Japan from the inside out

Koizumi sighting

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 8, 2011

AT A Tokyo symposium sponsored by the Japanese Association of Corporate Directors on 5 September, former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro gave us a taste of what we’ve been missing since he stepped down from office — an insightful politician able to use his mother wit to clearly and convincingly explain the reasons for his positions. Nowhere was heard (or at least quoted) an unsupported platitude. It was his first address with the news media present since July 2010. Here’s a sample.

On the Democratic Party:

The fiscal difficulties mean that governments of the ruling party will continue to find it hard going. The change in government was a good thing, because the DPJ diet members have finally done us the favor of understanding just how difficult it is to be the ruling party.

On DPJ domestic policies:

Though (we) created a system for privatization that required absolutely no tax funds, the Democratic Party has eliminated expressway tolls. How do they expect to repay the debts of the Japan Public Highway Corporation? Theirs is a system that places a tax burden on people who do not use automobiles.

On their pledges:

The DPJ said that it could easily find JPY 16 trillion in funding sources if they formed a government. I’d like to see them do it without backtracking on that promise.

And on their foreign policy, specifically the “equilateral triangle” policy:

China is the more important country to us economically, but no policy of any kind will make headway unless mutual safety has been secured. After (its effort and sacrifice in) the Pacific War, the United States returned all the territory it occupied. China claims Okinawa and the Senkakus as its own territory. I do not accept the argument that we should have the same relationship with both.

His argument about highway tolls is noteworthy in particular because it highlights one the semi-libertarian ideas that were applied in Japan until not so long ago. Mr. Koizumi did not mention that only about 10% of registered vehicles in Japan use expressways, but Tokyo Metro Vice-Governor Inose Naoki — who’s been a published non-fiction writer for more than 30 years — has made that point.

High school tuition was another example. Under Japanese law, obligatory education ends at age 15, or the age at which a student leaves junior high school/middle school. That was the basis for requiring tuition to attend high school. (There’s a lot of common sense underlying that policy. No one’s making you go.) Government subsidies began during the LDP years, but the DPJ made high school free for all.

Also, one of Japan’s old-age pension systems requires monthly payments for a minimum of 25 years. It is the responsibility of the individual to make his own arrangement for payments. (I’ve got three years of payments remaining.) Failure to do so means you don’t qualify for the pension. The DPJ wants to scrap this requirement and apply consumption tax receipts for this purpose instead.

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2 Responses to “Koizumi sighting”

  1. Marellus said

    Can he ever run for PM again?
    Theoretically, yes, but he retired from politics and relinquished his Diet seat. Prime ministers have to be Diet members.

    – A.

  2. Janne said

    If you can’t “make his own arrangement for payments” because you are frequently unemployed or your job is not enough to feed and house you properly, then you have perhaps years of payments with no payout coming in return at the end. In the current system some of the poorest that never manage to amass a full 25 years of payments subsidize those who can. The system needs to change so that you get a pension payout at least proportional to the number of years you put in.

    High school – it only makes sense to have people pay for it if you think high school graduates is a luxury today’s society can do without. If you think it’s a problem that Japan has too many overqualified high-schoolers then it’s fine.

    In both cases it’s not just about the individual benefit but of the societal one. Does the Japanese economy need a well-educated workforce? Should people Do Japan want or need a society where senior citizens end up under blue tarps because they never managed to get a salaried job or a white-collar position? The external effects are much too large in both cases for it to be only about individual economy and individual choice.

    Removing the highway toll was daft, fully agree on that.
    J: Thanks for the note. Three points.

    1. The pension system that I’m referring to is not the only one.

    Also, in regard to your reference to people who are unemployed or underemployed, I’ve never understood the logic of organizing systems in which 95%, or to stretch it, 90% of the population are penalized for the other 5%, or at most, 10%.

    2. White collar employment is not the only option. There are some people who are not interested in that work, nor are they interested in the sort of things one studies in a Japanese high school. A high school education is not necessary to install or maintain climate control systems, for example. Companies put those employees through a training program. There’s no reason why it can’t start at age 15 through an apprentice program, and I know Japanese who agree.

    3. I can only compare the Japanese educational system with that in America, and the Japanese system is far superior. They print sample test questions in the newspapers for high school students here. Most American high school students would fail those tests. Badly.

    One school in my town hands out material to its sixth graders presenting problems from an American ninth-grade textbook. They’re astonished to see things they’ve already mastered. Post-graduate work is the only reason most Japanese would have for going to an American university.


    – A.

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