Japan from the inside out

Ozawa backs Fukuda in upcoming election

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 18, 2008

NO, NOT THAT FUKUDA—Opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro flew down south to Nagasaki to ask Fukuda Eriko to run for a lower house seat in the city’s second district against former Defense Minister Kyuma Fumio. Mr. Kyuma, a 28-year veteran of the Diet, is best known for being dumped from his Cabinet post after suggesting that the atomic bombing of Nagasaki “couldn’t be helped”. A formal announcement of Ms. Fukuda’s candidacy is expected later.

Ms. Fukuda, who at 27 is 40 years younger than Mr. Kyuma, has no political experience to speak of. The head of the Democratic Party of Japan sought her candidacy to capitalize on the public attention she garnered as one of more than 170 parties in a lawsuit against the government and a drug company.

She was seeking compensation for damages because she contracted hepatitis C as an infant due to a transfusion of a tainted blood product shortly after birth. The plaintiffs’ position was that the government was aware of the problem but allowed the product to be used anyway. Ms. Fukuda was not told of the condition until she was 20, and the subsequent treatment caused such side effects as hair loss, fever, and itchiness.

Spurred to activism, she began attending the court cases of other patients to offer encouragement and to publicize the issue. She eventually became the public face of the issue in Japan. (For a detailed look at the story, try this page.)

The government of Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, who is not related to her, came under fire for its response to the issue when a settlement negotiated by an Osaka court fell through last year. His Cabinet then drew up a bill providing more than 20 billion yen to roughly 1,000 patients affected by the same problem, (and overcoming Health Ministry objections in the process).

Mr. Kyuma, running as the Liberal-Democratic Party candidate, seems to be taking her candidacy philosophically. He observed that she might struggle with the hard work involved with politics, noted that politicians often have to overlook their personal beliefs to represent the will of their districts, and wondered if she could fulfill those expectations.

Local LDP officials said the campaign would be the same regardless of the opponent, but were doubtful that she had the ability to work on behalf of Nagasaki to overcome its economic disparities with larger metropolitan areas. They also wondered if, despite her name recognition, the “parachute candidate” would win enough votes in the district to win. (Ms. Fukuda is from Nagasaki, but apparently not that district.)

Defending her candidacy, Ms. Fukuda said “It is politics when hepatitis C kills so many people, and it is politics to save those people.” She added that a better system would end the suffering of those afflicted with the disease, and she wanted to prevent any more deaths caused by government negligence.

Stepping backward from the specifics of the race to look at the situation from a broader perspective brings two things to mind.

First, this is reminiscent of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s successful 2005 tactic of recruiting well-known, attractive women to parachute into the districts of prominent LDP opponents of his postal privatization legislation, though most of them had more experience before entering the race. The media, always ready to turn every story into a colorful narrative, dubbed them “assassins”. The soap opera pathos inherent in this story makes it unlikely the same moniker will be applied to Ms. Fukuda, however.

Second, her name recognition and lack of other germane experience pushes her close to the territory of being a celebrity candidate. Both major parties in Japan like to run famous people, usually from show business or sports, for Diet seats. While some take the job seriously, and a few even become effective politicians, most are at best one-issue candidates–if they have an issue at all. They are more often fronts for the person or persons behind the scenes backing their candidacies, and usually vote as instructed.

If she is elected to the Diet, reform of the Health Ministry is unlikely to take up much of her time. How will the young and inexperienced Ms. Fukuda vote on such matters as tax policy, collective self-defense, and structural reform?

However Ozawa Ichiro tells her to vote, of course.

10 Responses to “Ozawa backs Fukuda in upcoming election”

  1. mac said

    May be not that unique a move and perhaps one to put aside another likely growing faction at some election soon.

    In the late 1980s, one or two thousand Japanese patients with haemophilia were contracted HIV via similarly tainted blood products. Ryuhei Kawada joined the lawsuit against Green Cross Corporation which eventually led to guilty pleas from three executives in 1997.

    Kawada won a seat in the House of Councillors during the 2007 election. He has also indicated he will form a “Green Party of Japan” based on the Rainbow and Greens which supported his campaign. The Rainbow and Greens (虹と緑, Niji to Midori?) went to dissolve itself and merge with the Japan Greens in December 2007 with the aim of forming an official party.

    I don’t know if it has happened yet. It looks a little loose and wooly to me. I have no idea of Kawada standing or abilities and there are also the remnants of The Environmental Green Political Assembly (みどりの会議 Midori no Kaigi?) floating around too. But I could foresee that in the future, rather like in Germany’s example, any rising green party could play a disproportionately effective part in the balance, samo-samo political world.

    I wonder if every party needs a tainted blood victim to add to their credibility?

  2. Mat said

    The girl has the guts to fight the Japanese bureaucracy, which to my opinion is number one problem in today’s Japan. Specially the Health and Labor Ministry who seems to be a source of problems only : new insurance system for elderly, pension system troubles, Kasumigaseki taxis’ gifts and underpayments, inability to throw out of the system some dangerous doctors… what will be the next one?
    Will she be able to do anything useful under Ozawa patronage? At least sending Kyuma back to his garden (does he like gardening) would be useful.

  3. Ken said

    Kyuma Fumio?

  4. ampontan said

    So it is. Should have known better, but a lot of people on the web made the same mistake.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

  5. Ken said

    Democratic Party of Japan seems unfairly enough to take advantage of the unlucky girl who is gathering sympathy all over Japan because she has not got married yet unlike other contaminated pill’s victims who were infected after having baby.
    If DPJ genuinely intends to fight agaist the authority, they ought to choose the leader of the lawsuit delegation who knows the details the most.
    On the other hand, the girl herself may be going to regret the choice of DPJ as she would not have clear vision about not only DPJ but also her own principle yet.

  6. Ken said


    I’m really sorry, but I can’t tell what the first paragraph of your comment means. I’m not sure what marriage has to do with it at all. You can post in Japanese if that would help you clarify.

  7. Ken said


    You do not know the virus they are infected is that of Hepatistis which infects through sexual conduct and mother-to-child transmission, do you?
    Or would you like to say that my English is poorer than your Japanese?

    By the way, Ozawa Ichirou was top follower of Tanaka Kakuei and Kyuuma Fumio belonged to the faction.
    Suicided minister Matsuoka is same and Koike Yuriko was chosen by Ozawa from announcers.
    They are all nebbish, only urge to power, no philosophy.

  8. Ken said


    My question was what does marriage have to do with it.

  9. mac said

    > what does marriage have to do with it?

    Nothing. The issue is one of ‘NOT’ being able to marry.

    Its hard enough for women to find a good husband … whose family is going to welcome or accept one that has a potentially fatal disease that could be passed on to any children?

    Marriage and family are far more essential in Japan than in the West, not just to upkeep standards of respectability but for reasons of practically. Who is going to look after one when one gets old? Whether as a wife, child or daughter-in-law, she is out or the count, a liability … and, one presumes, ineligible for healthcare insurance or a pension.

    So who will marry her … ? Hence the raised sympathy vote from other women especially.

  10. Ken said

    Thanks a lot, Mac.
    But the situation is not supposed to be limited to Japan and I would have liked him to read between the lines.
    Nevertheless, I wish her a ordinary life.

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