an unpopular piece of legislation.

The protagonist strives to change their minds. When that proves impossible, he leaves the party before it can punish him for the crime of insisting they keep the promise they’ve broken, taking about 50 allies with him. He reads a statement to a news conference with a declaration of principle so clear that even his enemies cannot object to the integrity of its content. It says, in part:

The people who lay aside their promises with the public are trashing the people who would defend those promises. When the former punish the latter, they have it all backwards.

Now tell the same story and insert the name of Ozawa Ichiro as the protagonist and listen to the cheers turn to jeers. An Asahi Shimbun poll found that only 17% of the public supported the passage of the consumption tax increase during this Diet session, yet an FNN poll revealed that only 11.1% of those surveyed had any expectations for the new party Mr. Ozawa is expected to form as a result of his opposition to the hike. (It will be the fourth new party he has created.) More telling is that 73.2% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that Mr. Ozawa is opposed to the consumption tax increase because he’s putting people’s lives first — the slogan of the DPJ, the party that’s doubling their tax rate.

After 20 years of Ozawa observation, people have concluded that for him the word “principle” is code for finding an excuse to amass power and money. Some remember that he was all in on a bureaucracy-inspired consumption tax increase during the Hosokawa administration when he floated a plan to raise it to 7% and allocate it to welfare expenditures. Some remember that he was also all in on breaking the political promise to prevent a different tax increase at the end of 2009. The DPJ said it would abolish the “provisional” gasoline surtax (it had been provisional for more than 30 years), thereby reducing taxes by JPY 2.5 trillion. When the Hatoyama government compiled its first budget that fall, Mr. Ozawa as party secretary general insisted that the tax be maintained and the revenue diverted to the general account. In those days, his demand was their command.

Finally, some people remember that 19 years ago to the month, Mr. Ozawa led another 50 Diet members out of a different ruling party, that one the LDP. (It was 54, to be exact.)

If anyone in Japan is saying anything positive about these Ozawa-events and those to come in the foreseeable future, they’ve been drowned out by the Tokyo equivalent of Bronx cheers.

An explosion less destructive than loud

It hasn’t helped that Mr. Ozawa can’t get his own ducks in a row. Neither could the New York Times, as they wrote incorrectly:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda suffered another setback on Monday when the largest faction of his governing Democratic Party quit in protest over a proposed tax increase.

The Ozawa faction might have been the party’s largest with an estimated 100 members, but only 52 of them volunteered to jump ship, two of those changed their minds at the last minute, and one more won’t join the new Ozawa party. Some of his allies abstained from voting and stayed in the party, while a third element actually voted for the bill.

As one Twitter wag put it: “That group is nothing more than a party at a karaoke box.” The numbers are short of the total needed to submit a no-confidence motion in the lower house, even with the support of his allies from different parties.

Rather than serve out front and take the heat as prime minister himself, Ozawa Ichiro prefers to establish in that position metrosexual figureheads whom the female public is more likely to find appealing. His first was Hosokawa Morihiro (whose reputation in the Diet derived from his blue blood, family wealth, and perpetual quest to shag yet another staffer), and his last was Hatoyama Yukio, the man who reminded Nakasone Yasuhiro of melted ice cream.

Mr. Ozawa seemed to be grooming Haraguchi Kazuhiro, the internal affairs minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, for that role in the future, and told him he would be a key man in a new party. Mr. Haraguchi was quite the toady two years ago, frequently stopping by the great man’s office to lick his boots and receive political instruction. He also fired an early shot at Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s back from within the party just before the Tohoku disaster extended the latter’s political life by three or four months.

But understanding that it won’t be easy to win election as a DPJ member the next time around, and next to impossible as a member of the New Ozawans, Mr. Haraguchi not only refused the offer, he dissuaded other people from bolting the party. In their gratitude, the DPJ “severely cautioned” him for abstaining from the consumption tax vote, rather than vote against it. Meanwhile, they threw out 37 members who voted against the bill and resigned from the party (you can’t quit, we cast you into the wilderness!), suspended for two months the party privileges of 18 people who voted against the bill but stayed in the party, and suspended for six months the privileges of former Prime Minister and party founder/bankroller Hatoyama Yukio, who also cast a nay vote. (Mr. Hatoyama’s explanation for his decision captured the absurdity of the situation. He said he couldn’t vote for the bill because “my face is on the cover” of the party’s manifesto that contained the promise not to raise the tax for four years.)

Mr. Ozawa is telling people that his current objective is to put together a Japanese version of the Olive Tree coalition of smaller parties to create a Third Force in politics. The original Olive Tree ruled Italy on and off from 1995-2001 and consisted mostly of various shades from the sinister side of the political spectrum, including social democrats, communists, and greens. The term was coined by Romano Prodi, a former “leftist Christian Democrat” who became prime minister. In 2001, the Olive Tree’s only self-identified centrist party was known as “Democracy is Freedom – The Daisy”.

It is not clear why Mr. Ozawa describes the goal in terms of the Italian group, considering that his coalition of eight parties with Hosokawa Morihiro as prime minister predated the Olive Tree by a year.

Barren

Be that as it may, that tree will produce little, if any, fruit. Instead of creating and leading a bandwagon of his own, he’s jumping on an existing one that doesn’t want him aboard. The parties he wants to aggregate into a coalition are the regional groups that have captivated the popular imagination and — the part Mr. Ozawa likes —- win elections by large margins. They include Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka, Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi’s Tax Reduction Japan, and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki’s Aichi is Top of Japan (yes, I typed that properly). Others mentioned as partners are a possible new party created by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro and the vanity New Party Daiichi of Suzuki Muneo, known primarily for holding the record for days spent behind bars by a Diet member. That Mr. Suzuki is the only one who might be interested captures the absurdity of this situation.

From Matsui Ichiro, the One Osaka secretary general and Osaka governor:

“There are many areas of incompatibility with their manifesto and our policies, so we will not join with people in a political group who would implement that manifesto.”

He’s referring to the DPJ manifesto and the DPJ’s failure to adhere to it, which is the nominal reason for the Ozawa revolt.

Kawamura Takashi and Omura Hideaki are thought by some to be likely recruits. Mr. Kawamura is on good terms with Mr. Ozawa, and the three met publicly in Tokyo one day after the stunning Kawamura/Omura election victories in February 2011. Mr. Kawamura was sympathetic (he also left the Democratic Party), but said he has no plans to form an alliance now.

“He had no choice, because the DPJ broke its election promise. ..I would like to talk with them about their thoughts on tax reduction and eliminating nuclear power, but first we’ll work together with Mr. Ishihara and Mr. Hashimoto.”

Ishihara Shintaro was more direct. Here he’s quoted by the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Ishihara also said Thursday in a radio program of Nippon Broadcasting System: “Nobody expects anything of Mr. Ozawa’s new party. I’d never [tie up with it] even if I had to die.”

And Omura Hideaki hasn’t said anything in public about Mr. Ozawa that I could find. He’s limited himself to criticizing the DPJ-LDP-New Komeito “collusion” to increase taxes. “I hate that kind of practice,” he said. Mr. Omura much prefers an alliance with One Osaka, and said their respective platforms are “80%-90% identical”.

The natural alliance for these groups is with the Watanabe/Eda-led Your Party, whose views on an Ozawa alliance are similar to those of Ishihara Shintaro.

But one of the national parties is interested in working with the New Ozawans: the Social Democrats, Japan’s version of the flannel-headed death spiral left who’d have had their own perch in the Italian Olive Tree house. Said party head Fukushima Mizuho:

“The Noda Cabinet has ignored the people and ignored voices within the DPJ, so the bill has come due with a large defection. I’d like to form a policy alliance with Mr. Ozawa and the others based on opposition to the consumption tax increase and nuclear power, if we can.”

All of this is an excellent illustration of the Japanese proverb Taizan meido shite, nezumi ippiki 大山鳴動して鼠一匹 (The mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse.)

When a political mountain rumbles and produces a litter of mice that consists of a handful of long-time loyalists, first-termers beholden to the mount for their seat, and the likes of Suzuki Muneo and Fukushima Mizuho, it is proof that the mountain has been downgraded to a molehill.

The only fruit on this tree.

The political platypus that is the Democratic Party is splitting up into something that will be more internally manageable. Most of the remnants will resemble the American Democrats — Third Wayers at the moderate end, and people who realize that being part of a smaller, more openly leftist party isn’t a viable career option at the other. But as the weekly Shukan Bunshun suggests, it will be hell to join the new Ozawa party, and hell to stay in the DPJ. Many of the splitters and splittees both will be looking for work after the next election.

*****
This Ozawa-DPJ timeline from the Jiji news agency might help put the recent events into focus.

2003
September: Dissolves Liberal Party into the Democratic Party
December: Becomes acting president of the Democratic Party
2004
May: Withdraws candidacy just before the election for DPJ president after the resignation of Kan Naoto, as well as other offices within the party.
June: Forms the Isshinkai study group in the party
November: Assumes role of deputy party president at the request of party president Okada Katsuya. (He or his acolytes later conducted an anonymous note/backstabbing campaign against Mr. Okada in the 2009 party presidential election that Hatoyama Yukio won.)
2005
September: Refused request of party president Maehara to become acting party president. (Ozawa = oil, Maehara = water. They mix just as well.)
2006
April: Wins election for party presidency after resignation of Maehara Seiji.
2007
November: Cuts a deal with LDP Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo for a coalition government (reportedly because he thinks the DPJ has no one capable of serving in government and they need the training). The pre-Ozawa DPJ leadership rejected the deal. He quits the party presidency in a tear-stained press conference and returned three days later. Now, four years later, the same people who rejected the idea of a coalition government have entered a de facto coalition with the LDP and New Komeito to pass the tax legislation, an arrangement that Mr. Ozawa objected to.
2009
March: Aide arrested in connection with violation of political funds law involving money from Nishimatsu Construction. The DPJ had just taken the lead in national polls for the first time ever in January. They lost the lead immediately after the arrest.
May: Resigns party presidency, becomes acting party president
September: Becomes party secretary-general when the Hatoyama administration took office.
2010
September: Loses to Kan Naoto in party presidential election.
November: Forms Hokushinkai for young party members.
2011
January: Indicted for violation of political funds law.
February: Party membership suspended; stories circulate that he will be thrown out if convicted.
June: Does not appear in Diet to vote for no-confidence motion the opposition submitted against Kan Naoto, after he encouraged it. It was likely to pass until what is now the core DPJ leadership cooked up an arrangement the night before to keep Hatoyama Yukio on board.
August: Supported Kaieda Banri for party president after Mr. Kan resigned. Mr. Kaieda lost.
December: Starts new policy study group
2012
April: Acquitted of political funds law violation.
May: Ruling appealed.
June: Votes against consumption tax increase.
July: Leaves party

*****
Some politicians write their own books (Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson), and some just put their name on the cover. We now know that Profiles in Courage was written by a committee chaired by JFK. Ted Sorenson did most of the actual work, but didn’t receive the Pulitzer Prize. Both Bill Ayers and Michelle Obama have said that Ayers wrote the first Obama book. (His speechwriter wrote the second.) Now we find that other than the famous introduction, Ozawa Ichiro’s Blueprint for a New Japan was also written by committee. One of the authors was a then-unknown Takenaka Heizo, later to become the mainstay of the Koizumi Cabinet.

*****
Here’s a blast from the past, written in 2008:

An extremely influential LDP politician who headed the party’s upper house members, Murakami Masakuni was one of the Gang of Five who controversially selected Mori Yoshiro in secret to replace Obuchi Keizo as prime minister after the latter’s stroke. Though he resigned due to a financial scandal (and is now in jail), Mr. Murakami is said to still wield significant influence behind the scenes.

The Sunday Mainichi (weekly) attached a brief interview with Mr. Murakami to the end of its piece about Hiranuma Takeo, in which the former “upper house don” gave his predictions for the next two years. Here they are:

“In two years the LDP-New Komeito coalition will not be in power. The next election will see a shift in the LDP’s strength relative to the opposition DPJ, resulting in an Ozawa Administration. The DPJ won’t have the numbers to form a government by themselves, but they will ally with Hiranuma’s new party for an anti-LDP, anti-New Komeito government. Once it is out of power for two years, the LDP will break up.”

Saying that the LDP would break up if it were to spend two years in the opposition is the easy prediction. Here’s the prediction Mr. Murakami won’t make: The Democratic Party of Japan would break up before it spent two years in power.

First, there are too many incompatible groups within the party for it to survive a disposition of the spoils and the determination of a uniform party policy. People have kept their mouths shut until now for the sake of party unity. They’ll stay open loud and long once they’re in a government together.

Second, we have the example of Mr. Ozawa’s previous experience at governing—albeit behind the scenes—with a coalition consisting of eight oil-and-water groups during the Hosokawa-Hata administrations. They lasted a combined total of 10 months.

If either an Ozawa Administration or the DPJ itself sticks around longer than that, chalk it up to the favors of Lady Luck.

There you have one of the few political predictions I’ve ever made on this site: The DPJ would break up as a unit two years after taking power.

And so it has. I was off by nine months.

Not that it was particularly prescient. It was obvious. All anyone had to do was look.

*****
Only one musical performance could serve as a theme to this sequence of events, and that’s Sakata Akira’s version of Summertime. (It’s seasonal, too!) It also might wake Gershwin from the dead. Watanabe Kazumi, who has made many discs of his own, is playing guitar. I have an old Sakata comedy/music LP on cassette tape. This video offers but the merest glimpse of his strangeness in all its over-the-top glory.

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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

**This is the second of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here.**

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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Hashimoto Toru (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

**This is the first of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents.**

One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru and others, won a landslide victory in the Osaka double election. That shows the voters are an active volcano, and that they haven’t given up on reform.
– Nogata Tadaoki

IT’S tempting to say that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is the change Japan has been waiting for, but prudence and the corruption of that phrase by the hope and change hucksters demand that we resist the temptation. This much, however, is true: Mr. Hashimoto is today the most visible manifestation of the hope for change the Japanese electorate has long demanded and voted for, but seldom gotten.

Open fires of non-violent rebellion have been burning at the local level for years, but now there is a viable receptacle for the nationwide malcontent with the malefactors of not-so-great government. Not since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, has there been a figure as important, and Mr. Hashimoto has the potential to surpass the pioneer. The difference is that Mr. Koizumi worked from the top down, but the Osaka mayor also works from the bottom up. His message is simple: power to the people. Not the people in the imagination of those who wear raised fist tee-shirts, but real people in the real world.

The mugshot of Public Enemy Number One is identical to those on the wall in the United States and Europe — a glossy PR photo of that congeries of political, bureaucratic, and academic elites grown torpid from their confiscation of public funds and their lazy, inbred assumption that they rule through the divine right of secular kings; the big business interests that go along to get along very handsomely indeed; their wingmen in the international jet set of NGO doo-gooders; and their enabler/cheerleaders of the industrial media. The default mode of operation is a slouch toward the Gomorrah of tax-and-sloth social democracy and global governance. One of the many boons of the Information Age has been the broad exposure of their “insolence of office”, in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, and the contempt the public servants have for their servants in the private sector.

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

Owing to the nature and speed of their post-Meiji and postwar development, the Japanese might be ahead of the international curve in recognizing the face of the enemy and in trying to use the means of democracy to do something about it. The response of the local mugs to the Tohoku triple disaster seems to have amplified an already present trend and created a greater urgency for action. The aim of this reform wave is not mere reorganization, but resuscitation. The woolgatherers who doubt that the country is capable of it need only to look at the relatively recent example of the heady atmosphere of change that occurred during the Meiji period after more than 250 years of isolation — a period as familiar to the Japanese as the Civil War is to Americans. The Silent Majority in this country broke their silence long ago, but it is in the mugs’ self-interest to play deaf and ignore the popular will. Now, it is at last beginning to look as if, soon or late, they will pay for their hearing disability in the way that the Liberal Democratic Party part of the problem paid in 2009.

That the eyes and ears of the nation are on Mr. Hashimoto is undeniable. He is now the most followed person on Twitter Japan, and, as the first national politician since Mr. Koizumi capable of speaking directly to the people over the heads of the know-it-alls, he is worth following for the entertainment alone. He is not the blow-dried, focus-group tested, oatmeal-mouthed, and teleprompter-fed Oz Wizard-machine politico that has been the professional ideal since JFK. Nearly every day, he fires all of his guns at once on any and every issue, explaining his ideas and his positions with lucidty, hammering his critics unmercifully with a barrage of machine-gun Tweets, so relentless that one wonders if he will explode into space. He is an attorney in a country that requires extraordinary intelligence and effort to pass the bar, so few of his foes can out-argue him, and most are left impotently spluttering. Every major newspaper carries an article about him every day, and the Sankei Shimbun and the J-Cast website make a point of featuring his continuing adventures. We’ve all heard the tired old Japan hand pseudo-wisdom that the nail that sticks out gets hammered in. Hashimoto Toru is the ultimate protruding nail, but he’s the man swinging the hammer, and the nation is spellbound.

When still an attorney/television personality before launching his political career, Mr. Hashimoto wrote a book called “Negotiating Techniques”. The publicity blurb read, “You’ll never lose the psychological war with these negotiating tactics.” When published in 2005, it sold for JPY 1,000. Now out of print, it is selling on the web for as much as JPY 24,570 per copy, with others changing hands on auction sites for JPY 20,000 and 18,000.

The start

The political attention began four years ago when he was elected to the governor of Osaka Prefecture in a walk. His approval ratings throughout his term hovered at the 70% level, and he resigned a few months before his term was to end to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (more on why later). Inspired by the simultaneous election victories of Kawamura Takashi as mayor of Nagoya and Omura Hideaki of Aichi Prefecture in that region’s triple election of February 2011, he ran as a team with Matsui Ichiro, a fellow member of his One Osaka group, who stood as the candidate to replace him as governor. Mr. Matsui, formerly of the Liberal-Democratic Party, was in his third term as a prefectural council member, and is the son of the man who was once head of the chamber.

Mr. Hashimoto took on the incumbent Osaka mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, while Mr. Matsui’s primary challenger was Kurata Kaoru, the mayor of Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mr. Hiramatsu and Mr. Kurata were officially backed by nearly everyone in established politics: the local chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. (New Komeito stayed out of it because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Hashimoto.)

It was open warfare. Hashimoto Toru said the elections were “a battle between citizens who favor change and those who have benefitted from the status quo.” Hiramatsu Kunio said the elections were “a battle to crush Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).” Kurata Kaoru didn’t know exactly what to say, so he emphasized cooperation within the existing structure. The Communists, always outspoken opponents of Mr. Hashimoto, charged a Hashimoto win would make Osaka “a bastion for dictatorship”. (Pots call kettles black in Japan too.) They went so far as to withdraw their own candidate in the mayor’s race to help Mr. Hiramatsu. It didn’t help.

There are roughly seven million registered voters in greater Osaka, and the turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92%, up 17.31 percentage points from the 2007 election and more than 60 percent for the first time since 1971, the last time a double election was held in the region. Turnout is usually at the 30% level. In the election for governor, 52.8% of the eligible voters showed up, 3.93 percentage points higher than in the previous election (when Mr. Hashimoto was elected).

Public interest was so great that the NHK television stations in the six prefectures of the region rescheduled for an earlier time the final segment of a popular drama series to present live election coverage as soon as the polls closed.

The identity of the winners was clear at 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the NHK live coverage started. Mr. Hashimoto wound up with roughly 750,000 votes, about 58% of the total and almost a quarter of a million more than Mr. Hiramatsu.

Mr. Matsui won election as the Osaka governor with roughly two million votes, almost double the total of Mr. Kurata, his closest opponent. He received 54% of the total vote in a field of six candidates.

The Asahi Shimbun (a Hashimoto opponent) said that nonaligned voters accounted for 36% of the total, and their exit polls showed that Mr. Hashimoto won almost all of them.

Though Mr. Hashimoto has an outspoken opinion on everything under the sun, moon, and stars, the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor was a proposal to combine and reorganize the separate city and prefecture of Osaka into a single administrative unit similar to that of the Tokyo Metro District to end the duplication of government services. It is part of a larger vision to eliminate Japan’s prefectures and create what is known as a state/province system, the elements of which would assume greater authority over local affairs from the national government, and would pass some of that authority down to smaller administrative units within the state/province. They would resemble Tokyo’s wards, but have more autonomy and fund procurement ability. Since the November election, the Osaka City Council solicited essay applications from people interested in becoming the chief executive officers of those wards and received 1,460. Mr. Hashimoto was pleased:

“They’ve passionately communicated their desire to make changes and take part in the great current of the age.”

Though the issue might sound dry to people outside Japan, the idea is to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire national government and bureaucracy, and deprive them of what most of the public perceives as their excessive authority. This is the vehicle to neutralize the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki through the devolution of authority. It would also have the salubrious effect of reducing the size of the national government.

Power to the people, right on!

The idea has been floating around for decades and started to gain traction in the early 90s, even among some politicians and bureaucrats at the national level. In 1996, Tajima Yoshitsuke published a book called Chiho Bunkengotohajime, or The Start of Regional Devolution, which describes the efforts at the local level nationwide and at the national level to achieve just that. One chapter, which outlines the official policy of the Murayama Tomi’ichi Cabinet in 1995 on the issue, could have been written yesterday. Plans were afoot even then to devolve authority to local governments, reform the unneeded “independent administrative agencies” that suck up public funds to serve as the receptacles for post-retirement bureaucrat employment, rethink the system in which the national government returns to local governments the taxes it collects in the form of grants (a system Mr. Hashimoto would abolish), and offer legislation allowing local governments to issue bonds. Those measures, like so many other reform proposals, were deboned, as the Japanese expression has it, by national civil servants and their allies in the political class.

For Mr. Hashimoto and other advocates to realize the plan, however, requires a substantial amount of legislation to amend existing laws and create new ones in the Diet. That in turn requires allies in the Diet, and the establishment realizes the reforms now championed by Mr. Hashimoto are an existential threat. The mayor’s solution is to get a slate of One Osaka-backed candidates ready to run in the next lower house election. He is not merely offering the nation an alternative, however. He’s declared war on the national government, just as he declared war on the old Osaka leadership.

The declaration was bound to come before long, but was issued after Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya of the Democratic Party of Japan revealed an inability to read the writing on the wall extreme even for his party and the mudboat wing of the LDP in a speech in Tsu on 28 January. He spoke of the Noda Cabinet’s proposed consumption tax increase:

“A certain percentage of the 5% consumption tax goes to the regions. There’s an argument that the national government must cut out the fat if it is to raise taxes, but local governments also ask the people to share the liability, so they should make the same efforts to cut out the fat.”

This from a party who bequeathed to the nation a legacy of record high national budgets for every one of its three years in power with record high deficit bond floats, that promised to shake out funds by standing the budget on its head until it got a nosebleed (their exact words), who claimed they could shake loose JPY 16 trillion through policy reviews that would slash waste and fat, but whose efforts to do so produced less than 10% of that amount in non-binding recommendations handed down during a series of dog and pony shows that trumpeted the cuts and muted the reinsertion of some into different budget categories weeks later.

That was a bit rich even for a man as wealthy as Mr. Okada, whose father is the head of the Jusco chain of mass merchandise outlets. It was all red meat for Mr. Hashimoto, however:

“Deputy Prime Minister Okada said local governments must also cut the fat. The central government and the regions are in complete opposition. It’s now time to accelerate the trend for recreating the system of the state. The state system of Japan devised during the Meiji restoration had centralized authority. The regions were the arms and legs of the nation…but the chief executives and the assembly members in regional areas are also chosen by election. There’s no justification for binding the nation’s arms and legs. With Okada’s statement, we can expect a great battle between the central government and the regions…

…A clear division will be made between the work of the central government and the work of the regions. Then, there will also be a clear division in the funding sources. The national tax allocations to local governments will be abolished. Then this pitiful consumption tax system, in which the regions would receive the portion that the national government increases, would end. The regions should be able to raise the consumption tax on their own responsibility…Let’s move to a national system in which there is a division of roles between the nation and the regions, with authority and responsibility clearly defined.”

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

“The Diet members are retreating, but the people are telling them what they have to do. The question is whether or not the MPs will get serious. If they don’t, it will lead to a large national war that will be bloodier than the Osaka double election.”

It wasn’t his blood on the floor after that election, either.

How would his allies do in a national election? As that old faux soldier Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general, and currently suspended member of the DPJ, continues to fade away, he told his acolytes the obvious earlier this month:

“While the rate of support for the Cabinet and the DPJ is falling day by day, One Osaka is climbing.”

For data instead of anecdote, the Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a poll on 5 March asking if the respondents had high hopes for the regional parties (a euphemism of Hashimoto’s One Osaka, though others are included).

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

Or, about twice the current public support rate of the Noda Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro (a Hashimoto supporter) is planning to create another old-guy conservative party with Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party. That was a splinter group formed specifically to stop Japan Post privatization and float on the votes of the postal lobby. The same poll asked the public if they had expectations for the codger group:

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

Further, a 16 January survey conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji TV network asked respondents which prominent political figures were most suited to be the national leader. The results:

1. 21.4% Hashimoto Toru
2. 9.6% Ishihara Shintaro
3. 8.3% Okada Katsuya


9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

The result that curdles the innards of the national parties, however, is the one from the 19 March Yomiuri Shimbun survey. In addition to individual candidates, voters in Diet elections also cast ballots for political parties to allocate proportional representation seats. For the Kinki bloc, where Osaka is located, the results were:

One Osaka: 24%
LDP: 18%
DPJ: 10%

Dumb and dumberer

Anyone who’s surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Even after years of clearly expressed popular discontent, the national parties still insist — today — on ignoring the national will. For example:

Koizumi Jun’ichiro won the second largest majority in postwar history when he dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of postal privatization to the people — a plan favored by 70% of the public. The legislation that subsequently passed the Diet called for the creation of four companies (two of which were separate firms for Japan Post’s banking business and life insurance business), and the sale of government stock in the companies by 2017.

But the triple disaster of the DPJ government, the LDP, and New Komeito put their sloping foreheads together and agreed — this week — on legislation to change the privatization framework from four companies to three, and to modify the requirement that the stock be sold by 2017 to a clause stating that the government would make every effort to sell it with the aim of disposing it. The deadline for the sale date was eliminated. In other words, they’ll sell it whenever they feel like it, and they’re unlikely to ever get in the mood. Why would they? When some people say the Japanese don’t have to worry about the deep doo-doo of deficit spending and the bonds floated to pay for it because the bondholders are domestic, they mean that much of those purchases are funded by the captive bank accounts in Japan Post. The change in language is a classic example of how reform is deboned in Japan.

The national government is in the hands of a platypus party whose members can’t agree internally on a common statement of political ideals, much less tax increases. Even many in the political class are calling for the government to reform civil service before trying to raise the consumption tax, so the Noda Cabinet proposed a 7.8% cut in government employee salaries and began discussions for unifying the pension systems of the public and private sector. (The former sector has more benefits, of course).

But that plan got changed by the party. Reform? That’s just campaign boilerplate. The cuts will now be limited to national government civil servants, which results in only JPY 600 billion savings, and will last for only two years. The civil servants working in regional areas have an aggregate salary seven times greater than their national trough lickers, but they were exempted. The butchers handling this deboning were DPJ-affiliated labor union leaders and labor union-affiliated DPJ Diet members, led by party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former Robin Redbreast of the Japan Teachers Union.

Prime Minister Noda this weekend continued his Dark Churchill impersonation by declaring he would stake his political life on passing a tax increase, i.e., maintaining the spendthrift status quo of the administrative state. He also spoke at a Tokyo conference of business executives on the 24th on the subject of Japan’s participation in the TPP trade partnership:

“If Japan is Paul McCartney, then the U.S. is John Lennon. It is not possible to have The Beatles without Paul. The two must be in harmony.”

This brings to mind Juvenal’s observation of two millennia ago that it is difficult not to write satire.

One of the factors driving Hashimoto Toru’s popularity is that nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

*****
The man was born to be wild. So is this pedal-to-the-metal performance. For those unfamiliar with Kuwata Keisuke, he sings the same way in Japanese, and it’s sometimes hard to say just what language he is singing in.

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The revolution in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 3, 2011

In short, the central power had taken to playing the part of an indefatigable mentor and keeping the nation in quasi-paternal tutelage.
– Alexis de Tocqueville on France’s pre-revolutionary Bourbon governments

Today we are in the midst of a cultural U-turn away from a Hamiltonian meritocratic-elitist, centralized-power society to a more Jeffersonian Main Street focus, with state and local governments as the primary powerbrokers.
– Salena Zito

This is a citizens’ revolution
– Kawamura Takashi

THE REVOLUTION that’s been smoldering for years at the grassroots level in Japan like a smoky mound of autumn leaves has finally blossomed into flame. Ever decorous, the Japanese are not heaving crates of tea into Tokyo Bay, nor have they stormed the Imperial Palace or the Diet Building. This civil war is being conducted with civility.

Yet after the votes were counted the so-called Triple Election held last month in the city of Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture, they were just as surely carrying the heads of the politicos on stakes through the streets as if they had used the French National Razor to detach and dump them in straw-lined baskets.

The editorialists of the Asahi Shimbun wrote that they were surprised by the results, but if they’re serious, it suggests a level of obtuseness remarkable even for an out-of-touch establishment. In every national election since 2005, the voters of this country have spelled out their preferences so clearly only a political illiterate could fail to have read the writing on the wall. Koizumi Jun’ichiro used the votes of local Liberal Democratic Party members to storm into office in 2001 on pledges of privatization, reform, and ending the collusion between the bureaucracy and his own party. He began with public approval ratings in the 80s and ended five years and five months later at 70%, one year after winning a two-thirds supermajority in the lower house in a 2005 election called specifically for a verdict on his plan to privatize Japan Post. After the LDP reverted to its wicked old ways, the voters finally took a flyer on the opposition Democratic Party and their promises of a bright new political order. But it was only a matter of weeks before the DPJ exposed themselves as sheep in wolves’ clothing, and now it’s their turn to be torched.

It’s easy to see why national politics causes Japanese observers to be distressed and the inexpert foreign journalists to be dismissive–when they bother to pay attention. The political class has been neutered in domestic affairs by a bureaucracy that actively competes for power, and in foreign affairs by the United States, which still treats the country as its fiefdom three generations after the end of the war. This arrested development is compounded by a Westminster system of government not conducive to developing executive abilities. The result is that governance is nominally in the hands of people whose only expertise is waging an ever-shifting and amorphous battle for political advantage through plots hatched in the private rooms of expensive traditional Japanese restaurants

The difference at the subnational level, however, is as stark as the contrast between the mud and the clouds, as the expression has it, and it’s no longer hidden. Here’s an excerpt from a roundtable discussion published last month by Gendai Business Online. Three of the participants were former Finance Ministry official and now professor/journalist Takahashi Yoichi, professor/blogger Ikeda Nobuo, and newspaper editor Hasegawa Yukihiro.

*****
Takahashi: In an election now, parties other than the DPJ and LDP, such as Your Party, for example, would take votes. But that will be difficult unless they crush the big parties in some way.

Hasegawa: I want to point out one mechanism for smashing them: The revolt at the local level. (What’s happening in) Nagoya, Akune, or Osaka is at bottom the same. The frustration felt by the average citizen, the frustration at the public sector—that’s become a (form of) energy, and the impulse to destroy the current system is the backdrop to it.

Ikeda: The things being done by Nagoya Mayor Kawamura (Takashi) are rather disjointed, but I strongly sense the frustration at the regional level and the people’s expectations for them. That even someone like Hashimoto Toru (the governor of the Osaka Metro District), a strange person who has become so prominent, can be so enthusiastically supported, shows just how fed up the people are with the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.

It’s become very difficult for one government to govern 130 million people. There are 300 million people in the United States, and while the federal government has a certain amount of authority, local governments have a lot of power. We’ve reached the limit for (the ability of) Kasumigaseki to completely rule 130 million people, as in Japan. To use what Mr. Hashimoto said as an example, it’s the Big Business Disease. It’s gotten so big that the mechanism is no longer mobile.

Ikeda: From the perspective of a person in the Kansai region, the center of culture is the Kansai. They probably wonder why Kasumigaseki has to have a say in everything. With that power, it would be interesting if they were to do something like declare their independence.

*****
That discussion appeared days before the elections in Nagoya and Aichi, after which the more perceptive editorialists at the Mainichi Shimbun wrote: You could feel the earth move.

The election

The rumpled, folksy, and ambitious Kawamura Takashi resigned after five terms in the lower house of the Diet to become a candidate in the Nagoya mayoralty election of 2009. Mr. Kawamura was primed to channel the intense dissatisfaction with local government that has been building for years, predating the Tea Party movement in the United States. In addition to the universal arrogance and avoidance of accountability by the politicians, it was fueled by oversized legislatures, slush fund scandals, and research fund expense accounts spent on personal entertainment rather than the study of issues. Within the past decade the public has forced local legislators throughout the country to provide receipts for the use of their research fund allowances, and everyone saw how quickly and drastically expenditures declined—often by as much as 70%-80% compared to years when no receipts were required.

Kawamura Takashi on election night

Mr. Kawamura ran on a platform that he dubbed a citizen revolution. He won with a record number of votes in Nagoya elections by promising a permanent 10% reduction in local taxes and the formation of volunteer citizens’ groups with elected members, called neighborhood councils. These groups would have a say in determining the allocation of city funds in their districts. To this he later added halving the annual city council salaries of JPY 16 million (roughly $US 195,000)—a substantial amount individually as well as in the aggregate, considering that Nagoya, a city of 2.26 million, has 75 city council members. In contrast, the slightly larger city of Chicago has 50 aldermen, and the similar-sized city of Houston has to make do with 14 (soon to be 16). The mayor made a point of stating that politicians should be the first to suffer in bad economic times. He also went first—cutting his own salary to JPY eight million from more than 27.5 million.

The events that played out in Nagoya for more than a year contain enough drama for a film script, though the movie is a familiar one throughout Japan. The city council was not about to line up behind the new mayor’s program, but passed the tax cut only after a newly formed citizens’ group threatened a petition drive to recall them. When the group lost its focus a few months later, the council rescinded the permanent tax cut and limited it to one year. Mr. Kawamura reintroduced legislation to make the reduction permanent, but the council rejected it by a vote of 73-1, claiming they had already discussed the issue enough.

That’s when the cold war turned hot. The mayor launched a petition campaign to recall the city council against almost impossible odds—the signatures of one-third of Nagoya’s voters were required in one month—but defied expectations by succeeding after more unanticipated drama. When the recall election was officially announced, he resigned and declared his candidacy for reelection, in effect taking his case directly to the voters. Both elections were to be held on the same day as the regularly scheduled election for the governor of Aichi Prefecture, where Nagoya is located.

Employing savvy political instincts, Mr. Kawamura convinced the most popular local politician of the opposition LDP, Omura Hideaki, to resign his lower house Diet seat and run for governor. Mr. Omura was a former Agriculture Ministry bureaucrat who rose quickly in the party ranks after turning to politics, earning an appointment as deputy minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare. His campaign was based on another idea that is gathering momentum in Japan. That is a form of devolution and regionalism that involves the reorganization of territorial political units at the subnational level into larger entities with more authority. A large body of opinion nationwide favors the provision of greater power to the regions through the restructuring of the prefectural system into a province/state system. Mr. Omura calls his idea the Chukyo-to Concept, which would create a larger entity unifying Nagoya and Aichi with the neighboring prefectures of Mie and Gifu.

It’s important to know that both Nagoya and Aichi are a stronghold of the ruling Democratic Party. The area is the home of Toyota, and labor unions have a strong political influence. Aichi has 15 directly-elected seats in the Diet, and the DPJ won them all in their 2009 landslide. Mr. Omura lost his single-district seat in that election, but was returned to the Diet through proportional representation.

Both major parties recognized the Kawamura/Omura campaign as an existential threat. The DPJ was the more desperate of the two; their standard bearers have been pummeled in local elections throughout the country for the past year, and they were desperate for a victory before local elections are held throughout the country in April. The new allies ran on a program of tax reduction, while the DPJ at the national level is trying to convince people that a significant tax increase and record high budgets will be the salvation of the country.

Omura Hideaki on election night

Meanwhile, the LDP asked Mr. Omura to leave the party when he declared his candidacy and ran an officially sanctioned party candidate against him. The DPJ liked their chances in the governor’s race because their organization in Aichi, based on the Toyota unions, is the second largest local prefectural organization in the country after Tokyo. They also expected the two LDP candidates to split the vote.

The DPJ backed Ishida Shigehiro for Nagoya mayor, and he also received the official endorsement of the ruling party’s coalition partners, the People’s New Party, and their former coalition partners, the Social Democrats. He also had the unofficial support of the LDP.

The results of the Triple Election were obvious an hour after the polls closed, all the more remarkable because votes in Japan are counted by hand. Kawamura Takashi was reelected mayor with 73% of the vote in a field of four. He received three times as many votes as the runner-up. Exit polls showed he was the choice of 78% of DPJ supporters, compared to 21.1% for the official DPJ candidate. He also received votes from 78.9% of the independents, significant in a country where the most reliable poll suggests more than half of the electorate are non-aligned.

Omura Hideaki took a skoche under 50% of the vote for governor in field of five, but his was the second-highest total ever in absolute numbers. The DPJ was correct in assuming that the two LDP candidates would split the party’s vote, but that made the results even more difficult to digest—the official LDP candidate finished second, while the DPJ candidate finished third. In fact, exit polls showed that 46.1% of the LDP supporters backed their party’s designated candidate compared to 42.8% for the apostate Mr. Omura. In contrast, 53.9% of the DPJ supporters crossed party lines to vote for him, while only 27.7% stayed with the ticket. New Komeito, which is still informally allied with the LDP at the national level, backed Mr. Omura.

Finally, in a straight up or down vote, 71% of the voters chose to support the mayor and recall the city council. Nagoya is what is known as a specially designated city, which means it has authority similar to that of a prefecture. It was the first time the electorate of a specially designated city recalled their city council. The new election will be held on March 13, and already Mayor Kawamura has formed a local party to back his own slate of candidates.

The dismal swamp of local politics

Aikawa Toshihide, a journalist who specializes in local government, explains in Diamond Online why serious reform is required to resuscitate what is all too often government in name only at the subnational level:

“In Japan, the system of centralized authority in which the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy) butts into everything and controls all the money has long been the norm. It has therefore become customary for the chief municipal officers, employees, and legislators of local governments to conduct their work while looking in the direction of the national government (the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy), and not the people. Local government exists in form only, and the conduct of governmental affairs under national guidance is unchallenged. The tripartite structure of the executives, employees, and legislators has left the people behind.”

The executives and the legislatures of local governments are elected separately, unlike the parliamentary system used at the national level. Thus the ideal is for the two branches to operate in a system of checks and balances, such as the national government in the United States. In practice, however, Mr. Aikawa notes that the result more often is collusion between the two branches.

That’s illustrated by an Asahi Shimbun questionnaire survey conducted this January of 1,797 prefectural and municipal legislatures. The response rate was 100%. They found that in the four years from January 2007 to the present, 50% of the legislatures neither amended nor rejected a bill submitted by the executive. Further, 91% of the legislatures submitted no legislation of their own. Finally, 84% of the legislatures do not reveal the votes of individual legislators on bills. One-third of the legislatures fell into what the newspaper called the three noes category—they answered no to all three questions.

During the period surveyed, the executives submitted on average 414 bills to legislatures, and 82% of the legislatures either rejected or amended three or fewer of the bills.

Former Diet member and Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi speaks from experience:

“Most people probably look at the Diet and get the impression that discussion gets nowhere. When local chief municipal officers and legislatures have competing agendas, the stalemate in the assembly is 10 times worse. Conditions are now such that our only chance to pursue reform is for the executives to charge head first into the legislatures, as Mr. Kawamura has done.”

While Mr. Nakada does believe the system of checks and balances is important, he thinks the problem of the legislatures is greater than being unable to see the forest for the trees:

“It’s as if they’re talking about the shape of the knots and criticizing the way branches are cut.”

Yokohama has 92 city council members, the most of any Japanese city, and Mr. Nakada thinks that number could be slashed to 10. He also thinks that to conduct city business, there should be an increase in staff, a larger budget for research expenses, and a shift to the Westminster system for local governments of a certain size. Most municipal assemblies in Japan convene only four months out of the year.

Nagoya, meanwhile, has 75 city council delegates from 16 municipal election districts with from two to seven delegates representing each district. Winning elections requires a political organization and party support, so there are few independents. Many of the council members have emerged from labor unions or political families, while some were former aides to Diet MPs, a practice not uncommon in Japan. The key to remaining in office is party loyalty.

That explains a very low pre-Kawamura voting rate for elections in Nagoya and Aichi–usually near 40%. The turnout for the 2005 mayoralty election was 27.5%, while that for City Council in 2009, when Mr. Kawamura was at the top of the ticket, was still less than 40%. Post-Kawamura, the turnout for all those elections has been greater than 50%.

The Kawamura philosophy

Into this stagnant backwater stepped Kawamura Takashi, promising at first a tax cut and greater citizen control over budget expenditures, and then upping the ante to halving the salaries and eliminating the pensions of City Council members. He is no more an opportunist than any other professional politician, because his political objectives do have a philosophical foundation. He thinks people should be engaged in politics with a volunteer spirit, and he does not hide his disdain for the professionals who turn it into a life-long occupation:

“Legislators and government officials are public servants. I want to stress that as the starting point for politics.”

As for the remuneration received by the political class:

“Taxpayers really have to struggle. It is truly unacceptable for the people who live off of taxes to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle.”

As the Tea Partiers in the United States look to their national history for inspiration, Mr. Kawamura intends to revive an even older idea in Japan:

“I want to have a citizens’ revolution of the type created by Oda Nobunaga, who enabled the everyday person to engage in commerce through the policy of rakuichi rakuza.”

The latter term is usually translated as “free markets and open guilds”. It refers to the 16th century policy of eliminating market taxes and the monopolistic privileges of trade associations. That policy was implemented by regional warlords, or daimyo, to concentrate authority in castle towns and attract merchants and craftsmen to increase wealth and production.

The first recorded instance of the elimination of market taxes occurred in 1549 in what is now Shiga Prefecture. The first example of eliminating trade association monopolies, which had a greater impact, occurred in 1576 in what is now Fukui Prefecture. These measures were most closely associated with Oda Nobunaga, but they were continued and extended nationwide by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his successors. There were inconsistencies in application, as with any human endeavor, but the result was the creation of a market economy centered on castle towns rather than noble houses and religious establishments due to the granting of patronage.

Mr. Kawamura also wants to cut the municipal corporate tax to attract people and companies to Nagoya. He explained his reasoning in an interview in the 4 June 2010 edition of the weekly Shukan Asahi:

“Tax cuts are necessary because reform alone means that the leftover money is just redistributed within the government. Cutting taxes is the only way to make government more efficient. Lower taxes means that the budget will have to be cut, and that includes privatization of public services.”

He points out that city council members work only 80 days a year, and claims the tax revenue loss will amount to only 1.4% of the total budget. For this work, they receive a nominal salary of JPY 16 million, though others say the total is closer to JPY 35 million when all the benefits are added. Political parties also give each member five million more.

One City Council member claims that her take-home pay amounts to only JPY 390,000 a month after the deductions for income tax and contributions to three separate pensions. Legislators in other local governments have similar complaints, though none as extreme as hers (and she doesn’t explain why a third pension specifically for legislators is required). She complains that the salary Mr. Kawamura has in mind would be better suited for legislatures that meet in the evening, as in some European cities. Now there’s an idea!

On the ground

The disgruntled in the political class sometimes complain about voters that fail to grasp issues in the way they should be understood, but it would difficult to make that claim in Nagoya/Aichi. That battle was engaged for more than a year, so it should be obvious from the election results that the people want what Mr. Kawamura is offering. As support for the first Democratic Party government plummeted nationwide, falling from 70% to less than 20% in eight months–and faster and lower than that for the successor government of Kan Naoto–the mayor’s approval rating stood at 63.6% after six months in office and 61% after a year.

One reason is his demonstrated mastery of retail politics. In addition to cutting his own salary to the level he wants the council members to receive, the mayor gave up his official automobile and leases a minicar for JPY 14,700 a month. When traveling outside the city, he books a regular or reserved ticket on trains. He’s also more accessible than most Japanese politicians, showing up unannounced to civic events. After he attended a traditional festival last year and circulated among the crowd, one of the organizers marveled that it was the first time one of the mayors showed up in the 15 years he had been involved with the event.

He’s also found more ways to save money besides tax and salary cuts and the elimination of the JPY 42.2 million pension for council members. Slush funds are endemic at the subnational level of Japanese government, and the usual practice is for companies doing business with local government to submit phony bills. A percentage of the money used to pay those bills is funneled back to the government, and recent exposes have uncovered the use of those funds by civil servants for all sorts of fun and games, including drinking parties and softball team uniforms. The investigation into the Nagoya slush funds had been closed, but Mayor Kawamura reopened it in August 2009 and dug up JPY 39 million more.

After City Council backtracked and converted the permanent tax cut into a one-year only measure, Mr. Kawamura resubmitted legislation for the permanent cut the following month:

“Limiting it to one year is not a tax reduction, it’s a benefit payment…Many people say that tax reduction is “Kawamura Populism”, but that isn’t so. It is tax reduction that is politics.”

City Council Chairman Yokoi Toshiaki retorted that the city had floated JPY 45 billion in bonds to cover the revenue shortfall, and that council members’ were already the lowest of the nation’s five largest cities. The council rejected the bill 73-1.

At that point the combatants stopped taking prisoners. The mayor’s response was to create a political group called Tax Reduction Japan. They began to circulate petitions to recall City Council in August. It was surely no coincidence that the same month, the DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito council members concluded it would be a good idea to reduce their own salaries to JPY 13.93 million from 16.33 million.

Few thought the petition drive would succeed. The law required 366,124 valid signatures to be collected in one month. The legal definition of a signature for a petition in Japan includes a voter’s full name, address, date of birth, and seal. The list of signatures is disclosed to the public, which might cause some voters who support specific delegates to refrain from signing. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications reports that 59 petitions have been filed to recall legislatures, which resulted in 33 referendums and 28 actual recalls. No recall election had ever been held in cities with more than 200,000 voters.

Declared an LDP member of the Nagoya City Council:

“They can’t possibly collect that many signatures. The local media is saying the same thing. They’ll just self-destruct.”

Had he read the poll numbers, he might have held his tongue. When the drive started, the mayor was supported by 83% of DPJ backers and 67% of independents.

Morokuma Shushin, the leader of the DPJ caucus in the Nagoya City Council asked the party to revoke its endorsement of the mayor:

“We’ve put up with one thing after another, but the mayor’s anti-party act was the last straw.”

The mayor fired back:

“What anti-party act? The DPJ’s council caucus was the one responsible for the anti-party act. I’ve been working to achieve the campaign promises that the party endorsed, but they joined with the LDP and New Komeito to oppose them. This is an impossible situation, so recall is the only option.”

Okamoto Yoshihiro, the leader of the LDP caucus, stepped up the rhetoric:

“I’ve consistently called for cooperation, but that’s not longer possible in this situation. The mayor’s methods are violent, and I’m concerned.”

Down and dirty

His concern was not misplaced. The petition drive ignited a fire among the city’s voters, and the group submitted 465,000 signatures early in October, well more than the amount required. The establishment was so concerned, in fact, they tried to prevent the election from happening. It took the Election Commission six weeks to review all the signatures, and they threw out more than 100,000 because they maintained the strict rules for collectors weren’t followed. Those rules require that signatures be collected by either an official representative of a group or a person named a delegate by a representative. Of the signatures submitted, roughly 110,000 did not have the name of a designated delegate as the collector, which meant they had to have been collected by a representative. The Election Commission decided it wasn’t possible for one person to successfully fish for that many signatures. They declared the signatures invalid, which meant that the petition no longer had the amount required.

Supporters of the recall immediately called foul and questioned the commission’s impartiality. Nagoya has 16 separate district commissions, one for each election district, and one commission overseeing the entire city. The City Council approves all the members, and the commission for the city has four members. Three of them are former City Council delegates, one each from the DPJ, the LDP, and New Komeito. (The fourth is a retired school principal who isn’t a politician.) They receive a salary of roughly JPY 35,000 a month and are required to attend a biweekly meeting.

The people who circulated the petitions insisted it was indeed possible for one person to collect that many signatures, as they set up stations at sites with heavy pedestrian traffic and often received more than 2,000 a day. Staffers in the Election Commission office itself told the media those signatures wouldn’t have been ruled invalid in the past, and the school principal, the only non-politician among the commissioners, agreed. The other three commissioners, led by the chairman—the New Komeito veteran—initially held firm. They even floated the possibility of asking each of the signers to identify the person who collected their signature—a time-consuming process that would permit other disqualification techniques–but after an appeal was filed, the signatures were ruled valid on 15 December.

Meanwhile, in mid-September the governor of Aichi announced he would not be a candidate for reelection. On 6 December Mr. Omura told a news conference he would resign his Diet seat and run on the Kawamura platform. Two days later, the LDP asked him to leave the party. The recall election was formally declared on 17 December. On 21 January Mr. Kawamura delivered his coup de théâtre by resigning with more than two years left in his term and declaring he would be a candidate to replace himself, thus setting up the Triple Election to be a popular referendum on his policies.

Nationalizing the election

Nagoya and Aichi became the political equivalent of California during the Gold Rush. The two major national parties dispatched their heaviest hitters to campaign for their own candidates against the Kawamura-Omura team. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya, a native of neighboring Mie, visited frequently, though his presence had the opposite of the effect intended. Commented a DPJ MP from Aichi:

“More than half of Mr. Kawamura’s supporters are DPJ supporters. Every time Mr. Okada criticized Kawamura, they moved farther from the DPJ. The national party issued an order forbidding people from supporting him and kept party MPs from attending a function for him on the 24th. Not only that, but at the national level, Prime Minister Kan is calling for a tax increase. We can’t wage a campaign that way.”

The DPJ also sent three Cabinet ministers, to little effect: the photogenic Ren Ho, Justice Minister and former upper house president Eda Satsuki, and then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito. The appearance of Mr. Sengoku, however, was a typical error in party judgment. First, he is the symbol of the government’s mishandling of the incident in the Senkaku Islands with China. Second, it came as no surprise that a man of the left whose behavior was an insult to parliamentary courtesy every time he opened his mouth in the Diet would be the one to compare Mr. Kawamura to Adolph Hitler. Godwin’s Law is just as applicable in Japan as it is elsewhere, however. The public failed to see how a direct appeal to the people by resigning and running again and getting more votes than the other candidates made Mr. Kawamura Hitlerian.

Dropping by from the opposition LDP was party head Tanigaki Sadakazu, MP Kono Taro, a high-profile member who is the Minister of Reform in the party’s Shadow Cabinet, and former Koizumi ally Katayama Satsuki.

The Osaka Ishin no Kai campaign in Nagoya

The election also attracted allies to the cause. The shoot-from-the-lip and wildly popular enfant terrible Hashimoto Toru, governor of the Osaka Metro District, led a group of 100 people to Nagoya to campaign for Mr. Kawamura. Mr. Hashimoto, perhaps the most visible politician outside of Tokyo supporting regionalism, was returning a favor. The Nagoya mayor visited Osaka in April to campaign for Hashimoto backers in the Metro District’s legislative election.

The blowback

The DPJ was appalled by the result. Internal Affairs Minister Katayama Yoshihiro was the point man leading the party’s attack squad:

“To resign as mayor and run again in the subsequent election just to create interest is perverse.”

And:

“The idea of forming a ruling party that agrees with everything the executive submits is different from the system envisaged (with checks and balances). There are undeniable concerns it could lead to dictatorial politics.”

He had plenty of ideas about what he would have done instead:

“Mr. Kawamura climbed out of the ring, joined the spectators, and criticized the people in the ring. If it were me, I would have persuaded the City Council instead of working for its recall”

And:

“If I were the head of a local government, I would do everything in my power to reform government to direct the savings into reducing the enormous debt that local governments carry. Reducing taxes in spite of this debt is dubious from the perspective of long-term fiscal operations.”

He also suggested in a roundabout way that the popular movement was really a contagious disease.

The chairman of the DPJ’s Election Campaign Committee, Ishii Hajime, took a different tack:

“It was an election in one area, and rather than a battle between parties was something that occurred in Nagoya, a unique place. The result is not a decisive blow…it was a bit like a typhoon that’s hard to understand…it was a wonderful performance in the Kawamura Theater.”

The new DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio tried to a leaf from the failed Obama playbook:

“We haven’t sufficiently communicated to the public what we’ve done since the Hatoyama administration.”

He refused further comment on the matter.

The losers in the race were just as bitter. After seeing the results, Yokoi Toshiaki said he would accept the people’s verdict, but refused to say any more: “I am no longer a council member.” He had worked in the campaign asking people not to sign the recall petition. Mr. Yokoi left with this parting shot:

“Can we call it democracy when a mayor has the authority to make final decisions?”

The losing DPJ mayoralty candidate, Ishida Yoshihiro, cried at his post election news conference and claimed he had been made to play the heel for the city council.

Others with less directly at stake had a clearer picture of what had happened. Here’s Shimoji Mikio, the secretary-general of the People’s New Party, part of the ruling national coalition:

“This result is more serious than simply being defeated in an election. We share the harsh recognition that it is a rejection of the coalition government of the DPJ and the PNP, and that we should rework our strategy.”

Even more to the point was Osaka Mayor Hiramatsu Kunio:

“It calls into question the raison d’être of the existing political parties.”

Your Party

Of more interest than the sour grapes of the DPJ and the LDP deadheads, however, is the approach of Your Party. These reformers would seem to be soulmates of Mr. Kawamura and Mr. Omura, as their platform is based on cutting government expenditures and devolution. The party was formed and is led by the outspoken LDP renegade Watanabe Yoshimi and the cool and cerebral Eda Kenji. Mr. Watanabe was initially interested in forming an alliance with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto in 2009. Mr. Eda, however, counseled against it. The governor is unpredictable, follows his own agenda, and does not fit the image of sober responsibility the party wants to present.

Mr. Watanabe actively supported the Nagoya recall, however, and visited several times to help collect signatures in the petition drive. He dropped broad hints that if the recall were successful, his party would run candidates in the City Council election allied with Mr. Kawamura. He also made it clear that he hoped they would support the Your Party candidate for Aichi governor, Yakushiji Michiyo. Ms. Yakushiji ran on a platform of cutting the governor’s and delegates’ salaries by 30%, bonuses by 50%, and personnel expenses by 20%, and the party leader visited Aichi seven times to campaign for her. She did not, however, support the call for a tax reduction.

Once Mr. Kawamura recruited Mr. Omura of the LDP to run for governor, however, Your Party has been less enthusiastic. Mr. Eda had always kept his distance; he thought it was irresponsible to call for a tax cut while ignoring the city’s debt and its reliance on subsidies from the national government to meet its budget. After the election, Mr. Watanabe said he thought the Kawamura-Omura alliance would be short-lived, as they came from different political backgrounds.

Kawahara the man

What of the man who pulled off what the media immediately dubbed a hat trick? He’s a natural politician with a knack for connecting directly with the people. Mr. Kawahara campaigned in Nagoya on a bicycle wearing the cap of the local Chunichi Dragons baseball team to cover his perpetually unkempt hair. City officials say he’s appeared at public events three times as often as his predecessors. He understands instinctively the advice former Alabama Gov. George Wallace gave Jesse Jackson when the latter ran for president in 1988: “You’ve got to keep the grass down where the goats can get at it.”

Before turning to politics, Mr. Kawamura worked in the family business, a small enterprise dealing with used paper. He has attributed his ideas about public finance to the experience gained in a business sector where price competition is fierce.

He’s also a regionalist who makes a point of using the Nagoya dialect in public interviews, though that’s not what he calls it. He asked the quasi-public national broadcaster NHK to replace the word “dialect” with the word “language” when referring to Japan’s many regional linguistic variations. “It’s discrimination against the regions and a mistake to call a region’s language a dialect. The language of Tokyo is not the standard language (標準語), it is the language of common use(共通語). They should call it the Nagoya language instead of the Nagoya dialect.”

He cites his approach as the reason for his success:

“People have at a minimum understood that I’m working from a citizens’ perspective. The awareness of the citizens is steadily changing. I think it’s important in itself that they’ve become more interested in municipal government.”

The mayor has been a reformer from the start of his career, winning election to the Diet as a member of Hosokawa Morihiro’s New Party. Mr. Hosokawa later became prime minister in the early 90s at the head of an eight party coalition that was the first non-LDP government since 1955. After the New Party folded, Mr. Kawamura finally came to ground in the DPJ. His popularity transcends party, however, as he easily kept his seat in the 2005 Koizumi LDP landslide. He’s always had designs on the executive branch, becoming something of a joke in DPJ circles by his attempts to run for party president. He tried to become a candidate in three separate DPJ elections, but couldn’t round up the minimum of 20 members needed for a formal recommendation.

He says he’s still interested in becoming prime minister, though the Asahi Shimbun is openly skeptical of that claim—he’d have to resign again and run for the Diet—but it might be for the best that he’ll probably never get the job. In an international context, his views on other issues would overshadow his vision for domestic affairs. For example, he was a member of a committee to verify the facts of the comfort woman issue and the Nanjing massacre. He “tends to deny”, as it some have it, the responsibility of the Japanese government.

His name appeared on the full page ad in the 14 June 2007 edition of the Washington Post protesting the US lower house resolution about the comfort women and demanded its withdrawal. In 2006, as a member of the opposition, he submitted a formal request to the government to reinvestigate and verify the “so-called Nanjing Massacre”. He asked the government to rectify its views about the grounds for the assertion in school textbooks that Japanese troops killed citizens and prisoners. His position is diametrically opposed to the sleep-on-a-bed-of-nails types in the left wing of his party.

In answer to a question in the Nagoya City Council on 15 September 2009, he said “It (Nanjing) occurred during the general conduct of hostilities. I have a sense that a mistaken impression was conveyed (by the government). The government must properly verify and correct that impression for the sake of Japanese-Sino friendship.” His stand was all the more remarkable because Nagoya and Nanjing have a formal sister city relationship that almost ruptured because of his views.

He is opposes voting rights for permanent residents and supports amending Article 9 of the Constitution, the so-called Peace Clause. Yet unlike most people in that philosophical camp, he was opposed to the adoption of the law for the national anthem and flag in the late 90s.

The future

When asked by the media what happens next, Mr. Kawamura said: “The operation for the Normandy Landing starts now.” His Tax Reduction Japan group hopes to run about 40 candidates for the 75 seats at stake in the City Council election. He also plans to campaign for them, which bothers some people who think it’s improper behavior for an elected official to play politics on the public’s time. One has to admit that sense of indignation is a refreshing contrast to the American attitude, to cite one example. Few complain when the President gasses up Air Force One and flies around the country to stump for his favored candidates in local elections.

***
Mr. Omura wanted to step right up and start cutting taxes, but Mr. Kawamura says the timing of the City Council election and the start of a new fiscal year will prevent real action until 2012. The Aichi governor now agrees, saying that the earliest his administration will be able to get that measure through the prefectural council is December, with the reduction to take effect in 2012.

***
The Nagoya mayor might have to spend more time promoting his idea of local committees with elected citizen volunteers to review tax expenditures. So far, only 8.7% of the electorate has voted in these elections, leading one observer to suggest that the program is suffering from incomplete combustion. Others point to the greater citizen interest in the recent elections, and think the past year has been the first step in a process that will flower over the long term as more people realize just how much political power they have.

There are signs that’s already happening. The city recently held a seminar for potential City Council candidates to explain the election procedures, and 150 people showed up to listen. Four years ago, 98 attended.

***
Mr. Kawamura wants to create alliances with other like-minded chief execs of the type he’s already formed with Osaka Gov. Hashimoto. The latter was so excited by Mr. Kawahara’s victory that he immediately proposed a 30% cut in the salaries of Osaka Metro District legislators. Some local opponents who still don’t understand the concept of popular will derided this as an imitative performance. One Metro District delegate from New Komeito said he wanted to oppose the measure but couldn’t because of the upcoming election in April.

The mayor also told the Asahi Shimbun he was looking for suitable candidates to support for governor in neighboring Mie Prefecture and a by-election for the lower house Diet seat in Aichi district #6.

Nationwide

This was already a national movement before the Nagoya/Aichi elections. Five municipal executive officers in Saitama Prefecture, including the mayor of Saitama City, have formed a group called Saitama Kaientai also calling for devolution and smaller government. A group of city council members in Matsuyama created the Matsuyama Ishin no Kai. The leader says they’ll hold off on formally making it a political party until they see what happens with legislation at the national level designed to facilitate greater local autonomy. The Kyoto Party was formed in that Metro District last August on the principles of shrinking the legislature and the delegates’ benefits, and reducing bond issues by 10% a year to eliminate them entirely in 10 years. They’re upset that the Kyoto City Council unanimously rejected a bill on 31 January to eliminate some seats. The Chiiki Seito Iwate is taking devolution a step further, asking that Iwate Prefecture cede authority to individual municipalities.

The Japanese public nationwide does appreciate the potential abuses of local parties. A Yomiuri Shimbun poll taken at the end of January found that 53% of the respondents were opposed to parties created by local executives, with 31% in favor. However, 64% of the respondents also said that local legislatures did not reflect the will of the people, and 57% said they were not functioning as a check on the executive branch.

In Tokyo, the DPJ-led national government last week proposed eliminating the JPY 6,000 yen per diem allowance for special officers of both houses of the diet when it is in session, such as the vice-president of both chambers. Their idea has been approved by the other parties. This is seen as a concession to the results of the Nagoya/Aichi election and to the nationwide local elections next month.

That will be much too little, much too late for the Kan administration, however. The DPJ party organization of Aichi adopted a resolution asking Mr. Kan to get lost. Everyone in the country knows DPJ party affiliation will be the fast track to oblivion in those elections if Mr. Kan is still in office. They’re already having problems finding people willing to run as DPJ candidates. Party Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was recently rejected by the man he wooed to run for governor of Mie—Mr. Okada’s home prefecture, which shares a border with Aichi.

Unpleasant omens

The Triple Election’s revelation that lower taxes, devolution, and smaller government are a winning formula in Japan has also generated some ominous developments.

Lower house MP and Former Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Haraguchi Kazuhiro convened a new policy group in the Diet dedicated to more regional autonomy and ties with local chief executives. He filed the papers to create a group called the Nihon Ishin no Kai, intending it to become a political organization of local government chief executives and legislators modeled after Mr. Hashimoto’s group in Osaka. He also blatantly ripped off their name, which in turn was a deliberate imitation of the Meiji Ishin (known in English as the Meiji restoration), a period in Japanese history that connotes national rebirth and renewal. At the same time, Mr. Haraguchi created the Saga Ishin no Kai for his home prefecture. He told reporters: “The central government’s doctrine of fiscal supremacy must not be permitted to place the onus of deficits on the regions.”

Nothing good will come of this

This is ominous because nobody thinks Mr. Haraguchi is clever enough to have come up with the idea on his own. He is seen as a cat’s paw for the Shiva of Japanese politics, Ozawa Ichiro, the destroyer of worlds who will not go gently into that good night. One of Mr. Ozawa’s journalistic mouthpieces, Itagaki Eiken, is now conveying the threat that Mr. Ozawa might convince his allies to vote for a no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto within the next month or so. The passage of such a motion would require a new lower house election. The Ozawa strategy seems to be to co-opt the popular movement in Japan by reinventing himself as a tax-cutting proponent of small government and ride that pony to control of the government. He is well known for his Japanese-language pun that the advantage of campaign promises is that they can be replastered.

The Japanese are taking this threat seriously, even though Mr. Ozawa personally voted to pass the DPJ budget this week. (Sixteen legislators associated with him were absent for the roll call, however.) Mr. Haraguchi is a metrosexual of the type he’s always preferred to use as a front man (cf. Hosokawa Morihiro and Hatoyama Yukio) to offset his own charmless personality and unpopularity with the public.

The most unsettling omen, however, may be that Kawamura Takashi took Mr. Omura to Tokyo to pay a courtesy call on Mr. Ozawa the day after the Nagoya/Aichi election. It has since emerged that Ozawa ally and lower house MP Matsuki Shizuhiro was a frequent visitor to Nagoya during the campaign to help Mr. Kawamura with strategy. An Ozawa-Kawamura alliance is not what the people of Nagoya voted for—indeed, more than half of the public wants Mr. Ozawa out of the Diet altogether. If Mr. Kawamura or Mr. Hashimoto of Osaka were to openly join hands with Ozawa Ichiro, it would seriously dent their popularity. (The Nagoya mayor is already pushing it–his political group has endorsed 10 candidates in the Tokyo municipal elections, all of whom are associated with Mr. Ozawa.) Further, the only guaranteed accomplishment of a government in which Mr. Ozawa has a prominent role would be another year of political turmoil followed by an ugly demise. Rule without the consent of the governed is not a winning proposition in Japan either.

It’s also starting to look as if an alliance with Ozawa Ichiro isn’t a winning proposition even in his local power base. In the election for mayor last month in Rikuzentakata, Iwate—Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture—the candidate backed by Mr. Ozawa lost, though Mr. Ozawa personally campaigned for him

A revolution whose time has come

The current leaders of this revolution may reveal themselves to be flawed vessels, but the people will no longer allow their voice to be ignored. Theirs is a genuinely spontaneous and popular movement driven by years of anger and disgust at the politicians’ performance and a growing understanding that elections have consequences. If the electorate is betrayed by one champion, they have already shown they will discard him and find another. The voters ditched the LDP when they turned their back on reform, and they’ve done the same with the DPJ when they found out that party wasn’t what it claimed to be. What they demand now is real governmental reform, devolution, and lower taxes, and they are no longer in the mood to settle for less.

There is no clearer proof than the election last month in Akune, Kagoshima. We’ve seen before that circumstances in Akune were remarkably similar to those in Nagoya. Upset that administrative expenses ate up most of the city’s budget, Mayor Takehara Shin’ichi wanted to put City Council on a per diem allowance and reduce other public expenditures. The people backed him through two elections, until he unwisely chose ignore the council and act as a dictator. He created so much turmoil they finally recalled him and voted him out of office by a narrow margin. Had he followed Mr. Kawamura’s strategy of simultaneous elections, however, he might still be in office today. Mr. Takehara’s backers finally succeeded in bringing council recall to a vote last month, and the voters chose to throw out them out too. The referendum on recall passed with 55% approval, four percentage points higher than the margin by which Mr. Takehara was defeated. He and his supporters plan to run nine candidates in the new election next month for 16 seats. One reason the recall succeeded is that the new mayor restored the council members’ salaries and took them off the per diem allowance initiated by former Mayor Takehara.

*****
Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and the idea whose time has arrived in Japan is the revolt against the elitist political class in government and the bureaucracy, and the support of decentralization and smaller government. In all of those elections, the voters were lectured for months about the reasons they shouldn’t support the insurgents, but the voters chose to ignore the advice.

We live in an age of revolution. Two leaders have been toppled in the Middle East, a third is about to go, and none of the rest sleep soundly at night. Americans have been marching in the streets for nearly a year, and they continue to do so after the pivotal election of November. There is even talk of a jasmine revolution in China, which has so upset leaders in that country that they’ve forbidden foreign journalists to cover demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing that haven’t happened yet.

What emerges from any of those revolutions is unlikely to be better than what they had before they started. Democracy in the Middle East will mean the choice of governments that are no one’s definition of liberal. The stark ethnocentric nationalism of the Chinese ensures that country will not be a positive force in international relations regardless of the leadership, perhaps for decades. And there is nothing at all liberal about the illiberal ugliness of the American “liberals”, as we’ve seen from their behavior in Congress last year and at the state level in Wisconsin and Indiana right now. The American left will never change.

In Japan, however, the electorate has now taken matters out of the politicians’ hands and set the parameters for debate. Theirs is now the national political agenda. They are beginning to realize that they have the handle and the politicians have the blade. When their revolution comes to fruition, it is likely to be the most successful, and the most peaceful, of our age.

Afterwords

* The Asahi Shimbun ran an English-language article worth reading about the possibility that the inevitable earthquake of a political realignment might occur before the cherries finish blooming. Though it is informative, it still requires several grains of salt to digest. The Asahi is a newspaper of the left, so holding up conservative boogeymen for their readers is one element in their narrative. It remains to be seen how many MPs will willingly follow the toxic Ozawa Ichiro or the fossilized Kamei Shizuka, either from the LDP or the DPJ. Your Party might have made a wise choice in keeping their distance from Mr. Kawamura, and they would stand to benefit from the public’s revulsion with an Ozawa New Party.

(Update: A few hours after writing the above I read Itagaki Eiken’s latest blog post, and perhaps the Asahi wasn’t exaggerating after all. He’s threatening a government of Ozawa Ichiro, Kamei Shizuka, and Hiranuma Takeo, with the support of Ishihara Shintaro. That’s not conservative, that’s Pleistoscene. He also says that Mr. Haraguchi is a “jewel” to be shown the ropes and saved for later. Jayzus whippin’ goldfishes! Uglier still, all but Mr. Ishihara are Diet members, so they might be able to arrange it without a general election. That would be an old coot coup d’etat within the Diet, and it just might bring people out on the streets.)

* Lower house member Sato Yuko, once an aide to Kawamura Takashi before she ran for and won a Diet seat, told the DPJ on the 3rd she will leave the party to join the mayor’s local group. She gave several reasons for her decision, one of them being Prime Minister Kan’s lack of leadership. Unfortunately, she also cited the DPJ’s suspension of Ozawa Ichiro’s party privileges.

* One has to wonder about the IQ and job qualifications of some people in the news media. The vernacular Nishinippon Shimbun thought the voters in Akune who chose to recall the City Council were “confused”. One of the headline writers among the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times topped off the Kyodo feed on the Akune election with the declaration that the voters were “wishy-washy”. It should be obvious even to those of less than median intelligence and an attention span longer than the average TV commercial that the voters in the city know what they want and aren’t afraid to express it.

* Last month, 65 local governments told the Kan administration they will not financially contribute to the national government’s child allowance scheme. That’s an expensive and ill-advised bit of pork whose liability the DPJ wants to partially shift to local governments because the country can’t afford it. In other words, the regions are no longer lying down for the central government.

* Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio became the first member of the Kan government to hold an open news conference whose participation was not limited to the kisha club reporters. This is being hailed as the beginning of the end of the kisha club system, a back-scratching affair in which the government was allowed to partially control the news flow by allowing some media outlets a partial monopoly. While that was a positive step, it also comes about 30 years too late—no one in the Internet age thinks limiting the flow of news to the professional journalists’ guild will result in significantly greater openness. There has always been a de facto samizdat press in Japanese weekly magazines, and no one in the Anglosphere pretends any longer that the supposedly mainstream media is either open or evenhanded.

*****
This is the Year of the Rabbit in the Oriental zodiac, but it will be the Year of Political Fireworks in Japan. Nobody does fireworks better than the Japanese.

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