Japan from the inside out

At a loss

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, February 6, 2011

IN NORMAL circumstances anywhere else in the world, it would have been an unremarkable display of political party schmoozing. Considering the people involved in the circumstances of today’s Japan, however, the following scenes highlight the putrefaction of politics at the national level and the numbness of the national political class.

Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji and Koshi’ishi Azuma, the Chair of the Democratic Party Caucus in the upper house, glad-handed each other at a party meeting in Yamanashi yesterday

Said Mr. Koshi’ishi:

“When will springtime arrive for our party? The most important issue facing our party is whether we will be able to pass the baton to Foreign Minister Maehara and others of his generation….Expectations are rising day by day for Mr. Maehara and others to create a vibrant Japan.”

Replied Mr. Maehara:

“To say that I am the “anti-Ozawa” is a nonsensical distinction. I sincerely respect Mr. Koshi’ishi, who is said to be pro-Ozawa….He has supported me in the bad times and the good. I will never be able to forget that.”

On the same day, Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party, the DPJ coalition partner, addressed a meeting of DPJ upper house delegates in Onomichi, Hiroshima:

“I spoke to former party president Ozawa Ichiro, and unfortunately, we are now in a state a year a half after the change of government in which it is inconceivable that the coalition government will meet the people’s expectations. The DPJ can’t possibly pull itself together without the 200-strong group led by Mr. Ozawa, ‘the master teacher’.” (宗師)

Mr. Kamei also recently met with Hatoyama Yukio (DPJ) and Mori Yoshiro (LDP), prime ministerial failures who laid eggs so large it’s a wonder they can walk without pain. At that meeting, he reportedly said that Ozawa Ichiro’s indictment meant it was unavoidable his political strength would decline. The two men agreed with him.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is correct to say it’s time to pass the baton to a new generation. Prime Minister Kan Naoto now resembles a walking sandwich board for the embalmer’s art—Lord knows he pumps himself full of enough preservatives—and Messrs. Koshi’ishi, Kamei, Ozawa, and Yosano Kaoru could moonlight as wax museum exhibits. The monthly bill for black hair dye alone must be staggering, and that’s not including the retainer the 74-year-old Mr. Kamei pays his barber to create a head of hair that ages 40 years just by walking behind the man and looking at him from the back.

The nation’s political leaders are starting to bear a strange resemblance to the late-period Sovetskies Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov (15 months in office before dying) and Konstantin Chernenko (13 months in office before dying), all of whom looked as if they lined up to sleep in the same tomb with Vladimir Lenin at night.

The political mechanism and philosophy those Japanese men represent is the same walking invalid the Soviet system was in those days.

If they were part of a coherent political mechanism, Mr. Koshi’ishi and Mr. Maehara would not be in the same party. The only way they would even talk to each other is to fire verbal mortar rounds from different trenches. The former is another DPJ Socialist Party refugee who got into politics by way of the Japanese Teachers Union, which is even more noxious than its Western counterparts. Makieda Motofumi was the JTU chairman when he was a member. Mr. Makieda was a fan of Kim Il-sung, juche, and the North Korean educational system. He wrote a book with a passage claiming there was no thievery in that country, which rewarded him with a medal in 1991.

Mr. Koshi’ishi also thinks it’s not possible to educate children without politics, and it’s obvious what political mickeys he would slip into their milk at school lunch. When there was talk of interdicting North Korean ships on the way to the Middle East to check for weapons or nuclear processing equipment, he was opposed and suggested inspecting the Aso government instead.

Mr. Maehara, meanwhile, is in favor of revising the Japanese Constitution to remove any restrictions on the maintenance of military forces—a stance directly opposed to that of the Article 9-loving Koshi’ishi Azuma. He is one of the DPJ MPs who favors a hard(er) line against the Chinese. He began his career with the Japan New Party of Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP prime minister since 1955. Other members of that party included former Yokohama Mayor Nakada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party and Koike Yuriko, now in the LDP. Both champion individual responsibility and freedom, and both tend to be social conservatives. (Current Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio was also in the party, but his tent isn’t pitched near that philosophical camp.) There was also talk that Mr. Maehara might split from the DPJ after he began associating with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro and Koike Yuriko in an informal group two years ago.

And now they talk about each other as if they were actors on honorary career Oscar night.

It’s not possible to make educated assumptions about the potential policies of a Prime Minister Maehara because he also leads a group in the DPJ with Mr. Edano and Sengoku Yoshito, both men of the left. Who knows what he believes this week? After all, some thought Kan Naoto would be a pragmatic centrist. With people openly talking about the end of the Kan administration, Mr. Sengoku is said to be preparing the ground for Mr. Maehara to succeed him. Such a move reminds people of the taraimawashi (literally, passing around the tub) of the bad old LDP, in which the party bosses rotated the prime minister’s chair amongst themselves with little regard for public opinion.

Ozawa Ichiro is the former secretary-general of the LDP and favorite political son of its Boss Tweed, Tanaka Kakuei. He wrote a book nearly 20 years ago advocating more individual responsibility and liberty as the prescription for what ailed Japan. That impressed Ms. Koike so much she joined the Liberal Party when he created that group, which eventually became part of a coalition government with the LDP. Then he merged the Liberal Party with the DPJ and formed close ties with Mr. Koshi’ishi in particular and other members affiliated with labor unions.

Before that, however, he created and ran from behind the curtain an eight-party coalition led by the aforementioned Hosokawa Morihiro. Mr. Kamei, then in the social conservative wing of the LDP, was instrumental in bringing down that coalition by coaxing the Socialists to leave, form a new coalition with the LDP, and launch a new government. He successfully replaced one cryptozoological fantasy with another because he and they thought Mr. Ozawa was a “fascist bastard”. Now he thinks the man’s indispensable, calls him “the master teacher”, and used the honorific term of address sensei for him in the above quote, though he is older by several years. (Mr. Ozawa has been in the Diet roughly a decade longer, however.) Ozawa-sensei, of course, is the master chef of Japan’s stew of dirty political money. He is the only politician whose funds management committee owns real estate, and that property portfolio is worth several million dollars.

Yet this is the man whom Mr. Kamei laments is losing his political influence in a meeting with two other men that people will suspect was called to gum over plans for a grand coalition of the politically halt, lame, blind, and fabulously well-to-do that will be just as unpopular with the public as the Hatoyama, Mori, and Kan administrations were.

When the DPJ won a majority in the July 2009 elections, I wrote that it was the first flush of several needed to purge the coprolites from the system. It seems likely that the next big flush will occur this year, perhaps before the cherries have finished blooming. Any attempt at a DPJ taraimawashi or a grand coalition of the pork-swilling will only put wings to the feet of the electorate as they rush to the handle.

National politics in Japan will not improve until the only reason these men travel to Nagata-cho is to show their great-granchildren where they once worked. Fortunately, the Japanese public is showing signs of starting a flushing festival at the sub-national level. (That may yet lead to real change, but I’ll have more on that later.) In the meantime, these badgers from the same hole, as the Japanese have it, are at a loss as to what to do next, and that is the nation’s loss.

UPDATE: Maehara Seiji comes a bit closer into focus. Today Mr. Maehara said it would be a mistake to return the LDP to power after the DPJ failures because that would make Japan “like 1980s Britain”.

The prime minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990 was Margaret Thatcher. That’s the same Mrs. Thatcher who cured the Sick Man of Europe plagued by unannounced power blackouts, uncollected garbage in the streets, and untouchable labor unions. If Japan is suffering from national malaise, it should wish for the same 80% rise in total personal wealth she helped create–starting with her privatization and tax reduction measures.

Perhaps he and Mr. Koshi’ishi are closer in spirit than it once seemed.

The phrase “to be at a loss for…” in Japanese is toho ni kureru, which is the title of this song.

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