Japan from the inside out

An interview with Yosano Kaoru

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 20, 2008

ONE REASON it’s been difficult to create a political system in Japan centered on two parties with clear-cut differences in political philosophy is that the beliefs of individual politicians even within the same party tend to be all over the ideological map. A case in point is Yosano Kaoru of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

When Mr. Yosano was first elected to the Diet, he joined the faction of prime minister-to-be Nakasone Yasuhiro. A fellow faction member who also won his first Diet seat in the same election was Hatoyama Yukio, now the Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Japan, the primary opposition party.

Former Prime Minister Nakasone is known for his long-held desire to rewrite the Japanese Constitution, especially to allow a greater role for the military. He was the pioneer in the large-scale privatization of state-owned enterprises in Japan, overseeing the process that put the Japanese National Railroad, now known as JR, and NTT, the phone company, into the private sector.

Mr. Yosano backs the privatization of Japan Post, which would lead one to think he’s part of the LDP’s small-government, growth-oriented wing. Yet he makes a point of calling for an increase in the consumption tax, which is nobody’s idea of a libertarian crusade. He favors a return to an electoral system with multiple-member Diet districts, part of the agenda of those who support political realignment, but has accepted political contributions from a trucking industry group that opposed the conversion of the gasoline surtax funds to the general account, the issue that brought the Diet to a near-halt earlier this year. That would seem to place him in the big government camp.

A grandson of the poets Yosano Tekken and his wife Akiko, known as modern Romanticists, he is a man of many interests. He is an amateur go player with a seventh-dan ranking who plays friendly games with opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro. He’s also very knowledgeable about computer technology, and builds several personal computers from scratch every year by himself.

He’s been elected to the Diet nine times and held several Cabinet positions, most recently serving in the important Chief Cabinet Secretary post during the waning days of the Abe administration. He’s no stranger to either political or personal adversity; he’s been voted out of office twice and sent back to the Diet twice more. In fact, former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro once said the party would have tapped Mr. Yosano as prime minister instead of him had it not been for that second election loss. After taking a break from politics two years ago to recover from cancer of the larynx, he has returned to the center of events in Nagata-cho and is again being mentioned as a potential PM.

He recently sat for an interview with a Tokyo correspondent from the Nishinippon Shimbun. Here it is:

What are your views on the “Twisted Diet”? (The term used to refer to the legislative gridlock that occurred when the opposition party took control of the upper house)

The DPJ is avoiding realistic politics. When it comes to the point that a policy decision just has to be made, they avoid it every time. They’ve got a majority in the upper house, so I want them to be part of a responsible decision-making process. In the Diet now, decisions on issues depend entirely on the DPJ.

What sort of overtures would you make to the DPJ?

I would take the approach of seeking a proper cooperation on policy. But the DPJ keeps walking away.

You’ve made the argument that a new policy-making mechanism needs to be created for the nation.

There are (different ways to accomplish that), including a grand coalition (between the LDP and the DPJ), which did not get very far, periodic cooperation on policy, or a partial policy coalition. Political realignment is another method. But in today’s political system, the two blocs are constantly at odds with each other. We can’t stand by and allow that situation to continue. In the end, the people will suffer.

What is the most realistic policy?

The idea of a grand coalition has been pretty much pawed over. As long as the DPJ keeps running away from it, a partial policy coalition is unlikely to happen. Since that’s the case, the natural course of events would bring about the possibility of a political realignment, either before or after the (next lower house) election.

It will be difficult for the ruling party to maintain its two-thirds supermajority in the next election. (If that supermajority is lost), how will you deal with that in the Diet?

There’s no way to deal with it. That’s why people will start discussing a coalition or a political realignment.

How would you evaluate the Fukuda Cabinet?

They could improve in two ways. First, they need to find a way to deliver their message to the people, and I’m not talking only about Prime Minister Fukuda. Words are very important. They must choose their words and better communicate the thinking of the administration and the party.

Second, they have to demonstrate to the people once again which policies they consider the most important.

What traits are particularly important for a prime minister?

The ability to convincingly present important policies to the people. And the persistence to make those policies a political reality.

You’ve been mentioned as a possible successor to Prime Minister Fukuda.

That talk started up all of a sudden, and it surprised me. I’ve never thought of it as a real issue. There is work I want to do, however.

You insist that the consumption tax must be increased, but can you continue to make that claim before an election?

We’d be in real trouble without anyone who is capable of telling the truth. The people understand, and they’ll see right through anyone who’s trying to hide something.

When do you think the best time would be to dissolve the Diet?

Public opinion polls show the Cabinet has a bad support rating. The LDP’s rate of support is now in territory the party has never experienced before. In this climate, there is no effective medicine that will change everything overnight. The only option for us is to work simply and honestly to implement our policies, and that will take time. (The election) won’t be anytime soon.



1. Note how Mr. Yosano has edged closer to political realignment as the only solution for the political stalemate. Don’t be surprised if others join him.

2. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Fukuda said the time had come to make a decision about the consumption tax. Translation: He wants to raise it. As we’ve seen before, Mr. Fukuda seems to be in league with the Ministry of Finance bureaucrats and their political allies who favor the increase. (The Rising Tide, or growth wing of the LDP, would raise taxes only after taking other steps first.)

Mr. Yosano seems to indirectly confirm here that his group’s strategy will be to try to pass a tax increase while Mr. Fukuda is in office and stick him with the responsibility. Meanwhile, they’ll delay the lower house election as long as possible and contest it with a different prime minister.

3. Only a committed partisan could disagree with Mr. Yosano’s assessment of the opposition DPJ’s behavior. I hold no brief for LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei, but he was dead on when he said they were acting like primary school boys with a loaded pistol.

Everyone in Japan wants to see a viable opposition party. But since the DPJ’s upper house election victory last July, it has failed to present itself as a positive and proactive force with a reasonable plan for governing the nation. They instead chose the negative course of obstructionism and confrontation without offering serious policy alternatives. Had they taken the high road, they might well be in power today, and the people would be tossing flowers at their feet.

The DPJ let the prize slip through their fingers yet again, however. Their primary asset still remains the ruling party’s blunders rather than their own approach.

And now the public, the media, and the political class are starting to draw conclusions.

One Response to “An interview with Yosano Kaoru”

  1. Bender said

    Great post. I agree with your assesment of the DPJ. They played old political games which the people didn’t have much appetite for, and they’re losing support.

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