Japan from the inside out

The square pegs

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 29, 2010

THE NEAR IMPOSSIBILITY of Japanese politicians fitting into blocs representing conventional political philosophies–at least in the Western sense–is one of the reasons a strong, two-party system has yet to emerge in this country. (Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that a strong, two-party system is desirable.)

How uncategorizable are they? Here are some anecdotes directly from the mouth of Kamei Shizuka, the head of the small People’s New Party, one of the junior partners of the ruling coalition. They might be an example of why all the standard classifications are just round holes for the square pegs of the politicos.

Mr. Kamei was invited to contribute to part of a book-length, roundtable political discussion called Jiminto ha Naze Tsuburenai no ka (Why Won’t the LDP Collapse?), published in November 2007. The last anecdote is a one-word description of his political beliefs. See if you can guess what he calls himself before you read it.

The primary participants were Murakami Masakuni, former head of the Liberal-Democratic Party group in the upper house and one-time Labor Minister; Hirano Sadao, a former upper house member who started out in the LDP and followed Ozawa Ichiro through several parties to wind up in the Democratic Party of Japan (and is known as Mr. Ozawa’s closest political associate); and Fudesaka Hideyo of Japan’s Communist Party, also a former upper house member.

Mr. Kamei was invited to the discussion for two reasons. First, he was deeply involved in the creation of the LDP-Socialist coalition government—a political platypus if there ever was one—that wrested control back from the first non-LDP governments since 1955. Second, he briefly headed an LDP faction with Mr. Murakami.

That same faction was once led by former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro. The state-run Japan National Railway was privatized during his administration. Mr. Nakasone is also keen to rewrite the Japanese Constitution, and probably has been since the day it was adopted. The faction was later led by former Foreign Minister Watanabe Michio, the late father of reform/small government firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party.

In contrast, Mr. Kamei’s political raison d’être for the past five years has been to renationalize Japan Post. He helped form his party after being drummed out of the LDP by Mr. Koizumi.

Here he is, in his own words.

Yasukuni Shrine

As an individual, I have affection for (Abe) Shinzo. Every year during the O-Bon holidays and at yearend, I pay my respects at the graves of (former Prime Minister) Fukuda Takeo, (former Foreign Minister) Abe Shintaro, and (former Agriculture Minister) Nakagawa Ichiro. Twice a year for a long time now.

This year…after I finished, Abe Yoko (Abe Shintaro’s widow) was there. I said to her, “Won’t you deliver a message to Prime Minister Shinzo (sic) for me? I mustn’t help him, I’m unable to help him, and I shouldn’t help him. But I would like you to tell him this one thing.” I talked about the question of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.

Here’s what I said. I think it’s natural for a prime minister to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, as is the policy of making such visits. But, for example, if there’s a housewife who must associate with her next door neighbor, and if the neighbor dislikes the couple, or if her husband quarreled with the neighbor, the two wives will be unable to associate with each other in the neighborhood. So, I thought it should be the standpoint of the prime minister of one country to refrain from going, even if he wanted to, until the neighbor understood his position. Until now, I’ve said that the prime minister should not go (to Yasukuni).

But I’ve changed my mind. Relations with the next door neighbor are important, but Japan itself, our family, has become distorted. The Japanese are in a terrible psychological state. The circumstances are not such that what the neighbors think should be at issue. When we Japanese have to become strong-minded, I want the prime minister to be resolute and visit with his head held high. So I asked her to please tell him what I said. But she acted as if she didn’t hear me.

On Marx and Communism

A while ago I told Shii (Kazuo, Chairman of Japan’s Communist Party), “You have to be steady and strong. We’re now in the age of Marx. Do you understand?” We’re now in an imperialist age, the whole world, too. That trend is occurring in Japan as well. We can’t behave in a facile manner under these conditions. Isn’t it Marx’s time to come on stage?

On the necessity of standing up to the DPJ

The DPJ has gotten a bit overbearing recently. I said the same thing to Ozawa not long ago, but they’ve got to think seriously about this. They whoop it up and go around saying, “We won, we won,” but they don’t know what’s going to happen in the next election.

(Response from Hirano Sadao)

There’s something bureaucratic about the DPJ’s character. They have a tendency to respond only with formal argument. They should be aware that the people voted for the DPJ because they thought there wasn’t any choice, not because of the DPJ’s abilities.

His self-identification

“I’m a liberal.”


* I suspect even those Japanese opposed to Yasukuni visits, or even Yasukuni itself, would at least understand where Mr. Kamei is coming from. The same sentiments are partially shared by the organizers of the Sunrise Party (Hiranuma Takeo, Yosano Kaoru, and Ishihara Shintaro). Some of it is probably generational, but there also seems to be a sense of dismay that the postwar Japanese Miracle—to which they contributed their adult lives–might evaporate.

* His analogy of harmonious relations in the neighborhood, regardless of personal feelings, is another story that all Japanese will immediately understand. The theme is a common one here. I can’t remember ever hearing anyone talk much about neighborhood relations when I lived in the United States, however. When I lived in California, people didn’t know who their neighbors were.

* Anyone who says it is time for the Age of Marx, for any reason, shouldn’t be allowed within 50 miles of the executive branch of government.

* How close is Hirano Sadao to Ozawa Ichiro? According to a self-proclaimed eyewitness in the February issue of the Bungei Shunju, Mr. Hirano’s son-in-law, a former Ozawa aide, was one of those who helped remove incriminating documents from the latter’s office a few hours before prosecutors arrived to search it.


A half-hour after I put this up, I ran across this quote from a Kamei Shizuka news conference on the 27th:

“(What’s important) is that the (Futenma) issue be resolved from the standpoint that Japan and the United States are equals. The mass media standpoint is subservience to the United States.”

2 Responses to “The square pegs”

  1. bender said

    He’s in a sense a mirror image of the electorate. I wonder why the Japanese people criticize politicians so much…they’re diligently doing what the people want them to do. Just see how the “Chiho” is demanding JAL to maintain its money-bleeding connections! The US base ordeal, too, is what the majority of the Japanese people seem to want- they want US bases out, but don’t want to re-arm. It’s about time the people self-reflect.

  2. Ecoutez said

    The “Age of Marx” could mean almost anything. I don’t think the idea should be dismissed outright. There’s good Marxism and bad Marxism, just like there is good and bad capitalism.
    Sorry, E, but I disagree with the premise. Capitalism (or the free market + classical liberal democracy) is only bad when the government improperly performs its regulatory function, the ideal of which is like the cop on the beat. The system itself is just the best way to account for the realities of human nature. As for whether good Marxism exists, I haven’t seen it anywhere outside of a textbook.

    – A.

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