Japan from the inside out

Hashimoto Toru (10): Decision-making

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 13, 2012

Procedures are governance itself.
– Hashimoto Toru

ONE criticism the Japanese often hurl at Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is that he is a dictator. Cartoons of his likeness graffitied with toothbrush moustaches became hackneyed long ago. This criticism is sometimes parroted by the English-language news media, but they have no more understanding of the nature of the charge than a parrot has of the sounds he is mimicking.

What they fail to see (assuming they’re even looking) is that the behavior some in Japan deem dictatorial would not only be unexceptional for a Western politician, but in fact be considered praiseworthy and an essential leadership trait.

The criticism should be understood in the context of the current debate in Japan about what leadership requires and how it should be exercised. That might puzzle outside observers, but it’s a matter of serious concern to the Japanese who read and think about public affairs. The mode of leadership exercised in this country for centuries has been culturally specific. The national mindset has changed in the modern era, however, and the change has been so rapid that people are only now beginning to perceive the existence of a new weltanschauung. A reappraisal of the qualities required for decision-making and leadership is underway. The debate includes frequent references to the Edo period and the national leadership in the pre-war and wartime years.

Earlier this week, Mr. Hashimoto fired off a prodigious round of Tweets addressing these matters. I’ve translated a condensed version of some of them here. Decide for yourself if these are the words and thoughts of an autocrat manqué. The emphasis on one sentence is mine.

* Of course there are different opinions on the extent to which an issue should be debated, but democratic politics does not function unless someone makes a decision at some point.

* The concept of procedures is value-neutral, so it can be applied to all issues, no matter what they are.

* In some circumstances, this might lead to a result I would find unsatisfactory. The result might benefit an opponent. But unless we establish fair procedures, we cannot achieve results that we find satisfactory. Recognizing that a chance should be provided to our opponents to bring about a result they find satisfactory so that we can also bring about a result we find satisfactory is (at the heart of) the concept of procedures.

* National government in Japan has been a serious failure. The opposition parties do nothing but oppose. They do not think of what they will do when they become the ruling party. That’s why, when they do become the ruling party, the new opposition party does the same thing the old opposition party did, and nothing is accomplished. Our priority should be to establish fair procedures for the democratic determination of our conduct.

* The procedures are to obtain consent for results obtained in accordance with those procedures, regardless of our own position. That is the greatest deficiency of the current Diet, and it has resulted in indecisive politics. Opposition parties should think of what they would do if they were the ruling party. Opposition to everything for the sake of opposition is unacceptable.

* If I want to achieve a certain result, I have to give my opponents a chance to achieve their result. Creating this environment enables a complete competition with the opponent. In addition, the result that emerges from the process is accepted. This is the great principle of democracy, but it is not taught in Japanese education.

* As soon as someone becomes a part of the intelligentsia, no rules are established for making decisions through debate. This is the cause of the poverty of Japanese politics.

* As typified by the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, the objective for the intelligentsia is debate. They have an extreme dislike for making decisions. This is democracy at its worst. Everyone discussing and reaching agreement (is what should happen instead). It is difficult enough to reach a unanimous agreement in my family of nine. In a unit of several million people…

* There is a tendency in Japan to think decision = discarding minority opinions = dictatorship. Until now, we’ve somehow managed to get by without making difficult political decisions. The primary role of politics in the past was to distribute the benefits of high growth. But from now on, there will be a series of difficult political decisions. It will not be possible to obtain the consent of all the people.

* The present age marks a turning point, and with the issue of the consumption tax increase, the Asahi Shimbun has changed the tenor of its argument. Politics and democracy in Japan today require discussion of procedures that are not bound by policy values. How will the people opposed to a policy assent to a decision? After the Democratic Party took power in 2009, the Diet members should also have keenly sensed this.

* The functioning of politics in Japan requires the establishment of the concept of decision-making, not just policy – who decides what, how, and, in particular, how to accept election results. Though Japan has conventions in legislative conduct that are of piddling value, there are no accepted practices for critically important election results.

* It is a peculiar country indeed in which the legislators do not unite even after election results. Despite that, excessive attention is paid to what are only internal party procedures to create binding party decisions. The mass media argues that the legislators who vote counter to their party’s decisions should be dealt with harshly. If members are going to be bound to party decisions to that extent, legislators must be bound even further to election results.

* Japan takes elections lightly, and that is the responsibility of the politicians. Previous elections have come across to the electorate merely as ceremonies that enable politicians to capture Diet seats. Even when elections have had consequences, the legislators ignore the results by saying those results aren’t everything, and behave as they wish. This is not how democracy develops.

* Election results are the instructions given to government on the operating program. The politicians do not create this program themselves. In any other sphere of activity, people have to accept the consequences of defeat. But defeat can be ignored in the (Japanese) political world. That’s why elections don’t determine anything.

* What is required for democracy now is the process of decision-making by the majority which the minority has no choice but to accept. Total unanimity is a farce.

On the One Osaka Eight Policy Statements

* They are points for discussion in which everyone must be involved to make a decision on the direction. They are points for discussion for moving in the direction in which the country should proceed. If these decisions are taken, we will likely move in the same direction for the individual items that remain. The Policy Statements are different from a political manifesto, which is a list of policies that the party says it will implement.

Not everyone recognizes the need for change, however. According to the Sankei Shimbun, DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma will examine the possibility of a decision-making approach for the party using as a reference the LDP General Council, in which total unanimity is the rule. The LDP General Council is often cited as an example of a decision-making approach based on a “village get-together”.

Noted one Japanese commentator:

Is even the DPJ returning to the Edo period? One reason Japanese organizations cannot make decisions is the principle of total unanimity. In reality, there is almost never a case in which everyone’s opinions are in accord on a political decision.

This from a party that couldn’t reach agreement on a common statement of principles even before Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party joined.

Today, by the way, Prime Minister Noda told the Diet that any DPJ member who wasn’t on board with a consumption tax increase in the next general election risked losing their party affiliation for the next general election.

They’ve already reduced former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s suspension from six month to three for his failure to follow the party line on the consumption tax increase. Some suspect that was to allow him to run as a DPJ candidate in the next lower house election.

We’ll see if they maintain the double standard, or if Mr. Hatoyama takes his money and goes elsewhere.

Head ‘em off at the pass, continued

Speaking of the next general election, the National Political Establishment is ramping up its efforts to derail Mr. Hashimoto, One Osaka, and the regional rebels.

Recall that immediately before the Osaka mayoral election, two weekly magazines ran the information that Mr. Hashimoto’s late father was a gangster (of a now defunct gang) and probably of the burakumin caste. (Just coincidence, you understand.) The people didn’t care; he won in a walk. The extreme voter dissatisfaction with the NPE has to be apparent even to them, but that hasn’t prompted any behavior modification. It isn’t part of the thought process in oligarchies.

A week ago, another weekly magazine published the rumor (labeled as such) that the mayor had a secret love child. (He already has a wife and seven children.) Mr. Hashimoto denied it and said he would resign immediately if the existence of any such child could be verified. He was also philosophical about the issue — he knows what the deal is — but he didn’t enjoy having to explain it to his junior high school daughter before she heard of it from another source. He also said his wife was quite angry about it.

The weekly Shukan Post said the rumor was started by an unnamed prominent LDP politician who once headed a government. If true, my money’s on Mori Yoshiro.

The Post also pointed out the motivation behind certain provisions in the ruling Democratic Party’s proposal to modify the national election districts. The Supreme Court ruled that the apportionment of seats for the lower house is unconstitutional because the discrepancy is too large between different districts in the population represented by each seat. The DPJ’s bill would rectify that problem.

From the NPE perspective, it would also help rectify another problem. The proportional representation seats in the lower house are allocated by party list based on the vote totals in 11 blocs nationwide. The PR seats in the upper house, however, are allocated based on national vote totals. The new DPJ plan would convert the lower house PR system into the same system used by the upper house.

The regional parties, specifically the ones in Osaka, Nagoya, and Aichi, would clean the clocks of the NPE in a lower house election today in the areas where they entered candidates. It is possible that One Osaka could receive more votes in the Kansai bloc than the three parties of the NPE combined.

Apportioning seats based on the nationwide vote, however, would dilute their totals and reduce the number of PR seats awarded to them. This might also affect the New Ozawa Party, because they are expected to be relatively stronger in the Tohoku region, Mr. Ozawa’s home grounds.

Jiggering the national electoral system to deprive the voters of a voice and maintain their power, perquisites, and authority?

And to think some people — including some Westerners — were thrilled at the DPJ “revolution” in 2009.

Well, it certainly has been revolting.


* On more than one occasion, my wife has listened to a news report on a debate in the Diet, and commented in exasperation about the opposition: “Hantai! Hantai! (We’re opposed). That’s all they say!”

* Perhaps it’s my American background, but part of the problem seems to me to be derived from the combination of the traditional Japanese approach to consensus with the worst aspects of the Westminster system.

I do not understand the demand in that system for rigid party unanimity for votes in the national legislature. It reminds me of the old geezers rising as one in the legislatures of People’s Republics to hold up their party ID badges when “voting” on a proposal.

Party primaries end that practice. Your Party has already offered legislation requiring that.

* Hashimoto Toru writes an enormous amount of material for Twitter nearly every day, explaining his views in detail. I can think of no politician anywhere who has made such an effort to present directly to the people, unfiltered, his own opinions in his own words. The Tweets could easily be edited into a book, which would probably become a best seller.

And he uses no ghostwriters (for the Tweets, at any rate), much less teleprompters. Other than a very recent book that discusses Mr. Hashimoto’s use of Twitter, most Japanese take it in stride.

Is that not an interesting contrast to a famous politician in another country? His confirmed writings demonstrate an appalling grasp of English grammar (such as noun-verb agreement), while the bibliolaters in his amen corner hold up his ghost-written works as evidence of his luminous brilliance.

Jiji has released the results of its latest monthly poll, conducted last week. Theirs is not an RDD poll, so it is widely assumed to be the most accurate of the media polls.

Noda Cabinet support rate: 21.3%, down 3 points from June
Noda Cabinet disapproval rate: 60.3%, + 5.5 points
DPJ generic support rate: 6.7%, – 1.4 points, third straight record low since they become the governing party. It’s roughly 20% of the 29.4% rate in October 2009, when they officially took control.
Self-identified independents: 71.4%, another record high. Jiji has consistently shown this to be more than 50% since 2005, except for the periods immediately preceding and after national elections.

Making decisions can be a problem for anybody. I got distracted by an older sister once myself.

One Response to “Hashimoto Toru (10): Decision-making”

  1. toadold said

    Another thing is “transparency”, knowing who made the decision. One of my pet peeves is school boards. “The board decided…” I doubt that in an American city you could find 1 out of 100 people who know who is on their school board.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: