Japan from the inside out

What makes Ichiro run?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 2, 2010

PEOPLE ARE STILL PUZZLED about the motivations of Ozawa Ichiro, now challenging Prime Minister Kan Naoto for the presidency of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, though he’s been one of the most dominant figures in Japanese politics for 20 years. Those in the dark include politicians and journalists who’ve been watching him for most of his political career.

The confusion stems from Mr. Ozawa’s political behavior over the past decade, which is in contrast to the ideas he expressed in his 1994 book Blueprint for a New Japan: The Rethinking of a Nation (translated into English with an introduction by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller). In the book, Mr. Ozawa argued that Japan must become a “normal nation” and create a society with greater individual self-reliance.

There is a clear Reagan/Thatcher cast to many of the ideas in the book. Yet Koizumi Jun’ichiro was the one to put those philosophies into practice as prime minister and became wildly popular as a result. Meanwhile, Mr. Ozawa controlled from behind the scenes the hapless Hosokawa administration that collapsed in less than a year, created and destroyed three political parties, joined and left an LDP-led coalition under Obuchi Keizo, and finally merged his last party with the Democratic Party of Japan.

As a member of that left-of-center party, Mr. Ozawa formed strong alliances with Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation) and Koshi’ishi Azuma, formerly of the Japan Teachers’ Union. He has also called for the restoration of Japan’s corporate lifetime employment system, and supports in his current campaign the provision by 2012 of the full amount of the child allowance promised in the DPJ’s party platform of 2009.

None of these are the actions of a man influenced by Ronald Reagan or Lady Thatcher. Putting aside the pursuit of power as a factor—Mr. Ozawa would prefer to be a party’s secretary-general and run the money rather than be a prime minister—his political objectives are still a mystery to most people.

During an interview published in the Spring issue of Sight, however, former DPJ advisor and Hokkaido University Prof. Yamaguchi Jiro offers a theory that makes more sense than any, even though it might leave people in other countries scratching their heads.

Prof. Yamaguchi observes that Mr. Ozawa has long admired the British parliamentary system and wants to create a strong two-party system in Japan. (Remember that Japan has been under nominal one-party rule for all but about two years since 1955.) Mr. Koizumi refashioned the LDP into the sort of party that Mr. Ozawa envisioned, albeit temporarily. No one seriously thinks he has undergone a political conversion. Prof. Yamaguchi reasons that since one of Japan’s primary parties had a Reaganite-Thatcherite stance, Mr. Ozawa thought a strong two-party system required a viable party on the left. Therefore, he would use the existing vehicle of the DPJ to create one.

In other words, Ozawa Ichiro is trying to create structural reform rather than implement a political philosophy.

The professor’s theory may or may not be valid, but no one’s come up with a better one.

While we’re on the topic of Ozawa Ichiro, another rumor floating around about the deal he proposed to Prime Minister Kan earlier this week is that in addition to demanding his reinstatement as the DPJ Secretary-General, he also wanted to be able to name the Justice Minister. That would enable him to root out those pesky prosecutors who keep him linked in the public mind with political fund-raising scandals. Mr. Kan declined, winning him the praise of some who commended him for a willingness to die in battle like a samurai.

And while we’re on the topic of purging insubordinates, a Prime Minister Ozawa would probably chop a head or two at the Imperial Household Agency, the organization responsible for state matters involving the Imperial House. Last fall, Mr. Ozawa stirred up enormous criticism for his attempt to use the Tenno (Emperor) as a stage prop in the effort to build closer ties to China, and his public bullying of agency head Haketa Shingo after the latter had the impertinence to oppose him.

A pissing contest between the likes of Kan Naoto and Ozawa Ichiro is not what the Japanese public had in mind when they voted for the DPJ in August 2009.

Update: Freelance journalist Uesugi Takashi, who openly supports the DPJ, is calling this an “allergy election” between the forces allergic to Kan and those allergic to Ozawa. Whoever causes the lower allergic reaction will win.

He uses two examples as illustration. DPJ elder Watanabe Kozo has been in four political parties with Ozawa Ichiro, and he is supporting Mr. Kan. Hatoyama Yukio was a member of the New Party Sakigake in 1993 with Kan Naoto, and both were founding members of the modern DPJ. He is supporting Mr. Ozawa.

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4 Responses to “What makes Ichiro run?”

  1. RMilner said

    It is amusing that here in the UK the electorate has apparently rejected the much admired two-party system in favour of a coalition government. There will be a referendum on proportional voting next year.

    I had thought Mr. Ozawa’s prime motivation for seeking the position of prime minister is that it will protect him from a looming funding scandal.
    RM: One factor, perhaps, but I don’t think the primary one. He might be able to accomplish that with other maneuvers.

    Sorry if it wasn’t clear, but this piece was more about his overall political objectives rather than which position he’s seeking.

    The scandal isn’t looming, BTW, it’s ongoing!

    – A.

  2. Roual Deetlefs said


    Will Japan then ever have a two-party system ? What are the hindrances, if any ?
    Ever? I don’t know. This would take a book to answer. One hindrance is proportional representation.

    I could see a three-way left/classical liberal/social conservative split. I don’t know about two. The social conservatives here are too ready to align with the big government left.

    – A.

  3. Roual Deetlefs said


    Then how does demographics play into this ? If you read this article can one say that in the future there will be a leaders corps, that will be at odds with an older generation, but at the same powerless due to the oldies’ sheer numbers and organization ? Already the retirees in the US is a significant voting block, and they can set the political agenda.

  4. Roual Deetlefs said


    This article discusses the rise of populism in America (via Palin) and South Africa (via Malema). Is there anything on the horizon as regards to Japan ?
    Not in the same way, because there is no effective way yet to disintermediate Big Media. There is a lot of stuff floating around, but it hasn’t coalesced yet.

    Sorry, but I stopped reading your link after the first paragraph. The Vanity Fair article was such an amateurish hatchet job even the American left criticized it and the author. (If you want links, I can provide them.) The left is deathly afraid of her because they realize just how effective she can be. Those people who dismiss the phenomenon as the revolt of the unread (in the US) have been getting pummeled, and will continue to do so.

    For a different perspective, you might try this.

    – A.

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