Japan from the inside out

Puberty at last for the DPJ?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 28, 2008

IT’S ABOUT BLOODY TIME—13 months to be precise. That’s how long it took the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to come up with a legislative proposal that seems to have been carefully thought out, rather than something that floated out of a dorm room hookah at 3:00 in the morning.

Details of the proposal are sketchy–and likely to remain so, because a thorough examination of legislative detail is above the pay grade of the print media in any country. But here’s what can be gleaned from an article that appeared in the Sankei Shimbun earlier this week.

Beefing up consumer protection

The government/ruling coalition plans to offer in the upcoming Diet session a bill to create a Consumer Affairs Agency. In addition to restructuring government finances, the Liberal Democratic Party is putting on a consumer-friendly face as part of their overall strategy to prevent any more post-Koizumi-era Cabinets from falling over backwards at the slightest political breeze.

The DPJ’s core philosophy is “We’re the opposition and we’re opposed,” so it doesn’t take a Third Eye to see what they’re going to do next. But the party’s study group for human rights and consumers also expended the time and effort to hammer together the framework of an alternative bill to create a Board of Consumer Rights. The Shadow Cabinet is expected to formally approve it and submit it to the lower house for consideration.

The DPJ plan

The DPJ claims that the government/ruling party’s proposed Consumer Affairs Agency will merely be an appendage of the Cabinet Office in the central government. They say this would render the agency ineffective because it would be unable to work with the existing consumer agencies at the local governmental level. Therefore, to monitor government ministries and other agencies from a position outside the Cabinet, they propose the creation of a Board of Consumer Rights with strong authority, independent of the Cabinet and the Diet. They’re basing their model on the Board of Audit of Japan.

The new board would integrate all the Consumer Affairs Centers operated by local governments. It would also offer advice and recommendations to consumers for dealing with their complaints. Its authority would include the power to demand that the national and local governments provide specified documents within a fixed time period. They would also have the authority to encourage the prosecution of shady businesses to prevent the spread of abuses, as well as the authority to petition courts to halt the business operations of those companies. Finally, they would provide assistance to consumers for filing suits to recover illegal profits.

On the other hand…

Some of their ideas seem less appealing. The DPJ would have the board stay open for consultation year-round. What consumer complaints are so urgent that they require handling on a public holiday instead of the next business day? Anything that serious is probably a police matter to begin with.

They also suggest an annual budget of about 100 billion yen (about $US 918 million) and a maximum of 10,000 employees. That seems a bit much–expanding the national government and its bureaucracy is not the brightest of ideas when the public sector is already having trouble paying its bills. (Okayama Prefecture just announced a 9.5% salary cut for its employees for the next four years.) The Japanese government needs to be steered away from further centralization, not toward it.

And since the default position of most center-left parties is that the public is incapable of reading a contract or picking up a phone and calling an attorney on its own, it’s possible that still more unattractive provisions lurk beneath the surface.

A turning point for the DPJ?

But perhaps we should be more generous and appreciate that the DPJ seems at last to be learning how to shave. After all:

  • This is the party that claims to be anti-bureaucracy, but promises to restore the anachronism and the bureaucracy of the postal ministry.
  • This is the party that tried to pull the rug out from Japanese participation in UN-sanctioned operations by claiming the UN Security Council didn’t authorize the Indian Ocean refueling activities to support NATO in Afghanistan—despite UN Security Council authorization and specific praise for the Japanese contribution.
  • This is the party that curried popular support by opposing the continuation of a gasoline surtax when oil prices soared earlier this year—without finding a way to offset the reliance of many cash-strapped local governments on that tax revenue for their fiscal solvency. (The funds account for 5% of Iwate Prefecture’s annual budget, to cite one example.)

Is this a case of the blind DPJ squirrel stumbling over a chestnut, or is it a sign that the party is finally trading in its short pants for adult trousers? Let’s hope it’s the latter.

8 Responses to “Puberty at last for the DPJ?”

  1. Bender said

    I’d say hell with the sophisticated liquor tax system and introduce one flat, cheap tax. Let micro-brewers grow so I can have a decent pint of IPA instead of “been beer”!

  2. ampontan said

    Bender: You might be surprised at recent developments here.

    There are plenty of microbrews. Take a look at this.

    The introduction of bean beer has had an interesting effect on the major brewers. They’ve introduced several excellent “real” beers on the market. If you like beer by the old German definition, there is more choice among Japanese-made beers now than there ever has been.

    And as for a flat tax, the LDP is talking about raising the consumption tax, but lowering the income tax. I wonder…

  3. bender said

    I’m fond of ale…top-fermentation. But better check out the newest Japanese brews. Maybe lager is more suited for the hot & humid Japanese summers.

  4. ampontan said

    One of the major breweries has brought out a real ale, which surprised me a little. Maybe Kirin, but I forget. Small bottle with a red label. Saw it in a konbini a couple of months ago.

    I like Guinness stout myself. What really surprises me, considering how thoroughly Japanese examine things from overseas, is that it is served cold in this country in bars.

    That’s as bad as the US!

  5. Bender said

    Maybe this? It’s probably Pale Ale.

    Looks like they also sold a limited version of Hefeweizen this summer and is going to sell IPA(?) this autumn. Too bad the Hefewiezen and IPA are only test productions. I’ll tell folks I know in Japan to drink these so they’ll stay! If not, I’ll have to seriously consider moving to Oregon. Or Alaska, where they have Alaskan Amber…

  6. Taintus said

    From politics to beer. . .I like this blog.


    Check out my blog In the Pines.

  7. mac said

    I will stick with the beer here. Cold Guinness is a shameful heresy born of some idiot adolescent in their marketing department.

    Sorry to say it but we blame the Yanks (defining Yank as a non-cultured American). Most visitors to Ireland are not British but such Americans and they demand cold beer. Why? It makes no sense in a climate like the British Isles.

    A few years ago the company launched Extra Cold Guinness, which failed in both Britain and Ireland, attempting to resell it to a younger market. It did great damage to the brand along the way. Most if not all of the tradition drinks are natural temperature. All the equipment had to be pulled out of bars … they are probably sell it and the idea off to the Chinese as we type.

    Do not get me started on the environmental lunacy of supermarket cold storage units that have become universal in all developed nations now. Again starting from the US. Coca Cola etc and their sponsored store chillers seemed to be the start of it overseas. Why on earth pay to cool shelves of litre bottles or cartons of fruit juice or pasteurized soy milk, which are only going to be taken home to drink days later … even in wintertime? Everyone has to do it because everyone does it.

    Japan seems to have this fetish bad too. I have the opposite of inconveniencing staff by demanding unchilled drinks and sending back glasses when someone drops ice into my water without asking first.

  8. mac said

    Back to politics for a second … my apologies for being so contemporary but is the American presidential election having any effect on Japan and would any changes have any influence to the Asian sphere?

    I was surprised by some sweet, naive in my opinion, communalist Japanese friends (note the extra ‘al’ in that) who all of a sudden pulled out Republican sympathies for McCain of such a degree that I expect their membership forms to join the NRA are already in the post.

    When I questioned this, I was pointed out something to the extent that when Clinton and the Democrats were in power, they became chummy-chummy with China and overlooked Korea excesses. The Republican Party, they thought, would would take a hardline on their burgeoning and rabid neighbor and I think the right made them feel safer. I knew nothing of Asia, they said. Although, personally, I do not fit myself within the simplistic left-right dialetic, I said they knew nothing of the American Right.

    This was compounded by some separate discussion I had regarding Article 9 and the Article 9 Movement, following a local visit from a young American ex-Gulf vet and peace campaigner, who had walked from Hiroshima to Tokyo. At his talk I asked (after establishing to a deathly silence what an effect on men it had to kill others) what would happen if China or Korea attacked Japan. And, as wonderful as pacifism is, what was Japan meant to do …?

    His answer was without thought and immediate … if China attacked, America would withdraw. So what is the point in Japan sucking up to America and remaining a client state?

    DPJ, LDP … is there more to Japan than well-meaning but bureaucrat-led flock of sheep being fleeced for pensions and walked towards eventual slaughter? Personally, I would have thought the immediacy of Japan’s situation would have brought about more urgent reform, collectivity and demanded stronger, clearer leadership.

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