Japan from the inside out

An interview with Edano Yukio

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 27, 2008

FOR THE BETTER PART OF THREE DECADES, Japanese reformers from every hue of the political spectrum have been hammering away to reform and rebuild the superstructure installed in 1955. That’s when two center-right, anti-leftist parties merged to create the Liberal Democratic Party. Except for ten months in the early 90s, the LDP has ruled continuously since then, either alone or in coalitions with smaller parties.

Of course they’ll succeed in the end, but the pace of progress is the same as it is everywhere: one step forward, two steps back, and three years of waiting for the next step.

Some reformers, such as former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, have actually worked from within the LDP to effect the reforms they sought. Mr. Koizumi has been the most successful, perhaps validating the claim that one has to be a part of the system to change it. But then again, it’s a rare political specimen who receives massive public support by repeatedly promising to destroy his own party.

Many others have been drilling at the foundations of the old regime from the outside. One of the most tireless has been Edano Yukio, an influential member of the Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party. He started his national political life as a member of the Japan New Party, a small group led by Hosokawa Morihiro. It was Mr. Hosokawa who served in 1993 as the first prime minister of a non-LDP government in nearly 40 years.

Since then, Mr. Edano has passed through several minor political parties, including the New Party Sakigake, which actually joined a ruling coalition with LDP in the 90s. He later became one of the first Diet members to join the DPJ, Japan’s primary opposition party.

The Edano Philosophy

What are his core beliefs? The political philosophies of the DPJ members cover such an impossibly wide range of views that it would be difficult to imagine a comparable group existing in the West, much less functioning successfully. Also, the basic premise in Japanese party politics is to put group loyalty first. That can sometimes make it difficult to pin down what an individual really thinks. (And remember, these are politicians–what they think can change depending on the wind direction.)

In some ways, Mr. Edano would seem to be in the party’s center-right camp. He is known as being extremely well-versed in policy, but somewhat lacking in political skills. He has served in several positions in the party’s shadow Cabinet, and he helped write the party’s platform for the 2003 Diet election.

His website advertises his opposition to pork barrel politics, dependence on the bureaucracy, and centralized government. He makes a point to mention his work with LDP reformer Ishihara Nobuteru on policy issues in the Diet. He wants to revise Japan’s Constitution, citing as one reason the need to limit public sector authority. Mr. Edano also says that he favors the devolution of authority, and is an opponent of waste, fraud, and abuse in government. That last is no mere boilerplate; it is one of the most critical issues of the day in this country.

In addition to a career spent championing reform, he is also known for a hard line against the Chinese. He publicly met with the Dalai Lama in a Tokyo hotel in 2006. He supports the religious leader’s return to Tibet and the establishment of self-rule based on the principles of Tibetan Buddhism. He also notes this would first require the democratization of China.

Party Dissension

Of particular interest in the current political climate is his long association with Maehara Seiji, with whom he shares the leadership of a DPJ faction, and his equally long dislike of Ozawa Ichiro, the DPJ’s president and political leader.

Mr. Maehara was a member of the Japan New Party with Mr. Edano, and together they joined the New Party Sakigake before finding a home in the DPJ. As we’ve seen before, Mr. Maehara has lately been fraternizing with LDP reformers, causing some to wonder if he might throw his lot in with that group to create yet another political party. (We’ll talking more about Mr. Maehara in the days ahead.)

Meanwhile, Mr. Edano and his fellow traveler are hammering away at another political leader of the old school–the president of their own party, Ozawa Ichiro. They are working to replace him ini the party election to be held in September.

No one is very surprised. He bolted the Japan New Party more than 10 years ago because he thought Prime Minister Hosokawa was paying too much attention to Mr. Ozawa’s whispered instructions from behind the curtain. He was the DPJ member most adamantly opposed to a merger with the boutique party Mr. Ozawa later created, and said he would resign from the Diet if it happened. (The merger happened in September 2003, and he didn’t resign from the Diet. Empty threats are not uncommon in Japanese politics.)

While favoring Constitutional reform, he has also said that a true debate over revising the document wouldn’t happen until both Abe Shinzo and Ozawa Ichiro were removed as heads of their parties. Now that Mr. Abe is long gone, he’s half-way there.

The Nishinippon Shimbun interviewed Edano Yukio last week, and here is the English version.


Give us your frank impressions about the political situation as the first gridlocked Diet session comes to an end.

It took the ruling party about six months after last year’s upper house election to get used to the new situation, so there were abuses. They finally relented, which resulted in successes.

What were the abuses?

They–and the mass media–were under the mistaken impression that any decision of the government and the ruling party would be the final decision. They said they wanted to hold discussions (about issues), but they gave no indication of where they were willing to compromise. They just said to come to the table. That’s no way to make progress. It took time for them to understand it was natural for the changes in the Diet to lead to different results in Diet debates.

Do you think the current situation is normal?

Actually, even with the gridlock, it hasn’t been at all unusual for the opposition’s opinions to bring about change in the legislative proposals submitted by the Cabinet to the Diet. We finally got (the LDP) to see that that’s how the Diet would be in the future.

How would you evaluate the Fukuda Administration?

The Cabinets of Koizumi Yuichiro, Abe Shinzo, and Fukuda Yasuo are all the same administration. The Fukuda Administration’s low support rate reflects the voters’ judgment of the negative legacy of the Koizumi-era ideas, such as the new health care system for the late-stage elderly. I hope we are able to make the point that LDP governments are the problem, rather than wonder who in the LDP would be best to lead the government.

The DPJ has been criticized for giving priority in all issues to creating a political crisis.

We might have to think about how that misunderstanding can be corrected. It’s natural for there to be many different opinions on policy matters. It was a kindness that the party allowed the opening of internal debate at an early stage.

What is your evaluation of Ozawa Ichiro, who has switched to a policy of confrontation?

It is not the place of a member of the DPJ group of parliamentarians who chose Ozawa as its head in an election to give a third party-like evaluation.

Some in the party think Mr. Ozawa should be reelected by acclimation in the fall election.

Regardless of who the candidates are, the winner will stand at the head of the party and lead it to victory in the national election. A proper party election will be indispensable for enhancing that person’s influence and suitability. True influence will come when that person is selected after several choices have been presented to the party members and supporters.

Are you thinking of running?

As of now, I haven’t thought about it at all. My theory on leadership is that you start thinking about it when the people around you recommend you as being suited for it.

What do you think the public is looking for from politics today?

Mr. Koizumi talked about privatizing the postal system for 20 years. The people responded very positively to his strong beliefs. They seek a leader in whom they can place their trust. Politicians who lack a seriousness of purpose and can’t communicate their message won’t be trusted.

Many are skeptical that the DPJ has the ability to lead a government.

Nobody knows whether anyone has the ability or not until they are given responsibility for the government. When Mr. Abe led a government, he didn’t have the ability.

Will there be a political realignment?

Both the LPD and the DPJ expect the other to split up, but that’s not possible. The only (solution) is to seek a (Diet) majority in an election.


Mr. Edano’s observation that both parties are trying to outlast the other in the hopes that their opponent will crumble is particularly apt. It’s not a good way to run a government, but both parties do seem to be playing a game of last man standing. And it’s not out of the question that either or both will get their wish.

There are several areas of agreement between Mr. Edano and the LDP reform wing, which makes it difficult to determine just where he differs from them. He has long been associated with DPJ founding member Kan Naoto, who is known for being somewhat to the left of center. Therefore, it might be that Mr. Edano would favor more generous social welfare policies than the semi-libertarian types in that LDP group.

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