Japan from the inside out

Are you inexperienced?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 10, 2010

BIG NUMBERS from the most recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll:

82%: Disapprove of the Kan Cabinet’s handling of the entire Senkakus affair with China
83%: Think the government should make available to the public all of the video of the Chinese fishing boat ramming the Japanese Coast Guard ships
91%: Are uneasy about the Democratic Party government’s policies for diplomacy and security.
79%: Think the Kan Cabinet is not responding appropriately to economic conditions
84%: Think the DPJ is not responding appropriately to Ozawa Ichiro’s political funding scandals.

Meanwhile, a narrative has emerged in some quarters of the Anglosphere media that the problems of Japan’s Democratic Party governments are due to their inexperience.

Consider the following items and see if you agree.

One of the few real successes of the DPJ since taking power—or perhaps the only one—has been the highly publicized budget reviews in which they scan the bureaucracy for wasteful spending. Theirs was not the first such review. Kono Taro led one during the last LDP administration, but those of the DPJ have been more visible. Because everyone knew it was critical to limit governmental expenditures, and because people had given up on the idea that the LDP would accomplish anything, the first was very well received.

Though a serious effort was welcome and long overdue, it produced more atmospherics than results. The DPJ review team couldn’t come close to shaking loose the amount of money they claimed was possible before the election. That was not conducive to enhancing the credibility of the DPJ—they promised they would be able to pay for some of their new programs with the money they discovered. They also played the old pea and shell game, in which some of the funds cut from one ministry’s budget reappeared under the heading of a different ministry’s budget a few months later. Finally, there was a tendency to turn the proceedings into a pointless public bashing of bureaucrats. If they wanted to cut the money, they could have just cut it without the hectoring.

The DPJ started its third review on 27 October under the direction of Ren Ho, a former model and television presenter now serving as the Minister of State for Government Revitalization. Here’s what she said at the opening ceremony, as quoted on the English-language side of the DPJ website:

“I would like us to make every effort to make deep inroads into the special accounts system itself. First of we will make all information open to the public. We will find out what goes on within special accounts, and whether there is any waste or wasteful use of tax monies. It may be that collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and business lies behind the special accounts system. I would like us to discuss this matter also, and to engage in debate on behalf of the people, that will return control to the hands of the people.”

She is being assisted by DPJ Diet members Edano Yukio and Nagatsuma Akira. Mr. Edano spent a few months as DPJ Secretary-General, but was replaced after the July election debacle. Mr. Nagatsuma was the Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but was replaced when Kan Naoto became prime minister. (Some think he was elbowed out by Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito.) The website article says that both men “(called) on panel members to continue to work on behalf of the people and to restore public confidence in the political process.”

So, Ren Ho says they “will make all information open to the public”, they will “engage in debate on behalf of the people”, and “return control to the hands of the people”. Messrs. Edano and Nagatsuma talk about restoring public confidence in the political process.

Yet this is the same party in power who refused to “make all information open to the public” by keeping the Coast Guard videos of the events in the Senkakus away from the public eye. Their opinion of their fellow countrymen is such that they thought the videos would arouse anti-Chinese sentiment and inflame “nationalism”.

That’s not all.

The party’s first budgetary review examined the budget formulated by the Aso Cabinet when the LDP controlled the government.

But the current budget was compiled and passed by the Democratic Party, when Kan Naoto—whom some in the Anglosphere press think is a “budget hawk”—was the Deputy Prime Minister and then Finance Minister. It is the most expensive budget in Japanese history, and nearly half of it is financed by debt.

Therefore, V.3 of the budgetary review is the DPJ getting all green eyeshade about expenditures they’re responsible for in the first place.

If there is “waste or wasteful use of tax monies” in the current budget, they’re the ones who put it there. They should have already done this inside the government last year, when the budget was being formulated.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?


The following is a translation of the first few sentences that appeared in an article on page 2 of the Nishinippon Shimbun.

Before the second half of the budgetary review begins on the 15th, the Government Revitalization Council cited about 200 enterprises for which the recommended reforms were watered down (literally, deboned), including those that were issued notifications calling for amelioration.

This is seen as an indication that the results of the budgetary review did not penetrate the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. Critics noted that the Council has no legal standing, and that the government’s instability has become apparent to the bureaucrats.

One member of the review panel visited the headquarters of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on the 9th and voiced his dissatisfaction: “They still lack the awareness that they are an enterprise using the citizens’ taxes.”

The newspaper has a small chart listing four enterprises that were supposed to be eliminated or improved, but which are still operating under different names, or have not made any of the requested improvements.
(End update)

Pressure by the public and the opposition parties, as well as a well-timed election defeat, resigned the Kan administration to showing some of the Coast Guard video taken in the Senkakus during the incident in September. They had selected Diet members watch a 6-minute, 50-second DVD edited down from about 10 hours’ worth of film on 1 November.

Reports from those who saw the DVD suggest the possibility that the choice of the scenes was informed by a wish to make the government look good rather than show the legislators what really happened. That may have been one of the reasons 44 minutes of the videos were smuggled onto You Tube before the week was out.

This Monday, on 8 November, the government called in about 20 opposition members of the Budget Committees and other MPs for another viewing of video from the incident. This was one week to the day after the first showing and three days after the much longer video was posted on the Internet. Surely everyone in Japanese government has seen them by now. So, what did the government present?

The same 6 minute + video they showed the week before.

Said LDP member Koizumi Shinjiro, the son of the former prime minister:

“This is a joke that isn’t even funny. The DPJ claims they are clean and open, but it’s a cover-up that is completely the opposite of their claims.

How’s that for “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya was asked at a news conference on Monday about the party’s plummeting poll numbers. He answered:

“That was due to the impact of Russian President Medvedev’s visit to the Northern Territories, the problem in the Senkakus, and the relationship with China.”

That’s certainly true, and he could have left it at that. But he didn’t.

Mr. Okada then chose to reference the visits of former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro to the Yasukuni shrine:

“It is important not to resort to (steps to gain) temporary popularity. We absolutely must not provide buoyancy for the administration by arousing nationalism among some of the people.”

Mr. Koizumi served as prime minister for five years and five months, one of the longest terms in postwar Japan. When he entered office his approval ratings were north of 80%, and when he left they were at 70%. If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me if I don’t) at no point during his time in office did they fall lower than about 45%. (Those are still electable numbers for a political party in Japan.)

He took office in April 2001, and he paid his first Yasukuni visit in August that year while still riding that initial wave of popularity. He visited every year thereafter, regardless of his polls. Indeed, he also visited on 15 August 2007, a year after he left office, but people had stopped paying attention by then.

His crowning achievement is perhaps his push to privatize Japan’s postal system, which includes banking and insurance services. He submitted a bill to the lower house of the Diet and made the case for it. He compromised as necessary to secure its passage. After the bill was defeated in the upper house, he laid his all his political capital, his career, and his party’s control of the government on the line by dissolving the lower house and calling for an election specifically on that issue.

Fancy that—he clearly stated his position and the reasons for it, used the political process to achieve it, and when rebuffed asked the people to decide.

How’s that for eliminating “wasteful tax monies” and “restoring public confidence in the political process”?

The LDP’s victory was the second-largest in postwar Japanese history. Who was his opponent as the president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan?

Okada Katsuya.

Whose party has worked to undo that much-needed privatization reform, gained at such effort and risk?

The Democratic Party of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi’s popularity was independent of his Yasukuni visits, and his further visit to the shrine after leaving office suggests that a desire to juice his poll numbers was not his motive.

Beyond that, it is worth noting the contempt in which Mr. Okada holds his countrymen. What he disparages as nationalism is what would be thought of as ordinary patriotism in most countries of the world. Indeed, when compared to its neighborhood of China, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea, Japan is the least nationalistic country in northeast Asia.

Mr. Okada has the reputation of being a decent fellow despite his choice of a career in politics, and so far I’ve been inclined to agree. But that remark makes me wonder if he’s really just a petulant spitballer with a grudge and a self-righteous sense of superiority to offset his shortcomings.

The Anglosphere media is attributing the DPJ’s epic failures to inexperience in government?


The failures are a result of a trinity consisting of a political philosophy empirically demonstrated to be unworkable, a lack of common sense, and—let’s be frank–the failure to develop fully formed adult personalities. (Then again, those three could be separate aspects of a larger whole.) All adults sometimes fail at what they try to do, but these have not been the failures of adults.

It is as LDP pol Ibuki Bunmei observed of DPJ behavior after they took control of the upper house in 2007—they’re like grade school boys with a loaded pistol.

Every one of Mr. Koizumi’s steps in the entire postal privatization process is beyond the capabilities of the DPJ. Try to imagine Hatoyama Yukio, Kan Naoto, Sengoku Yoshito, or Okada Katsuya doing anything similar.

Now try to imagine them even thinking of doing anything similar.

Why would the overseas media think this is inexperience? One ever-present possibility is that they’re just drive-bys relying on second-hand information from unreliable sources. Another possibility is that they’re fellow political travelers of the DPJ and feel the urge to promote their agenda/make excuses for them.

Either way, one is as useless as the other.


When scouting around on the web for information about Mr. Koizumi’s poll numbers, I ran across an April 2002 article in the Japan Times. Here’s the headline the journos manqué chose:

“Koizumi Fever a Flash in the Pan”

Well, what else can you expect? Their go-to pundit was Morita Minoru.

“Nationalism” as a word has become as debased in modern politics and journalism as the terms “fascist” (which is finally being reclaimed as a description for a certain strain of left-wing statism) and “right wing”. Patriotism ≠ nationalism. With the the degradation of the term nationalism, it’s time to rehabilitate the more apt “chauvinism”.

Is chauvinism a problem in Japan?

One of the political parties participating in the July upper house election could be described as having a chauvinist cast—the Sunrise Party, co-led by Hiranuma Takeo and supported by Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro. How many seats did they win?


For a further look at nationalism in Japan, try this previous post.

As for the Guiding Lights of the DPJ, I’ll leave that to the late Rev. Solomon Burke:

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7 Responses to “Are you inexperienced?”

  1. I do not believe the Australian press are interested. The UK press? Maybe. Clearly the US is worried at the loss of the more controllable “Liberal” party …….

    Eventually, the US finds it cannot control eveything?
    PD: Not just the press. The whole spectrum of organizational websites with commentary is included.

    – A.

  2. Tony said

    Calling the DPJ “inexperienced” while true in a sense is far off the mark. It gives them too much credit and belies a belief that if they are given more time, they will do better. Not a chance since more apt adjectives to describe the government would be “inept”, “unqualified”, “unprepared”, and “useless”. The press is either guilty of wishful thinking or head in the sand reporting. Then again, when experts such as Sheila Smith provide such tepid analysis of Japan, expecting the media to do any better is a lark. By the way, I wouldn’t say that the DPJ’s “political philosophy has been empirically demonstrated to be unworkable”. I haven’t seen a political philosophy, unless barking out political slogans and then trying to act upon them is a political philosophy.

  3. PaxAmericana said

    “The failures are a result of a trinity consisting of a political philosophy empirically demonstrated to be unworkable, a lack of common sense, and—let’s be frank–the failure to develop fully formed adult personalities.”

    As Tony said, it’s very questionable whether they have any political philosophy. As far as common sense goes, one could argue that, but it seems that a large part of this comes from not having anyone with any clear idea of what he is trying to do, with the exception of Ozawa. The personality failures have contributed to the inability to have a reasonably clear position regarding anything, though, as some of their politicians seem incapable of having an actual position. They are better suited for the geino-kai. This flailing may go on for some time.
    PA + T:

    Oh yes they do.

    They’ve taken it down from both their Japanese and English websites, probably because it was getting them in trouble, but they used to have a policy statement called Index 2008. That was the basis for the fine print in the back of their 2009 election Manifesto, which is not included in the on-line material. (It started on P. 16 in the hard copy.) Here’s a post that talks about one item at the end. I thought I had written more about the Index, but I can’t find the posts on the site now. (They’re there somewhere.)

    Here’s what happened. When the old Socialist Party fell apart, everyone who wasn’t a semi-Stalinist hardliner, and those who wanted to maintain their electoral viability, joined the DPJ. Guys like Sengoku, who was a student political activist in the late 60s. (Kan too, though he was a Socialist Democrat.) It’s the adult version of that philosphy, though they weren’t violent. They brought a lot of staff members with them. The staff members are the ones who wrote Index 2008 and the back of the old Manifesto. That’s where the voting rights for foreigners comes from, the establishment of a Human Rights Commission along the lines of Canada’s (with the right to enter property and search without a search warrant from a court), taxation of all international financial transactions, the child allowance, public money to support NPOs (ACORN in the US was an NPO that got government money, for example), and other proposals.

    Also look for the post about Matsushita Keiichi. The reason they get so upset about nationalism is that they look forward to the extinction of the nation-state.

    It’s the soft neo-left type stuff that academics love with a bit of the stealth factor thrown in.

    This being a Japanese political party, not all of them are like that. (Maehara Seiji, for example, even though he and Sengoku are in the same faction. Maehara co-chairs it with Edano Yukio, who had ties to the Kakumaru radical group.)

    – A.

  4. Tony said

    I see your point Bill but even though they may have written the Index 2008 the DPJ still doesn’t appear to have a coherent political philosophy. Primarily because it is largely an anti-LDP party, rather than a party with a shared political ideology. One example that exemplifies this was the criticism that came about when Ozawa said that foreigners should have the right to vote. Not only were the coalition partners against this policy but much of the criticism came from within the DPJ party itself. The idea was dropped and despite not having the same coalition partners, to my knowledge it hasn’t been brought up again. Where is the philosophy that is guiding the party?
    There is none. They tried to write a statement when they were in opposition. Two of the writers were Eda Satsuki (I think his name is) and Okada. Eda’s father was, IIRC, one of the organizers of the Socialist Democrats that Kan joined, or he was part of that orbit somehow. Okada isn’t quite that far left. They worked on it for several months but gave up because they couldn’t agree. Stuff like that is why a lot of people want political realignment to happen soon.

    If the DPJ does like the LDP used to do, they’ll try to alternate between their extremes instead of holding an election to give the impression of a change in policy. For example, Abe also tried to follow the Koizumi reform line, but was also close to the social conservatives. He was replaced by Fukuda, who was a “wet” in the British Tory sense. He was replaced by Aso, who was a social conservative.

    That would mean replacing Kan with someone like Maehara. Maehara was the party president before, but barely won that election (against Kan). He wants to change Article 9, but the labor unions/teacher’s union/old Socialists don’t. It will be interesting to see what happens.

    – A.

  5. Roual Deetlefs said


    I cannot help but think that had the DPJ acted more decisively in this debacle, they would have done a lot better in the coming election ..

  6. PaxAmericana said

    There’s no question that some in the DPJ sphere are on the left, but the bigger issue is just that they are/were the anti-LDP or anybody-but-the-LDP party. Similarly, many in the LDP for a long time were only there because that’s where the power was. In fairness, though, the LDP was normally more coherent than the current DPJ.

    It looks to me like Kan/Sengoku are trying to lower corporate taxes and join the TPP at home, and fit into the American orbit more on foreign matters. How is that remotely on the left?

    I think you are somewhat conflating the desire for power and money with the left. Many folks in the DPJ just want money and power.
    Cherry picking individual items isn’t a comprehensive argument, particularly when it involves the neo-left who do some trimming for the sake of power. Most of their policy (and all of their influences) are on the left. They eliminated the income tax deduction for children and instituted government payouts instead, forcing local governments and businesses to contribute. How is that remotely not of the left? The DPJ members who either came from or are backed by labor unions and teachers’ unions are “moderates”? The people who used to call themselves socialist? People who think raising taxes and creating public sector jobs creates economic growth? The people responsible for the highest public sector spending in Japanese history and want to raise the consumption tax to pay for it? Put Hatsushika and Keiichi Matsushita as terms into the search engine at the left sidebar and see if those are people driven by “money and power”.

    Sengoku was a member of the Socialist Party in Japan when their charter still included favorable references to Karl Marx. Think he’s changed his mind?

    Since every politician wants money and power, it’s more important to pay attention to what they say and do.

    Like their complete 2009 election manifesto, you know?

    – A.

  7. Tony said

    You’re completely wrong about Sengoku. While I agree he actions indicate he has been influenced by a Marx, it’s just not Karl.

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