Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 15, 2010

THE CONCEPT OF YUAI, or fraternalism, is the basis of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s political philosophy. Idealistic and positive, it is admirable and worth emulating in one’s personal life. That so many people object to it is due to Mr. Hatoyama’s intention to apply it to politics, the operation of government, and international relations. There, it would be as impractical as asking, “What would Jesus do?”

Yet for all his apparent seriousness, one aspect of his life suffers from a conspicuous lack of fraternalism—the notoriously touchy relations between Mr. Hatoyama and his younger brother Kunio. Originally members of the Liberal Democratic Party, the brothers left and eventually founded the Democratic Party of Japan, now the ruling party. But Hatoyama the Younger later split the DPJ due to an inability to get along with his brother and moseyed back to the LDP, where he’s had portfolios in the Abe, Fukuda, and Aso Cabinets.

The brothers have even gone through periods in which they didn’t communicate with each other. Though they’ve managed to keep most of their dirty laundry hidden from the public until now, the difficulty between them seems to stem from a classic case of sibling rivalry, complicated by the enormous wealth of their family.

Everyone’s family hamper contains some soiled clothing, but seldom is it exposed on the national political stage, as happened last week. That exposure could well spell the end of the prime minister’s career. A jail term is unlikely, but his credibility, which was in tatters to begin with, now lies in shreds.

The background

Recall that Hatoyama Yukio was forced to come clean about some very dirty looking entries on his political funding reports last year. He had somehow managed to accumulate contributions far in excess of other prominent politicians, including the shady Ozawa Ichiro and former Prime Minister Aso Taro, another man of great wealth and aristocratic background. One salient feature of his political war chest was that an enormous amount of that money came from people who were either dead or chose to remain anonymous.

There was a good reason for the anonymity. As it turned out, the source of that money was very much alive–Hatoyama Yasuko, the 87-year-old family matriarch and heiress to the Bridgestone Tire fortune. Mr. Hatoyama finally acknowledged receiving an average of roughly JPY 15 million (about $164,000) per month in political contributions from his mother in cash for years. The back taxes and penalties alone dating back to 2002 totaled more than JPY 600 million ($6.5 million). Mr. Hatoyama later claimed the donations were loans, but no loan documents exist, and he has never paid any of the money back.

That of course became the source of jokes about his mother’s contributions being the largest allowance in the country. Others compared it to the DPJ proposal to give cash benefits to parents with children.

Hatoyama the Elder has so far managed to use the Wall of Aides to protect himself from the law. The two people responsible for managing the funds took the fall by coming up with the story that they asked his mother for the money without telling their boss. Polls show 76% of the public think that’s a lot of hooey, but it’s not possible to prove otherwise.

The prime minister may have overdone his protestations of innocence, however, when he said in January, “If a different set of facts emerges, I have no qualifications to wear this badge.” In other words, if it comes out that he knew about his mother’s contributions in advance, he would resign from the Diet.

Better than Perry Mason

And that brings us to former LDP Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru’s grilling—really, skewering and barbecuing—of the prime minister in the lower house late last week.

To the prime minister’s face, Mr. Yosano said:

Hatoyama Kunio grumbled about it. ‘My brother would often go to our mother and say that he needed money to give to his younger political followers in the party (kobun, or 子分). He went to pick up the money.’

If that hearsay story’s true, then Yukio’s claim that he didn’t know his mother was funding his political group was a lie.

Mr. Yosano added that the prime minister was:

…(t)he King of the Heisei Tax Dodgers. He has no qualifications to serve as prime minister. It’s unbecoming for a person like that to hold the position of prime minister.

(Heisei is the era name of the current Tenno, or emperor.)

The normally unruffled prime minister became quite ruffled:

That’s a cock-and-bull story. You can even ask my mother…I find it unbelievable that my brother even said that, and I think it’s regrettable.

Back benchers on his side of the aisle called out encouragement, telling him to stay cool.

Until now, Hatoyama Kunio, who already had a reputation for saying unusual things, had kept silent about the affair. He later confirmed that he told the story to Mr. Yosano, as well as the gist of the story, but claimed he never said that his brother had asked for or gone to get the money

My mother said over the phone, ‘Your brother needs a lot of money to train his kobun‘…I don’t know whether my brother told (her) that or his aide told her that.

Hatoyama the Younger also said he would neither comment on nor make judgments of the issue.

At an evening press conference following the Diet questioning, the still-ruffled prime minister said:

That didn’t happen at all. You’ll know if you ask my mother, but that didn’t happen at all. I’ve never thought I needed money to take care of my kobun, and I shouldn’t even have to say that I’ve never thought about it. That’s why it’s a complete cock-and-bull story. My brother…that, his story now, you’ve cut it off in the middle, but hasn’t he said he doesn’t know who said it? Mr. Yosano said that as if I had actually said it, but I never said anything like that at all. It’s not necessary.

The Sankei Shimbun ran a partial transcript of Mr. Yosano’s questioning. It’s more compelling than any television courtroom drama because it’s real.

Yosano: When did you find out about the bogus donations?

Hatoyama: I found out from newspaper reports. It might have been in mid-June last year.

Yosano: Your aide must have been interviewed by the press the day before the article appeared.

Hatoyama: I heard it from my aide after the article appeared.

Yosano: Did you ask your aide why he did it?

Hatoyama: I asked him whether it was the truth.

Yosano: Why did it take you two weeks to hold a press conference to give an explanation?

Hatoyama: I didn’t meet my aide, and I asked my attorney to look into what happened.

Yosano: Most people would have asked their aide why they had done such a thing. Your aide did it to protect you. You kept bringing this money from some place he knew nothing about, and he had no choice but to record it on the political fund report, so he just made up some donors. The crime is in fact yours. In a yakuza movie I saw recently, the henchmen stepped up to protect their boss. The most serious crime in the political funding law is filing a false report. You’re pinning a serious crime on your aide.

Hatoyama: I don’t think you can say it was handled the same way as a yakuza, but my aide committed a serious crime. But the cause of the crime was not that serious. I’m a politician who can’t get any donations, so I made up for it with my own money. I’m convinced that it didn’t come from any shady company.

Yosano: Why are you saying that? You’re the one who brought the money. I want a clear answer why you did it.

Hatoyama: I understand that in the end, the income wasn’t recorded as my money, but in fact it was falsely recorded using fictitious names. It isn’t that we couldn’t write the names because my aide and I received the money from a source whose name we actually couldn’t write.

Yosano: Well, isn’t that a violation of the political fund laws? You used more than JPY 10 million of your own money, which is over the limit. You have to admit that.

Hatoyama: I used my own money as political funds and signed off on it, as my aide said, but of course I understood that he came up with the money in the form of a loan. There was no recognition that we did it knowing in advance that it was an illegal act. There was no intention at all of it being a donation. I think it was of course done in the form of a loan.

Yosano: That’s just an excuse after the fact. During the two weeks after this came to light, you made calls with your two aides to the people who hadn’t donated the money to ask them to say they had. You don’t have any loan documents, do you? The aide who knew you had gone over the contribution limit is taking the fall for the whole thing. You’ve dismissed him, but what’s going to happen with his court costs? Are you going to take care of him for the rest of his life?

Hatoyama: I haven’t seen the aide at least since the newspaper report. People are going around saying that we’ve been working on our story, but I haven’t done that at all. I certainly want that confirmed. I understand the prosecutors made the judgment that hadn’t happened.

Yosano: The reason you weren’t indicted is that prime ministers can’t be indicted. Don’t think you’re in the clear. The prosecutors still retain the right to indict you. There is no guarantee that you’re perfectly innocent. You say there’s no problem with the expenditures, but will the Public Prosecutor’s Office guarantee that?

At that point, Justice Minister Chiba Keiko chimed in:

All the information that came to light in the investigation was used to build the case.

During an interview on television yesterday, Mr. Yosano let it ride:

Kunio got in touch with me, and told me that my questions were fine. He said he can back up my story.

The younger brother’s curious admission

Kunio would rather not talk about his brother’s problems in public, for obvious reasons. He has always refused to answer reporters’ questions about the case—with only one exception.

A journalist for the weekly Sunday Mainichi caught him outside his home one morning in a pensive mood, and passed along the story in the magazine’s 13 December issue. Hatoyama the Younger began with a tale from the two years he spent as an aide to Japan’s postwar political kingpin, Tanaka Kakuei.

“One day he (Tanaka) said to me, ‘I’ve overdone it, but my situation was such that I had to overdo it. That’s how I’ve built my position, but you mustn’t overdo it.’ He added, ‘Overdoing it is different than struggling and working very hard. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you overdo it, all sorts of things will come out later.’”

After seeing Tanaka get caught up in serious financial scandals, being arrested, being forced to step down as prime minister, and fighting in court until his death, Mr. Hatoyama said he came to realize that Tanaka was referring to fund raising when he talked about overdoing it.

It’s odd to say this about myself, but I’ve never had an appetite for power. But my brother’s intent to seize power has been 10,000 times greater than mine. To achieve that, I think he’s worked very hard and put up with a lot. He’s a hard worker to begin with, and he’s really endured.

“But still, he’s overdone it. It seems to me that he’s gone too far to look after his kohai. (後輩, which in this case is synonymous with kobun).

Thus it would seem the younger brother was already saying last December that his older brother’s problem with political contributions was due to a desire to provide for the younger Diet members in his faction.

But why would Hatoyama Kunio talk about it at all?

This might explain it. Here’s what family matriarch Yasuko also said to her younger son Kunio:

You don’t need any (money) because you don’t have any kobun, right?

There’s one more bit of information to consider.

Inoue Kazuko, the older sister of Yukio and Kunio and the director of their political institute called the Yuai Juku, reportedly told the prime minister that under no circumstances was he to create a situation in which their mother was forced to testify in the Diet. By no circumstances, she meant that he should resign before he let that happen.

Unfortunately, the prime minister gave the opposition an excuse to call her in as a witness with his childish, “You can even ask my mother,” response to Mr. Yosano.

The LDP, however, has already said they’d be willing to send a delegation to Mrs. Hatoyama’s residence if a personal appearance would be too much of a strain.

Are there not more than enough dots for everyone to make the connections? It’s sad that the family troubles have become the nation’s business, but people do reap what they sow, do they not?

Sadder still is that serving as the nation’s prime minister is an adolescent who never had to learn the lessons about money the rest of us did.

And how sad will the Democratic Party of Japan be if Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa retain their positions until this summer’s upper house election?


The personal assets of the individual members of the lower house of the Diet were disclosed earlier this month. There are 480 members of the lower house. Here is a partial list of the rankings by personal wealth.

1. Hatoyama Yukio: JPY 1.6368 billion (about $US 182 million)
2. Hatoyama Kunio: JPY 816.17 million

Those figures do not include their stock portfolios. The value of their combined shareholdings exceeded JPY 10 billion at the market price as of the disclosure on 5 February.

Most of their stock is in Bridgestone shares received from their maternal grandfather. The prime minister has 3,500,000 shares, worth JPY 5.232 billion. His younger brother Kunio has 3,570,000 shares, worth JPY 5.66 billion.

In addition, the prime minister has 300,000 shares in other companies, including Toshiba and Mitsui, worth JPY 165 million, while Kunio has 380,000 shares in other companies, including Mitsui Chemicals and Oji Paper, worth about the same amount.

The prime minister also has JPY one billion in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 391 million. Kunio has JPY 141 million in bank deposits and real estate worth JPY 588 million.

It’s been reported that neither brother can sell their Bridgestone holdings without their mother’s consent.

During his initial policy speech in the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama railed against “Wealth (earned) without labor”.


Mr. Yosano was in ripping fine form last week. After taking in this scene–

–he said:

Mr. Kan was napping during the conference. All he does is nap, and the only time he wakes up is when his cell phone rings.

He’s alluding to a Growth Strategy Policy Council meeting held last 18 December that Kan Naoto also slept through.

Rakuten President Mikitani Hiroshi was summoned to appear at that meeting, and was none too pleased. He talked about it on Twitter.


As it turned out, I didn’t have to go. It was a waste of time.

Tweet tweet

The most important man there slept through it.

Tweet tweet tweet

I haven’t been so pissed off in a long time.

Yes, LDP Cabinet members did it all the time too, but that doesn’t make it right, and they weren’t the ones to campaign on a platform of change.

If the work is so grueling, perhaps they should consider other ways to budget their time and how to organize their staffs.

Note Mr. Hatoyama touching his face in the second photo. American politicians are trained not to do that. Body language experts say it’s a sign the speaker is not telling the truth.

3 Responses to “Fraternalism”

  1. soma36 said

    This is an interesting interpretation of the story, but I don’t think this just makes Yukio look bad and has implications only for him. Kunio went and outright contradicted Yosano to the press, who in turn contradicted Kunio’s story on TV. Depending on how tired the public have gotten of this “money and politics” story, then it might well be the LDP that comes off worse in this, possibly Yosano, which would be a shame. After all, he either looks like a liar, or perhaps worse, someone who is outing a fellow party member’s family affairs without permission (a double betrayal of social norms with greater importance in Japan). Exposing law breaking is one thing, but the public might not see the moral equivalence of these particular ends justifying the means. If true it might be a good thing to get this out in the public, but I do not see how this helps Yosano, or the LDP. Unless he can get one of the two brothers or mothers to admit that the truth of the matter, I do not see how Yosano comes out looking like the hero, now that Kunio has gone back on the truth, if it is indeed the truth.

    Then again, maybe it’s part of brilliantly orchestrated but altruistic plan by Yosano to put an end to both the LDP and DPJ in their currently existing archaic forms. However, unless we could be reassured that a coalition (one assumes made up of members from the various parties) of “clean” reformers would seamlessly take over the mantle, any other prospect is a bit scary right now, don’t you think? Perhaps the second coming of Koizumi might be the tonic…..
    Well, I don’t think Kunio “outright” contradicted him…semi-contradicted him.

    The key for me was the Kunio interview in the Sunday Mainichi two months ago, before it all came out. It sure seems like pre-confirmation.

    I’ve heard the theory that the Japanese are more likely to give a pass to Hatoyama because it was his money to begin with, rather than to a narikin like Ozawa.

    – A.

  2. tenmen said

    This would be amusing, if it weren’t true.

  3. soma36 said

    Yeah, I think possibly even at the best of times that theory may well stand – laws are not all created morally equal and I think the public does differentiate between using your own resources to have influence, receiving money from elsewhere/dubious sources, and outright taking bribes to further only someone elses’ and your own. Possibly the public may be even more forgiving given the importance of the times. The public probably even believes Yukio is naive enough to believe in what he is doing.

    As for the contradiction distinction – yes a semi-contradiction in terms of the facts of what Hatoyama Y. is purported to have done, but in terms of the intra-LDP machinations it looks a bit odd. “He came to my office and told me it was a good question and suggested he would back me up” vs “I never heard such a thing, nor the facts – maybe he got confused with another story I told him and a third party put some ideas in his head”. I think everyone in their hearts probably knows what happened….but, short of an actual admission….

    Anyway, I see as the story has already dropped down on the Japanese news websites. Unless something resurrects the story it may well be drowned out by the Olympics, on TV anyhow. Hatoyama Y. may have done himself a favour by being decisive (and showing some political isntinct) for once on the child allowance promise announcement. More probably though, Uemura Aiko’s 4th place may well have caught people’s attention. There seems to be an uncommonly uniform concern amongst my own Japanese friends on that!!
    Uemura was the lead story in the dead tree edition of my daily paper today.

    I had never heard of her, as I never watch the Olympics…

    – A.

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