Japan from the inside out

Chip off the old block

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 10, 2010

ONE OF THE MOST compelling debaters in the Diet during Question Time was former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro of the Liberal Democratic Party. He was deft, confident, had a wicked instinct for the jugular, and slipped in the knife with a gleam in his eye. He seemed to enjoy himself as equally as he frustrated and angered his opponents when they were simultaneously skewered and made sport of.

Former Labor Minister Murakami Masanori—also of the LDP—once disparaged Mr. Koizumi’s technique as “yakuza-style kirisute gomen”. The latter expression refers to the privilege samurai once had of being allowed to stick social inferiors with a sword for the failure to speak or behave with a proper reverence to their betters.

Koizumi Shinjiro

Mr. Koizumi is now retired from active politics, and his Kanagawa seat has been assumed by his 29-year-old son Shinjiro, whose campaign was one of the few bright spots for the LDP in last year’s lower house election. Genes and upbringing are no guarantee that the next generation will inherit any political skills—witness the Hatoyama brothers—but indications so far suggest that Koizumi the Younger is his father’s son. He’s remarkably self-assured for someone his age in that position, shares his father’s political philosophy, and he also attacks with a grin. The contrast with the Hatoyama brothers is all the more stark because all three are fourth-generation Diet members.

The former prime minister’s signal achievement was the privatization of Japan Post, and securing a huge popular mandate in the Diet to accomplish that. Those who keep up with Japanese politics already know the Democratic Party government is turning back the clock to renationalize the post office, bank, and life insurance business under the direction of Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka. Then-Prime Minister Koizumi tossed Mr. Kamei out of the LDP for his opposition to privatization in 2005. Instead of returning to the fold when Abe Shinzo invited everyone back two years later, Mr. Kamei allied his splinter party, the People’s New Party, with the DPJ for the chance to roll back the reforms.

Thus the stage was set for an entertaining political performance when Koizumi Shinjiro formally went head-to-head for half an hour with the 73-year-old Mr. Kamei in Question Time last week in the Diet’s Financial Affairs Committee.

Mr. Koizumi started off with some pointed policy questions—with a smile on his face—and Mr. Kamei chose to play rope-a-dope. That didn’t last long.

A recent poll by the Sankei Shimbun and FNN found the public’s rate of support for Mr. Kamei’s People’s New Party nationwide to be less than 1%. Said Mr. Koizumi:

It’s odd that the DPJ would be twisted around the little finger of a party with a support rate of 0%. The people gave 300 seats in last year’s general election to the DPJ, not the PNP. More than 50% of the people are opposed to changing Japan Post. The minister is traveling backwards.

Like father, like son. He also managed to slip in this comment:

The people don’t support the People’s New Party.

Touché. The crotchety Mr. Kamei—who has all the subtlety and patience of Yosemite Sam—grew agitated and his voice became rough. One could almost see a thought balloon forming over his head containing the word “whippersnapper”.

Public opinion poll results always fluctuate. We don’t need politicians who act by following poll numbers.

He couldn’t resist a dig of his own:

Nothing good will come from going back to what your father did.

Sounds a bit like an old geezer of a farmer waving a shovel in the air after a crow gobbled up all the seeds he just planted, doesn’t he?

Mr. Kamei had calmed down by the time an après-questioning news conference was held:

He’s good at getting under a person’s skin. He got it from his father…But it was like a street corner speech. There was no content.

The Asahi Shimbun filed a brief report of the exchange on their Japanese-language website, and their approach was both fascinating and educational. They are Japan’s newspaper of the left, similar to the New York Times in the U.S. and the Guardian in Britain, and their approach is often just as transparently twisted as their English-language counterparts.

The Asahi chose to present the story by starting with Mr. Kamei’s rebuttal of the younger Koizumi’s father saying that “nothing good will come” from the privatization. It was also the longest direct quote in the article. They offered only a brief snippet of Mr. Koizumi’s comments at the end, leaving out most of the content.

That should be no surprise—people with that political philosophy will always prefer the public sector to the private sector—but it’s still odd that they chose to put Mr. Kamei in a good light. Ten years ago, when the financial services minister was still an important figure in the LDP, they would have taken every opportunity to dump on him. But he’s on their team now, and besides, Koizumi Jun’ichiro committed the mortal sin for a man of the right. He was both (a) successful and (b) popular.


Still, one can’t blame them. They’re surely not anxious to see a Koizumi administration V.2 25 years down the road.

2 Responses to “Chip off the old block”

  1. St John said

    Interesting post as always. I’m just back in England after three weeks in Japan and certainly everyone I spoke with feels disappointed with the new government.

    Just to go off at a tangent… Yes left-leaning newspapers like the Guardian will often push their own agenda. But the Guardian and the Mirror are the only newspapers of the left here. Our many other national newspapers, such as the Times, Sun, Mail, Express, Star, Telegraph etc are most certainly of the right with just the same bias. And I bet the Asahi Shimbun isn’t owned by a non-Japanese. Here, the Times, Sun and News of the World are owned by an Australian (or is he American this week?) called Rupert Murdoch, who is doing all he can to influence our upcoming election for his own ends.

    Don’t mean to nit-pick. Thanks for the many interesting posts.
    Thanks SJ. Glad you like it, and I hope you had fun in those three weeks. The weather’s finally starting to get nice!

    – A.

  2. St John said

    I always have fun in Japan but it was pretty cold! Among many other things we attended a Shinto wedding ceremony (Ryoko’s cousin), Kabuki theatre in Kyoto, and had a few days trip to Shimane prefecture including Izumo shrine and Matsue castle. Managed to survive alone on the Osaka subway and got to a few pro baseball games and also had a day at Koshien for the National high school championships (I’m an Englishman who loves baseball). Love the food, love Nihon-shu (my in-laws business is Kobayashi Sakekasu Corp in Kobe) and love Japan. The sakura was in full bloom by the time we left. I consider my being accepted into Ryoko’s family (despite my still-poor Japanese – I’m trying!) to be an absolute privilege.
    Thanks to your blog I’ve learned a lot about Japanese politics (my wife’s attitude is ‘a plague on all their houses’) so once again many thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: