Japan from the inside out

Kan the man

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 17, 2010

TO READ SOME descriptions in the English-language print media, one would think Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto is a “fiscal conservative” who is a “pragmatic reformer”.

Very few politically aware Japanese would use those terms to describe Mr. Kan, however, particularly those of a certain age. Even those in the Democratic Party camp don’t use those expressions. (Exceptions would be those from the asteroid belt left for whom the term “fiscal conservative” is an epithet, such as Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho. She’s already complained that the prime minister is a lackey of Big Business.)

A more accurate description was provided this week by university professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo on the Japanese-language Agora blog. He began by noting that both Mr. Kan and his opponent in the Democratic Party presidential election, Ozawa Ichiro, are remnants from an earlier era. Here’s the rest of it in English:


“Mr. Kan himself said that he started out as a citizen activist, and it felt strange to hear him talk about his activist background. It might be understandable if he were the head of an opposition party, but he doesn’t seem to be aware that he is governing a nation. He still hasn’t grown beyond an attitude of “opposition to authority”. For good or ill, this is a baby boomer government from the generation of the Zenkyoto.”

Sidebar 1: The Zengaku Kyoto Kaigi (Zenkyoto), or University-Wide Joint Struggle Councils, reached a high-water mark in 1968-1969. They were defined by Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei as “loose organizations of radical students protesting authoritarian control (who) rejected unified ideology, membership rules, or hierarchy of any kind.” There were 13,497 arrests at Japanese campus demonstrations in 1969 alone.

“To be accurate, Mr. Kan himself was not a part of Zenkyoto, but rather the activist movement of Eda Saburo (former Secretary-General of the Socialist Party) and Ichikawa Fusae (reporter and member of the International Labor Organization). Some reports say, however, that Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito, often dubbed the “shadow prime minister”, was a member of a University of Tokyo council, Justice Minister Chiba Keiko a member of a Chuo University council, and former Agriculture Minister Akamatsu Hirotaka a member of a Waseda University council.

“That in itself is not surprising. In that generation, students with a certain amount of political awareness were often involved in student movements in some form. The ones with which Mr. Kan and Mr. Sengoku were affiliated were milder factions to the right of the Marxism-Leninism of the (Japanese) Socialist and Communist parties of the era. Their dogma was just as clear as that of the Communist Party, however, and while it is easy for the milder factions to graduate from that dogma, it is difficult for them to notice left-wing bias. It is the same as trying to eliminate one’s Tochigi accent.

“Put simply, their bias is that of the “New Constitution”. They were born in the immediate postwar period, so they were taught as children that war is an absolute evil and that the Peace Constitution was the ideal of humanity. The Liberal Democratic Party was tied to Big Capital, and since Big Capital was the principal cause of imperialism, war was inevitable as long as capitalism existed. Therefore, the only way to end war was to eradicate capitalism. Taken to extremes, that led to the armed conflict of the United Red Army (Rengo Sekigun, an amalgamation of radical leftist/terrorist groups of the late 60s and early 70s). But that way of thinking was also shared by such citizen activists as the Beheiren (and perhaps Mr. Kan as well).

Sidebar 2: In June, former Prime Minister Aso Taro charged that both Mr. Kan and his wife were part of the leadership of the Beheiren, an anti-Vietnam War group. He also criticized the group for remaining silent when China invaded Vietnam and Vietnam invaded Cambodia.

“In short, the core of the Democratic Party government believes that capitalism = evil. They are people who have spent their entire lives working to eliminate capitalism as their ultimate objective. Of course, they’ve become aware of their mistake along the way. But for them, recognizing capitalism would be tantamount to denying (what they have done with) their lives, so they have prolonged the life of their left wing ideology in the form of the welfare state.

“Unfortunately for them, the economic crisis means they can no longer use the welfare state as their billboard. They tried to camouflage that with the slogan “eliminating waste through political leadership”, but that slogan is no longer effective. They must now at last confront the inconvenient truth that they will be unable to achieve fiscal reconstruction without reducing the size of the castle keep of social security (the name given to the protection of the elderly). That issue will be the challenge faced by the second Kan Cabinet.”

(end translation)

More data

While asking a question during a hearing at the lower house Budget Committee on 13 February 2007, Kan Naoto went off on a riff about the “income gaps” in society:

“Where are the real primary causes of this expansion of the (income) gaps? I think there are two primary causes.

“The first is the change in the industrial structure. People have recently been talking about the “new economy”, but in a sense, companies and the related sectors have grown from the so-called mass-production, mass-consumption age into the skillful use of information. That caused an increase in the number of relatively simple, manual labor jobs. On the other hand, while the jobs are fewer, there are more sophisticated…if you’re going to create a convenience store, for example, there is the job of planning the store, that sort of sophisticated job…and the job of looking after the store or working the registers, the mostly manual labor jobs. This polarization is the backdrop (for these changes). That’s why (the current age) is fundamentally different from the economic growth of 40 years ago…If we are not fully aware of these fundamental changes in the industrial structure, we will only be able to treat the symptoms.”

This analysis, while a bit wooly, is unremarkable in Japan because it is so commonplace. Everyone understands this; indeed, Nire Shuhei published a best-selling collection of essays this year called Shugu no Jidai (The Age of Mass Stupidity), in which he takes to task those members of the general public complaining about income gaps and non-permanent employment. Mr. Nire tells his readers that their consumption patterns demand a wide variety of ever-changing, inexpensive products, and claims that what Mr. Kan calls the new economy (which includes non-permanent employment) is how producers must respond to those consumption patterns to stay in business.

Mr. Kan continued:

“The other one is truly that there was an inadequacy of policy. In particular, market fundamentalism, shall we call it, or neo-liberalism…that market fundamentalism was taken somewhat to an extreme, which led to the conditions of today…that aspect.”

Did he explain how market fundamentalism or neo-liberalism was taken to an extreme, or how it led to the conditions of today? Did he explain how his policies would have prevented that and still allowed the Japanese industrial structure to survive? Of course not—for people with Mr. Kan’s outlook, merely mentioning the words is enough. Everyone else is to take it on faith.

Not that he could explain it if he tried. The new economics has little or nothing to do with Koizumian policies and everything to do with changes that transcend nation or policy. The difficulties that result from the transformation are exacerbated here because they represent such a drastic change from the old structure, which included (but was not limited to) the lifetime employment system, the employment of surplus labor, interlocking domestic business alliances, and the inevitable higher prices that resulted.

Sengoku Yoshito Bonus!

While we’re on the subject of people applying outdated, impractical, and irrelevant worldviews to modern conditions, here’s a comment about Sengoku Yoshito from Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi. Mr. Watanabe was speaking on the 16th at a Chamber of Commerce and Industry function in a Tokyo hotel. He referred to Mr. Sengoku’s comment on the 15th at a news conference that the government considered their line of defense in the forex markets to be 82 yen to the dollar.

If I were involved with the investment business, I would assume that everything was fine until the yen hit 82 to the dollar, and definitely aim for that. He is truly an idiot (baka). Japan will collapse by entrusting the management of the nation to those who have never managed the affairs of the nation.

It’s standard operating procedure for all Japanese politicians to complain at some point that their opponents’ policies will cause the country to “collapse”, so that can be discounted. It’s also true that the DPJ doesn’t know what it’s doing, but bringing governing experience into question recalls the days of the LDP, which defeats the purpose of his criticism.

But not only is Mr. Sengoku inexperienced in government, his lifelong beliefs and background as a former Socialist Party member mean that he really isn’t all that down with the world of finance and the rest of that stuff. While his current views might be more mature than those of his younger days, his experience in the private sector came as a lawyer, sometimes as a hired wordslinger for sokaiya. Those are professional extortionists, often gangster-connected, who seek hush money from businesses to not disrupt annual shareholders’ meetings with loud complaints about real (or contrived) corporate mismanagement.

His is not the ideal background for explaining the government’s position about the value of its currency in world markets.

Consider the DPJ’s current debt-heavy budget, which Mr. Kan sold in the Diet as the Finance Minister. It tested the credulity of people in the financial industry around the world, a group already inured to government fiscal excess.

Any fiscal conservatism eventually practiced by a Kan Cabinet will have been forced on it by elements outside the ruling circle, including people in the financial industry or members of opposition parties.

Any time you read something that suggests Kan Naoto is a “fiscal conservative”, it’s a signal to stop there and move on to the next website.

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3 Responses to “Kan the man”

  1. Roual Deetlefs said


    What do you know of the writings of Strauss & Howe ?

    They made some predictions in 1997 just on the group dynamics within certain generations :

    Generational conflict has been recognized since ancient times. The twist here is the discovery of several things that have previously eluded observers. One is that the well- known conflict between fathers and sons is only half the story; there aren’t just two generational types that alternate (e.g., liberal and conservative), but four. The reason for looking at it this way is that a human life can be conveniently divided into four stages: Childhood, Young Adulthood, Midlife, and Elderhood. Throughout all of history, a long life might be considered to be 80 to 100 years, with each of the four stages equaling a quarter of it.

    Just as each person’s life holds four stages of about 20 years each, each generation comprehends a group of people born over about 20 years. Members of a particular generation tend to share values and ways of looking at the world not only because their parents also shared a set of views (which the kids are reacting to), but because every new generation experiences a new set of events in a way unique to them. They hear the same music, see the same events, are exposed to the same books. Members of a generation share a collective persona. There appear to be four distinct archetypal personae that recur throughout American history. And throughout world history as well, although that’s a bit beyond what I hope to explore here.

    These four archetypes are the Hero, Artist, Prophet & Nomad

    The Hero is :

    The “GI” generation, born between 1901 and 1924, includes basically all living people in their mid-70s and older. They grew up and came of age in the midst of the most traumatic years in human history: the 1930s and ‘40s. This was a time of catastrophic financial and economic collapse, world war, political dictatorship, genocide, and virulent ideology, among other unpleasant things; a period of intense turmoil. The times required them to be civic minded, optimistic, regular guys who could be counted on to do the right thing, fit in, and see that everybody got a square deal. As a consequence of what they’ve been through, they tend to be indulgent parents.

    The Artist :

    Meanwhile, another generation was being born at the height of the Crisis – something that seems to occur roughly every 80-100 years – from 1925-42. This generation, the “Silent,” watched these titanic events happen but were too young to take part in them. They were relegated to being protected, while trying to be helpful in the limited ways available to them. They’re overprotected as children, when they might be characterized as “placid”; they tend to underprotect their own children as a reaction. As adults they’re sensitive, well-liked, sentimental, and caring.

    The Prophet :

    Next came the group we call the “Boomers,” born from 1943 to 1960. This was the first generation born after the Crisis was over, and they grew up in an environment where their parents (mostly GIs and early cohort Silents) felt obligated to protect them from all the trauma of the preceding years and were desirous of giving them all the things they never had. As kids they’re seen as “spirited.” Later in life, they tend to be narcissistic, presumptuous, self-righteous, and ruthless. Born after a Crisis, their Childhood years coincide with a rebirth of society, and their Elderhood coincides with another Crisis.

    And the Nomads :

    The fourth generational type is represented by today’s “Generation X,” born 1961-81, during what might be called an Awakening period when the Boomers were in the limelight. As a consequence, they were overlooked and a bit abandoned. Their reputation as kids can be summed up as “bad.” They’re oriented toward survival, which is partially a result of their being underprotected as children. When they become parents, they react and become overprotective. They tend to be savvy, practical, tough, and amoral.

    The kids born between 1982 and perhaps 2002 should be another Hero archetype.

    So what did they predict ? And remember this was written in 1997 …

    The Boomers are an archetypal Prophet generation, a type born after a secular crisis, just in time to create another one. Get the image of a grim elder, with a well-defined vision of what’s right and wrong, calling down wrath, and laying down the law for a troubled nation in chaotic times. That’s the type of person who tends to lead countries into wars, as well as through them. Interestingly, the Boomers in America have their counterparts abroad today, especially in China, where they grew up during the Cultural Revolution. Two ideologically driven, righteous groups running two such powerful and alien cultures is almost a guaranteed formula for a millennial-sized crisis. Which should appear, coincidentally, sometime shortly after the millennium.

    And the Nomads will act like this :

    Playing to win but half expecting to lose, Nomad generations enter midlife with a sense of exhaustion. By now they take for granted widening gaps between classes, ethnicities, regions and gender roles. The ablest among them emerge as cunning, pragmatic, and colorful public figures. When the Crisis hits, they find their lives painfully split between the old order and new. But they rise fiercely (and sacrificially) to the occasion, able to make hard and fast choices without fretting much about what others think. Exalting the workable over the ideal, midlife Nomads forge an effective alliance with the elder Prophets. Yet people of other ages are quick to criticize them and slow to give them praise.

    And the Hero’s will do their bidding …

    From what you wrote above one can say that a similar thing is happening in Japan …

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    I am big fan of Van Morrison, the Irish great singer, so I prefer the phrase Van the Man.
    2csm: The title is a take-off of the nickname of the famous (to a previous generation) baseball player, Stan Musial. His nickname was Stan The Man Musial.

    There was another player (a relief pitcher) who had a reputation for being eccentric. His name was Don Stanhouse. The other players gave him the nickname of Stan The Man Unusual.

    – A.

  3. […] in 1962, he’s a Japanese Gen-Xer, too young to have been at university (and radicalized) like many of the DPJ leadership of the […]

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