Japan from the inside out

Campaign shouting in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 11, 2010

IF YOUR KNOWLEDGE of Japanese political campaigns is limited to the hyper-amplified blandness of the candidates’ “greetings” broadcast as they’re chauffeured through your neighborhood, then you’re missing most of the fun. The barbs are just as sharp and the elbows dig just as deep here as anywhere else.

Here’s a sample of the slings and arrows that filled the air of the political battlefield during the upper house election campaign, which ends today.

Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party

On the Democratic Party of Japan’s government:

A coalition (with the DPJ after the election) is impossible because we have completely different agendas….The DPJ favors big government and is on a high tax course led by the bureaucracy. Your Party favors small government and is on a growth course led by the private sector…As long as the DPJ is supported by public sector unions, the only reform they’re capable of is creating alibis.

On Prime Minister Kan Naoto:

His flip-flopping (on the consumption tax) is really terrible. It’s obvious that he hasn’t done his homework before speaking. He’s just been brainwashed by bureaucrats and going off half-cocked.

His claim of flip-flopping refers to remarks Mr. Kan made when it was suggested that boosting the consumption tax to 10% would cause problems for lower-income people. He immediately responded that he would exempt people earning less than JPY two million a year (roughly $US 22,560). A few hours later on the same day, he upped that to JPY three million. A few hours after that, he again raised the floor to JPY four million. Exempting those with a salary of less than JPY four million would cut by half the projected revenue from the consumption tax increase. Going, going, gone!

Back to Mr. Watanabe. When DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio suggested a possible coalition with Your Party:

Go wash your face and come back again.


As long as they receive support from public sector labor unions, they’ll remain the party of big government…Their offer of a coalition partnership was just to burnish their image as reformers and pull away our support.

Regarding the Cabinet’s agreement on a Basic Policy for Managing the Retirement of National Civil Servants:

This amakudari system is stronger than that of the LDP. They don’t even treat current bureaucrats hired by amakudari public corporations as amakudari….If you want to work with us (in a coalition), rescind this decision, cut your ties with public sector unions, and cut your ties with candidates from labor unions.

There are 14 candidates in this election who were once officials of labor unions, and all of them are members of the DPJ.

In the current issue of the weekly Sunday Mainichi:

If they want us to join a coalition, they’ll have to cut their ties to the unions before they come to the table.

No pussyfooting with Mr. Watanabe, is there? Everyone knows that unions constitute the DPJ’s primary organizational support, which intensifies the impact.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has said that to enter a coalition with the DPJ would be political suicide. He’s right. No one would ever let them forget these and dozens of other equally explicit statements.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto

On Watanabe Yoshimi:

A rather energetic man has been trashing both the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party, but I ask you—why couldn’t he accomplish anything when he was in the LDP?

As everyone paying attention to politics knows, Mr. Watanabe left the LDP and formed Your Party because the Aso Cabinet in particular deboned the reforms he sought. Why would the prime minister think this is a convincing charge?

Watanabe Yoshimi is saying that the DPJ has been hijacked by the bureaucrats before anyone realized it, but that’s not so. I’m brainwashing the Finance Ministry! Do not fall for his line!

Mr. Watanabe said during a televised debate among nine party leaders that the Finance Ministry had brainwashed the prime minister. The shot must have struck home for the prime minister to use a comeback that borders on the eccentric.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito

On Your Party:

Watch television and you’ll see that people from parties calling for reform have really been mouthing off. But what they’re saying is to fire civil servants right and left. They say we should give all the proceeds from the consumption tax to local government. This kind of extreme language might be impressive during elections, but it is not real reform.

Mr. Sengoku is also the head of a Diet group promoting cooperation with Jichiro, the national union for local government employees.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary might also be referring to the Spirit of Japan Party, a new group that doesn’t have any Diet seats yet. Their program calls for raising the consumption tax to 10%, but giving all the revenue to local government and using it exclusively for social welfare expenses. They also favor small national government and support the idea of a sub-national redistricting into a state/province system..

Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho

On Your Party:

Your Party (and its policies) are Koizumi’s structural reforms. It will destroy everyone’s life. If the people unhappy with the DPJ cast their votes for Your Party, their lives will crumble. That’s why I’m calling on you to vote for the SDPJ instead.

If I had a vote, this alone would convince me to vote for Your Party.

Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Japan Party

Former Finance Minister Mr. Yosano delivered a campaign speech in front of the Odakyu Department Store near Shinjuku Station in Tokyo. Appearances by political parties at busy locations during election season are choreographed by agreement among all the parties. His speech followed those of candidates from New Komeito.

At the same time, however, Haku Shinkun, a proportional representation delegate from the DPJ (who pronounced his name Baek Jin-hoon when he was head of the Japan branch of Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper), parked his campaign car fewer than 100 meters away in front of the Keio Department Store. Deputy Education Minister Suzuki Kan and other DPJ members used it to give speeches.

Angered at this violation of their common agreement, Mr. Yosano approached them after his speech and told them not to encroach on the space agreed to by all the political parties. The DPJ candidates stopped speaking for a few minutes, but resumed soon afterwards. Said Mr. Suzuki:

This is a public road, so we’re free to do what we want.

Mr. Yosano blew up, telling a news conference it was the first time he’d seen anything like it (he’s over 70), and that it demonstrated the character of the DPJ.

Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP

On the same incident:

Out of the way, out of the way, the DPJ is coming! The DPJ is speaking!

That is a take-off on the Kobayashi Issa haiku, “Out of the way, out of the way, a great horse is coming”. Eda Kenji has already used it to describe the DPJ’s conduct of Diet affairs.

Koike Yuriko of the LDP

Mr. Nakagawa isn’t the only one who can wrap political shots in poetic elegance. Rather than a steel magnolia, steel lily might be a better way to describe former Cabinet minister Koike Yuriko. Here’s how she went after Kan Naoto:

Perhaps the white lily of Nagata-cho shouldn’t be saying this, but Mr. Kan is a rengeso (Chinese milk vetch). Taki Hyosui wrote the verse:

Pick not the rengeso
Better to leave it in the field

During television debates and street corner speeches, he is truly an exceptional leader, but he is a leader of the opposition party. He stands head and shoulders above everyone else when criticizing and complaining, but just where does he want to take this country?

To unpack that:

* Taki Hyosui was a haiku poet who lived from 1684 to 1762. In the verse cited above, he uses the flower as a metaphor for geishas, recommending that a man not marry them.

* Ms. Koike is using her own name to make a play on words. (Yuri is the Japanese word for lily.)

* The word for opposition party in Japan is yato, which literally means “field party”. That’s why she says it’s best to leave him in the field.

* She’s playing off a common complaint about the DPJ in general, and Mr. Kan in particular, that when they were in the opposition all they did was kvetch without offering constructive ideas.

* One of the weapons used to attack Mr. Kan in this campaign is that his mindset is that of an opposition member rather than a leader in government.

Shiokawa Masajuro of the LDP

Speaking in Fukuoka, Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s first finance minister said:

It would be safer for the people to have Diet gridlock after the election.

In other words, he wants to prevent the DPJ from winning an outright majority in the upper house.

He elaborated by saying that the LDP distributed party posts as a reward for support, but “the adjustments among the factions gave the party the ability to control itself. The DPJ does not have the ability to make internal adjustments. If they win an upper house majority, their dictatorial tendencies will grow stronger.”

‘Twas ever thus. The DPJ is a party of the left.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro

No summary of this type is complete without a few contributions from Mr. Koizumi, a master political swordsman.

On the DPJ:

I had hoped they would be able to eliminate the government waste we couldn’t, but I never thought they would go out of control and stampede this wildly.

On the highway-related public corporations:

We created a system that would have required no public funds (for highways) whatsoever, but by eliminating expressway tolls (the DPJ) will have to use public funds. We campaigned on moving from the public sector to the private sector, but under Kan, the party’s moved from the public sector to the public sector.

On Japan Post:

We spent more than a month debating our privatization plan in the Diet, but they wrapped it up in six hours. We reformed Japan Post, which requires trillions of yen in government expenditures, and the public highway corporations, but they’re going backwards.

On “trillions”:

Even if you use JPY 100 million every day for a year, you spend a total of JPY 36.5 billion. No matter how profligate a person’s spending is, no one can use JPY 100 million every day. You won’t reach a trillion unless you do it every day for about 30 years.

In their election platform last year, the DPJ promised to find JPY 16.8 trillion in government waste. In other words, they would have had to find JPY 10 billion every day to hit their target during a four-year term.

On internal criticism in the DPJ:

They were full of criticism when they were in the opposition, but the DPJ MPs fell silent in the face of Hatoyama Yukio, who could never have been prime minister or secretary general for the LDP, and Ozawa Ichiro. The LDP has the freedom, but the DPJ doesn’t.

His recommendation:

This time, let’s have the DPJ stay in office a little while longer and let them experience the difficulties of being the ruling party.


The print media can be wickedly clever at this game. For example, the pronunciation of Mr. Kan’s family name is the same as that for a tin can, and they’ve taken to calling it the aki-kan naikaku, or the Empty Can Cabinet. That blade has a double edge—an empty can has no content and little weight.

They’ve also been creating visual puns, which is a national talent. The Kan family name is written with one kanji: 菅. The part of the top that looks like two plus signs side by side (++) is one of the classifiers in the writing system called a kusa kanmuri, or “grass crown”. The prime minister started his political career as a “grass-roots activitist”. The wags are now saying he’s removed the grass, leaving this: 官. That’s the first kanji in the word kanryo, or bureaucracy, and can mean the public sector when used by itself.

Mr. Kan also said:

This is a truly historic election that will determine whether or not a two-party system takes hold.

It is unlikely to be historic short of a massive DPJ defeat or victory, and it won’t contribute to the creation of a two-party system. A two-party system is not possible in Japan as long as it maintains proportional representation voting. The Social Democrats, the Communists, and New Komeito naturally view proposals to ditch PR as a threat to their survival, and fight accordingly. One of their favorite complaints is that a winner-take-all system is “undemocratic”. (Is one therefore to infer that democracy doesn’t exist in the United States or Great Britain?)

What I think would be more likely is a vague, three-way system of the type described by Friedrich Hayek. The three groupings are:

1. Socialists, i.e., statists: That would include the DPJ, Social Democrats, and Communists. Hayek also properly included the fascists of his era.

2. Conservatives, including social conservatives: Though he called conservatism a “necessary element in every society”, Hayek thought it was paternalistic, nationalistic, and had a tendency to “adore power”. “By its very nature, (it) is bound to be a defender of established privilege and to lean on the power of government for the protection of privilege.” Therefore, he thought conservatives were prone to accept the premises of the socialists. That describes to a T such people as Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party and Hiranuma Takeo of the Sunrise Japan Party, social conservatives who left the LDP during the Koizumi era because they wanted to maintain government ownership of Japan Post.

When people in Japan talk about forming or leading a “true conservative” group, this is what they mean. Mr. Hiranuma used that as a justification for forming his own party, and Aso Taro said that was his qualification for leading the LDP.

3. True liberals / Neo-liberals / Small-government advocates: Hayek called the essence of this position the denial of all privilege, to be understood as the state granting and protecting rights to some that are not available on equal terms to others. That means privileges to Big Labor as well as to Big Business, to people of lower income as well as to people of higher income, to ethnic, racial, and religious groups, and to genders.

In Japan, this category would include the Koizumians, the Nakagawa Hidenao “rising tide” wing of the LDP, and, to a certain extent, Your Party and the smaller Spirit of Japan Party.

In such an arrangement, the Conservatives can hold the balance of power, shifting their support to one of the other two groups. Mr. Kamei allied with the DPJ and the SDPJ to renationalize Japan Post, but he wants no part of their social programs or their proposals to allow non-citizens the right to vote and to allow women to keep their maiden names after marriage.

Some people also combine aspects of more than one group. Matsubara Jin of the DPJ views such issues as Nanjing and the comfort women in a way similar to that of Mr. Hiranuma. Abe Shinzo is a social conservative who tried to implement small government reforms more far-reaching in some ways than Mr. Koizumi. The Spirit of Japan Party supports small government and devolution, but has also formed an alliance with the Sunrise Japan Party.

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One Response to “Campaign shouting in Japan”

  1. […] Campaign shouting in Japan « AMPONTAN […]

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