AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Tanaka M.’

Ichigen koji (239)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 24, 2012

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

Former party president Ozawa Ichiro and former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio are now gone from the Democratic Party. Are the roots of the DPJ now labor unions and graduates of the Matshushita Institute of Government and Management? While views have diversified through the multiplication of new parties, the DPJ’s frontage has grown narrower.

- Tanaka Makiko, DPJ member and current education minister

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Ichigen koji (229)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

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

The stupidity of Tanaka Makiko and the controversy over authorizing the new universities…the stupidity of appointing her husband as Defense Minister…all of these originate in the historically worst stupidities of the Democratic Party government. We have to leave the world of lies and return to the world of truth as soon as possible.

- Inose Naoki, acting Governor of the Tokyo Metro District

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All you have to do is look (102)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 9, 2012

Education Minister Tanaka Makiko in the Diet during the discussions over whether to grant government authorization to the three universities she originally refused authorization for. After the decision was announced to reverse her decision less than a week later, she said, “This could be a good advertisement for them. They might have a boom in four or five years.”

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Ichigen koji (222)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

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

Neither politicians nor the bureaucracy are as respected as they once were, but the title of “university professor” still has prestige. Under the pretext of learning and culture, governments will inject tax money into money-losing universities and no one will complain. This is Japan’s final taboo.

The promotion of science and technology is also sacred ground for the government, and journalists do not criticize universities, and I speak from the standpoint of a part-time professor lecturing on the mass media. When it comes to prolonging unproductive services, universities are worse than agriculture.

Private universities have already collapsed. National universities are now collapsing at the graduate school level through the “laundering” of academic backgrounds.

- Ikeda Nobuo. He is speaking in reference to the uproar caused by Education Minister Tanaka Makiko’s decision to refuse authorization for three new colleges. The decision has been reversed, and the three proposals will undergo a new screening process. De facto, that means they will be approved.

All three of the schools are local institutions. One is a junior college of the fine arts in Akita whose operators want to convert it into a four-year college. Another is a women’s college in Aichi.

But it gets better!

I don’t know what’s specifically wrong with the three schools. I also don’t think they’re bad.

- Minister of Education Tanaka Makiko

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Consistency

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 7, 2012

PRIME MINISTER Noda Yoshihiko’s personnel reassignments for his Cabinet and party last Monday were the picture of consistency. First, his Democratic Party government remains consistent in keeping the revolving door of Cabinet positions spinning at a frequency that prevents them from performing any role other than as press secretary for the ministries they represent. Second, Mr. Noda remains consistent in his distribution of ministerial portfolios to people unqualified to receive them. Finally, an unqualified English-language news media remains consistent in its incapacity to understand and present useful explanations of the events.

Writing in Gendai Business Online, Isoyama Yukihiro reminds his readers that when Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, assumed his duties three years ago, he said he wanted to maintain one intact Cabinet per administration. The law provides for as many as 14 ministers in addition to the prime minister, and Mr. Hatoyama did keep the reshuffling to a minimum. He appointed only 19 ministers, but then he lasted only nine months in office. His first finance minister, Fujii Hirohisa, lasted fewer than four months before resigning — and he was the only one qualified to serve that the party has assigned to that position. (In 1976, he was the head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau, the control tower of the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy.)

Mr. Isoyama notes there was dissatisfaction within the DPJ because not all of the victors were receiving the spoils. As a result, Mr. Hatoyama’s successor, Kan Naoto, used Cabinet appointments as the front end of a quid pro quo before the party’s presidential election. He went through 35 people in 15 months. Meanwhile, Mr. Noda has already tapped 38 different people in his year in office, partly because his power base in the party is weak. He also has to use the posts as gold stars and cookies to stem the flow of MPs leaving the DPJ for other parties. Altogether, 68 separate people have served as DPJ Cabinet ministers, and the overall total of appointments, reappointments, and reassignments within their Cabinets now total 152.

Your Party chief Watanabe Yoshimi compared the Noda Cabinet V.3 to an “inventory clearance sale for people seeing Cabinet posts”. Azuma Shozo of the People’s Life First party (the Ozawa group) called it the “Making Memories Cabinet.”

This might be excusable to an extent if competent people were being appointed, but that isn’t the case. Mr. Noda keeps putting people with no experience or sector-specific expertise in Cabinet positions, a tacit admission that the bureaucracy still exercises real control. Once again, he appointed as finance minister someone who knows nothing about government finance, and who has never held a Cabinet position before. Yet some in the news media still do not understand what’s happening. Here’s this from the AFP just before the changes:

Another highlight of the reshuffle is who will replace Finance Minister Jun Azumi, who is being propelled into a top party post.

Although Azumi has not been universally popular in financial circles, there have been concerns of a policy gap now that he is departing, although the minister has assured there will be no “political vacuum”.

And here’s what Reuters said after Mr. Noda made his decision:

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda plans to name senior lawmaker Koriki Jojima as the country’s new finance minister in a cabinet shake-up due later on Monday, Japanese media reported.

Jojima, who has served as parliamentary affairs chief in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), would replace Jun Azumi and take charge of the world’s third largest economy as it teeters on the brink of recession in the face of a global slowdown and strong yen.

Jojima would likely stick to a fiscal reform drive pursued by fiscal hawk Noda, as he has worked closely with the premier in designing Noda’s signature plan to double the sales tax to 10 percent by October 2015.

But little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies.

But a lot is known about how little is known about Japanese politics by the AFP and Reuters sausage grinders. There were no real concerns of a “policy gap”, because Mr. Azumi, a former TV presenter, knows nothing about fiscal policy other than what his Finance Ministry tutors spoonfed him after his appointment. Little is known about Jojima’s view on monetary and currency policies because he doesn’t have any. He majored in animal husbandry at university, was hired by Ajinomoto after graduation, and decided that labor union activities were preferable to working for a living.

“Fiscal reform” in Reuters-speak means tax increases, especially of the progressive variety. The media applies the term “fiscal hawk” to Mr. Noda, as they did to Kan Naoto, because they’re parroting, either directly or indirectly, the Finance Ministry’s talking points. Mr. Kan couldn’t even explain the multiplier effect during his first Question Time session in the Diet after his appointment.

What they don’t say is what everyone in Japan who pays attention knows. Here’s more from a different column in Gendai Business Online. It explains who really designed the DPJ tax increase plan:

Vice-Minister Katsu Eijiro resigned in mid-August, and it is reported that negotiations are underway to replace him with Manago Yasushi, head of the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau (N.B.: He got the job.) …The climate at the Finance Ministry is that achieving a tax increase (as Katsu did) is a medal for services rendered and a meritorious deed. Increases in tax revenue do not determine the evaluations of the Finance Ministry bureaucracy. That happens naturally when the economy improves. But increases in the tax rate are easily understood accomplishments. Those require amendments in the tax law, and are also proof that they twisted the “idiot politicians” around their little finger. Bureaucrats such as these are the real “kings of the Finance Ministry”, because they have shown themselves to be of higher caliber than the politicians.

Here’s a report a few days after the appointment:

New Finance Minister Koriki Jojima said the government must “carefully consider” whether to extend the currency swap agreement with South Korea but refused to be drawn out on whether Tokyo will propose an extension.

In other words, the Finance Ministry hasn’t decided yet.

But the biggest name in the new Cabinet is former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko:

Noda may tap Beijing-friendly Makiko Tanaka, 68, as a new addition to the cabinet, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Sunday.

Tanaka, daughter of former prime minister Kakuei Tanaka who normalised diplomatic ties with Beijing 40 years ago, has warm links with China which has been jousting with Japan over disputed East China Sea islands.

Noda is considering appointing Tanaka to a ministerial post to signal to Beijing Tokyo’s intention of repairing the damaged relationship, the Asahi said.

Commentator Ikeda Nobuo had only one word when he read that: “Stupid”. It is stupid, for at least two reasons.

One is that the Chinese will interpret it as weakness and as a prelude to a modern form of tribute paid to a vassal. The other is that Tanaka Makiko is temperamentally unfit for any executive position in general, and a Cabinet portfolio in particular. We found that out from her spin as a daytime drama queen when she was Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s Foreign Minister.

For some reason, Ms. Tanaka wound up as Education Secretary, a position for which she has shown no particular interest or aptitude. As everyone expected, she immediately demonstrated that she still doesn’t know when to keep her mouth shut. One of her first bon mots was that “There are deficiencies in Japan’s history education,” though she didn’t specify what they were.

The Chinese took it and ran with it. Here’s Li Wen from the Chinese academy of Social Sciences:

“Tanaka Makiko is the daughter of former PM Tanaka Kakuei, and for her to make this statement after her appointment is significant in that it would correct the rightward tendency in Japanese society to an extent, improve Sino-Japanese relations, and ameliorate Japan’s relations with its neighbors…We hope that it will expand, without ceasing, the progressive capacity to limit the rightward tendency of Japanese society, and improve its ability to act for peace in the Asia-Pacific region and the world.”

“The progressive capacity to limit Japan’s rightwing tendency and act for world peace?” Yeah, they’ve still got Reds in China. You hadn’t noticed?

The Tanaka comment is the product of mixing someone who favors tilting foreign policy toward China and away from the West with the need to satisfy the “progressive” teachers’ unions, one of the party’s principal power bases. It might help relax the immediate tensions with China, but only in the sense that it will lead the Chinese to think that the Japanese leadership is finally showing some sense and starting to deal with those crazy rightwingers.

It won’t help. Absent the arrival of a gargantuan black swan, she won’t be Education Minister this time next year, the DPJ won’t be in power, and there will be little change, if any, in the history curriculum.

Then there are the problems on the domestic side. She already criticized the government’s nuclear energy policy when she said she doesn’t think ending nuclear power by 2030 is feasible. She’s right, but that’s what you get when you roll a loose cannon into the Cabinet. You never know when it will go off and where the muzzle will be pointing when it does.

Makiko is also being Makiko. Another report just a day after her appointment claimed that she summoned one of the aides assigned from the Education Ministry bureaucracy into the women’s restroom to give him lengthy, detailed instructions on a particular matter. The report didn’t specify what she was doing in the women’s restroom at the time.

Japanese pundits saw other reasons for her selection. One suggested her current strength is roughly at the level required to snatch the focus from the opposition Liberal Democrats and the up-and-coming Japan Restoration Party on the daytime TV talk/gossip shows. (Those programs juggle politics, show business, and human interest stories.)

Another thought she might have been chosen because she’s one of the few politicians in the country who wouldn’t flinch from doing verbal battle with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto, the head of the Japan Restoration Party. Mr. Hashimoto has thrashed the teachers unions in both the city and prefecture of Osaka, and the theory goes that the DPJ wants someone in the Education Ministry capable of standing up to him.

Unfortunately for them, however, is that Ms. Tanaka verbal skills are due primarily to her “poison tongue”, as the saying goes in Japan. She’s quite entertaining when she runs people down, which is another reason she’s popular daytime television fare. (She once referred to former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro as “Old Man Pomade”.)

She is less successful when it comes to the give and take of debate, or persuading an audience through the power of logic and persuasion.

If Mr. Noda’s intent was to have some imagined Tanaka star power refloat his Cabinet, he was mistaken. Here’s one of the questions and the answer received when the Kyodo news agency polled the public from 1-2 October.

Q: How do you evaluate the selection of Tanaka Makiko to the Cabinet?

Good idea: 34.6%
Bad idea: 53.8%
No answer: 11.6%

The Kyodo poll

Speaking of the Kyodo Poll, it might be useful as a rough guide to the mood of the electorate, despite being conducted by random digit dialing (RDD).

Here are some of the other questions and answers. The numbers in parentheses are the totals from the previous month:

* Do you support the Noda Cabinet?
Yes: 29.2% (26.3%)
No: 55.3% (59.4%)
Don’t know: 15.5% (14.3%)

The Yomiuri Shimbun poll had the support rate for the Noda Cabinet a few points higher, but it’s not enough to make a difference. The increase was normal for a Cabinet reshuffle, and absent other factors, it will have subsided in the next month or two.

* Which party do you support?
Democratic Party of Japan (ruling party): 12.3% (12.9%)
Liberal Democratic Party (primary opposition): 30.4% (19.3%)
Japan Restoration Party (Hashimoto group): 10.7%
Putting People First (Ozawa Ichiro group): 1.9% (2.1%)

Note that the LDP supporters are more than double those of the DPJ, which in turn is barely ahead of Mr. Hashimoto’s party. Note also that the voters finally seem to be getting ready to flush the toilet with Ozawa Ichiro.

* Do you approve of the DPJ leadership changes?
Yes: 23.8%
No: 69.5%

* Do you approve of the LDP leadership changes?
Yes: 42.6%
No: 52.4%

* How do you evaluate the Japan Restoration Party?
Positive: 50.6% (60.2%)
Negative: 43.0% (34.7%)

* For which party will you cast your vote in the proportional representation phase of the election?
DPJ: 12.3% (12.4%)
LDP: 31.3% (22.2%)
Japan Restoration Party: 13.9% (17.6%)
Putting People First: 2.7% (4.9%)
Sunrise Japan: 0.3% (1.2%)

This is important for several reasons. First, it shows that the public has written off the DPJ, which are now beyond political redemption (perhaps for good). Second, this poll was taken after the LDP selected former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo as party head. Note the month-to-month increase from last month to this. Those numbers are giving the Japanese left (and the residential foreigner left) gas pains.

These results for Putting People First again show that Mr. Ozawa is fading away. He is a man out of time, and a man out of his time.

Perhaps you’ve read the commentary that the Senkakus spat with China is all the fault of Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara Shinto, the “fiery rightwing nationalist”. Some people desperately want to believe that his influence on the relative Japanese hardline in the Senkakus is proof that he’s leading the country to the right.

Lunchmeat. Sunrise Japan is the party that Mr. Ishihara was instrumental in creating. There you see in black and pale blue (on this website) the influence of his party on national politics.

The correlation of his views and that of many members of the public on a specific issue does not indicate he is at the forefront of a greater national trend. This seems to be beyond the capacity of some drive-by commentators or pundettes with an agenda (sometimes the same people) to see.

The Hashimoto slide

Further, the numbers in this and other national polls show the first significant drop in support for Hashimoto Toru since his rise to national prominence. Some attribute that to the rough patch he’s had coordinating affairs with the Diet MPs who recently joined his party, or with some vagaries in the party’s statement of principles.

I disagree, just as I disagree with the LDP’s claim that their jump from the previous month came solely from the election of Abe Shinzo. What I think is happening is something that isn’t showing up in the polls, because the news media polls are too generalized to elicit certain answers.

This was the first round of polls taken after the Chinese ran amok in their September riots, implicitly encouraged by the modern Mandarins. The Japanese public is coming to see China as an existential threat. The shift to the LDP, I suspect, is due to the public’s choice of the political group they think is most capable of protecting them from that existential threat.

After being appalled by how the Kan Cabinet handled the previous episode in the fall of 2010, they know that’s beyond the DPJ’s capabilities. Mr. Hashimoto’s deportment in the past month was not so bad (or so different) to cause the public to sour on him. Had not China and South Korea behaved as they have over the past two months, his numbers probably wouldn’t have changed. The public, in general, still wants reforms of the type he is promoting. His problem is that they’ve already seen how one set of amateurs deals with the Chinese, and they aren’t willing to entrust foreign policy now to a new group of beginners.

Finally, lower house MP Sugimoto Kazumi, a first-termer from Aichi, left the DPJ and is considering membership in Your Party. That reduced the DPJ lower house delegation to 247, down from an original total higher than 300. They also have three members from the People’s New Party in their coalition, making 250. Subtracting Mr. Sugimoto and the three DPJ members who announced their intention to join the Japan Restoration Party, the DPJ’s magic number for losing the outright majority is eight, as one newspaper put it.

Noda Yoshihiko’s objective seems to be to put off a lower house election until the last possible minute, which is next summer. If the leakage from the DPJ continues, that decision might be taken out of his and his party’s hands altogether.

UPDATE:

Political correctness might have been a factor in the selection of Tanaka Makiko. The weekly Shukan Asahi quotes a source “close to the prime minister” as saying, “We searched for a woman to put in the Cabinet, but couldn’t find a suitable candidate. Still, we had to have at least one.”

They also cite a few other of the nicknames given to the new lineup: “The clean out the inventory Cabinet”, and one that’s not easy to translate concisely, but means “Put something good on their resume to dress them up for the election”.

Mr. Noda also dismissed the idea that she was appointed to ease the strained relations with China. He said, “It’s not as if I appointed her as Foreign Minister.”

*****
Maybe not tomorrow, but not too much longer

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Ichigen koji (70)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 7, 2011

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

If Japan plunges into the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) it will be tantamount to suicide by throwing oneself into the sea…

Participation in TPP will cause the public healthcare system to collapse from its foundation. It’s Prime Minister Koizumi’s postal privatization all over again…Prime Minister Noda should clearly state that Japan can’t decide because national opinion is split. Americans are adults, so they won’t pressure us if we tell them no.

…Anyway, my party membership was suspended, so I didn’t vote for Mr. Noda Whatshisname to begin with.

…You’re intelligent, but you have no wisdom. You do nothing but debate and have no idea what to do. If your decision is going to be based on local opinion or that of your support groups, you might as well let the prefectural and municipal assemblies decide.

- Tanaka Makiko, the daughter of Japan’s Boss Tweed and former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, addressing a group of Diet members either wary of or opposed to Japan’s participation in TPP. The last comment was directed to the group’s members themselves.

Ms. Tanaka was Mr. Koizumi’s first foreign minister, thrown out of the LDP, resigned from the Diet over an embezzlement scandal over her secretaries’ salaries, won re-election as an independent after being cleared, joined the opposition DPJ, and was suspended for a year from party membership after abstaining rather than voting against the no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto earlier this year.

It’s hard to believe now, but she was once considered prime ministerial material by people both in Japan and overseas.

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Ichigen koji (55)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 7, 2011

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

1. This appointment is difficult to believe.

2. At this point, I do not think it will be possible to cooperate with Ms. Tanaka, who attacked the ministry by referring to us as a “den of demons”.

3. The Democratic Party is calling for political leadership, so I think I’ll ask someone in one of the three top ministerial positions (Cabinet minister, deputy minister, parliamentary secretary) to serve in the role of asking Ms. Tanaka for cooperation.

Three comments by senior Foreign Ministry officials who wished to remain anonymous after they heard that Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro had decided to appoint Tanaka Makiko, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first foreign minister, to be the chair of the Lower House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The outspoken Ms. Tanaka, part diva and part drama queen, is the daughter of the late former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei, the Japanese version of Boss Tweed. Her battle with the equally unpleasant bureaucrats of the Foreign Ministry was more entertaining than anything on television produced as entertainment. Describing it would require a magazine-length article. It ended with Ms. Tanaka’s resignation.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (6): Heigh ho, silver lining!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

The reason the left loses is, paradoxically, because of its periodic successes: once in power the mask slips, they cannot control themselves, and so the people ultimately recoil.
- Michael Walsh

LAST SUNDAY, the voters of Japan again unsheathed their terrible swift sword to lay vengeance upon and smite down the latest cohort of a political class that believes what it says is more important than what it does.

After eying the results, the broadcast media in Japan and the print media overseas chose to believe the sky is in danger of falling. In a matter of months, the Democratic Party of Japan showed that it still isn’t ready for prime time and probably never will be as presently constituted. Yet the bien pensants are in anguish because they didn’t win an outright majority.

Some nattered that the loss will hinder the DPJ’s effort to rein in Japan’s massive government debt. One outlet even said it would “create obstacles for much-need fiscal reforms”. And who do they think was responsible for the ultra-redlining of debt levels with a 33% boost in the amount of deficit-financing bonds to cover a budget increase for programs only they wanted and no one needed? The record-high budget with record deficits and record deficit-financing bond totals passed when Prime Minister Kan Naoto was Finance Minister, and was written with his input. The preceding Aso administration also has a lot to answer for, but at least they had the excuse of following the same clueless path as the United States. Isn’t it time for the overseas media to keep its big government / Keynesian stimulus / tax increase agenda overseas and limit the wreckage to their own countries?

Some asked rhetorically if anyone can govern Japan. Maybe they should knock off the rhetoric and ask Koizumi Jun’ichiro straight up about how he managed for five years and left office with popularity ratings of 70%. Just because Hatoyama Yukio was more empty schoolgirl uniform than empty suit and hangover seems to be the default state for Mr. Kan’s sobriety doesn’t mean the people are ungovernable because they coughed out both of them like hair balls.

Some also worry that the “twisted parliament” (i.e., gridlock resulting from the DPJ’s loss of upper house control) bodes ill for the country.

Why should they worry? It’s great news. The election results were a red letter day for politics in Japan, which should be apparent even to realistic DPJ supporters.

To find out why, let’s push the reset button.

Track 01

Many people are using Prime Minister Kan’s ill-timed discussion of a consumption tax increase as a facile excuse for the defeat. Well, that was one reason—of many. Other contributing factors included rank incompetence, breaking their word as expressed in the party platform, and the political acumen of an empty catsup bottle.

Yet, despite more negative factors that can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and the voters’ readiness as demonstrated over the last three national elections to punish politicos who don’t pay attention, some people claimed to have been surprised by the result. They must not have been paying attention either.

Then again, neither were the pollsters. Most pre-election polls forecast the DPJ would take roughly 50-54 seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning from 40-45. The DPJ wound up with 44 and the LDP with 51.

To be sure, some circumstances did conceal or delay trends. According to this previous analysis of Jiji polls over the past five years, a majority of the Japanese electorate is independent and tends to break for one party or the other four to six weeks before an election. Everyone was thrown off stride by the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and DPJ Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro six weeks before the election. New Prime Minister Kan’s open humiliation of the unpopular Mr. Ozawa delighted the public and led to a sharp but ephemeral bounce in the polls. In retrospect, it’s clear that the brief interlude of poll sunshine for Mr. Kan was due to gratitude for removing the Ohato duo rather than a vote of confidence in the new prime minister himself.

Also, the voters’ interest in the election took longer than usual to build, but rapidly picked up momentum at the end. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji thinks the public did not become engaged until Japan was eliminated in the World Cup. He also said the intensity level at the end of the campaign was higher than he had ever seen it. The crowds of people that listened to his speeches at train stations were so large and animated they created obstructions that angered station personnel.

That bears some resemblance to the American presidential elections of 1968 and 1976. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter held comfortable leads in those contests coming into the final stages of the campaign, but there was a massive, last-minute swing in voter sentiment that almost tipped the elections to Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford. Some hold the latter two would have won had the elections been held a few days later. Mr. Eda also thinks his party would have picked up two or three more seats had the election come three days later, and that’s probably true for the LDP as well.

Nevertheless, it was the first national referendum on a new DPJ government that had been tested and found wanting as stewards of the government. Most of them seem incapable of running a fried octopus stand at a summer festival, much less a Cabinet ministry. The task of any administration is to get things done and to make things work in the public sector, and they failed at both. Though once hailed as major policy wanks who were finally ready to lead the nation, the spectacularly unprepared DPJ accomplished less in its first Diet session than any previous government in the postwar period, and what they did accomplish amounted to little more than bribing voters with their own money.

Taxing

Some claim the decisive factor was Kan Naoto’s readiness to talk about an increase in the consumption tax and his subsequent incoherence on the subject. The analysts at NHK offered this explanation on Sunday night. So did many in the English-language media, but we’ve long ago passed the point where they should be taken seriously. After all, they’re now saying the public voted against a higher consumption tax while trumpeting polls saying the public is willing to pay it.

While the consumption tax issue itself was a factor, it also served to remind people of the reasons they were unhappy with the DPJ to begin with. People seem to have forgotten that the Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating was in the high teens at the end of May.

Here’s a more coherent explanation: Mr. Kan and his party lost credibility because after talking for more than a decade about politicians exerting control over the government, they ceded control to the bureaucrats shortly after taking power while deboning reform of Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho. It was suicidal to swallow whole the Finance Ministry’s excuses for their objective of tax increases and the Ono Yoshiyasu theorem that tax increases help economies grow. The people gagged on them both.

Add to that the record budget with the record float of deficit-financing bonds while pushing greater government expenditures through a child allowance and other giveaways…The sheer incompetence in handling the Futenma issue…Backtracking on the pledge to eliminate the gasoline surtax and highway tolls…Filthy Ozawa money and illegal Hatoyama Mama money blamed on the Lords’ loyal retainers…Ozawa Ichiro’s mid-campaign criticism of his own party’s officials…Slips, blunders, petty dishonesties, attitudes, the failure to overcome the giddiness of their September victory and the failure to find a voice of reason or a sense of leadership.

What they did have was a sense of entitlement combined with the expectation that people just shut up and listen. Here’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito on 5 July:

It would be best if the media itself were to do us the favor of having a proper position on the consumption tax, government finances, and social security issues.

But why would anyone expect tolerance for free speech and a free press from a former Socialist?

Mr. Kan is clutching at the tax straw himself. He said to aides this week:

I caused a lot of trouble for the party by suddenly bringing up the issue of the consumption tax, which led to this result. I am seriously reflecting on my errors.

His real problem was an ignorance of anything related to the economy and government finances, yet presenting himself as an expert because he could recite half-digested knowledge from the Finance Ministry and other home tutors such as Mr. Ono. He actually claimed to have bested economist Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s financial services minister, in a debate while he was in fact asking him for help on the QT. He pretended to know what he didn’t know while parroting the last things he heard to impress his audience. The Sufis call this “unloading”.

Other people were willing to entertain other theories. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was asked about the appointment of Saito Jiro to head Japan Post last fall. That was widely viewed as a capitulation to the bureaucrats and an abandonment of the attempt to reform civil servant employment practices before it began. Mr. Haraguchi responded with some tongue calisthenics:

I can’t say very strongly that I can completely deny the appointment had a negative effect.

He also defended the choice, but people weren’t listening when he got to that part of the sentence.

Some people couldn’t look beyond their own front yard. Kina Shokichi, the famed Okinawan roots musician and airhead extraordinaire, lost his reelection campaign. He said:

There was a strong feeling that the people of Okinawa were betrayed by the government in the move of the American base at Futenma.

As usual, Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats had an idea. As usual, it didn’t make any sense:

I think the biggest reason was that all the people thought the DPJ had begun cold, unfeeling politics.

Leave it to an adult–Yonekura Hiromasa, the head of Keidanren—to put it in perspective:

The people watched the DPJ for the eight months before the Kan administration began.

Now combine that with the observation of Kono Taro, the LDP’s acting secretary-general:

The upper house election was an own goal for the DPJ. The LDP didn’t even touch the ball.

Mr. Kono, an LDP reformer, used the occasion to issue a warning to his own party.

It would be absolutely unacceptable if this marked the end of (internal) reform.

Good news

Here’s the good news. This presents an excellent opportunity for the politicians to show they’re capable of doing the jobs they’re paid to do, and it will be the DPJ’s second test of adulthood after flunking the first. They failed to reach their target for an outright majority in the upper house, and since their remaining coalition partner, People’s New Party, won no seats at all, they’ll be unable to pass legislation without help.

With the exception of the budget, both houses of the Diet must approve all legislation. If the upper house rejects a lower house measure, the lower house can still pass it with a two-thirds supermajority. The DPJ doesn’t have one. Even if the lower house passes a budget, the enabling legislation, such as that required for deficit financing bonds, must still pass the upper house.

Will they be able to cobble together a new coalition? Here’s what the primary opposition leaders think of the idea. First, Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party:

A coalition is the same as a marriage. Pretty words alone aren’t enough. The DPJ rejected our bill to reform the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. After doing something like that, we won’t be able to join them even if they ask us.

During a television interview the night of the election, he said it was the party’s intention to act as gatekeepers. If they see legislation they like, they open the gate. If they don’t care for the bill, the gate stays shut.

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

(The voters) have just held up a red card to the DPJ. It would be unthinkable to join a partner like that.

He’s got another reason, too–both parties detest each other. Here’s Kan Naoto in the April 2004 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju:

The LDP and New Komeito coalition are not a coalition, they’re a fusion, a fusion party…New Komeito is a religious party…the LDP is like a house that’s been eaten by termites. There’s nothing to prevent its collapse.

New Komeito is unlikely to have forgotten that Mr. Kan thinks they’re termites. Nor did they care for this speech earlier in the campaign from Sengoku Yoshito:

There’s a half-baked party of charlatans called New Komeito. What do they mean, “The party of peace”? What do they mean, “The party of welfare”? Once the order comes down from someplace, 50,000 votes move in three days. What sort of malarkey democracy is this?

Next on the list is Tanigaki Sadakazu, head of the LDP. His answer about the possibility of a coalition was brief:

Zero.

This across-the-board refusal means several things. First, the DPJ can forget about the yogurt-weaving part of their agenda, and that will be one substantial benefit for the nation already. It also means that the DPJ will be forced to do some things it has never shown itself capable of in the past—serious negotiation, self-control, and compromise. Like many on their side of the aisle, gesture politics is a large part of their game. Now they’ll have to stop playing with mudras in front of the mirror and form ad hoc coalitions for each item of legislation they propose. If they develop that skill, everyone wins and they reclaim their reputation. If they don’t, the next lower house election will come before their term expires, and the voters will give other people a chance to pay attention.

It’s by no means certain that they will change their thought process. The party could have behaved responsibly and offered to do the same thing after their 2007 upper house victory, but chose instead to use their position to foment mini-crises as a way to blow the LDP out of office. After they got their wish and finally formed a government, their performance was so miserable the voters turned the tables to put them behind the eight ball. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the party finds some MPs to back an increase in the consumption tax to 10% before they take an axe to government spending. That seems unlikely considering the impact tax talk had on the election, but let’s entertain the possibility. Some of those MPs are going to have to come from the LDP in the upper house. But not everyone in the LDP is on board with their party’s own platform admitting the possibility of a rise to 10%, and neither is the Ozawa Ichiro group in the DPJ. If a tax increase were to pass, it would again allow voters to give other people a chance to pay attention. Or, it could spur the Koizumians in the LDP or the Ozawans in the DPJ to walk, thus accelerating the inevitable political realignment into philosophically compatible groups.

Opposition parties will introduce serious measures of their own to reduce civil service expenditures and the number of Diet members. The DPJ supports those moves, according to their manifesto. But the DPJ’s largest organizational support is derived from labor unions, especially public sector unions, so they’ll have to make a choice. If the government is downsized, everyone will benefit. If the DPJ blocks those measures, the voters will be waiting for them next time around.

It’s all good!

Gemba Koichiro of the DPJ thinks there’s some room to maneuver on civil service reform. He said:

Your Party’s thinking and direction is identical to ours. We might have room for compromise.

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

Some sections (of the platforms) use the same language, but I’m not sure we could get together on the specifics. I’m not optimistic.

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

There is a wild card. Desperate to gets its Japan Post bill enacted, the PNP has asked the Social Democrats in the lower house to informally cooperate with them. Since there are two vacancies in the lower house, the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDPJ together could reach the two-thirds threshold for a supermajority in the lower house. The SDPJ said they’d talk about it amongst themselves, but were otherwise noncommittal. That party is on shaky ground nowadays—they won only two PR seats in the upper house, and there’s talk of dumping Ms. Fukushima as party leader. Will they return to the coalition? We’ll have to see, but they might do the PNP this one favor. If that bill passes, it will provide plenty of ammunition for politicians in the next election. Those who think otherwise might take a hint from current political conditions in the U.S.

The near future

Watanabe Yoshimi jumped on the bully pulpit and isn’t letting go of the mike:

It’s necessary to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election as early as possible to normalize the Diet gridlock. Local elections will be held nationwide next spring, so it would be best to hold them together.

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

It’s necessary for the lower house be quickly dissolved and ask for the trust of the people.

What should Mr. Kan do? Here’s Mr. Watanabe again:

Three years ago (after the last upper house election) when the LDP lost its position as the leading party, they said the Abe administration should step down. I’m telling them the same thing.

The DPJ used to claim that Cabinets should bend to the most recently expressed will of the people. Taking power seems to have created short-term memory loss syndrome in the party, however.

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

His party was thrilled with their election results because they picked up 10 seats in the upper house to bring their total to 11. A Diet member needs 10 co-signers to submit a bill, so they’ve cleared that hurdle. Unlike the DPJ, Your Party members actually have the capability of putting together legislation on their own, and they have several bills ready to go. They’ll surely use this new weapon to publicize their policies, and as the newest television darlings, they’ll surely receive the publicity.

Your Party and the LDP also want to bounce Upper House President Eda Satsuki for what they call his outrageous Diet management. That role requires him to give up his party affiliation, but he’s a DPJ man. The LDP is particularly irritated because they wanted to dump a no-confidence resolution on Hatoyama Yukio. (It would have lost, but it would have forced the DPJ to vote for him, perhaps keeping him in office for the lower house election.) Mr. Eda squelched that, as well as other opposition measures.

Said Mr. Watanabe:

It would be a good idea for the opposition parties to unite and stop this DPJ high-handedness…A change is natural. The opposition parties will work together to choose a new president.

The LDP agreed, but New Komeito doesn’t want to go along. Even though the opposition outnumbers the government, New Komeito says it wants to maintain the principle of having the president come from the party with the largest number of members. Others say that New Komeito might be keeping their options open for a possible coalition down the road. And Mr. Watanabe says he will press the issue.

The DPJ’s future

Several alternative realities could manifest on the material plane for the ruling party, and all of them would be for the greater good.

A Kyodo poll after the election showed the support rate for the Kan Cabinet plunged to 36.3% from the 61.5% figure tallied last month. 52.2% are opposed.

Barring a Kan Naoto-led Era of Good Feelings in Nagata-cho, which would be out of character, the Cabinet’s numbers will continue to head south. Mr. Kan was chosen to manage the election at a minimum, and he choked in the clutch. His return to the minor leagues would seem to be a matter of time.

On election night, despite the national vote of no confidence and the DPJ’s long insistence on obeying the most recent expression of popular will, Mr. Kan appeared on television and said that dissolving the Diet and holding a new election was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not only was Mr. Kan unable to manage an election, he was unable to manage his emotions. His hands shook, his fingers were restless, and he kept touching things on his desk, licking his lips, and drinking water. Those looking for grace or strength under pressure didn’t see any. The photo in my local newspaper the next morning showed him on the verge of tears, and a similar photo already festoons the cover of one of the weeklies.

What, me worry?

Typical of the DPJ, however, everyone thought everyone else was just doing fine. In a round robin show of support, Mr. Kan said that Messrs. Edano and Sengoku should continue in their jobs, and the other two took turns saying the same about the others. The three men met the morning after the election and agreed that keeping their jobs was just the ticket. That leaves them open to the charge of failing to take responsibility, which is a particularly heavy one in Japan.

Mr. Kan in particular seemed to be having a problem with cognitive dissonance. Speaking on the consumption tax:

I don’t think it was a rejection of the debate (consumption tax) itself. My explanation was insufficient…It’s unfortunate that our idea of just moving forward with debate was clumsily and prematurely conveyed to the people.

That reminded more than a few people of Hatoyama Yukio’s comment regarding his own resignation: “The people stopped listening.” In other words, we’re doing the right thing, but can’t get the yokels to pay attention.

Mr. Sengoku came up with a novel spin on the situation on the 12th:

I think we will writhe in agony, but by passing through it Japanese politics will mature.

Thus equating the DPJ with Japanese politics and confirming the observation that self-absorption remains a serious problem in the party. And there was this from Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

We will make a start by calling for cooperation from other parties on a drastic tax reform, including the consumption tax.

Instead of paying for their own mistakes with their jobs, they’re going to make the people pay for their mistakes with their assets. Not a word on drastic spending reform.

But there’s another aspect to the situation. Acting party Secretary-General Hosono Goshi said this about Mr. Kan:

He’s only been in office a month. We shouldn’t replace the prime minister three times in a year.

He’s got a point, but wouldn’t it be better to let him writhe in agony at home, where there’s plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator, instead of subjecting the public to it?

It’s possible they’re just being realistic and waiting until the party presidential election in September, now slated for the 5th. Mr. Kan will surely have to survive a challenge from the Ozawa forces, if not Mr. Ozawa himself. Others might think Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya is starting to look good right about now.

Mr. Kan has kept Justice Minister Chiba Keiko in office even though she lost her election in Kanagawa, which some see as a sign he realizes he’s finished. Ms. Chiba was willing to resign, but Mr. Kan talked her out of it. Mr. Sengoku’s excuse was that it would provide “continuity in government”. As one Japanese wag put it, the role of the Kan Cabinet has been downgraded from election management to office management. In other words, another group of incompetents blocking progress have been unmasked and will soon be kicked to the side of the road.

The joker in the deck

If by some miracle Mr. Kan’s Cabinet stays somewhat intact after September, they still might find themselves out of power due to a sudden reduction in the number of DPJ Diet members.

Even though Kan Naoto was the DPJ leader during the negotiations to bring Ozawa Ichiro and his Liberal Party into the DPJ, the two men do not get along. TV commentator Tahara Soichiro said that when they appeared on his program at the time to discuss the merger, they wouldn’t speak to each other in the studio. Mr. Tahara had to act as a go-between.

The impolite fiction of party unity receded further into the distance when Mr. Kan told Mr. Ozawa to pipe down soon after taking office and stacked Cabinet and party positions with Ozawa foes. The latter then attacked DPJ leadership for bringing up the consumption tax increase during the campaign. It’s entirely possible that he lashed out at Mr. Kan from spite, and to purposely sabotage the DPJ’s chances for his own ends.

The relationship between Edano Yukio and Mr. Ozawa is even more venomous. When the former replaced the latter as party secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa cut their only meeting short after two minutes. He also neglected to pass on to Mr. Edano critical information required to conduct the election campaign, such as which candidates needed financial assistance from the party.

Since the election, Mr. Ozawa has maintained a strange silence and has not appeared in public. The prime minister has sent several messages asking for a meeting, but Mr. Ozawa isn’t returning his calls. The idea, it seems, is to slowly put the screws to him.

Writing in a labor union newspaper, Takashima Hoshimitsu, the DPJ secretary-general of the upper house caucus and an Ozawa supporter, said:

It’s certain that the Kan administration has abruptly come to a dead stop.

According to a mid-level DPJ MP close to Mr. Ozawa:

Edano Yukio and the rest are dead meat. To use a line from the popular comic, ‘You’re already dead.” (The comic is Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the Big Dipper.) They’ll self-destruct sooner or later, so there’s no need to go to the trouble of criticizing them.

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

We’ve already taken steps for the party presidential election. It will be impossible for Kan to be reelected without a vote.

That should be one interesting election. A member of the Maehara Seiji group, part of the hard-line anti-Ozawans, said:

We’ve got three arguments ready.
1. Politics and money and Ozawa
2. His strategy to run two candidates in multiple member districts failed.
3. His criticism of party executives in the midst of campaign harmed party unity.

There’s a rumor from a journalist with ties to the Ozawa camp that he’s resumed conversations with Tanaka Makiko, the former LDP defense minister and daughter of Kakuei, Mr. Ozawa’s political tutor, about serving as prime minister. The two already discussed it when Hatoyama Yukio quit. She told him she wasn’t interested in managing the election, but to come back later.

Her presence might attract some current members of the LDP into a coalition. In fact, there are also rumors that LDP elders Mori Yoshiro and Koga Makoto met with Mr. Ozawa recently. Several Ozawa group members confirm that Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Koga met in Kyushu during the campaign.

To add another ingredient to this unlikely cocktail, a review panel in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said yesterday that the original decision not to take Mr. Ozawa to court for campaign funding violations was inappropriate.

No matter what happens with this most motley of crews, it will turn out for the best regardless of how bad it looks at first. I’ve said before that the Nagata-cho toilet needs a few more flushes, and this will likely present the opportunities. Any group that Mr. Ozawa leads is going to be in the media crosshairs, and they will not stand at ease until he is gone. The combination of Mr. Ozawa and Ms. Tanaka, headstrong drama queens both, would further accelerate their departure from political leadership positions. Regardless of who wins or loses the party presidential election, the inevitable rupture of the DPJ draws closer, leaving the labor unions and the lawyers of the limousine left to their own devices and the creation of a boutique agenda party. A graft with the LDP mudboaters would grease the skids for that greasy group too.

The only downside to the current political situation will be the steps taken in the short term to delay the day of reckoning. Over the long term, it’s a process of purification with nothing but upside.

Numbers of interest

* Few people are talking about it, but the DPJ won more votes than the LDP:

PR districts
DPJ: 18.45 million votes
LDP: 14.07 million votes

Direct election districts
DPJ: 22.75 million votes
LDP: 19.49 million votes

The LDP’s strategy of focusing on single districts trounced the Ozawa strategy. This should put to rest the belief that Mr. Ozawa is an election wizard. His record in big elections is again back to 50/50.

* The only parties to win seats in direct voting were the LDP, DPJ, Your Party, and New Komeito. The other parties won seats through proportional representation.

* Kyodo exit polls showed only 28.8% of independents voted for the DPJ, down from 51.6% in 2009. Independents account for a majority of Japanese voters.

* Several LDP members who lost lower house seats in 2009 won seats in the upper house, including some Koizumians. They included Inoguchi Kuniko, for whom Mr. Koizumi campaigned twice, Katayama Satsuki, and Sato Yukari. Another returnee is Fukuoka Takamaro, who campaigned on the slogan, “Jobs, not handouts”.

* One of the ex-LDP losers, however, was Sugimura Taizo, who became a media sensation after winning a seat in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. No one expected the young, unemployed office worker who registered as an LDP PR candidate in position #35 to win, but Mr. Koizumi’s coattails were very long that year. Mr. Sugimura quickly earned a reputation as a doofus after he babbled about looking forward to eating at the exclusive restaurants where Japanese pols hang out to eat, drink, and hatch their strategies. He was bounced from the Diet last year after moving to Hokkaido, but this year the geriatrics of the Sunrise Japan Party recruited him to run under their banner for reasons that defy logic. He lost again.

* 17 women won seats, or one out of every six female candidates. That’s more than in 2004 but down from 26 in 2007. Their 17% election rate is also down from the 28.6% in 2007. The gorgons in academia, the Japanese version of the Guardianistas at the Japan Times, and the self-appointed wonderful ones will complain, but the only people who care are those who think equality of results trumps equality of opportunity. What little gender had to do with the winning or losing might have worked to their benefit. The DPJ’s Ren Ho capitalized on her good looks and favorable publicity to overcome her lack of experience at anything other than talking in public and posing seminude for photos to reap an impressive number of votes.

Wakabayashi Aki

In contrast, the less attractive but more capable Wakabayashi Aki, a former bureaucrat and journalist who exposed the blunders of the bureaucracy and the DPJ’s policy reform in three books, lost her election as a PR candidate for Your Party. Had the DPJ really been serious about their policy review instead of just using it as TV entertainment, she would have been a much better choice for the panel than Ren Ho.

Incidentally, a sign that someone turned on the light switch at DPJ headquarters is the statement yesterday that they would consider allowing other parties to participate in their policy reviews. That will make it much more difficult for the Finance Ministry to write the script and for the DPJ to slip snipped programs back into the budget later when no one is looking, which is what happened the first time.

* Interest group influence was down with the exception of the labor unions. When voting in the PR phase, voters can either write in the candidate’s name or the party’s name. An indication of union strength was that roughly 80% of the PR votes cast for the DPJ were for the party rather than the candidate. Of the 16 PR seats won by the DPJ, 10 were taken by former Rengo executives. Mr. Edano made sure to visit them and express the party’s gratitude.

* Vote totals were down for those candidates backed by the interest groups associated with doctors, dentists, truckers, pharmacists, the construction industry, and the association for families of the war dead. Those backed by the nurses’ group polled better, as did those backed by Zentoku, the national association of postmasters. The latter group naturally backed the PNP, but the party was skunked in the seat count and failed to win a million votes nationwide.

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

The current issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun has excerpts of a remarkable political stump speech/rant delivered by Ms. Tanaka in her home district. She was for years a member of the LDP, left the party to serve as an independent, and then joined the DPJ last year. She doesn’t seem to have much use for any of them, however.

The term dokuzetsu (poison tongue) doesn’t do it justice. She said the people still in the LDP were “garbage” now that the only ones with popular appeal have left, and she congratulated herself for being the first to leave. She described those who did bolt the LDP as “the Sunset Party” (the Sunrise Party), “Kame-chan” of the PNP (The first kanji in Kamei Shizuka’s family name is “turtle”) and “the bald guy with a head like a scallion who used to be Health Minister” (Masuzoe Yoichi). She dismissed the LDP leadership as “Tubby Mori, Oshima What’s-his-name, and Ishiba What’s-his-name”.

Ms. Tanaka didn’t spare the DPJ. She called Hatoyama Yukio an “elitist who’s always talking about discrimination”, and said the current Cabinet was “packed with nothing but lawyers from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University”. She also took a shot at “the Policy Review Minister who goes around in a white suit” (Ren Ho), but as soon as it turned out she had some dodgy accounting for her office expenses, Kan Naoto hushed everything up by ending the Diet session because it was time for an election.

The crowd ate it up. (Don’t I keep saying that the Japanese love nails that stick out?) But Ms. Tanaka doesn’t have the temperament required of a political leader. She’d be a firecracker as a political commentator or a blogger, however. Koizumi Jun’ichiro could also be wicked, but he was funny. Ms. Tanaka is just cruel for cruelty’s sake. If she ever did manage to wind up as prime minister, her term in office would be nasty, brutish, and short.

* Politicians aren’t the only ones who need to grow up.

Pollsters

All except Jiji use random digit dialing, which is less accurate than more targeted methods. If any of the major polls focus on likely voters only, they aren’t talking about it. Jiji polling suggests more than half of all Japanese adults are independent, but a Kyodo exit poll showed they accounted for only 17.2% of the people who wound up voting.

Print media

The headline of the cover on the 18 June Shukan Asahi, after Kan Naoto took over as prime minister:

DPJ Poised to Take Majority in Upper House / DPJ Reform Resumes

Their 23 July issue had a photo of Mr. Kan near tears with the headline:

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

The late Watanabe Michio, father of Your Party’s Yoshimi, observed that television is the number one means for a politician to promote himself to the public. Number two is weekly magazines, there are no numbers three and four, and number five is newspapers.

Were he to reprise that today, he might put the Net at number 6. Meanwhile, TV and the Net are probably running neck and neck at number 1 in the U.S., and no one else counts anymore. People in Japan have yet to realize that such media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek have lost their influence and preach only to the converted. In fact, Newsweek will be lucky to survive much longer.

Television

Everybody’s irritated with the way Japanese TV covers politics, but one of the more unfortunate events of the last election was their failure to treat the Spirit of Japan Party as the equal of the other parties during televised debates. TV limited participation to those parties who had five or more representatives in the Diet, which left the SOJ out in the cold. That meant they won no seats, though nationwide they did get about half the votes of Kamei Shizuka’s People’s New Party, which had both television coverage and the strong backing of an interest group.

That’s unfortunate because the party leaders have both legislative experience in the Diet and executive experience at the local government level–something the national government desperately needs. They’ve had significant success in rebuilding shattered public finances without automatically reaching for the tax lever.

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

We didn’t have as much time to prepare as the established parties, and we had no organization.

They were organized just three months ago. Another factor was the number of new parties, all of which were led by people with an established national profile. Only Your Party out of this group developed any traction.

Mr. Yamada says they will continue to work with an eye on next year’s local elections. Let’s hope they survive—they’re a little too close to people like social conservative Hiranuma Takeo for comfort, but the opportunity to offer their views and experience on managing government with common sense would elevate the national discussion.

And to close, here’s the best political cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with Japan specifically (though it’s applicable in general), and it comes from a surprising source, but it deserves a larger audience.

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Hatoyama Yukio, AKA Klaatu

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 12, 2009

I think of my husband as a man from outer space.
- Hatoyama Miyuki, the wife of Japan’s prime minister

GOING BY the shorthand version in the English-language media, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was given his nickname “The Man from Outer Space” because Japanese think the shape of his eyes make him look like an alien.

Those looking for a more satisfactory explanation than the ones found in the English-language media might refer to the recently published Hatoyama Yukio no Uchujin Goroku (Roughly, The Collected Sayings of Hatoyama Yukio the Spaceman) for more background.

Yukio-chan

Yukio-chan

The book explains that the moniker started to gain traction back in 2001 when Mr. Hatoyama’s party, the Democratic Party of Japan, was desperate to create an identity for itself among the electorate after Koizumi Jun’ichiro of the Liberal Democratic Party became prime minister. Mr. Koizumi’s support in the polls transcended the stratospheric and touched the lower levels of outer space itself. The LDP tried to capitalize on the phenomenon by selling key chains, cell phone straps, and other merchandise that featured likenesses of the PM, whose unique hair style made him a natural for caricature.

Meanwhile, support for the DPJ was teetering at the bottom end of the seesaw. The party wanted to raise the visibility of Mr. Hatoyama, who was then serving as party head and came off a poor second in comparison to his LDP counterpart.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the party decided to create a cartoon character of Mr. Hatoyama that they called Yukio-chan. The caricature exaggerated the shape of his eyes and placed them somewhere below cheekbone level. It does make Mr. Hatoyama look non-human and otherworldly, and it’s easy to see how people made the spaceman connection. In fact, the shape of the eyes and the jawline somewhat resemble those of the alien drawn for the cover of the 1985 Whitley Strieber book Communion, whose subject is alien abductions. (Whoa, now…I’m not going there!)

The DPJ was so pleased with its creation that they put it up on the home page of their website, used it to sell their own character goods, and hung a life-size poster of the caricature at party headquarters in Tokyo.

One wonders what the office ladies thought the first time they saw it.

As often happens, the law of unintended consequences came into effect. Instead of raising the profile of either the party or Mr. Hatoyama—neither of which happened for several years—the caricature cemented in the public mind the image of the DPJ boss as a bug-eyed visitor from another galaxy.

To be sure, this was all done with Mr. Hatoyama’s approval. In fact, he seems to rather like the spaceman idea. He’s on record as having said:

“I want to transcend (being) an earthling.”

Isn’t that as good an explanation as any for the basis of his political philosophy and policies?

Streiber's alien

Streiber's alien

The caricature was a natural target for the LDP. One of the first to spot the potential was then-Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, who always led with her dokuzetsu, or poison tongue. The book quotes a political journalist who says that she and Mr. Hatoyama often became embroiled in what he referred to as “strange disputes” in those days. Whenever a reporter would bring up the subject of Hatoyama Yukio, she’d dismiss it with the reply, “Ah, that spaceman!”

(Ms. Tanaka had quite the knack for nicknames, by the way. The late Hashimoto Ryutaro, who served as prime minister in the 90s, had a full head of slicked-down hair that he combed straight back. She referred to him as Uncle Pomade, or Pomado Oji-san.)

For an interesting twist, and example 35,472 of how politics makes strange bedfellows, Ms. Tanaka and her husband are now officially Space Cadets as members of the Hatoyama-led DPJ.

So, if the Japanese public thinks Mr. Hatoyama looks like a spaceman, perhaps that’s because they were encouraged to do so by both the man and his party.

And if you think the DPJ has unusual ideas for the visual promotion of its candidates, wait’ll you see how Deputy Prime Minister Kan Naoto sold himself once upon a time.

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Japan’s bureaucrats bite back

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 13, 2009

NO GROUP ANYWHERE has been on the receiving end of as many brickbats in recent years as the Japanese national civil service. Reformers nationwide are calling for the gutting of Kasumigaseki, the generic term for the bureaucracy taken from the Tokyo district where many of their offices are located. The platform of firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi’s newly formed Your Party has a plank that would cut civil service personnel expenditures by 30% and eliminate 100,000 positions altogether. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, on the verge of taking power and forming a new government, has vowed to separate Kasumigaseki from the political process.

While most of the opinions of the bureaucrats themselves about this trend are likely to be unprintable, the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi sent Yokota Yumiko to conduct a roundtable discussion with a group of them and find out what the civil servants were willing to say with a civil tongue. The discussion with Ms. Yokota, a journalist who often covers the Japanese bureaucracy, appeared in the magazine’s 24 July issue. The bureaucrats are privy to a lot of information, and they are sharp observers, so it’s worth reading in English. I translated most of it here, though I omitted some sections where there was a bit too much inside baseball. Those participating in the discussion were identified as follows:

Assistants to division heads in the following ministries

Ministry of Finance (MOF)
Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)
Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT)

We’ll start with the discussion already in progress:

*****

MOF: The LDP really should hold a presidential election and change their leadership. Since they’re going to lose the lower house election, they could position themselves for the next one by putting such structural reformers as Ishihara Nobuteru and Koike Yuriko (both former Cabinet ministers) in prominent positions. At this rate, they’ll be in the opposition forever.

METI: On 10 July, the prime minister’s closest aides (from the bureaucracy) stayed at the official residence to attend a party given in appreciation for their services. They used the opportunity to begin developing a scenario for dealing with the DPJ, enabling them to deal with the transfer of power whenever it occurred. They didn’t go into much detail, however. It mostly involved creating in each department an A team of bureaucrats for the ruling party and a B team of bureaucrats for the opposition party.

MOFA: Come to think of it, one LDP Diet member lamented that the frequency of attendance of bureaucrats at briefings had fallen to 70%. Are 30% of the human resources now being devoted to the DPJ?

METI: There might have been an increase in the percentage assigned to the DPJ. Many of the party’s younger MPs are ex-METI employees, so they’re often sent to METI offices to call on former colleagues and subordinates.

MOF: There’ve been some rumors the MOFA has frantically been destroying important documents in anticipation of a change in government. A former high-ranking MOFA official recently testified about the existence of documents related to a secret agreement about American nuclear weapons on Japanese territory when the security treaty was revised in 1960, and that officials destroyed those documents.

MOFA: That’s because the DPJ says they’ll look into the problems with those treaties. It’s true that some politicians were told about this, including prime ministers and foreign ministers, such as Hashimoto Ryutaro and Obuchi Keizo. They were selected for their reliability.

MLIT: I’ve heard that the Foreign Ministry submits documents with slight differences to the ruling party and to the opposition party.

MOFA: There are two types of documents created, and some that were checked by superiors and had language changed or omitted have been submitted to the DPJ. They contain less information than those submitted to the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party. Still, this is great progress, considering that the ministry never used to respond to DPJ requests for information.

MOF: Documents are being saved thanks to requests for the disclosure of information. There’s been a considerable decline in the ability of government offices to gather information. In the past, they would take notes on what was discussed with politicians in informal situations as if they were reporters, and share it with people in their bureau. Now, however, if they make poor judgments about what to keep, they’ll have to destroy the information. It would create serious problems if the information became public.

- Before the summit, it was unfortunate that Prime Minister Aso didn’t make any important personnel changes in LDP party officials, nor did he have a major Cabinet reshuffle.

MHLW: We’ve calculated that the DPJ will win an outright majority. It’s not another case of the “10 lost years”, but it certainly has been “several lost years”. It would have been better to name Masuzoe Yoichi (HLW Minister) party secretary-general and Higashikokubaru Hideo (Miyazaki governor) as the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. Mr. Masuzoe is a good minister, though he has a poor reputation in the department responsible for handling policy for those suffering from illnesses due to the atomic bombing.

MOF: He is a good minister. He worked with former MHLW Minister Otsuji on the Robust Policy 2009 to eliminate the gap caused by the ceiling of annual growth in social welfare expenditures to 220 billion yen (about $US 2.23 billion) as set forth in the 2006 policy. That caused a lot of trouble for the MOF.

METI: To be honest, the bureaucracy has it the easiest during an election period. Everyone wants the election to come so they can take a break. Even if the DPJ forms a government, we’ll be worried about the Cabinet they put together. It’s possible that Hatoyama Yukio’s problem with campaign contributions will prevent him from sliding into the prime minister’s job so easily. Each of the ministries has had to rework their initial forecasts for the ministers to be selected. That’s caused us a lot of trouble.

MOFA worried about Makiko and Muneo

MOF: And here we thought (DPJ Secretary-General) Okada Katsuya was going to be Finance Minister. If something happens to Mr. Hatoyama, he’ll probably become prime minister. The person holding the finance ministry portfolio in the DPJ shadow cabinet is Nakagawa Masaharu, and he’s incompetent, so the best he can hope for is Vice-Minister. The economist Sakakibara Eisuke would really like the job, but his personality makes that difficult. A lot of his ex-colleagues in the Finance Ministry dislike him.

MOFA: Some people have suggested (former party head and current Vice-President) Maehara Seiji as Foreign Minister, but that would complicate things with China, so he’d probably be better off as the Defense Minister. The worst-case scenario is the rumor of Tanaka Makiko as Foreign Minister, Suzuki Muneo as Vice-Minister, and Sato Masaru as parliamentary aide. Muneo has already asked Mr. Ozawa to put him in a Foreign Ministry post. There are also rumors that a non-politician will be appointed.

(Other rumors about more obscure people omitted)

- The DPJ has a policy of Kasumigaseki reform, including statements that they’ll have everyone at the bureau chief-level and above resign.

MLIT: The senior officials certainly seem to be fretting over it.

MHLW: There’s been a lot of higher-ranked officials drowning their sorrows in Shinbashi bars and grumbling, “What the heck, I’m going to get fired, too.” They’re working hard to get all the information they can, and they say things like, “I hope the LDP government lasts as long as it can,” or “I hope the political realignment hurries up and gets here.”

MOFA: But the DPJ lacks the personnel, so they can’t very well fire some 130 senior officials all at once. They’ll probably wind up keeping about 70%-80% of them.

(A discussion of which bureaucrats in the various ministries would be asked to go follows. One name mentioned was that of Tango Yasutake in the MOF, a former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Mr. Tango was a key person in implementing structural reform and stepped on a lot of toes in the bureaucracy. The MOF representative says that for the DPJ, he is “a Class A war criminal”.)

- Do your ministries have any key people for dealing with the DPJ?

MOF: We have Kagawa Shunsuke…who’s handling that by himself. It’s unusual to have a person like him (a former aide to Ozawa Ichiro).

MLIT: Mr. Kagawa wrote the rough draft for Mr. Ozawa’s 1993 book, Blueprint for a New Japan. I’ve heard that Mr. Ozawa praised him for being “the most accomplished civil servant”. We’re jealous, considering that we have so few connections with the DPJ.

(Further discussion of personnel omitted.)

- Are you making any progress in your response to the DPJ platform?

METI: That platform underwent some editing, and now it’s a lot more realistic. The younger (bureaucrats) are optimistic. They’re relieved, thinking, “At any rate, they won’t be able to achieve any reforms.” There’ll be more people coming over from the new government, but when so many Diet members and private sector personnel who don’t know anything about Kasumigaseki suddenly show up, they won’t know what to do or how to do it. A Cabinet minister can’t handle policy by himself. The vice-ministers and parliamentary aides Mr. Ozawa will bring over won’t be doing any work.

MHLW: Realistically, it will be too late to deal with one measure after the platform is finalized. That’s the idea of merging the Social Insurance Agency with the National Tax Agency. If they’re serious, the shortest amount of time in which it can be accomplished is six months. The DPJ wants to eliminate the citizen payment of insurance premiums and switch to a tax-based system, but there just aren’t any funding sources. Until now, the funding source has been half from taxes and the other half from the insurance premiums paid by citizens. In the end, raising the consumption tax is the only choice.

MEXT: At any rate, the Social Insurance Agency is supposed to be transferred to a new organization next year.

- The DPJ is seen has having a close relationship with labor unions.

MOF: The biggest concern about a change of government is in fact the problem of labor unions. Many of the DPJ Diet members are backed by the Japan Teachers’ Union, the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Workers’ Unions of Japan, and the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union. If the power of the unions increases, there’ll also be an increase in featherbedding, civil servants who don’t do any work. Forget about Kasumigaseki reform. Their slogan of Separation from the Bureaucracy and the facts on the ground don’t match.

MEXT: If Koshi’ishi Azuma becomes the next Minister of Education, that will probably make the JTU more powerful.

MLIT: Government offices won’t be broken up, and you won’t be able to fire civil servants; the problem will just persist.

MOFA: Every organization (in the bureaucracy) has civil servants from labor unions who are really just professional agitators that don’t do any work. That’s particularly true for the non-career types. They can’t be fired, so some departments have even created “lucky charm” positions for them. If you’re looking for wasted money, there’s a good place to find it. I think they should eliminate amakudari (the practice of giving senior bureaucrats important jobs in government-affiliated organizations and private companies when they retire) and institute a system in which at least 10% of the senior positions are replaced. They should demote those in management who are incapable of working. I wonder if the DPJ is capable of that.

MLIT: With the amakudari problem, the biggest issue is how to deal with the non-career types. That’s how the public interest corporations and the government-affiliated corporations got created. The problem of watari with high-level civil servants got out of hand, but then again, how are we supposed to make ends meet with our career salaries? (Watari is the name for the ministries’ arrangement of finding successive jobs for retired bureaucrats at government-affiliated corporations, with the former civil servants receiving a pension each time.)

MEXT: Then there’s the campaign promise about changing the way the budget is formulated. Most agencies are fooling themselves by thinking it will go no further than the DPJ submitting its requests to each ministry.

MOF: The DPJ says they want to examine those budget practices that haven’t been looked at before. We can do that if they round up the best and the brightest from each ministry and increase the number of personnel at the Budget Bureau five-fold. And if they separate the Budget Bureau from the Finance Ministry and put it under the direct jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office, it won’t diminish the Finance Ministry’s power. Rather, it will create a new foothold for us.

METI: Our budget is only about one trillion yen (about $US 104 billion), and our biggest worry in the special account is that the expenditures for small businesses are so great. In this economic downturn, some sectors can’t be touched, so we’re optimistic. Meanwhile, there are many sectors such as agriculture, where the ruling party and the opposition party are competing to see how much money they can throw at them. Just what does the DPJ think it’s going to do?

MHLW: Look at it from different angles and it doesn’t seem as if a DPJ government will last that long. Nowadays, the public’s expectations are too great. They can put together a terrific campaign platform, but with a lot of those planks, they’ll wind up saying, “We can’t do that,” or “We’ll put that off.” I wonder if political realignment will come sooner than we think.

MOF: At any rate, they’re only going to be able to find the funding sources for about one year’s worth of programs. There is nothing at all to fear from a DPJ government. No matter what government is in power, we just go quietly about our business. That’s the duty of the civil servant.

MHLW: There was the line in the recent drama, Summer of the Bureaucrats, that went, “We’re not rewarded for our work.” When I saw that, I cried in spite of myself.

Afterwords:

* Note that one minister refers to Nakagawa Masaharu as incompetent. This May, Mr. Nakagawa told the BBC the government lost a lot of money from exchange rates after buying U.S. treasuries. He suggested that the American government issue yen-denominated bonds (so-called samurai bonds). His comments ignited a selloff of the dollar against the yen, resulting in a higher yen.

* Maehara Seiji is the former DPJ president who is in the party’s strong national defense wing. He and his allies were bitterly opposed to Ozawa Ichiro as party president, and by extension to Hatoyama Yukio replacing him. During the party election to replace Mr. Ozawa after he resigned, there were reports that he would make it his personal mission to ensure that those who wanted him to quit would never get a high-ranking party or government position in the future. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Maehara winds up.

* A Tanaka/Suzuki/Sato triumvirate at the Foreign Ministry sounds as if it is a nightmare rather than a rumor. Ms. Tanaka briefly served as Foreign Minister in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first cabinet, and the bureaucrats detested her. Their internecine warfare became great soba opera fodder for the daytime TV and current affairs discussion programs until she resigned. Mr. Suzuki had carved out a small fiefdom for himself in the Foreign Ministry until he was discovered carving out too much of a financial share for himself, and wound up doing a record amount of jail time for a Diet member. He’s now back in the Diet heading a vanity party and allied with the DPJ. Sato Masaru was a diplomat and Suzuki Muneo ally, praised by the latter as being the “Rasputin of the Foreign Ministry”. He was found guilty of malfeasance of office and his appeal was dismissed at the end of June, so he resigned his position and is now unlikely to be named to a position in government.

* A look at the English website for the Japanese Teacher’s Union has this on the top page:

Mr. Yuzuru Nakamura, President of JTU, referred first in his address to the issue of “poverty of children”, urging the participants that child-raising is not exclusively an “individual” issue. He said JTU should encourage the society to share the responsibility of child-raising among the “society” and the importance of returning the fruit of this effort to the “society”; and to shift the paradigm of educational philosophy (the value of coexistence and mutual assistance).
He also stated that the union should take every opportunity to have social dialogues with the communities, PTAs (parents’ and teachers’ associations), parents, children, educational and other administrations, and the government in order to exercise its social influence, and that it should issue easy-to-understand messages to the citizens.

One can imagine what sort of “social dialogue” they’d have with parents who insisted that child-rearing was an individual matter and that the union should butt out.

Combine that with Mr. Koshi’ishi’s recent statements that politics cannot be separated from education and it becomes apparent why the MOF official was concerned about labor unions. The JTU hobbled Japanese education with its “yutori education” policies of the 90s, some of which the Abe administration managed to roll back. Education and the schools are likely to become a political battleground in a DPJ administration.

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