Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Political Realignment’


Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 24, 2012

CREATING a consensus for sustaining and expanding the administrative state requires teamwork among the major national political parties in Japan as their leaders heave-ho together on the rope of a consumption tax increase. Despite their protestations to the contrary and the intramural sabotage, however, one question has been settled: Regardless of the name stamped on their party ID card, they’re all on the same team wearing the uniform of the National Political Establishment, and the squad they’re playing against is The Public.

The NPE side creates its own capricious rules, acts as the referees, and has the discretion to let the match drag on for a year or to end it tomorrow by dissolving the lower house and calling an election.

But while people have kept their eye on the play-by-play over the past month, they’ve missed the greater import: The outcome could be among the most significant of all the political games of the past quarter-century. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s embrace of the ruling Democratic Party looks from one angle as if they are helping extend their rivals’ government, and from another angle as if it were a chokehold manipulated to love them to death. They both would consider it a boon if their pas de deus ex machina would settle the accounts for two decades’ worth of political intrigues by body slamming Ozawa Ichiro out of national politics. Further, it is a tossup whether the LDP hammerlock or the one the DPJ has on itself will prove to be the fatal hold for the ruling party. Other questions to be answered are whether they have cut a deal with Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, AKA The National Sparkler, co-opted him, or have been played for suckers by him.

The Jiji news agency, whose political polls are thought to be the most accurate of the media surveys, recently released the results of their June 8-11 canvassing regarding the public’s opinions of the national parties.

The rate of support for the Noda Cabinet was 24.3% and those in opposition were at 54.8%. These are gallows numbers for a Japanese Cabinet. The support rate actually rose by one percentage point over the last poll, and it is the second nominal month-on-month increase, but in real terms they’re flatlining.

Generic support for the DPJ is at 8.1%, the lowest since the party took office. That is little solace for the LDP, whose numbers stand at 13.1%. Most important, the independent/unaffiliated voters are at 69%, which is also probably a record high. In other words, the favorite of seven out of ten Japanese is “None of the above”.

In addition, the Japan Association for Public Opinion Research conducted a poll that found 73% of those surveyed disapproved of the DPJ’s conduct of foreign affairs.

Viewed from that perspective, it is entirely possible the NPE understands their fate will be that of the team of mice in the photograph and are delaying it as long as they can. In the meantime, they will arrange to make their afterlife as comfortable as they can before The Public forces them to forfeit.

Profile in Courage

Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has staked his political life (not his Diet seat, just the premiership) on passing legislation to increase the consumption tax in two steps from 5% to 10%. This is nominally to pay for the rising social welfare expenses, though the bulk of the increased revenue is to be allocated at first to public works projects rather than welfare benefits.

The additional revenue will do little to improve the nation’s fiscal problems — only serious government downsizing will do that — and the tax itself will likely depress economic activity to the extent that other tax revenues will fall. That’s what happened the last time it was raised.

Mr. Noda thinks he is exhibiting Churchillian courage:

“The entire national debate has split into two camps. Indeed, those in the opposition (to his Cabinet’s policies) are larger…When they truly think of the nation, the citizens, and the next generation, most people know what we must do. The politics I want to achieve is to decide what should be taken as a matter of course as if it were a matter of course.”

What he means by “matter of course” is hypertrophied social democratic Big Government limping under the banner of The Third Way. Any other course is off-the-wall eccentricity.

As for what “most people know what we must do”, we have data:

“Only 17 percent of voters want the Diet to pass tax hike legislation during the current session, a goal on which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has staked his political life, an Asahi Shimbun survey showed.”

And that’s from a newspaper predisposed to support the DPJ government. A 4 June op-ed from the same newspaper offers all the reasons we’ll ever need to understand the strange growths in the Dismal Swamp:

“The essence of the Democratic Party of Japan is that of a mutual assistance organization which passes around the party name to help individuals win elections. The party is very loosely bound. After the DPJ became Japan’s leading party, the ties between the beliefs of each individual MP and the party have become frayed, and there has been gridlock between the lower and upper houses. Japanese politics is still in an extreme period of lethargy.”

Left unsaid (because everyone knows) was this: the DPJ contains within its ranks its own opposition party. A political divorce means the DPJ loses the house, or more specifically, its lower house majority.
The party was formed with the intent of bringing serious two-party rule to Japan and ending the LDP’s government monopoly. By extension, that meant dismantling the Iron Triangle of politicians, the bureaucracy, and big business, and the money politics that kept it welded together.

Their objective was achieved on the day the DPJ took office in 2009, which was also the day their usefulness ended. (The similarities with the Obama administration are uncanny.) Rather than dismantling the Iron Triangle, they were delighted to become accepted into the fraternity. Any political group that hangs together despite unimaginable internal contradictions is in it for the power and the perks.

Their membership ranges from people who claim Margaret Thatcher as their primary influence (Matsubara Jin) to ex-Socialists who joined the party when their charter contained favorable references to Karl Marx. They’re fleshed out by the usual caravan of status whores, time-servers, and the milquetoast social democrats who delight in playing Little Jack Horner but lack the inclination or the intellect to understand what happens to the pie after all the plums are pulled out.

Their singular achievement has been to reorient the political consciousness of the public, and now all that awaits them is the massacre of the next election. The public might get fooled again, but the DPJ won’t be the ones doing the fooling.

The internal opposition

Emblematic of their internal contradiction is that ascension to the party of government was made possible by their merger with Ozawa Ichiro and his allies, who have become the internal opposition party that will tear them apart. The merger was engineered when Kan Naoto was the DPJ president, and he and Mr. Ozawa appeared together after the merger to discuss it on a television program hosted by veteran journalist Tahara Soichiro. Mr. Tahara said it was one of his most difficult interviews because the two men refused to speak directly to each other.

Ozawa Ichiro, the man who would be kingbreaker

Opinions about Mr. Ozawa over the past 20 years have ranged from Savior to Destroyer, but now the bulk of the hourglass sand has fallen to the lower bulb. Most Japanese would be hard pressed to describe what, if any, political convictions he holds. The electorate holds him in less regard than it does his party. He came to prominence in the LDP in 1986 for his ability to persuade the opposition to pass the original consumption tax. (It took two years because the media was against it. Now their positions have reversed.)

After losing a power struggle with Hashimoto Ryutaro, he bolted the LDP and eventually became the backroom manipulator of the eight-party coalition government that ended the LDP monopoly. During that Hosokawa administration in 1984, he pushed the idea of a 7% “welfare tax” to replace the consumption tax, an idea that was later withdrawn.

Since then, he has formed and folded several new parties, entered and left a coalition with the LDP government, merged the same party with the DPJ, started several power struggles with other leaders (winning a few and losing the most recent string) and supported an opposition-led no confidence motion against Kan Naoto that was foiled at the last minute. (That’s apart from creating a substantial real estate portfolio for his political funds committee.)

If reports this week are to be believed, he is now preparing to leave the DPJ and form a new party with 50 or 60 MPs. (A Kyodo news agency survey counted up to 60 heads, but the Sankei Shimbun isn’t sure how much past 45 it will go.) The Asahi Shimbun reports that about 50 Ozawa-affiliated members have already submitted their resignations to the DPJ. If more than 54 head south, the DPJ’s lower house majority goes with them. It is estimated to take about JPY three billion yen to start a new party, and there is speculation that Mr. Ozawa will fund it by selling the real estate his political finance committee owns.

The nominal reason is that Ozawa the Opportunist is now opposed to an increase in the consumption tax he once supported because it breaks a promise made in the party manifesto to maintain the tax rate for four years. He is also using the excuse that regional devolution should come first, and that will take time. He showed little interest in that issue until Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka group started leading all the national polls.

He’s announced that he will vote against the bill when it comes before the Diet on Tuesday, so all that remains to be seen is how many people go along with him. In Japan’s Westminster system, MPs who flout the party line are subject to penalties and sometimes thrown out of the party. Sources within the Ozawa camp say they will split even if the DPJ leadership chooses to administer the lightest of taps on the wrist. On the evening of the 21st, he held a meeting of like-minded DPJ MPs, and 50 showed up, counting him. It’s worth noting that 30 of those attending are in their first term, which means they were elected in 2009 through his assistance.

This is the same man who was celebrated in the West almost 20 years ago for his book, Blueprint for a New Japan, which argued that Japan should become a normal nation. Considering current conditions in the United States and Europe, he may have succeeded.

Not only is Mr. Noda ready for this to happen, he is encouraging it to happen. According to one reporter, he has told people that the legislation hiking the tax should pass even if it splits the party. Late last month, Mr. Noda and Mr. Ozawa met twice. The prime minister tried unsuccessfully to get Mr. Ozawa to back the tax hike, and it was at that point the bridges were burned. His negotiations with the opposition LDP and New Komeito went more smoothly; they’ll vote to pass the bill. Then again, the prime minister was more amenable to compromising with them.

Ozawa Ichiro will not be able to stop the tax increase because most of the DPJ MPs want to put off a general election until the last possible moment. But if the Ozawa group leaves in strength, the survival of the Noda Cabinet depends on the goodwill of the LDP and New Komeito. That would also leave enough votes for a no-confidence motion, which, if it passes, means a new election or a new Cabinet. The second of those two choices is the more likely, and that would mean a new caretaker prime minister until next summer, when a new election must be held for both houses. One psephologist working on the assumption of a 70-member Ozawa Party thinks only five from that group would be guaranteed to hold their seats, with another 18 favored. In short, the outlook is as bleak for the rest of that group as it is for the NPE as a whole.

Recall that last summer, Mr. Ozawa and former DPJ Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio were ready to form a new party with the Hatoyama family money after supporting an opposition no-confidence motion against Kan Naoto. That was averted only because the DPJ leadership came up with a transparent fiction that fooled Mr. Hatoyama the night before the vote.

Speaking of Little Boy Lost, Mr. Hatoyama understands the possibility that the party his mother’s money bought and paid for will disintegrate. In Hokkaido, he said:

“If the prime minister pushes this (tax bill) through, there is an extremely high danger that the party will split.”

But perhaps he isn’t so worried about it. On 6 June he said:

“As one of the people who created the DPJ, I would normally do whatever it took to avoid talking about breaking up the party. But now we are at a point at which we must think about what we should do from the perspective that the peoples’ lives are more important than the DPJ.”

For the nonce, he is said to be thinking of abstaining from the vote next Tuesday, or not showing up at all on principle, because it is the opposite of what he campaigned for.

Meanwhile, DPJ Supreme Advisor Watanabe Kozo (yes, that’s his title) publicly asked Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio (another Supreme Advisor) to please oppose the legislation so they could leave the party once and for all.

Not every DPJ solon thinks an election should be put off, however. Policy Research Committee Chairman and former party head Maehara Seiji suspects the party will have its back broken in a double election held next year. (He’s right about that.) He thinks it would be better for the party to take its lumps now and regroup for the upper house election next year.

And just to make things really crazy, some charge that the national media are trying to cast the disagreement as Ozawa against the party on purpose, when in fact many younger DPJ Diet members unaffiliated with Mr. Ozawa have been complaining about the tax increase to party leaders. One member estimated that 90% of the party’s Diet members do not want to pass the bill if it means splitting the party, and that not all of the senior members are interested in the de facto coalition with the opposition that passage of the bill means.

The Land of 1000 Coincidences

No country on earth has as many astonishing political coincidences as Japan. Another one occurred last week, just when political speculation was gusting, with the publication of the 21 June edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshu. It contained the text of what the magazine said was a letter from Ozawa Ichiro’s wife Kazuko to his supporters in his home district of Iwate explaining why she had decided to divorce him. It wasn’t because of the two mistresses or the child born to another woman; that’s why they’ve been separated. No, the reason was something else:

“A large and unprecedented natural disaster such as this (the Tohoku disaster) demands that a politician take action immediately. In fact, however, Ozawa and his aide were afraid of radiation and ran away. Looking at Ozawa, who cast aside during their hour of need the people of Iwate, who had supported him for many years, I understood that this was not a person who would serve for the benefit of Iwate and Japan, and so divorced him.”

By running away, she means that he flipped out after the Fukushima accident, told his aide to buy a large supply of salt, locked the doors to his house in Tokyo, and refused to leave. (She says the aide fled to the Kansai area, but he says it was on previously scheduled business.) He used water purchased commercially for food and washing and didn’t visit his home district in Iwate, one of the three prefectures most seriously damaged by the disaster, from 28 March to 1 December. That would also explain why it took him more than two weeks after the 11 March incident to get himself to Iwate begin with.

The website J-cast interviewed a member of his support group in Iwate after the news broke:

“We would have been thrilled if he had visited to raise our spirits and said, leave it to me, or do your best, but it’s too bad he didn’t do that. That’s what everyone around here is saying. That’s also what I thought when I read the Bunshun article. The first generation (Ozawa’s father, also a Diet member) really worked hard, but the second generation is just the second generation, I guess.”

In other words, whenever Mr. Ozawa appears in public in the future, the electorate will visualize in their minds’ eye the phrase National Wuss on his forehead.

Ozawa Kazuko, by the way, should not be perceived merely as the stay-at-home wife. She was the daughter of one of the executives of former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakei’s Iwate support group, and Tanaka is said to have encouraged the match. Mr. Ozawa won his first election to the Diet four years later with considerable assistance from his wife and father-in-law. Thus, she was always more the political wife in a semi-arranged marriage than just a homemaker.

The external opposition

Knowing that he would have trouble passing the tax increase through both houses against the wishes of his internal opposition, Mr. Noda has made arrangements to pass the bill with the help of the external opposition. After his meetings with Ozawa Ichiro, he replaced two Cabinet members that the opposition-controlled upper house censured. One of them was Defense Minister Tanaka Naoki, the son-in-law of Mr. Ozawa’s political mentor Tanaka Kakuei. His wife, Tanaka Makiko, and Mr. Ozawa remain close allies.

The prime minister first insisted that he would ignore the censures and keep them in the Cabinet — the Churchill imitation again — but he threw them overboard as a gift to bring to the opposition for discussions. Observed Takenaka Heizo, the mainstay of the Koizumi cabinets:

“I look forward to the participation of Mr. Moriyama, the private sector minister (of defense). Be that as it may, of the five new members, one was from the private sector, two were former LDP Japan Post rebels, and two were from the upper house. There are no pure DPJ lower house members. Are they having that much trouble finding qualified personnel?”

He had to ask?

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru looked that gift horse in the mouth:

“It’s been more than 40 days since the upper house passed the censure motions against the two ministers. It’s too late.”

LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki was thrilled with the present of a pony, however, and said that was a good sign for starting discussions.

Well, at least they didn’t have to discuss raising the consumption tax; they had already agreed to that. The subject at hand was what the DPJ would agree to in exchange for the votes of the LDP and New Komeito to create what some have called the Tax Increase Coalition.

The terms included the DPJ renunciation of a guaranteed minimum pension, and their opposition to the system that came into effect during the Fukuda administration in which the late stage elderly (age 75 and over) who are financially better off pay more for their health care. Both of those policies are in the DPJ 2009 election manifesto.

Some in the DPJ objected to reneging on their manifesto, but everyone else horse-laughed. These discussions are being held in the context of raising the consumption tax, which the DPJ manifesto promised not to do.

Okada Katsuya can’t bear to look

Maehara Seiji called for withdrawing some of the platform planks, including that for the guaranteed minimum pension. Former LDP Secretary-General Ibuki Bunmei said the LDP demand wasn’t necessary because the issues in question weren’t actually law. Other long-in-the-tooth types in the party agreed, including former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and former Secretary General Makoto Koga. Rather than disavowing the two policies, the DPJ offered to shelve them without introducing them as legislation in the Diet, and the LDP thought that was sufficient to strike a bargain.

Some LDP members objected because the DPJ couldn’t be trusted: They reneged on their manifesto, after all. Others in the LDP crowed that they succeeded in getting the ruling party to withdraw their manifesto pledges. That upset many in the DPJ, who remember that the LDP opposed a cigarette tax increase behind the claim that it would be bad for the economy (to hide the reality that it would be bad for the tobacco growers who back the LDP), and eventually backtracked on their own decision to privatize Japan Post.

The DPJ finally had to eat a beggar’s banquet of crow. Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya started the first course by bringing up his party’s approach to pension system reform when it was in the opposition:

“Sincerely speaking, we have no excuse. There is no question that we went too far.”

He’s referring to a bill they submitted when in opposition to reform the pension system that was nearly identical to the LDP/New Komeito bill unifying private and public sector pensions. They opposed the government’s bill because it didn’t include the national pensions. Said Mr. Okada:

“It takes time to achieve sweeping reform, so we should have adopted the realistic method of starting by doing that which we could do…If we assume that most people thought we wouldn’t have to make a decision about it during this term, I am extremely sorry.”

The party nearly gagged on his discussion of their manifesto the following day:

“Rather than our manifesto, we won (the election) due to the large trend among the people looking for a change of government…If you ask whether the JPY 26,000 yen monthly children’s allowance was excessive, I think it was excessive…Most people voted with the idea that there should be a change of government.”

That had to be hard for Mr. Okada to digest: His reputation is that of a man who believes the party should always uphold the manifesto, and indeed, as one of the most prominent among those calling for manifesto-based elections to begin with. In January 2004, he said:

“Irresponsible Diet members who take actions other than those in the manifesto are not in this party.”

They are now, and he’s one of their leaders.

Takenaka Heizo understands the core problem with all of this behavior:

“The DPJ, LDP, and New Komeito are holding discussions about social security and tax reform. We have absolutely no understanding of what sort of negotiations went on, what the results of the negotiations were, and the process involved. Questioning the ministers in the Diet yields only in the superficial response that talks are underway. Some Diet members themselves say they don’t understand it. Blatant backroom politics such as this is unprecedented.”

Not unprecedented, perhaps, but not healthy for the body politic.

One of the last of the Koizumians in the LDP, former Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, put it in context:

“The DPJ says it has not withdrawn its pork barrel manifesto. Regardless of how often the LDP says that the DPJ withdrew the manifesto, the DPJ says they haven’t, so it hasn’t been withdrawn. The LDP withdrew its request to withdraw the manifesto…

“Finally, we’ve got something like an answer. Today, some of the people promoting the sales tax increase began to make reference to either a tax increase grand coalition, or a tax increase political reorganization after the legislation passes, in which members of both the ruling and opposition parties who support the tax increase will join forces.”

And Your Party leader Watanabe Yoshimi explains what that means:

“The political party-cabinet structure collapsed in the 1930s during quasi-wartime conditions, and the bureaucracy-cabinet system began, in which no one had to undergo the trial of elections. An atmosphere formed in which it became difficult to object. Later the Imperial Rule Assistance Association was created (and political parties dissolved), and the legislature became a rubber stamp institution. Now, with the great collusion of the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito, the Diet has devolved into a mere tax increase rubber stamp institution.”

This is what politicians do to keep from admitting that they spend too much of other people’s money rather than complain that they have too little of it.

Speaking of Mr. Nakagawa, it is also possible that he and the Koizumians will vote against the tax bill, though everyone is being vague. He formed a group of about 20 people that has been meeting to discuss the issue since May. They face some problems of their own: Vote on principle and they associate themselves with Ozawa or Hatoyama, which they don’t want to do. Vote the party line and they open themselves to attack from the real opposition in the next election.

The Real Opposition

While entropy has its way with the politicians at the national level, the rebel/reformers at the local level continue to consolidate their energy and their position. When Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru relented and approved the restart of the Oi nuclear power plants, reversing his initially intense opposition, some wondered if that would harm him among his supporters. The results of a JNN poll taken of Osaka voters after his switch answered that question:

Q: Do you support Mayor Hashimoto?
Yes: 54%
No: 38%

Q: Do you support the resumption of nuclear power generation at the Oi plant?
Yes: 49%
No: 31%

During the first week of June, the Mainichi Shimbun conducted a poll of voters asking for which party they would cast proportional representation ballots:

One Osaka (Hashimoto): 37%
DPJ: 7%
LDP: 10%

If you can’t beat ‘em, co-opt ‘em, is a classic political strategy. The DPJ seemed to have adopted that strategy when they came up with a new legislative proposal out of the ether that addressed the issue on which Mr. Hashimoto campaigned for mayor: Merging the city and prefecture of Osaka to create an administrative district similar to that of Tokyo. All of a sudden it was announced that a DPJ working team had put together legislation that would allow the Osaka Metro District to be created, and the government would submit it to the Diet during the current term. That was superb timing for a party that had paid little attention to the issue before and whose reputation as the head of government is an inability to present coherent legislation in a timely manner.

Hashimoto Toru explains

The bill would allow areas of specially designated cities and local municipalities with an aggregate population of more than 2 million people to merge, eliminate the surrounding municipalities, and create special internal districts. It would require the municipalities to submit a report on their plan to the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications, who would study the plan (well, the bureaucrats would) and render an opinion. It would also retain some national government involvement at the local level, including that for the distribution of tax resources and some authority, which is not what the local movements are seeking.

The original bill required consultation with the national government for approval of the full plan, but the Asahi Shimbun said the DPJ scaled back the involvement of the national government as a kiss blown in Mr. Hashimoto’s direction. The government will now discuss their bill with other parties, who have introduced similar bills of their own.

Mr. Hashimoto was pleased as punch:

“If the future form of the nation is given priority to the consumption tax issue, the metro district concept bill will be of exceptional historical significance. The consumption tax should be considered after indicating the direction in which the form of the nation will be changed.”

In fact, Mr. Hashimoto said that if the bill passed during the current Diet session, his One Osaka group might not run candidates in the next lower house election, after vowing to take the government down.

Eyebrows raised immediately throughout the archipelago. People first suspected the NPE might be trying to co-opt his primary issue. After he acquiesced to the restart of the Oi nuclear reactors, some thought he had used the nuclear power issue as a weapon to prod the national government in the direction he wanted. (Mr. Hashimoto does not pussyfoot.) Others wondered what would happen to the political juku he is sponsoring to cultivate candidates to run in the next lower house election.

But most people — especially those in the media — missed what he said after that:

“I did not consult with One Osaka (before saying) there is no need for One Osaka to go into national politics absent a great cause…I will not run in a national election. I am not suited to be a member of the national Diet. My position is one in which I have been directly selected by the voters, such as mayor or governor, and I am doing that job now. While it’s not impossible, I am not the type of person who can work under the British system of a cabinet of legislators.

That wasn’t the whole story, either. Here’s Osaka Governor and One Osaka Secretary-General Matsui Ichiro:

“If the Diet members do not fulfill their promise to reform government finances, we must go into national politics.”

He does not mean that a consumption tax increase is a reform of government finances, by the way. He added:

“Even if an Osaka Metro District is created, Osaka would not float by itself if japan sinks. We hope all the Diet members move forward based on a clear consensus in this Diet session that the ship of Japan does not sink.”


“We (he and Mr. Hashimoto) are in complete agreement on our goal, and the speed at which we are heading there. There is just some difference in our wording. That’s about it.”

One Osaka policy chief Asada Hitoshi gave a speech to Tokyo reporters on the 12th and was asked about the Hashimoto statement:

“The bill (creating an Osaka Metro District) hasn’t passed yet, and our primary goal of getting involved with national politics has not ended….After the completion of the metro district concept, the second stage is to ask the residents and the chief municipal officers in the surrounding area whether they will become special districts within the metro district or merge with other cities to create core cities.“

The political juku is still operating (and the students were addressed by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara Shintaro today). The student body was reduced from 2,000 to 915. Mr. Matsui said that preference in the cull was given to members of the national reform party Your Party currently serving as delegates in subnational government legislatures.

That dovetails with stories that One Osaka would support Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi for prime minister if they and their allies gained control of the Diet. Mr. Hashimoto would have a major voice in national affairs in such an arrangement, even if he stayed in Osaka. He’s also young enough that he could eventually benefit from a constitutional change permitting the direct election of prime ministers, which One Osaka favors. There are also stories that One Osaka is sounding out Diet members about switching parties, particularly those in the DPJ.

Some in the English-language media are calling this a flip-flop, but they’re forgetting Hashimoto Toru’s declaration in 2008 that it was “2000% impossible” he would run for governor of Osaka that year. He ran for governor of Osaka that year and his margin of victory demonstrated that the voters didn’t care what he said first.

If the DPJ thought they would co-opt him, Mr. Hashimoto’s Twitter barrage yesterday on current events in Tokyo should disabuse them of that notion:

“If this behavior (of the DPJ government) is allowed to stand, the next general election will have nothing to do with manifestoes or policies. That’s because politicians will be capable of doing exactly the opposite of what they said they wouldn’t do…As regards manifestoes, Japanese politics is immature. To what extent can the political promises with the people be modified? The media (in supporting the tax increase) are absolutely mistaken. If they say the last part of the process is for the voters to render a decision in an election, then that is just a complete rubber-stamping of the process. If what politicians say before an election can be repudiated and that is deemed acceptable if ratified through a national election, pre-election policy debate is meaningless.

“If this process for raising the consumption tax is permitted, no one will trust politics. Everyone understands the reason for raising the consumption tax. Everyone knows the government doesn’t have enough money…The DPJ would find the revenue source equal to the tax increase if they withdrew all of the policies they adopted that require greater expenditures. But they do what is not written in the manifesto just for taxes without withdrawing their policies. This process is not acceptable. ..It is the mission and the obligation of the politicians to ask for ratification through an election. If they proceed with Nagata-cho and Kasumigaseki logic without doing that, the people will not follow.”

Who’d have guessed that The Dictator insists on proper democratic procedures for determining and implementing policy? Not the people who enjoy the Hashimoto as Hitler narrative, because that would force them to take facts into account. Griping about Hashism for as long as he stays a national figure is a cheap way to demonstrate how marvelous and progressive and well-behaved they are.

Phoning it in

Prime Minister Noda is said to be threatening potential DPJ rebels and supporters of what is being termed an Ozawa political coup d’etat with a dissolution of the lower house and a general election, though he also supposedly promised other party elders he wouldn’t do that. Mr. Ozawa is warning against that course of action, for excellent reasons. We’ve seen all of them in the poll results at the beginning of this piece.

Meanwhile, after Mr. Noda announced his decision to restart the nuclear reactors at Oi, one western media outlet observed that he risked a voter backlash at the polls.

You mean something other than the voter backlash that the party’s been flogged with since January 2010? The decision of Hashimoto Toru to go along with the resumption of generation hasn’t hurt him in the polls.

This isn’t simply a matter of the eternal journo ignorance and their laziness to conduct ABC research. These people have space to fill, and they think they can fill it by presenting something superficially plausible to satisfy their equally ignorant editors and unsuspecting readers.

When the reformers ride into Tokyo to dispose of the corpses from the team of dead NPE mice — and that day is drawing closer — they’ll still be in the dark. But they’ll make up something or other and find a few college professors to say it for them. They always do.

UPDATE: Hatoyama Yukio has changed his mind again and now wants to delay a vote on the tax bill to prevent a party split. (He didn’t see this coming?) He also wants a confirmation that the lower house will not be dissolved. As for a new Ozawa party, however, he would only say that he would not be interested “immediately”.

It’s hard to stay relevant when you’re so irrelevant.

Handicappers seem to think as many as 70 DPJ members will vote against the bill, abstain from voting, or not show up to vote. That’s roughly 25% of the party membership in the lower house. Not all of them are expected to leave the party, however.

Speaking of public opinion surveys, Yomiuri conducted one last year asking people to name their favorite song of the Showa era (25 December 1925 – 7 January 1989). The public selected Misora Hibari’s version of Kawa no Nagare no Yo ni (Like the Flow of a River), which is cutting the timing close: It was released on an album in December 1988, but not released as a single until 11 January 1989, four days into the Heisei era. Misora Hibari died in June that year. Here she is performing it in January…during the Heisei era.

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The man in the Japanese street

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 3, 2012

THE Fukuoka City-based Nishinippon Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of opinions on political conditions from 17-22 May. The location of the survey, the persons surveyed, and the questions asked make the survey results essential reading for anyone interested in the mood of the Japanese electorate.

First, they limited the survey to those people who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party in the lower house election of 2005, and who also voted for the Democratic Party of Japan in the lower house election in 2009. In other words, these people voted to support the Koizumian reforms and Japan Post privatization, and to repudiate the LDP after the party had repudiated the work of Mr. Koizumi.

Thus, the survey focused on independent voters whose primary interest is in systemic reform, which was the primary issue in both of these elections. The DPJ victory had little, if anything, to do with the content of the party’s election manifesto other than their promise to implement real reform. The voters just as quickly repudiated the DPJ when they discovered that promise (and everything else they said) was nothing more than campaign shouting.

Two of the areas covered in the survey were the respondents’ current political preferences and their views of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka reform movement. It was therefore a quick and dirty indicator of what people in Kyushu’s largest city thought of the Osaka-based phenomenon.

One question asked what sort of government the respondents would like to see after the next election. Because this was a survey of 100 people, the absolute numbers also represent percentages. Here are the answers:

A new framework after a political reorganization: 49

A DPJ-led government: 4

An LDP-led government: 11

Don’t know: 29

Among the reasons cited by the people in the first group were: “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the DPJ and the LDP”, and “All (those two parties) do is try to trip each other up.”

Among the reasons cited by the people in the last group were: “There are no real politicians in Japan now,” and “I might not vote in the next election”.

Here are their answers to the question of which political party or group they supported:

None: 64

One Osaka: 12

DPJ: 6

LDP: 5

That tends to confirm the results of the Jiji news agency polling since the early 2000s that “non-aligned” is the default position for a majority of Japanese voters. (Jiji’s polls are conducted by their market research arm, and are considered more accurate than the other media polls, which use random digit dialing.) This group starts gravitating toward a party or candidates shortly before an election, and gradually reverts to their independent position after an election.

Finally, the survey asked whether they had positive expectations if One Osaka and Mr. Hashimoto were to establish a national presence. Of the 100 people surveyed, 74 answered yes.

A female office worker in her 30s gave a reason that would resonate in other areas of the country too:

“He’s a bit extreme, but nothing will change without an approach like that.”

Those opinions are of course subject to change at a moment’s notice. A male office worker in his 30s observed:

“It is not possible to make a judgment by looking at Mr. Hashimoto alone. I don’t know what One Osaka would do as an organization.”

To be sure, this poll was unscientific; the newspaper admits upfront it was conducted on the street.  But it doesn’t take science to realize that the super-sized political tsunami rolling towards Nagata-cho is going to turn the political careers of quite a few people into flotsam and jetsam.


The voice of the man in the street in Jamaica:

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Ichigen koji (102)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 13, 2012


– A person who has something to say about everything

Unless the Noda Democratic Party swallows whole the tax increase proposal of  the Tanigaki Liberal Democrats and dissolves the lower house (for a general election), it will only create a synergistic effect of unpopularity for both the Tanigaki LDP and the Noda DPJ. The lower house will have to be dissolved next year anyway (when its term ends). Will that dissolution occur when the synergistic effect is at its maximum? That might be even more invigorating for everyone. It would give (Hashimoto Toru’s) One Osaka enough time to get ready.

– Hasegawa Yukihiro, author and member of the Tokyo Shimbun editorial board.

DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma and other party members are now coming out in favor of holding a double election next year,  when the current lower house term expires and an upper house election will be held as scheduled by law.

Others, however, such as LDP upper house member Yamamoto Ichita, one of the last of the party’s Koizumians, notes that Prime Minister Noda, Deputy Prime Minister Okada, and Finance Minister Azumi are suggesting they are open to modifying the DPJ tax hike plan. Mr. Yamamoto is appalled, because he thinks this is a sign that (a) they will swallow the LDP plan whole, and (b) that will lead to a grand coalition without a Diet dissolution.

And that will lead to even more support for One Osaka.

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Collision course

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, April 24, 2012

THE political and social forces in Japan are now arrayed and moving on a course that makes a noisy electoral collision inevitable. How the forces sort out post-collision isn’t possible to determine, but one thing is certain — the collision will be just one of the major engagements in an ongoing war.

Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi in Tokyo

That much is clear now that we’ve seen the evisceration of the work of Koizumi Jun’ichiro after he steered Japan to the course of reform. The reactionary Politburocrats included the old guard of his own party, the bureaucratic establishment at Kasumigaseki seeking to reclaim sovereignty over policy, and the chancers of the Democratic Party snouting around for any excuse to rise to the level of Politburocrat Nouveau. They accomplished their work in less time than the five years Mr. Koizumi spent in office.

Last week, the Men of System demonstrated again how they operate. The ruling Democratic Party lacks an upper house majority, so it was unable to prevent the opposition from censuring two Cabinet ministers: Maeda Takeshi of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (for political misbehavior) and Tanaka Naoki of Defense (for being a doofus on the job).

Upper house censures are non-binding, so the two men can technically stay, but the opposition parties are refusing to participate in negotiations until they’re removed. Said LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“As long as those two stay in office, there will be no progress on the bill to combine social security and the tax system.”

Added New Komeito chief Yamaguchi Natsuo:

“We cannot respond to any parliamentary proceedings in which they have jurisdiction.”

Everyone understands that it’s a chabangeki farce staged to gain political advantage. Mr. Tanigaki and most of his party already back a consumption tax increase, and the ruling Democratic Party intends to use only 20% of the revenue from the increase for social security. A larger amount will be allocated for public works projects. Just like the old LDP.

The DPJ understands the farce better than anyone because upper house censure was a weapon they created to gain political leverage after they and their allies took control of that chamber in 2007. They censured then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo in 2008 for reasons that were trivial then and which no one can remember now.

But when the plastic sword was used to smack them around, Prime Minister Noda and DPJ Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma decided they didn’t like the idea after all. Both men are protecting the censured miscreants, and Mr. Noda won’t remove them from office. Said Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu last Friday:

“The prime minister’s policy is clear. He wants them to fulfill the responsibilities of their job.”

Both men of course realize that’s beyond the capabilities of Mr. Tanaka, but they have appearances to maintain and the Ozawa wing of the party to mollify.

Their display of plastic backbone has caused some consternation in Japan’s real ruling class, however. That spurred one of their agents in the DPJ to give the prime minister his marching orders.

That would be Fujii Hirohisa, the former head the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau — Dirigiste Central — also the former secretary-general in Ozawa Ichiro’s old Liberal Party, the first finance minister in the DPJ government (for all of three months), the head of the Tax Commission in the Cabinet Office, one of the DPJ’s Supreme Advisors, and (if the rumors are to be believed) a daytime drinker.

Mr. Fujii and his comrades worry this will delay their objective of raising the consumption tax to European social democrat levels. Therefore, Mr. Fujii called on the prime minister to “remove the thorns”, because:

“The two of them have definitely done something wrong.”

But he quickly added the real reason:

“Whenever the prime minister makes a decision on what to do, the basis for everything is to pass the consumption tax increase by any means necessary.”

Now what is Mr. Noda to decide to do? He wants to project himself as a man of vision with the unwavering resolve to gouge the public and maintain the system do what is best for Japan. He also reportedly hates being called a Finance Ministry puppet.

On the other hand, Mr. Fujii has been molding Mr. Noda since the DPJ formed its first government, when the latter was the deputy finance minister in both the Hatoyama and Kan administrations. The prime minister is also aware that the Finance Ministry is capable of using the various means it has developed for staging de facto internal coups d’etat.

In other words, look for Messrs. Maeda and Tanaka to start cleaning out their desk drawers, soon rather than late.


Kasumigaseki in general and the Finance Ministry in particular have developed a substantial armory over the years to maintain their citadel. For example, all the national dailies have now published several editorials supporting a consumption tax increase. Most of them used nearly identical phrases, probably because they all received the nearly identical Finance Ministry briefing. The most enthusiastic member of the print media has been the Asahi Shimbun. They ran an editorial on 31 March titled “A consumption tax increase is necessary,” which included this content:

“With the rapid aging of society, we must provide even a small amount of stability to the social security system and rebuild the finances that are the worst among the developed countries. The first step requires that we increase the consumption tax. That is what we think.”

And the next day:

“It is important to come to a prompt decision without evading a tax increase.”

Another column appeared on 6 April with the title: “Politics and the consumption tax increase – stop the excuses”. It contained this passage:

“While you’re saying “first”—such as first reduce government waste, or first let’s end deflation, or first dissolve the lower house for an election — Japan will become insolvent.”

The Asahi insists the voters can have their say after the tax increase has been safely passed. That’s the same strategy foreseen months ago by ex-ministry official and current reformer Takahashi Yoichi.

As a newspaper of the left, the Asahi might be expected to favor higher taxes and stronger central government, but perhaps they have a more compelling reason. That would be explained by another news report that the Asahi tried to hide in an overlooked part of the paper, but which the rival Yomiuri Shimbun gave more prominent coverage on 30 March.

It seems that a tax audit revealed the Asahi failed to report JPY 251 million in corporate income over a five-year period that ended 31 March 2011. They were required to pay substantial penalties.

Golly, what a coincidence!

On the other hand, the bureaucrats are not picking on just the Asahi. All the newspapers and their reporters are being audited, which is a process that can take from several weeks to several months. The reporters treat their sources, anonymous or otherwise, to food and drink, and we all know that expense accounts are there to be padded. Tax officials are even said to be visiting the eating and drinking places listed on the returns for confirmation. Both the Asahi and the Yomiuri already had to refile their taxes in 2009.

The Asahi insists their editorials are unrelated to the audits, and they might have a point. There are about 20 people on the paper’s editorial committee, and all of them support a tax increase. Most of them once covered the Finance Ministry as members of the ministry’s kisha club, a system that combines short leashes with exclusive access. And many of them are also graduates of the University of Tokyo, which is the institution of choice for the Finance Ministry’s recruitment.

It’s natural to assume that the members of the old boys’ club would think alike, but a tax audit certainly helps to focus their thinking.

Not a rhetorical question

Fortunately, irresistible forces are headed straight for these immovable objects. Nagoya Mayor Kawamura Takashi, one of the squad leaders in those forces, launched his political juku in Tokyo on Saturday. He told his 200 students:

“I want to change the mechanism of this country, in which taxes are not reduced by even one yen.”

Mr. Kawamura is screening and preparing candidates for the next lower house election by using the same juku mechanism employed by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki. There will likely be an alliance of some sort between those local parties and Your Party at the national level. Their message is the largely the same.

Delivering that message on Saturday as the first lecturer was former METI official turned bureaucratic reformer Koga Shigeaki. Mr. Koga rebuffed requests to run for governor of two prefectures to serve as Mr. Hashimoto’s senior advisor, and he also has connections with Your Party. He told the juku students something that everyone in Japan apart from the Politburocratchiks understand: The current system of governance is dead, and the creation of a new system starts with civil service reform.

Part of the problem

The experience of Koga Shigeaki illustrates one of the many reasons that Japan’s Democratic Party has become part of the problem instead of the solution. He was selected as an aide to then-Reform Minister Sengoku Yoshito in the Hatoyama Cabinet, but that appointment lasted only a few days. Kasumigaseki wouldn’t stand for it, and Mr. Sengoku is not one to stand on principle when his place in the power structure is at stake. Indeed, the former lawyer confronted Mr. Koga with a semi-gangsterish threat (likely picked up from his former clients) during the latter’s Diet testimony on reform at the request of Your Party.

Try this for a thought experiment: Imagine that the cities of Chicago and Los Angeles, and their respective states of Illinois and California, are governed by local parties calling for radical governmental reform. One of the primary planks of that reform is putting a leash on the public sector. Three of those four chief executives were once members of the two major parties. The deputy mayor of New York is a colleague, and the mayor is a sympathizer.

Need I mention that this would be topics #1, #2, and #3 in the American mass media 24/7, and that the Journolist-coordinated efforts to slime them all would be rank even by their standards?

(Of course, this is only a thought experiment. California is actually heading 180° in the other direction.)

Japan has the oldest and most dynamic of the modern anti-elitist reform movements of the world’s major democracies. It’s the one with the greatest chance of success, and it’s also possible to make the case that it is the most positive in outlook. (The French just gave 18% of the vote to Marine LePen, though in their defense the Eurabia concept was idiotic even by Eurocrat standards.)

Predictions are usually a waste of time, but here’s one you can hold me to: The English-language media in general, and the FCCJ lackwits in particular, won’t bother to notice what’s happening in Japan until they find themselves ankle-deep in the muck after the bloodletting of the next general election, and some well-coiffed and -dyed heads will be adorning the tops of pointed stakes. The media will then be “surprised”.

And then they’ll launch a slimeball fusillade. Take it to the bank.


Yes, this is a national phenomenon. It’s happening again, this time in the city of Kasumigaura, a largely agricultural town of 43,600 in Ibaraki Prefecture.

After the city was created in 2005 through the merger of two smaller municipalities, the residents expected to benefit from the economies of scale. They really should have known better. Instead of one unified municipal office, the new city officials created two, one in each of the constituent entities. One of them required the construction of a new building. They also separately maintained their former methods of collusion for deal-cutting: one controlled by the civil service, the other organized by private sector industry.

It got worse after the new city’s second mayor took office in 2007, when he was unopposed in the election. Opposition quickly materialized after the city council voted themselves a 40% pay raise. A citizens’ group was organized, and they ran Miyajima Mitsuaki for mayor in the next election. He upset the incumbent by a 276 vote margin.

The problem, however, was that there was little turnover in city council members. Four are reformers, 11 are in the flybait class, and one is a fence-sitter. In one year and eight months, City Council has rejected 32 of the mayor’s initiatives, including the rollback of the salary increase, other salary cuts, and a bill to provide free medical care for children through the third year of junior high school. (That last is an idea common to many of the reformers in local government. There are several possible explanations for this mixture of welfare statism into what is primarily a small government philosophy, but it does suggest they are not ideologues.)

The mayor therefore announced last week that he and the citizens’ group will start a petition drive to recall City Council. They’ll have a month to come up with 15,000 signatures. It won’t be easy, but Mr. Kawamura overcame the same hurdle in Nagoya, and his hurdle was much higher because of that city’s larger population. I wouldn’t bet against them.

It bears repeating that the next lower house election will not be the last battle of the war, regardless of the result. The reformers at the regional level have found their voice and their allies are not going to go away. Meanwhile, the Politburocrats are stocking the moat with as many alligators as they can breed.

The current system of governance requires that the bureaucracy oversee the process as the Cabinet formulates a bill and the ruling party examines it before it’s submitted to the Diet. Defying the wishes of Kasumigaseki requires a thorough knowledge of policy and some serious spine, neither of which is a hallmark of the political class anywhere. The civil servants devote a lot of time to anticipating objections to their favored policies and formulating arguments against those objections to feed to the politicians.

One advantage of the reformers is that people such Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi and Eda Kenji, Hashimoto advisors Koga, Sakaiya Taiichi, and Hara Eiji, as well as advisor to both Takahashi Yoichi, have extensive knowledge of policy and Politburocrat tactics, and took a clear public stand long ago.

Another man who combines both is Takenaka Heizo, a Cabinet member throughout Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s entire term of office, and the man responsible for producing the Japan Post privatization package. Mr. Takenaka has said that victory will require 10 years of continuous guerilla warfare.

In short: Japan is in the midst of the most civil Civil War a modern democracy has ever seen.

Drunken sailor watch

The Prime Minister’s Office unveiled its new website earlier this month, which they created as a portal site to provide comprehensive information on policy. That’s a fine idea, but the Jiji news agency reported the redesign of the old site required an expenditure of JPY 45.5 million (almost $US 560,000 on the nose).

What? You didn’t hear the detonation on the Internet?

A lot of people thought it could have been done for 10% of that amount, and some said they would have been happy to take the job at that price. They also said they wouldn’t have created a site with text that was unreadable for those using Apple’s Safari browser and without the kanji errors on the page for children.


Piano prodigy Okuda Gen appeared on television again Sunday night. Now ten years old, Gen has been playing piano since the age of four and giving concerts since the age of seven. He’s composed 50 pieces of his own. He likes all sorts of styles and plays classical music well, but is a particular fan of jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. On Sunday, he performed as an equal with an adult drummer and bassist.

The boy is remarkably self-assured for his age, even without his musical ability. It seems unlikely at this point that he’ll acquire the problems that usually attend children such as these when they enter The Jungle of Puberty.

But the most astonishing part of Gen’s story is that he started playing because he thought he would like it. Neither parent is involved with music, and they say he’s never taken a music lesson.

Here he is at age eight. Pull your socks up.

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More on Hatoyama the hapless, part two

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 20, 2012

BEFORE we return to our regularly scheduled programming, let’s have two quick posts to provide more details on the approach of Hatoyama Yukio to politics and governance. They should help explain the reasons he was Phase One of the triple disaster that the DPJ government has been for Japan. Besides, some people just can’t turn their heads when they pass a wreck on the highway.

The national government is indicating a willingness to allow Kansai Electric Power to restart the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. Some local governments in the area think they’re moving much too fast. One of them is the city of Osaka, which is the largest shareholder in Kansai Electric.

Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, as we’ve seen before in the (soon to resume) series about him, has pitched his tent among the group that opposes nuclear power in Japan. Mr. Hashimoto’s critics charge him with populism, and this is one area in which the charge legitimately sticks. All the reasons he gives for his opposition are emotional rather than rational, and he’s offered no serious proposals for alternative energy sources.

When it became apparent that the government was interested in getting the Oi plant back on line as soon as possible, Mr. Hashimoto declared war and said it was now the mission of One Osaka to bring them down:

“I am angry just at the fact that the government thinks it can fool the people with the provisional safety standards. If that’s how they’re going to do it, this will get serious, and we will have to make them pay for it. Kasumigaseki (the national bureaucratic dirigistes) is making light of the people.”

This upset the number two man in the DPJ, Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma. During a speech in Kyoto, he said the government would formulate and present a plan for nuclear energy to counteract the One Osaka offensive. As for an election, his attitude is Let’s Rumble:

“One Osaka has stated that they will bring down the government because the DPJ government will ruin Japan. We accept their challenge.”

Accepting the challenge is exactly what the DPJ lower house MPs want to avoid. Many of them already know they’ll be looking for work in the private sector after the next election, so they’re looking now for anything that resembles a tourniquet. A promise to take on One Osaka over this issue in a general election is the equivalent of cutting open the veins in the rest of their limbs.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is clearly ignoring public opinion. The most recent Shinhodo 2001 survey conducted by Fuji TV, for example, found that in the part of the election for proportional representation by party, 10.2% of the voters favored the DPJ and 21.8% favored the LDP. In other words, they’re sitting at less than half of the total for the primary opposition party.

Further, 44.4% of the respondents said they were still undecided. At this stage of the political process, undecided means they think the DPJ and the LDP aren’t worth a pitcher of warm spit. Therefore, most of them will probably vote for someone affiliated with Mr. Hashimoto’s One Osaka group, or perhaps their national party ally, Your Party. In last November’s election for Osaka mayor, the Asahi Shimbun exit polls had most of the independent vote going to Mr. Hashimoto. The Shinhodo 2001 survey covers only the Tokyo area, but politicians consider it a bellwether of the national mood.

The DPJ Diet members at risk complain that Mr. Koshi’ishi is free to talk so tough because he’s a member of the upper house, where the terms are fixed and not subject to dissolution. He’s also 75 years old and likely to retire when his term ends anyway. Here’s what the MPs are saying amongst themselves: Mr. Koshi’ishi was an official of the Japan Teachers’ Union when they were comfortable with having out-of-the-closet Stalinistas as members, and he’s considered to be the guardian angel of the JTU old guard in the party. They think he’s upset Mr. Hashimoto is taking the teachers’ unions and public employees’ unions head on in Osaka, and is winning the battle.

Reporters asked Hatoyama Yukio what he thought of all this. He is a former prime minister, after all. Mr. Hatoyama said:

“Well, the (Osaka) mayor has his own ideas, and I suspect that the surrounding prefectures have concerns about the restart of the Oi plant that haven’t been alleviated. So, if the approach of too quickly restarting the plant has elicited the mayor’s opposition, wouldn’t it be necessary for both parties to seek a calmer response? But if we are going to contest an election, we must by all means put up a stiff fight.”

No, no one in Japan can reconcile his last sentence with the rest of his statement either. But people gave up on that long ago.

Other notes:

Here’s more data on the prospects for what might become an election that drops a bunker buster into the world of Japanese politics.

In preparation for the next election, local parties that would influence national politics are creating political juku, or ad hoc institutes to organize and educate potential candidates. Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka group is in the process of selecting the most promising 2,000 students to continue their orientation before a further reduction to 400.

Aichi Gov. Omura Hideaki started his own political juku in the region and gave the first lecture himself on the 12th in Nagoya. There were 678 people listening. Most were from Aichi, but some also came from Tokyo, Gifu, and Mie.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the Osaka branch of the LDP decided to organize a juku of its own. They’re calling it the Naniwa juku and began recruiting a month ago. They were hoping to attract 30 participants. A month into the process, they still haven’t found 30 people willing to join up and associate with the LDP brand, so they’ve extended the application period.

One member of the Democratic Party of Japan has left the party over the Noda government’s march toward a tax increase, and 29 more have resigned secondary positions of responsibility in the party and government in protest. A journalist spoke to one of them (whom he did not identify), and asked if he resigned because he saw no future in the DPJ. Here’s the answer:

“Rather than that, being a member of the party itself is just embarrassing.”

The DPJ government in Japan has become one of the epic political failures in the advanced democracies of the postwar period. As the party president and their first prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio has much to answer for. The public is so fed up, however, they can’t be bothered to ask.

The biggest fool that ever hit the big time, and all he had to do was act naturally.

Now this is serendipity. That song is followed by Honky Tonk Man. So was Hatoyama Yukio.

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Hashimoto Toru (6): Hanging out in bad company

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 9, 2012

THERE’S been a slight change of plans: The next phase in the series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru was to move on to the controversies that have erupted over his behavior and theories of government administration in Osaka. After last week’s episodes in the daily Hashimoto docu-drama, however, there’ll be a quick detour before getting to the red meat.

Episode #1 featured Mohammad in the form of Tokyo Metro District governor and national curmudgeon-in-chief Ishihara Shintaro traveling to Osaka to visit Mt. Hashimoto for a private discussion that lasted about 90 minutes. Both men were mum on the details of the confab’s contents. That the Tokyo governor, 38 years older, in his fourth term, and a celebrity for more than half a century, would be the one to travel is noteworthy in itself.

Most of the news media is still in the breathless schoolgirl diary phase with Mr. Hashimoto, so speculation over a possible political alliance spun their little hamster wheels even more furiously. Mr. Ishihara, who has been complimentary of the Osaka mayor, is in the process of forming a new political party with his curmudgeons-in-arms.

Mr. Hashimoto has demonstrated sound political instincts to this point, and he certainly knows the polls show the public takes a dim view of the new old guys’ party by a two-to-one margin. That’s the reverse of the two-to-one margin that looks forward to the contribution of regional parties such as the one he leads. Other than budgets, most politicos are clever at basic arithmetic, so if there are any positives to an alliance outweighing the negatives, they’re not easy to see.

One the other hand, Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi took a more relaxed view, suggesting that the two men were just getting a sense for each other.

There were some minor revelations: Mr. Ishihara told Mr. Hashimoto that national politics is a different game altogether from local politics. (He was elected to the upper house of the Diet in 1968, and after four years there spent 23 years in the lower house.) Thus, one possible benefit of a meeting would be for the older man to explain the birds and the bees of Nagata-cho and national celebrity politics.

Episode #2 was much smaller in scale, but much larger in impact. In brief, here’s what happened: The Asahi Shimbun wrote an editorial criticizing Ozawa Ichiro for playing house wrecker again and balking at the DPJ leadership’s insistence on a tax increase. That’s unremarkable in itself; it’s what newspapers do. The Asahi, however, had to get all Asahi-ish about it and criticize Mr. Ozawa for being undemocratic. One of their employees actually wrote the line, “Democracy weeps”.

That pudding’s a bit rich even for left-of-center newspaper platitudinizing — the DPJ leadership forwarded the proposal to the Diet after squelching internal debate on their tax proposal without a vote. Several terms come to mind for describing that behavior, but “democratic” isn’t one of them. (Some party members, such as first-termer Miyazaki Takeshi, claim a majority of the DPJ MPs are opposed to a tax increase.)

In one of his Tweet-a-Ramas, the Osaka mayor stuck up for Mr. Ozawa while sticking it to the Asahi, which also runs editorials calling on Mr. Hashimoto to reconsider his positions. The mayor pointed out that the DPJ leadership’s decision to back a tax increase had nothing to do with democracy, yet his own clearly stated positions won a large electoral mandate in November. He wondered if the Asahi had any idea what they were talking about.

The defense of Mr. Ozawa prompted university professor, author, and blogger Ikeda Nobuo to sound off. Here’s what he said in English.

During the next general election, everyone’s eyes will be in the movements of One Osaka rather than those of the Democratic Party or the Liberal Democrats. Ozawa Ichiro has praised Hashimoto Toru as a “comrade in the reform of the governing structure.” Mr. Hashimoto also thinks the consumption tax should be converted to a local tax. In exchange, the regions would eliminate the tax fund allocations from the national government. The insufficient funding sources for local government would be offset by local governments raising the consumption tax on their own responsibility. In addition, project-specific tax revenues, such as those for roads, would be transferred to the regions in addition with the work. He praises “Ozawa Sensei” for supporting these changes in the governing structure.

One can sense Mr. Hashimoto’s intent in using sensei, a term of respect, for Mr. Ozawa, which he uses for no other politician. This is a misapprehension of reality, however. During the election for DPJ party president in 2010, Mr. Ozawa called for incorporating all the subsidies to local government in a lump sum. He said nothing about eliminating the tax grants to local governments and replacing it with the consumption tax.

If the consumption tax were to be converted to a local tax and each prefecture had different tax rates and category exemptions, there would be great confusion. What consumption tax would be levied for companies with branches throughout the nation? Some of the American states have a consumption tax, and there are different VAT rates for each European country, which creates the problem of tax avoidance. If this plan to have different areas in small Japan levy different taxes is not a joke, I can only think it is ignorant.

Mr. Hashimoto has said, “I am not completely opposed to a consumption tax increase, but I am opposed now to a tax increase for the purpose of social welfare expenditures.” Is he unaware that during the Hosokawa administration, Mr. Ozawa proposed raising the consumption tax to 7% and converting it to a national social welfare tax?

This incoherence results from making the decision to defend “Ozawa Sensei” first and then looking for a reason to oppose the consumption tax which conforms to that decision. As might be expected, even Mr. Hashimoto recognizes that he cannot “completely oppose a tax increase” in Japan’s current fiscal state, but says he is opposed to this tax increase proposal. But if he’s opposed to this proposal, he offers no substitute that spells out when and under which circumstances he would increase taxes. He has no plan specifying how he would rebuild the nation’s finances.

Mr. Ozawa was once in the forefront of a move to increase the consumption tax. The reason he opposes that now is clear: He wants to bring down the current anti-Ozawa leadership of the DPJ. That’s what politics is like, and it’s pointless to look for a logical consistency in his assertions. Mr. Hashimoto, who defends this fuzzy logic, has thus become a fomenter of political crises himself.

But I do not think this political crisis-focused intuition is bad. If Mr. Ozawa leaves the DPJ and combines his fund raising and organizational skills with Mr. Hashimoto’s popularity, they could become the strongest party in the next general election. If some of the LDP members join, it could result in a Prime Minister Hashimoto and a party Secretary-General Ozawa, a pattern similar to that of the Hosokawa administration.

The problem, however, is what they would do. Mr. Hashimoto’s policies are off-the-cuff populism, such as his labor union bashing and opposition to nuclear energy. If that is to be his approach to national politics, the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats would make short work of him. Mr. Ozawa’s power has also waned, so there would be serious concerns that this government would be as short-lived as the Hosokawa administration. The only thing to do is look forward to the election after next.

(end translation)

The part pointing out the contradictions is right on, but the rest of it is rather off. Before we get to that, however, here’s what author and commentator Asakawa Hirotada had to say about these episodes:

“It’s a form of lip service, or perhaps camouflage. Based on what I’ve heard from those involved with One Osaka, the people of that organization, which Mr. Hashimoto leads, think it would be a negative for them to work with the old-style politicians such as Mr Ozawa and now former People’s New Party head Kamei Shizuka (N.B., a potential Ishihara ally). One Osaka seems to have decided that those are not people they will align with. That one of the elder political statesmen, Mr. Ishihara, took the trouble to go to Osaka to talk with Mr. Hashimoto is very significant. Mr. Ishihara has two sons in the LDP (N.B., one the secretary-general), so he has move with extreme caution in regard to the formation of a new party. He cannot afford a misstep. He almost certainly had Mr. Hashimoto maintain a careful silence. That’s probably the background behind the Hashimoto Tweet.”

First, the obvious: If they handed out trophies for being the most unpopular politician in Japan, Ozawa Ichiro would be awarded enough palms to retire to a coconut plantation. His negatives surpass even those of the DPJ itself. If Hashimoto Toru is foolish enough to form an alliance with Mr. Ozawa, the bloom would go off the rose so fast you’d need time-lapse photography to see it. He would almost certainly be written off by Your Party and many of the people who have come to Osaka from elsewhere to work with him. (If they didn’t, they themselves would be written off by the public.) It would also legitimize the charges that he’s a power-mad despot who would adopt any policy to seize that power.

It’s never possible to rule out anything with politicians, tending as they do toward venal stupidity (or stupid venality), but a Hashimoto – Ozawa alliance does seem unlikely. For one thing, as Prof. Ikeda notes, Mr. Ozawa’s influence has waned. Regardless of the circumstances, the next election for his acolytes in the Diet will be the equivalent of the Light Brigade charging into the Valley of Death at Balaclava, giving One Osaka fewer allies to work with.

Now for the less than superb:

* Saying that Mr. Hashimoto’s anti-nuclear power stance reeks of populism is a legitimate charge, even considering that Prof. Ikeda is staunchly pro-nuke. The Osaka mayor hasn’t come up with anything remotely resembling an alternative energy plan, and his anti-nuclear appeals are based entirely on emotion.

But denigrating Mr. Hashimoto’s union-bashing (if that’s what it is) as populism is ill-considered word-slinging. We’re talking here about public sector union members, not trade unions. As prefectural and municipal employees whose salaries are paid by the citizens, their behavior and on-the-job conduct is Mr. Hashimoto’s responsibility as the chief executive officer of government. Those salaries have been pegged at 40% greater than those of their private sector counterparts, and the only people anywhere who pretend to think they work as hard or harder are the politicians receiving their support.

Having once been a municipal employee, I know that no one employed in the public sector actually thinks that. The opportunity for a paid semi-vacation while showing up at a warm office is the reason many of them got into it to begin with. Co-workers got angry whenever I put forth more than a minimum amount of effort: “What are you trying to do, kill this job?”

One of Mr. Hashimoto’s consistent themes is the necessity for public employees to work as hard as private-sector employees with the same sense of urgency.

And that doesn’t begin to examine the problems with the dark antimatter of Japan’s teachers’ unions in public schools. But we’ll leave all of that for another day.

* Prof. Ikeda thinks small Japan won’t be able to handle different tax rates, but Japan isn’t as small as some Japanese like to think — it’s larger than any European country, unless you count Russia. Mr. Hashimoto also favors a sub-national reorganization of the 47 prefectures into states or provinces, and most of those plans call for nine to 12 entities. Thus, there would be fewer tax differences than the professor suggests.

There’s no confusion over applicable tax rates for companies operating in different areas of the United States, and if the Americans can handle it, the Japanese can. The goal is decentralization and the devolution of authority to local governments. Skillful people in the regional areas can use tax policy to their advantage by enticing companies to relocate. For years, some Japanese have lamented the differences in the economic strength of the regions, and local tax policy is one way to change the balance. Successfully attracting companies would result in higher and better employment, and that would result in lower social welfare expenditures.

True, inept government management could create situations such as that which exists in California, where usurious taxation, over-regulation, and public sector emoluments are driving legitimate businesses and serious people out of the state. Japanese local government is not immune to that disease. For example, Rokkasho-mura in Aomori used tax subsidies from the national government to build an international school for the children of the employees at a local power plant. The construction costs were JPY 400 million, and annual operating costs are roughly JPY 100 million. That’s a splendid edifice for seven foreign children.

But that’s what happens in a free society when people take responsibility for their own affairs — some of them screw up, and they must be held accountable. The paternalist/nanny state alternatives have shown us their inhuman face, and it’s too ugly to contemplate.

* The United States has a sales tax, not a consumption tax. There are differences. Parents who send their children to a juku in Japan have to pay consumption tax, for example. American sales taxes don’t apply in those situations.

* Finally, Prof. Ikeda seems to have it backwards. Mr. Hashimoto opposed the consumption tax increase before he started looking around for reasons to defend Ozawa Ichiro. Criticize the man if he’s got his numbers wrong — and some say he does — but not for having the idea to begin with.

It might be that Mr. Hashimoto is the type of politician who brings out the worst in the prestige commentariat. They prefer to hash things out in salons or seminars, and few have an appreciation for the difficulty of retail politics, much less its necessity. The Osaka mayor is the type of guy who causes their sphincters to clench. Some politicians, such as Barack Obama, have a knack for the reverse. David Brooks, the token non-leftist writing op-eds for the New York Times, met Mr. Obama and gushed: “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant, and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.”

Maybe Hashimoto Toru needs to get his trousers pressed.

Mr. Hashimoto read Prof. Ikeda’s post and countered with a bit of real populism:

“People who haven’t been involved in the actual operation of government shouldn’t make such facile criticisms.”

That’s an excellent rule of thumb, but it’s not applicable this time.

Another contributor to Blogos, the large blog aggregator Prof. Ikeda organized, suggests they cool it. He thinks there’s little difference between the positions of the two men apart from nuclear energy policy, and adds that a Hashimoto-Ozawa alliance is unlikely. What’s more likely are alliances such as this: The first election in Osaka Prefecture since last November’s One Osaka victory was held on Sunday for the mayor of Ibaraki. The winner was Kimoto Yasuhiro, backed by both One Osaka — their first endorsement — and Your Party.

Perhaps the most pertinent aspect is Prof. Ikeda’s concluding statement that an alliance would force people to wait for the election after next to get what they want. It bears repeating: The public anger is real, it’s been there for years, it’s growing, and Hashimoto Toru is only the most visible personification of it.

In the comments, reader Tony wonders if the Osaka mayor is flying too close to the sun. I don’t think that’s happened yet, but if the wax in his wings does melt, others will take his place.

As for waiting on an election, we might have a while to go. People are warning that a tax-raising, Ozawa-less DPJ-LDP coalition is not out of the question.

Drunken Sailor Watch

Here’s a sentence from a news item that appeared over the weekend:

“The Japanese government intends to extend support worth about 1 billion yen for ethnic minorities in Myanmar in the form of food aid and contributions to the U.N. refugee office.”

This is what the consumption tax is being raised for? The folks at the Seetell website have it right — perhaps the people of Tohoku should apply to international aid agencies if they want relief. Their own government would rather play rich uncle and spend the money somewhere else.

Here’s another guy who flew too close to the sun

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Posted in Government, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Sunrise in the land of the rising sun

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 7, 2012

NOTHING is stronger than an idea whose time has come. Sakaiya Taiichi, the senior advisor to Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, spoke to the Your Party convention in February. The speaker and his audience share a common purpose, and both know that the time for their ideas has come. This is what he said in English.

Your Party is different from the other parties. It was not born in the Diet, but was born from a citizens’ movement — the first one in the postwar era. There might have been some in the Meiji period, but it’s a rare thing. Most parties are created when several MPs get together in the Diet. Most of those parties fall apart.

Your Party began when Watanabe Yoshimi advanced his own policies and started a citizens’ movement by himself. Mr. Eda (Kenji, party secretary-general) was in synch with that. It is a party of democracy that you should be proud of.

It happened again at the end of last year. Diet members scrambled together to form groups and receive the public subsidies given to political parties. They have no political views, ideology, ideas, or concept of what the state should be. Both the Liberal Democrats and Democrats are parties for creating political crises, trifling with the people and causing them misfortune. They leave policy to the bureaucrats, and never think about Japan the nation.

Postwar Japan had many splendid conceptions. One concept was in foreign affairs, in which it would stand with the Western powers, and become a small country in military affairs and an economic giant. The option to become a military power did not exist during the American occupation, so that is what happened. The second concept was economic: The (political) system of (19)55 (when the LDP was formed), bureaucracy-directed policy, the cooperation of the business world, and large scale mass production.

They thought that even if no one had any political views, all they had to do was defend these concepts. That continued until the 80s. After that, however, the times changed: The Cold War ended, and large scale mass production reached its limits. Despite that, however, no one still had any political views or a concept of the state. All they did was create political crises.

Then Watanabe Yoshimi became a minister in the Abe Cabinet, and continued to serve in the Fukuda Cabinet. He lasted longer than usual (laughter). He began to talk about something different — civil service reform. That earned him the enmity of the bureaucracy, but the amendment to the National Civil Service Law passed. I created the draft of that amendment in the advisory council.

But even though that amendment was passed, nothing changed. The bureaucrats are unyielding. The president of the National Personnel Authority did not appear in the Diet. In the end, the (Civil Service System Reform) headquarters revolted, and Deputy Chairman Koga was fired. Even though the law was passed, nothing happens. The reality is horrendous.

Watanabe Yoshimi is a rare politician. He thinks about the concept of the state. Those politicians have been extinct for a long time. Even if there are some drawbacks, the policies are truly great. This year — This is It! This is the year of decision. The one I uncovered was Mr. Hashimoto (Toru). The circle of reform is growing. This year is the year of decision.

Why will this be the decisive year? It will be an extremely difficult year for both the Japanese economy and the global economy. Thus, there are four parts to the agenda. One is a state/province system with regional authority. There are three forms of government administration: the nation, the prefectures, and the basic self-governing bodies. The Osaka Metro District concept would convert that into two levels. We must not mistake the state/province system as a model for merging prefectures. We must change the nation.

(After creating that system) the regions must not say anything about the affairs the national government will handle — specifically, foreign affairs, defense, and the currency. Meanwhile, the national government will not say anything about the affairs the regional governments will handle. That is how it should be.

Second is civil servant reform. Civil service is not a job, it is a form of status. Until the 80s, the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare was a small government office. Both the health ministry and the labor ministry accepted only seven people each with a humanities background for the elite job track. At the same time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry were large ministries and accepted 26 people each. But now the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare is a large ministry with oversight for 25% of the national income. The agriculture ministry has jurisdiction of no more than 1.8% of GDP.

Anyone can be a bureau chief in the health ministry. The agriculture ministry has no work. If you ask, what about transferring the career agriculture ministry bureaucrats to the health ministry, that would be absurd. It would be like entrusting the old Kishu domain (present-day Wakayama and part of Mie) to the people of the Satsuma domain (present-day Kagoshima). It isn’t a job, it’s a form of status.

Organizations and personnel must be based on the principle of functionalism, and selection must be based on ability and incentive. The organization of any body that defends its status will inevitably crumble.

Third is a growth agenda. Japan today is facing its third defeat. Defeat is not losing a war. Even if it loses a war, a nation will not collapse. True defeat is the collapse of an ethical view and the system.

The first defeat was the Bakumatsu period (at the end of the Edo period). The values of the Edo government were stability and equality. They purposely did not build a bridge over the River Oi (in Shizuoka). They sought stability and equality by preventing people from crossing the flow, and making the movement of people difficult. That’s when progress became important with the arrival of the Black Ships (Commodore Perry).

It goes without saying that the second defeat was in the war. Now Japan is in third period of defeat. The sense of ethics is in turmoil.

Now it is seen as a good thing to receive social welfare benefits. In Osaka, even if the primary school teachers scold their students by saying, “If you don’t study, you’ll have a hard time later,” the students retort, “I’ll get welfare payments, so I’ll be all right.” They say 10% of the junior high school students can’t do multiplication.

Mr. Hashimoto’s proposal is to conduct a relative evaluation of the teachers. Five percent of the teachers will be given the lowest grade of a D. Teachers who get Ds two years running will have to be re-trained. If they do not improve after re-training, they will be asked to leave. How many teachers receive the lowest grade under the absolute evaluation system now? It’s only 0.15%. That’s one-and-a-half people in 1,000. There’s maybe one in a school.

In Osaka, where the teacher evaluations are strict, the teachers’ union says the teachers there have three times the neuroses of teachers anywhere else. It’s a scam. The same statistics cite the cause of the neuroses. The primary cause is trouble with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge.

The fourth is creating an open Japan. That’s true also of the TPP. What did we do during the Meiji Restoration? The policy known as “The return of the lands and the people from the feudal lords to the Emperor.” In short, civil servant reform, giving up the status of samurai. That was the second year of Meiji (1870). Next, they cheerfully opened the country. (N.B.: The term Mr. Sakaiya invented for this idea, which he frequently uses in speeches, is suki suki kaikoku.) The Tokugawas grudgingly opened the country. In the brocade pictures (nishiki-e) of the times, foreigners are depicted as devils or tengu (monster-spirits). That changed.

The next thing they did in the Meiji Restoration was economic reform. In the new currency law of the fourth year of Meiji, the monetary units were unified as yen and sen. They started using paper money, and it became possible to create credit. In the Bakumatsu period, according to the calculations of Oguri Kozukenosuke, annual tribute accounted for only 40% of expenditures. Now, of the (government’s) JPY 104 trillion in expenditures, including quarterly adjustments, tax revenues account for JPY 42 trillion. Exactly 40%.

Annual tribute was only 40% of expenditures. Oguri Kozukenosuke worried that annual tribute would have to be tripled. That vanished in an instant with the start of the Meiji period and the new paper money under the new currency law. A deflationary economy has to be converted to an inflationary economy. In a deflationary economy, the past governs the future. There has to be nominal growth of about 3%.

The next thing they did in the Meiji period was eliminate the domains and create the prefectures. In other words, the state system. After that followed education reform. In Japan at that time, 40% of the boys and 25% of the girls learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at the terakoya, the Buddhist temple schools. It was the leading country in the world for education. Even in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution, only one in four boys went to school. There was only one educational institution in all of Europe that admitted girls.

They eliminated all the terakoya and created schools. That’s because the objectives of education changed, from stability to progress. Educating people suitable for large-scale mass production was required. That idea still remains today. That’s why they taught that individuality and originality was a bad thing. They called all individuality a “defect” and originality was chastised as garyu (not following conventional methods).

Of course basic education is important. Ten percent of first-year junior high school students can’t multiply. That is the responsibility of the teachers, and they should be fired. Attending Board of Education meetings is a part-time job for teachers once a month. A view of education as a whole is not possible. The people who think that’s fine are the education ministry bureaucrats supported by the status system.

Teaching is also a form of status. There are many English teachers incapable of English. On the other hand, they have teachers who’ve come back from living in the United States teaching social studies. That’s all they have a license for. Next to the teachers fluent in English are the English teachers who can’t speak English at all, and the teachers back from the United States teach about the Japanese Diet, of which they know nothing.

We must change this absurdity with systemic reform. The drawback of reformers is their tendency to splinter without limit. That’s causing a lot of trouble right now in Osaka (laughter). The conservatives are surprisingly united. This reform is good, that reform is bad, only about 20% can agree on each issue. As a result, the unfortunate situation will continue.

That’s why, even if there are problems to a certain extent, we must agree that it (reform) is better than what we have now. Persons of good character are not capable of reform. Have you ever heard anyone say that Oda Nobunaga was a person of good character? (laughter) The requirement for reform depends entirely on the ability to achieve breakthroughs. Watanabe Yoshimi has that ability.

This is it. This is the year of decision. Let’s put aside our small differences and unite behind the big things we agree on. This year, please work so that we can increase our number to 300 (in the lower house of the Diet).

(end translation)

Meanwhile, here is one of the most astonishing newspaper articles I’ve ever read anywhere, and that it appeared in the Asahi Shimbun is more astonishing still. The Asahi is the newspaper of the left in Japan, and the DPJ is the major party to the left of center (with quite a few members quite left of center). Here’s the headline. Note the past tense:

DPJ’S GOVERNING FIASCO: Party never challenged Finance Ministry

It’s a condensed version of everything I’ve been reporting on for the last three years. They’re writing off the DPJ.

It’s difficult to find a passage to quote because every sentence is a dagger thrust. Let’s stick to this:

Successive DPJ administrations have failed to make meaningful spending cuts. Despite rounds of budget screening, the three budgets compiled by the party effectively ballooned to record levels on an initial basis.

You know what they say: Read the whole thing. Also note the background of former Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa and his opinion about the respective role of bureaucrats and politicians.

That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who was the secretary-general of Ozawa Ichiro’s Liberal Party before it merged with the DPJ, and who doesn’t know what happened to the party’s public subsidies that it was supposed to return to the Treasury when it folded. (Some in the print media suspect it wound up in Ozawa Ichiro’s safe before being spent to buy real estate for his political funds committee.) That’s the same Fujii Hirohisa who appeared on a Sunday political talk show one day before Hatoyama Yukio made his first speech to the Diet as prime minister in 2009 and admitted the party had no intention of keeping all the promises in the manifesto. They would just keep enough of them to keep the people so happy they would return them to office four years later. They didn’t, they didn’t, and they won’t.

Remember all those so-called journalists who wrote about the “fiscal hawks” of the DPJ?


The lead story in the 12 April edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun is titled, Farewell, DPJ. They report the results of their polling that asks voters the question, “If a lower house election were held today…” (It’s becoming a cottage industry.) While they have the LDP doing better than in other surveys, they think the DPJ would lose close to two-thirds of its seats. They also think all three DPJ prime ministers — Hatoyama, Kan, and Noda — stand a good chance of losing their seats. (Hatoyama’s been on thin ice in polling for a while.)

Get ready, people — the train is coming.
Oh, yes it is.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Education, Government, History, Politics, Social trends | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hashimoto Toru (5): Onishi Hiroshi speaks!

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 5, 2012

ONISHI Hiroshi is the head of a marketing and management consulting company who also blogs about politics and business. His thoughts in a recent post about One Osaka and contemporary Japanese political conditions were quite sensible. Here it is in English.

The One Osaka political juku received applications from 3,326 people, and after examining the applicants’ essays in the first screening, they selected more than 2,204 candidates from 46 prefectures for the start of lectures. There will be five sessions until June, when they plan to reduce that number to 400-1,000. Immediately, one ran across criticisms and concerns expressed in the mass media and blogs.

It’s my sense that most of them are wide of the mark. Because expectations are high, the criticisms and concerns were hurled in the way that fans of the Hanshin Tigers (baseball team) hurl harsh language at the players. The people who assembled at the One Osaka juku, went the criticisms, were after all just a group of amateurs. These people can’t be expected to shoulder the burden of national government.

But if we are to learn from the business world, innovation comes from the frontier and not the center. It teaches the lesson that many of the people who break through the limits of the industry experts and the mature business mechanisms are those who come from the outlying areas of the industry.

Speaking of political experts, that describes the Liberal Democratic Party, with their many years of experience of heading governments. But LDP politics have come to a dead end. There is no question that the current problems of a declining population, fiscal deficits, pensions, and nuclear energy are the bill left by the LDP government. Just because people are experts does not mean they are capable of good politics. Experts have their limits too.

There is also the criticism that the people who have come to the juku are the shades of the Koizumi Children and the Ozawa Children (younger Diet members elected on the coattails/influence of those two politicians in 2005/2009). It is nothing more than a rerun of people climbing on board a temporary trend, they say.

But the Koizumi Children and the Ozawa Children were a temporary grouping of people resulting from elections based on whether one supported or opposed the Japan Post privatization, or whether the LDP/New Komeito coalition should remain in government or be replaced by the Democratic Party.

The decisive difference is whether or not One Osaka can generate an impact on national government now, and whether they can become a force that spurs the reorganization of the political parties. They are not at the stage where they can suddenly take control of government. Even with the lecture courses and the further screening of the 2,000 students in June, they can not be treated in the same way. At this point, criticisms and concerns of that sort are not fair.

Certainly, there are different ways to go about it. Possible methods include selecting people after repeated workshops, or discovering the talented among them during dialogues. Perhaps they could somehow use social media. But that’s something for political parties other than One Osaka to think about. It’s not possible to arbitrarily determine that something absolutely won’t work at a stage when no results are visible.

Another frequent criticism is that they are being led astray by a superficial fantasy of reform. This feeling of doubting reform is understandable with the sense of disappointment that the Koizumi reforms didn’t continue, or that the DPJ was unable to proceed with the reforms the people expected.

It’s my feeling that the subject of the criticism is incorrect. One thing that prevents innovation is found in the saying, “The road to failure is paved with good intentions.” It seems to be something close to that. The classic comeback to crush new ideas in the business world is, “We did that before. We’d just be doing the same thing again.” That seems to be a superficial rejoinder along the lines of not wanting to be fooled. But that’s a poor position which results in protecting the politics of today and eliciting a condition from which there is no exit.

It doesn’t need to be said that Japan is in need of many reforms. It is self-evident that we must break free from the developing country model of bureaucratic leadership and the systemic fatigue and detrimental effects of a national structure with centralized authority. We must create the foundation in which more diverse industries can be created. We must change the national mechanisms for thinking about such issues as the government’s efficiency in responding to the problems of an aging society, or rebuilding the regional communities.

Both the DPJ and the LDP proclaimed they would move from the center to the regions, and raised the issue of dealing with the bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki. But there are limits to how both parties put their own interests first, and their concrete efforts lagged or faltered. Rather than regional sovereignty, the state/province system as proposed by Kasumigaseki was a shabby thing that, from the center’s perspective, would place daimyo throughout the country to maintain authority and complete control over the regions.

In reality, the concrete measures and efforts toward regional sovereignty have originated in the regions, as symbolized by One Osaka. At present, the existing parties are looking for a way to join in that effort.

The reform of the phrase “from the center to the regions” is not at all the superficial issue of changing procedures or the legal system. Rather, it means shifting the center of gravity for authority. In other words, there will be tremendous discord created over the question of authority, both on the surface and behind the scenes, as authority is seized from the existing political parties and the bureaucracy and shifted to the regions. If this were a period in which democracy had not been established, that sort of problem would result in hostilities or warfare.

In light of history, it is unnatural to think problems of that magnitude could be resolved by the Koizumi reforms or the change of government to the DPJ. To brush that aside by saying reform is nothing more than a fantasy is the same as defending the status quo. It is only that the elements who will address the issues of reform have not yet appeared, or have not yet matured.

True reform will be cultivated with the active and continuous participation of the people. Achieving that will require the creation of momentum and growth into a larger movement. Rather than abruptly take control of the government, the thinking and political methodology of One Osaka is likely that of increasing their influence on national politics and growing into a force while joining hands with the existing political parties.

Also, one becomes aware that the criticism and concern arises because of the ill will toward the “one phrase politics” in which One Osaka, and Mayor Hashimoto in particular, creates an enemy and uses that as an opening for repeated attacks. It is perhaps a good idea for commentators to talk of many subjects, or for politicians having it out in Diet skirmishes to talk of many subjects, but (one phrase politics) is a method that should be recognized for delivering a message to the people of the city and the country, and creating a sense of sympathy.

How you approach someone depends on whom you’re approaching. If you’re approaching mass media commentators, it’s a good idea to have the long messages those people prefer. But approaching the people of the city or the country requires something easily understood. Had One Osaka stopped there, however, I think they would not have been able to achieve their current high level of support, nor would they have been able to influence the existing political parties. Indeed, American presidential elections use the political methods of former Prime Minister Koizumi and Mayor Hashimoto; perhaps they employ them even more. Further, the criticism of One Osaka as unrealistic, or full of desktop theories, or that they champion the difficult-to-understand Osaka Metro District concept, cannot be ignored.

Just what is it that the people with the criticism and concerns are afraid of? Why are they so concerned over the One Osaka whirlwind that is now spreading. Wouldn’t that rather serve to heighten interest?

My sense of the current competition for authority between the DPJ and the LDP is that the differences within each party are greater than the sense of values and policy differences between each party. Further, the points at dispute have increasingly narrowed, and their debate centers on competing proclamations of their ability. Situations are often seen in the business world in which companies expand their battle for market share over minor differences.

In most of those cases, they have gradually become detached from the main issue of offering the higher value the market demands. New market entrants arise by creating an opening between the two. This sort of competition for share that creates no innovation has little meaning now in this great age of transformation from industrialization to digitization, and to globalization.

It is the same with politics. They have become detached from the needs of the people, and their struggle for authority is based on their self-interest. Politics have come to a dead end. Further, even if the LDP were to win a large victory in the next election, it will have been nothing more than an own goal brought about by their enemy’s blunders. They have not gained the support of the people, so their second collapse is clearly visible.

The reason for the very parties’ existence will be threatened unless they begin to address the people more directly, and make greater efforts to gain the sympathy and support of the people. These circumstances do not call for criticizing other parties, and enhancing one’s presence by repeatedly criticizing other parties is too short-sighted.

Nor are these the circumstances for existing political parties to play the game of political warfare within the party or the Diet, detached from the people. Speaking realistically, the existing political parties still have the forces to assume control of the government in national politics. I have a strong sense that if they have the spare time to criticize One Osaka, then we should more strongly present our requests to the existing parties.

(end translation)
Some minor points:

1. Mr. Onishi specifically mentioned the problem of the “declining population” as one item on the bill left by the LDP. No political measures anywhere exist to halt or reverse a declining population. In fact, they’re usually counterproductive.

European style child allowances were one of the major policy initiatives of the Democratic Party government when it took power in 2009. Prime Minister Hatoyama justified it by citing the example of France, where subsidies are attributed to boosting the birth rate from 1.8 to about 1.9 (the last I looked). The French, however, offer many more benefits than the DPJ’s now rescinded straight cash payments, have higher income tax rates than Japan, and a VAT north of 19%.

The French also do not break down census information by religious affiliation, but some estimate that Muslims account for 40% of the population aged 20 or younger. Prof. Julien Damon of Sciences Po in Paris reports that approximately 20% of French births are accounted for by migrant families or those with one foreign-born parent. Foreign-born Muslims are likely to have more children than the ethnic French. Government benefits are irrelevant (unless it is a factor for Muslims with large families overseas moving to France to receive them.)

Pavel Kohout writes, in an article now behind a paywall:

“In 1927, Italian duce Benito Mussolini launched a program called Battle for Births. Mussolini believed that Italy had fewer people than it needed in order to play the part of a major world power. By the beginning of the 1920s, Italy had 37 million citizens. Il Duce set the number of 60 million by the year 1950 as national target. To achieve this target, Mussolini introduced generous benefits, especially for families with multiple children. Fathers of six or more paid no taxes at all. Of course, tax penalties for the unmarried were introduced, too. Abortions were outlawed, and contraception was hard to obtain. Later, career obstacles for unmarried men were officially introduced, mainly in government administration.

“The fascist government in Italy lasted long enough in peacetime that we may know its results. Exactly as economic theory would predict, the birthrate fell from 1927 to 1934. So did the number of marriages. Not surprisingly, the average age of marrying couples increased.”

And because this was a DPJ initiative, they couldn’t help tripping over their own diapers. In the first two months of the program, they paid about JPY one billion in public funds to foreign residents for 7,746 children living outside Japan. (It is an interesting bit of trivia that when New Komeito first proposed such payments in the Tokyo Metro District, the harshest opponents were the DPJ.)

All of this money was spent to boost a birth rate that fell below the 2.1 replacement level in 1957.

Of course the real problem lies elsewhere. Said Lord Sachs, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth:

“Parenthood involves massive sacrifice of money, attention, time and emotional energy…where today in European culture with its consumerism and instant gratification – because you’re worth it – where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?”

Then there’s the attitude of Barack Obama, who used his daughters as an example of his reason for supporting abortion:

“If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”

The more likely explanation is the extension of the concept of survival of the fittest. Natural selection is weeding out the offspring of those people incapable of dealing with the modern world, in which today’s predators are psychological rather than saber-toothed tigers. How else to explain the phenomenon of the anti-lifers who think children are a “luxury good”, or who want to levy a carbon tax on people who have children? It’s natural contraception without the pill.

But I digress.

2. The Japanese deficit is not attributable to all of the LDP, as Mr. Onishi suggests. It was slightly over JPY 20 trillion when Mr. Koizumi took office. It hovered around that level for two or three years while his government dealt with the post-bubble problem of banks saddled with non-performing debt. It started to drop three years into his term, and fell to JPY seven trillion three years after that in the year of Abe-Fukuda. The deficit began to climb again under the anti-reformers Fukuda and Aso, especially after the global economic crisis of 2008, when Mr. Aso and the mudboaters saw an excuse to dish out the pork labeled as economic stimulus. Since 2009, the DPJ governments have set three new records with a debt explosion that is positively Obamanian. The Koizumi policies slashed it to less than one-third in six years. The rejection of those policies has resulted in annual deficit about twice what it was during his first year in the Kantei, or more than JPY 40 trillion.

UPDATE: The budget for FY 2012 was passed a few hours after I wrote the foregoing. The lower house approved it, and the upper house (where the ruling DPJ does not have a majority) rejected it, so it was enacted anyway in accordance with the Constitution. It came in at just a skoche more than JPY 90 trillion, which is the first DPJ budget to be lower than that of the previous year. It is also the lowest budget they have ever submitted, IIRC. However, that is only for the general account. The special accounts for the Tohoku recovery and pensions, which are also the responsibility of the national government, bring the total above JPY 96 trillion, the highest ever. This fact has been noted in all the news reports, so the Noda Cabinet will not get credit for “budget reduction”.

3. Mr. Onishi seems to offer a slight internal contradiction. He says that in another age, the required solutions for today’s problems would have resulted in warfare. If that’s the case, it’s difficult to see how joining hands with the people who created the problems will solve them.

4. He also thinks the Osaka Metro District concept is difficult to understand, but that seems to be a minority view. Most thought the arguments during last November’s election, pro and con, were easy to understand.

I haven’t read the article yet, but the latest issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai (14 April, out yesterday) reports the results of their voter preference survey in the Kinki region. They say Hashimoto Toru’s One Osaka would sweep all the single-seat districts in a lower house election. It would be a historical rout for both the DPJ and the LDP. They also say both DPJ bigwig Maehara Seiji and LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu would lose their elections (both are from Kyoto). That would not necessarily throw the bums out, however; with the odious proportional representation system, their parties would probably put them at the top of their respective PR lists.

Meanwhile, Yayama Taro has an article in the April issue of Voice about the phenomenon. The headline reads: The Hashimoto Whirlwind Will Not End as a “Diverson” (asobi, literally, play or pastime).

Here’s the first paragraph:

“One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru, has engulfed the political world in a whirlwind. Looking at the Tokyo editions of the major newspapers, it seems they treat the Hashimoto whirlwind as a local Osaka phenomenon. Pure and simple, this must be viewed as a major development that will lead to the reorganization of the central government. Having sensed that, I subscribed to the Osaka edition of the Sankei Shimbun.”

There’s a whole lotta shaking goin’ on.

He won’t have to read the Osaka editions if any bad news emerges. The Asahi Shimbun will be sure to cover that.

In any event, Mr. Hashimoto is also getting plenty of television coverage.

The next posts in the Hashimoto series will examine his largest controversies/battles as governor and mayor in Osaka.

What we need is some local funky diversity, and that’s what Cicala Mvta (pronounced “muta” in Japanese) offers. Any ethnic/folk/pop style of music that calls for a clarinet, leader Okuma Wataru plays.

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Rocky road ahead

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, March 31, 2012

FOR a better understanding of the phenomenon Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru represents, the following anecdotes offer a clear and compelling window on the popular mood.

Rock target Ota Kazumi

The first story comes from the 9 February edition of the weekly Shukan Shincho and concerns DPJ lower house member Ota Kazumi, a second-term MP and member of the Ozawa group. She first won election in Chiba and then switched to a district in Fukushima (where her parents are from) for the lower house election in 2009.

Japanese politicians deliver street corner speeches more frequently than their counterparts in the United States, and Mr. Ozawa in particular likes to impress on his acolytes the importance of retail politicking and mingling with the public. Ms. Ota decided to speak outside a Shinto shrine on New Year’s Day, as a political journalist explained to the magazine.

That holiday is a rough analogue for Christmas in the West and has many secular and Shinto traditions. One of them is for families to visit three Shinto shrines in the first days of the new year. Some people still dress up for the visits, and it’s common to see younger women wearing kimono.

This year, no sooner had Ms. Ota began to speak when the crowd started to heckle and jeer. There were shouts of “liar” and other insults. Some even threw rocks at her, though the journalist didn’t specify how many people were throwing. She had planned to speak for two hours, but cut it off after 45 minutes.

Take a few seconds to let that sink in. On the most important holiday of the year, in a country known throughout the world for its manners and courtesy, standing outside of what is, in many senses, a religious institution, while people are participating in a traditional activity of the holiday season, they shout down and throw rocks at a politician…who is a woman.

There you see the Japanese equivalent of overturning and torching automobiles, or police and mobs throwing Molotov cocktails, tear gas, truncheons, and punches at each other. In Libya she might have wound up with a bloody backside.

But put any sympathy you might have for Ms. Ota on hold until you read the rest of the story.

One of the political controversies in 2008 during the Fukuda administration was the disposition of the soon-to-expire gasoline surtax, a “temporary” levy that had been maintained for more than 30 years. Some Democratic Party MPs organized a performance troupe they called the “Gasoline Price Cutting Squad”. They amused themselves by blocking hallways in the Diet chamber and temporarily confining the chairman of the lower house to his office. The idea was to publicize the DPJ’s pledge to eliminate the tax and cut gas prices. That pledge wound up in the party’s 2009 manifesto.

Yeah, it was as childish as it sounds.

Soon after their 2009 landslide and formation of a government, the party announced they would preserve (de facto) the gasoline surtax they had promised to eliminate immediately on taking office. Ms. Ota was asked about that and her activities as a member of the squad on a 22 December 2009 news program. Her answer:

“Oh, did I do that? Ha ha ha!”

On her official website, she explained that the party hadn’t failed to implement the manifesto pledge, but had only delayed its implementation. She also charged that the program was deliberately trying to manipulate public opinion against her.

The DPJ later officially removed the pledge to eliminate the tax from its manifesto.

If I were Japanese and saw her — or any other DPJ pol — giving a street corner speech, I’d be tempted to break off chunks of sidewalk or building cornices and hurl those.

The same journalist had another story for the Shukan Shincho:

“Innumerable DPJ diet members have stopped giving street corner speeches, because opposition to them is so great, it’s like pouring gas on a fire.”

An unnamed “mid-tier” DPJ Diet member lamented that all he can do when he visits groups in his district is bow his head and apologize.

That’s why people aren’t raising their eyebrows over reports that surfaced on the 26th of the results of a private poll conducted by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party. The survey found that Mr. Hashimoto’s One Osaka group would win about 60 of the 77 lower house seats in the Kinki region — roughly 80% — if an election were held today. The group wants to run 300 candidates nationwide.

And that’s why it’s no surprise that other reports say the DPJ wants to put an election off as long as possible (they have until the summer 2013) in the hope that Mr. Hashimoto’s star fades by then. Or that some in the LDP, particularly prominent party members projected to lose in the next election and those still affiliated with factions, want the polls to be held as soon as possible before Mr. Hashimoto and One Osaka select a slate of candidates from his political juku. Nevertheless, circumstances and the wild card of Ozawa Ichiro and whatever it is he’s planning to do this time could cause an election to be held as early as June. Even people in the other hemisphere will feel the earth move under their feet on that day.

It’s curious: Some Westerners who couldn’t distinguish a 6 from a 9 in contemporary Japanese affairs have convinced themselves that the country is an irrelevant non-player tumbling down the tubes of history. What they can’t see — and couldn’t, even if they were looking — is that Japan could well be the first of the world’s democracies to spear, if not gut, the belly of the beast.

They’re rumbling down in Indonesia too. Is that Shiva playing the drums?

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Hashimoto Toru (3): Other policies, other views

Posted by ampontan on Friday, March 30, 2012

**This is the third of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here, and the second is here.**

Japan is now in a crisis state, so we have to put it all on the line to make a real change in the form of the country.
– Hashimoto Toru, 24 March

WHILE the centerpiece of Hashimoto Toru’s proposals for Japan is the radical devolution of authority to local government and to cut big national government down to size, his policy menu would be a wonk banquet if he were the sort of mobile mannequin-pol that appeals to most policy wonks. He insists that most of his proposals are starting points for discussion, and that politicians should enter at the end of the process, rather than the beginning. Finally — unlike 99.44% of the world’s politicians — he serves his banquet straight up, with neither the meat nor the words minced.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hashimoto drafted a statement of general principles and guidelines for his One Osaka movement that he titled Ishin Hassaku, or eight policies of renewal. It was a deliberate modification of the title of a similar document called Senchu Hassaku written by Sakamoto Ryoma, a samurai/activist in the final days of the Edo period. His “eight shipboard policies” became the basis for the later Meiji-period reforms. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand the reference immediately.

He explained the reason for the document:

“Our work is to determine the course of Japan. We will develop a concrete philosophy for policy, politics, and government administration. The ones who don’t have that are the current political parties. Both the DPJ and the LDP are in a stupor.”

That last sentence is also immediately understood by all Japanese of secondary school age and older.

The mayor sometimes refers to it as the Great Reset. Now here’s his explanation of the basic principle:

“The argument of the Isshin Hassaku is simple. One Osaka will achieve, as the image of the nation for which we strive, a nation of individuals who behave independently, regions that behave independently, and a nation that behaves independently. To achieve that, it is indispensable to establish a democracy and a government mechanism capable of making decisions and accepting responsibility, and to promote the vitalization of the generation active today.”

The mention of decisiveness and responsibility refers to everyone in the legislative and executive branches of the national government in general, and the Democratic Party administration in particular.

The document’s eight sections cover such topics as the restructuring of governing institutions and reforming education. They include the direct election of the prime minister, the institution of the state/province system, the abolition of regional tax distribution, the abolition of education committees (i.e., boards of education), and the integration of pension, welfare, and unemployment programs.

To explain further, the Constitution requires that the prime minister be a sitting member of the Diet elected by the Diet members. That requirement has been abused by decades of passing the washtub, in the Japanese phrase, of the prime minister’s position among the members of the ruling party without voter input. The LDP started it, but the DPJ liked it just fine after they got a taste of their own. Putting it to a popular vote would require a Constitutional amendment, and the public might be up for that. All Japanese of secondary school age and older understand that the status quo is untenable.

In fact, his One Osaka ally, Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsuo Ichiro, said earlier this week he thought anyone should be able to run for prime minister as long as they had 20 sitting MPs back their candidacy. That immediately generated speculation the intended beneficiary would be Mayor Hashimoto himself (though the process to enable his candidacy would take some time), but the idea has enough merit on its own to warrant serious discussion. What they’ve got now isn’t good enough, and the DPJ has shown everyone that it isn’t going to get better.

The young lawyer makes a television appearance.

The abolition of the regional tax distribution from the national government would mean giving greater authority to the sub-national governments to raise their own revenue. (Where I live the prefectural government now sells advertising on the autos for public sector use.) The abolition of the education committees refers to his effort to make local government executives the final authority for education, rather than professional educators. That issue will be presented in more detail in a later installment of this series.

When Mr. Hashimoto unveiled the Ishin Hassaku, he explained that it contained “guidelines for political thought” for the next lower house election, but that it wasn’t an election manifesto/party platform. “If we submit something like the DPJ manifesto,” he asserted, “it would be a failure.” The document intentionally contains no numerical targets, because it is supposed to be a rough guide for changing the system.

Such is the political discourse in our age that the media and his political opponents immediately called it a manifesto and criticized it for not being more specific in the way manifestoes are supposed to be. Among the newspapers, the Sankei has since dialed back on their language and now call it a “de facto manifesto”.

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio observed that Mr. Hashimoto had learned a lesson from the failure of the DPJ’s 2009 manifesto. Of course, we’d be here all week if we were to mention all the lessons everyone learned from the failures of the DPJ since 2009. The first would be not to take anything Hatoyama Yukio says seriously.

Mr. Hatoyama forgets that he wasn’t so anxious to call a manifesto a manifesto either in 2009. Just before the election that year, as party president, he rolled out the DPJ manifesto to great fanfare, with banners over the stage heralding the arrival of The Manifesto, a word that was printed in big red letters on the front cover. Then the governor of Osaka prefecture, Hashimoto Toru objected the document was not specific enough about the devolution of authority. Mr. Hashimoto was massively popular even then, so the DPJ rewrote it and resubmitted it a few days later. When the media quite rightly questioned the process, Mr. Hatoyama insisted that the first one wasn’t really a manifesto but a “collection of government policies” instead. (The story is here. I’d congratulate myself for my prescience about what a DPJ government would be like if it hadn’t been so bloody obvious.)

Other policies

We’ve seen before that he’s proposed a two-year national discussion on Article 9 of the Constitution, the inaptly named Peace Clause, followed by a referendum. He thinks it’s time for Article 9 to be history, and recently restated his position:

“Ceaseless efforts are required if you would maintain a tranquil life. The people themselves must do the work. The text (of the Constitution) has caused us to forget that completely.”

Wealth redistribution

In one of his famous daily Tweet-a-thons, the governor wrote:

“There’s the idea of the negative income tax. This is one item for consideration as a way to further develop Basic Income.”

University professor and commentator Ikeda Nobuo, who tends to hold the governor at arm’s length, was impressed. He wrote, “It is unprecedented for this (idea) to emerge in Japanese policy discussions.” Look closer and you’ll see that he’s discussing two social welfare schemes, one from the Right in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax idea, and one from the Left with the Basic Income idea, which Prof. Ikeda attributes to Andre Gorz and others. It’s also important to note that the governor says it is “an item for consideration”, if only because his critics charge him with dictatorial tendencies. Dictators are not usually guys who willingly say, “Let’s talk about it.”

Prof. Ikeda then offers a simple comparison of the basics.

The concept of negative income tax involves the positive taxation of income that exceeds the minimum taxable amount, and negative taxation, or providing some of the funds obtained to people with incomes below the minimum taxable amount.

If the minimum taxable income is set at JPY four million, for example, and the tax rate is 20%, the amount of income exceeding that benchmark would taxed at 20%. People with incomes below that amount would receive 20% of the difference between their actual income and the minimum taxable income. A person whose income is JPY two million would receive a benefit of JPY 400,000 as 20% of the JPY two million difference, giving him a total income of JPY 2.4 million. Based on the same calculation, people who earned nothing would receive JPY 800,000.

Prof. Ikeda goes on to say there are different approaches to Basic Income, and uses one of those approaches as an example. Assuming JPY 800,000 would be distributed to those with no income as the basic income, a person who earned JPY 2 million would have that amount taxed at 20%, resulting in JPY 1.6 million. To that amount would be added the Basic Income of JPY 800,000 to get JPY 2.4 million, or the same amount that person would receive under the negative income concept.

Regardless, he says, the idea is to eliminate conventional social welfare, which is one of Mr. Hashimoto’s key proposals. Prof. Ikeda holds that the current system is unfair because it distributes funds from young people of relatively modest means to older people who are financially better off. Since the issue is income rather than age, the idea is to eliminate public pensions, welfare payments, unemployment insurance, and long-term care insurance (nursing for the old and infirm) and integrate those schemes into either a Basic Income or negative income tax system. He also notes that it would eliminate the vast expenditures for the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

Prof. Ikeda admits it would be difficult politically to eliminate the existing substantial benefits under the current system. He also says it would generate concerns of an infringement of property rights, because Japanese pensions are two-tiered and include both corporate payments and personal payments.

Maintaining the status quo, however, means that the current pension system will go bankrupt in 20 years, and enormous taxation would be required to offset a JPY 800 trillion yen shortfall.

That’s the reason the proposed increase of the consumption tax is such a contentious issue in Japan. The Finance Ministry estimates that expenditures for pension, healthcare, long-term care, and “demographic problems” will exceed JPY 40 trillion in 2015. The current 5% consumption tax produces about JPY 13 trillion in revenue, or about or 30% of the amount required for those expenditures. Raising it to 10% would result in JPY 27 trillion of revenue — says the Finance Ministry. Some people are even calling for an increase in the tax to 30% to make up the difference.

That explanation is what makes opponents so livid. The Finance Ministry ignores that a tax increase of that size will depress consumption, which will depress the economy, resulting in lower-than-projected revenues. That’s exactly what happened when the tax was raised from 3% to 5% during the Hashimoto Ryutaro administration. (To be accurate, the tax revenues that fell were those from the income tax and corporate taxes. Consumption tax revenue rose.) Current deflationary conditions would make the impact worse today.

The assumption that the status quo of the system should be maintained regardless of the impact on the finances of both the nation and the individual households also angers people. (This is what people mean when they say we’re witnessing the collapse of social democracy.)

So — Mr. Hashimoto jumps on the third rail of politics everywhere and insists that changes have to be made because the current system is untenable and the government/bureaucracy’s solution is unworkable. He then offers in a public forum possible solutions for the problem, one from the left and one from the right, neither of which is well known in Japan, and suggests that everyone mull them over.

Combine that with his communication skills and ability to win big in elections, and now you know why he scares the vested interests of the national political and bureaucratic class, as well everyone on the Left.

North Korea

Mr. Hashimoto spoke to a group of family members of North Korean abductees in early February. He told them:

“The national government must express its thinking more clearly. I have no idea what they want to do….Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka will not permit the abduction problem (to continue). I want to clearly express the view that we will have no relations whatsoever with the outlaw state of North Korea until they become a normal country.”

He also said he would tighten the government’s requirements on providing public (financial) assistance to schools in Japan operated by Chongryeon, the North Korean citizens’ association:

“All the local governments throughout the country can do that if they want. Why is it that the national government cannot issue this sort of directive?”


He serves the chair of a Kansai area federation of local government heads. At their last meeting, he suggested that the mayors of Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe should use their cities’ stock holdings in Kansai Electric Power to create a new, non-nuclear energy strategy, though he didn’t offer specifics. The governor of Nara is generally opposed to Mr. Hashimoto’s schemes, so he does not participate in the group. That might explain why the group decided to back a proposed route through Kyoto instead of one through Nara for a maglev train line.

Governmental systems

One Osaka wants to create a system that allows the prime minister to leave when required to attend to business overseas. This week, the debate over the budget started in the Diet just as the leaders of the U.S., China, and South Korea were meeting to discuss ways to handle North Korea. Asks Mr. Hashimoto:

“What about Japan? As usual, the prime minister is chained to the Diet.”

While recognizing that Diet debate is one means of democracy, he suggests it is not an absolute that requires the prime minister’s constant presence. Just as a company president doesn’t have to do everything himself, he wrote, there are questions the prime minister doesn’t need to answer in person, and these should be delegated to his representatives. He tips his hat to Ozawa Ichiro by repeating the latter’s charge that out-of-control bureaucrats in the past appeared in the Diet and gave whatever answers they liked, but says it is the job of the leading “politicians’ group” (he didn’t call it a party) to control the bureaucrats’ answers.

As for what being chained in the Diet meant in practical terms on this occasion, here’s a report from Kyodo:

“With Pyongyang’s planned rocket launch looming over East Asia, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had the perfect opportunity at this week’s global nuclear summit in Seoul to raise Japan’s presence in dealing with North Korea.

“But Noda missed out on the chance as he arrived in Seoul only on Monday evening, skipping a working dinner that officially kicked off the two-day Nuclear Security Summit, and barely engaged in substantive bilateral talks….

“The prime minister was instead preoccupied with his key domestic task — pushing the consumption tax hike on which he has said he is “staking my political career.”

“Prior to his trip to South Korea, Noda had been tied up with Diet deliberations on the tax hike, with his Cabinet aiming to approve the key bill Friday.”

Kyodo doesn’t tell us that Mr. Noda is preoccupied about a lot more than the tax increase. There is also the possibility that the issue will splinter his party and force either an immediate election or an alliance of the tax hikers in the DPJ with those in the opposition LDP.

Outside observers, in brief

The 5 February edition of the weekly Sunday Mainichi offered some observations of Hashimoto the politician from others in the same business who’ve seen him in action. Here’s one from a member of the Osaka City Council, who chose to remain anonymous.

“One thing he’s got going for him is that he didn’t make the blunder of dashing into national politics right away as soon as he achieved a little popularity. He’ll probably select candidates (for the lower house election) based on the circumstances of each election district and after probing the response of those around him. He’s a very solid strategist.”

A man identified only as a veteran LDP politician said he had exceptional skill at enhancing his presence:

“From the voters’ viewpoint he looks hot-blooded or emotional, but in fact he’s the opposite. He’s cool, settled, very objective, and makes shrewd calculations. He’s very shrewd at sizing up a situation and advancing or withdrawing accordingly…with all the attention on him now, he’s showing interest in national politics, and observing the course of events. Because he always views circumstances with a certain detachment, he can maintain his popularity and increase the level of opinion in his favor. He’s a politician that’s very much his own man, and that can’t be imitated.

“(Former Prime Minister) Koizumi had Iijima Isao to orchestrate his appearances and make sure he wasn’t overexposed, but Mr. Hashimoto seems to have been born with that knack. He might even be better at it than Koizumi.”

The author of the Sunday Mainichi article suggested that his strategy is to hold off on running himself in the next lower house election — he’s 42, so he has plenty of time — but instead place some of his people in the Diet to establish a foothold and form alliances with like-minded people, such as those in Your Party or any other new regional party members that might get elected.

When asked about the possibility of an alliance between One Osaka and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru quite logically observed:

“Mr. Hashimoto is winning acclaim because he’s anti-existing political parties. It would be a difficult decision for them to ally with the LDP, an existing political party.”

Incidentally, Mr. Ishihara supported the creation of an Osaka Metro District during the November election in Osaka.

To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction

That someone as outspoken, specific, and fearless as Mr. Hashimoto will attract critics and enemies is as immutable a principle as Newton’s Third Law. Here’s a brief look at a few:

Sengoku Yoshito, former Chief Cabinet Secretary in Kan Naoto’s first Cabinet, speaking of the Osaka Metro concept:

“The core body of self-government is the basic government of municipalities. The prefecture should leave things up to the city. I wonder how well (his idea) would work.”

Works in Tokyo, doesn’t it? Mr. Sengoku is presenting the DPJ’s vision of decentralization — doing away with prefectures and organizing everything around 300 fiefdom/cities. It makes more sense when you know that Mr. Sengoku (like Kan Naoto) doesn’t believe in nation-states, but rather a worldwide network of communities in a New World Order guided by such bureaucratic globutrons as the UN and the EU.

Anyone could have guessed that Social Democratic Party head Fukushima Mizuho, the vile body of Japanese politics who’s always up to some black mischief, wouldn’t like Mr. Hashimoto:

“A policy of bringing the principle of competition into education and discarding (teachers) is very dangerous…As for the Osaka Metro concept, I have no idea what they’re talking about with many of the points. I’m going to watch this carefully.”

She knows exactly what he’s talking about. She has to monitor Mr. Hashimoto because he’s orbiting on the other side of the galaxy from social democrats.

Ms. Fukushima used the same I-don’t-know-what-he’s-talking-about line for Abe Shinzo’s vision of a Beautiful Japan, even though he wrote a book about it. She knew what that was all about too. She just finds distasteful the idea that her native country in particular, or any nation-state in general, is beautiful.

Indeed, most commentators pro and con agreed that during the Osaka election, the arguments made for the Osaka Metro plan and those of its opponents were clearly stated and easy to understand.

But here’s my favorite — you can almost see the spit fly. It’s from Ichida Tadayoshi of the Communist Party. A reporter pointed out to Mr. Ichida that some of the One Osaka policies, such as those for nuclear energy, the tax system (i.e., consumption tax) and social welfare were similar to those of Japan’s Reds. He didn’t like that:

“There is absolutely no match at all. Even though in some places it looks like some of the letters in the words are the same, there is no value in critiquing the policies of a person who would trample on the freedom of thought and conscience guaranteed in the Constitution.”

Isn’t it entertaining to watch a Marxian fulminate over freedom of thought?

Meanwhile, over in Japan’s English-language press, the boys and girls who play newspaper at the Japan Times made a bad Kyodo article worse by trying to convince readers that Kansai political leaders don’t like the Hashimoto plan to reorganize the prefecture/city. Here’s the first paragraph.

“Osaka Mayor-elect Toru Hashimoto’s administrative reform plan has only limited support so far among prominent local leaders, with just six openly backing his proposed bureaucratic shakeup, a survey has found.”

That story falls apart as soon as they fill in the details.

“The survey polled the mayors of Japan’s 18 officially designated major cities, and the governors of the 13 prefectures that host them, excluding Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka.”

Here are the results:

In favor: Four governors (Niigata, Aichi, Kyoto, and Hyogo) and two mayors (Niigata and Nagoya). There’s a similar reorganization proposal being discussed in Niigata, by the way.

Opposed: One governor and three mayors, all unidentified, perhaps to protect them from constituents.

Neutral: 21

So the total is 6-4 in favor and 21 sitting on the fence with their fingers in the wind. Now here’s the headline the Japan Times ran:

Few leaders back Hashimoto’s plan

And you just know the kids are congratulating themselves on their cleverness.

Finally, try the Japanese Wikipedia page on Mr. Hashimoto for the portrait photo. Thousands of photographs have been taken of Mr. Hashimoto since he was elected governor of Osaka five years ago, but this is the one someone thought was representative. Now we know that Wikipediatric immaturity is an international phenomenon.

Coming next: There isn’t room here to describe the policy positions that most upset his enemies, so that will come later in the series. The next installment will present his use of Twitter as a weapon. In the process, the reason he generates such strong opinions will get a lot clearer.


I make it a matter of principle to forget about links to the Japan Times in the same way it’s a matter of principle not to pay to see an Oliver Stone movie (much less watch one). I made an exception for the Kyodo article about Prime Minister Noda because it is so delicious when the denizens of La Tour D’Ivoire unwittingly reveal their overeducated vacuity. Here’s the end of the article:

“As things stand, political observers already see Japan as having little influence over North Korea, unlike China and the United States.

“Japan is a peripheral player with no significant leverage over Pyongyang” despite its strong interests in changing North Korea’s hostile policy, said Denny Roy, senior fellow of the East-West Center in Honolulu.

“According to Roy, who focuses on Asia-Pacific security issues, “Japan is trapped into a noninfluential role unless it gives up its tough position on the abductee issue.”

“Yoshihide Soeya, director of the Institute of East Asian Studies at Keio University, said Japan’s North Korean policies are being held “hostage” by domestic sentiment over the abductions, which has compelled the government to take a hardline stance.”

It isn’t often we see such a short, concentrated burst of willful ignorance from oblivious, self-important people. And then there’s the stupid — there is no other word — attempt of Mr. Soeya to be clever by describing Japanese policy as held hostage because the Japanese public is outraged their citizens were (and might still be) held hostage by an outlaw state.

North Korean agents conducted black ops in Japan by kidnapping innocent civilians — including a mother and her young adult daughter, two young lovers on a moonlit stroll, and a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school — removing them to the Prison Nation, and forcing them to teach the Japanese language and culture to their agents whose assignment was destabilizing Japan.

How unfortunate for Japan that “domestic sentiment” (i.e., they’re so angry they could spit) is tying the hands of the Japanese politicos, when they could be do-goodering for the international community, such as sending food to feed the North Korean army, or money to feed the lifestyles of Pyeongyang’s rich and nefarious.

Denny Roy might ask some of the people on the street outside his Honolulu office what they would think had Cubans done the same to Americans, and never fully ‘fessed up — and even offered fraudulent birth certificates for premature deaths.

Has he read this article, or would he care if he did?

“His first memory is an execution. He walked with his mother to a wheat field, where guards had rounded up several thousand prisoners. The boy crawled between legs to the front row, where he saw guards tying a man to a wooden pole.

“Shin In Geun was four years old, too young to understand the speech that came before that killing. At dozens of executions in years to come, he would listen to a guard telling the crowd that the prisoner about to die had been offered “redemption” through hard labour, but had rejected the generosity of the North Korean government.

“Guards stuffed pebbles into the prisoner’s mouth, covered his head with a hood and shot him. In Camp 14, a prison for the political enemies of North Korea, assemblies of more than two inmates were forbidden, except for executions. Everyone had to attend them.

“The South Korean government estimates there are about 154,000 prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps, while the US state department puts the number as high as 200,000. The biggest is 31 miles long and 25 miles wide, an area larger than the city of Los Angeles.

People are meeting in South Korea because everyone is concerned of an imminent North Korean missile launch. But just last month:

“A U.S. delegation has just returned from Beijing following a third exploratory round of U.S.-DPRK bilateral talks. To improve the atmosphere for dialogue and demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization, the DPRK has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches.”

Denny Roy says Japan is “a peripheral player with no significant leverage”.

So, as a missile is being gassed up a month after a deal not to launch one, might we ask just who does have significant leverage? (The Chinese probably do, but they’d rather be part of the problem than be part of the solution.)

And why be a player in a pointless game?

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Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

**This is the second of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents. The first is here.**

SOME people in Japan were suspicious: Was Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru just blustering with his declaration of intent to capture the Bastille of Japanese politics at Nagata-cho and implement his revolution from the inside out? That concern is now a very unlikely scenario — to prepare potential candidates for a lower house election, which rumor has it could come as early as June, he opened and begun operating on Sunday a political juku to prep potential candidates running either under the banner of One Osaka, his local party, or as allied forces. Backing down now would seriously wipe out the credibility of a man who’s riding The Big Wave.

Nagata-cho, here we come. Hashimoto Toru announces that One Osaka intends to field candidates in the next lower house election.

The word juku is often mistranslated as “cram school” in English, inspired by those exemplary Western educators who think Japanese children study too much. (Kumon is one of those jukus, and its system was adopted some years ago in a few of the lower southern states in the U.S. as a way to help laggard students.) This, however, is a juku in the original sense of the term — a private facility for the instruction of one’s “disciples”.

Mr. Hashimoto announced his intention to eventually accept 400 students for intensive training, of which 300 will become candidates, and of which he hopes 200 will win election. That’s a bit short of a lower house majority, but with even half that number, nothing happens in the Diet without him. That’s also before the totals of Your Party and other regional parties are factored in.

An article in the 10 February weekly Shukan Asahi (Hashimoto opponents) presented the argument that it won’t be possible for One Osaka to field 300 candidates. They quote one veteran pol as saying that it costs about JPY six million for a campaign, either for a single-district seat or a proportional representation seat, and the party doesn’t have the national organization, money, or bed of existing votes to pull it off. He thinks that even 200 is a pipe dream.

Someone the magazine claims is close to One Osaka is quoted as saying that even Mr. Hashimoto knows its an impossibility to run that many candidates, but he’s using that as a ploy to get the national government to approve his Osaka Metro District plan.

An anonymous source affiliated with New Komeito in the Osaka area suggests that many of his local supporters are ready to back him in local elections, but because they are affiliated with other parties, they will revert to their former allegiances in a national election.

Elsewhere, LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru declared, “They can’t take 100 seats. 30-40 is the reality.”

The magazine appeared on newsstands at beginning of February. Since then, he received 3,326 applications for admission to his school, and after a review of their essays, 2,262 students were accepted. The 400 selected for more intensive study will come from that group.

Some of the applicants were said to be sitting Diet members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Now who can blame them? They didn’t learn anything about politics, the popular will, and keeping promises where they are now.

The funding for elections might be a problem because One Osaka is not a national political party with a minimum of five Diet seats. Therefore, it receives no public subsidies, and candidates will have to pay their own way. They’re already paying JPY 120,000 for the tuition to meet five times between now and June, when the winnowing takes place.

If you can tell a person by the company he keeps, Mr. Hashimoto is clearly a respectable but radical reformer. Several of the teachers already work with Your Party and have often been mentioned on this site. (In fact, there are tags for most.) Here’s a list:

Sakaiya Taiichi: Former head of Economic Planning Agency, non-fiction/fiction writer, chief Hashimoto advisor, professor emeritus at the juku

Nakata Hiroshi: Former lower house member and Yokohama mayor, member of the Spirit of Japan Party

Okamoto Yukio: Former diplomat, now foreign affairs commentator and independent businessman, former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi, has served on board of several companies, including Asahi Beer, and served as Mitsubishi auditor

Koga Shigeaki: Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry official, author of three books, and the man who became the symbol of the national victimhood when the DPJ betrayed its promises to get the bureaucracy under control.

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

Takahashi Yoichi: Former Finance Ministry official, devised the original plan for Japan Post privatization under Takenaka Heizo’s supervision, now a commentator, advisor to Your Party, and university professor.

Yamanaka Toshiyuki: Former diplomat, now works in human resource training

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

Kitaoku Nobuichi: Professor specializing in foreign affairs and diplomatic history, former personal advisor to Prime Minister Koizumi.

The belle of the ball

Winning big is the best way for a politician to win friends, influence people, and become a supersized enchilada himself, and that’s just what Mr. Hashimoto does. Since his initial success as Osaka governor, many politicians flocked to the political alpha male in the hope some of his shine would reflect off them. Three years ago Masuzoe Yoichi, then the Health Minister in the terminal LDP governments and viewed by some as the last great hope for the LDP reformers, tried to coax the governor into an alliance. Some viewed him as an ineffective political organizer/operator, which subsequent events have borne out. Mr. Hashimoto seems to have understood that right away, and deflected his interest.

He’s also attracted the attention and approval of Tokyo Metro Gov. Ishihara Shintaro, who’s defended him against charges of dictator tendencies:

“People call him a dictator, so perhaps everyone’s a little daunted by him. But that’s just arbitrary. Unless a person with the power of ideas directs affairs from the top down, nothing gets done. It’s the same way here (in Tokyo).”

Mr. Ishihara’s only beef seems to be that the Osaka Metro District plan calls for the creation of an “Osaka-to” in Japanese. That’s a throwback to the Tokyo governor’s emergence into the public eye more than 50 years ago as a literary sensation writing best-selling fiction and non-fiction. (He was also a Vietnam war correspondent on special assignment.) He objects to the use of “to” (都), which he insists should be applied only to national capitals. (He has a point; one meaning of the Japanese reading of the word is “seat of government”. Then again, Osakans have always had a big idea of themselves.)

While Mr. Hashimoto welcomes the attention and is respectful of his elders, he’s also done a good job of deflecting the talk of an alliance with the Tokyo governor. Mr. Ishihara is discussing the formation of a new political party with Kamei Shizuka, an anti-Japan Post privatization non-reformer and paleo-conservative in the Japanese sense, whose party is still officially a junior coalition partner with the DPJ government. Mr. Hashimoto politely gave them the stiff-arm:

“There has to be a certain agreement on policies, such as opposition to tax increases and devolution from central authority.”

Mr. Kamei is not interested in the second of those policies mentioned. He’s part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Osaka mayor has also developed a close professional relationship with Nakata Hiroshi and Yamada Hiroshi of the Spirit of Japan Party (more here). Both were appointed special advisors to the city after Mr. Hashimoto’s election, and Mr. Nakata is teaching at the juku. Asada Hitoshi, the chairman of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the policy chairman for One Osaka, attended a banquet for the Spirit of Japan Party in Osaka. Mr. Asada thanked them for their help in creating the Ishin Hassaku, or One Osaka’s policy framework, and added, “We share a sense of values.” Replied Mr. Yamada:

“We have great hopes for what’s happening in Osaka…We hope to be able to create a third political center by gathering people who share their view of the state and history.”

Former LDP Secretary-General Nakagawa Hidenao, the most prominent of the Koizumians left standing in the party, invited Mr. Hashimoto to Tokyo to participate in a study group and offer his opinions on devolution. Said the mayor:

“The people think that nothing will happen unless the Kasumigaseki social system is changed.”

But he was preaching to the converted. Several younger and mid-tier LDP members are attracted to the mayor’s movement, and there are also rumors of more private contacts with LDP member Kono Taro. The son of a former prominent LDP pol himself, Mr. Kono claims to be an advocate of small government, but sometimes skates onto very thin ice. (He thinks international financial transactions should be taxed and the funds given to multinational public sector do-gooders. He still hasn’t figured out that the global warming bologna was a scam.)

Another LDP member in the Hashimoto corner is former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe recently spoke at an Osaka symposium for a private sector group called the Organization for Reviving Japanese Education. Attending was new Osaka Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s partner in One Osaka. Their common objective is to reshape the current educational system, and at a post-conference meeting with reporters, the governor said they were on the same page. Mr. Matsui also said that the schools’ opposition to the amendments of the Basic Education Law passed during the Abe administration means that the popular will is not reflected in the school curriculum.

The most important of Hashimoto’s allies, however, is the reform Your Party. (Reports of their activities often grace these pages.) Party head Watanabe Yoshimi was interested in joining forces when Mr. Hashimoto arose as a political figure (a year or two before Your Party was formed), but was said to have been restrained by his party co-founder and Secretary-General, Eda Kenji, due to concerns that the Osaka mayor was a loose cannon. If that was true, the leash is now off. Said Mr. Watanabe:

“We must work to ensure as a party that this movement (One Osaka) spreads nationwide.”

He says the policies of One Osaka and Your Party are nearly the same, and adds that they have plans to form a joint policy study group and a political alliance nationwide. Those policies include the reorganization of local governments into a state/province system, the creation of an Osaka Metro District, and the idea that the new sub-national units receive all the consumption tax revenue. Mr. Watanabe has created a catchphrase to crystallize the ideas of his party’s policies, which is “giving the ‘three gen’” to local governments. Gen is the final syllable of the words kengen (authority), zaigen (revenue sources) and ningen (people).

L-R: Gov. Matsui, Mayor Hashimoto, Mr. Watanabe, Gov. Omura. The shape of things to come?

Further, Your Party executives as well as others in the party responsible for the candidacies in single-seat districts will study at the One Osaka political juku with the party leadership’s blessing. That includes about 20-30 people from Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo. Your Party plans to run 100 candidates in the next lower house election, and they’ve settled on about 70 so far.

The Shukan Asahi also quoted a Your Party source as saying that Mr. Watanabe and Mr. Hashimoto have reached a private understanding that the former would be “the first prime minister”. They suggest that Mr. Watanabe thinks control of the Diet is in their aggregate grasp.

The Osaka mayor is also an official international phenomenon — he’s attracted the attention of South Koreans. That’s only natural: national elections will be held in that country in April and December this year. KBS-TV sent a crew to hop over to Osaka for interviews. Commenting on the Korean interest, the mayor said:

“I look forward to the emergence in South Korea of new politicians who aren’t beholden to vested interests.”

Asked by a Korean reporter about his political juku, he answered:

“We must create politicians who aren’t under the thumb of vested interests. If South Korea can get excited about the same thing, I’d like to see Japan and South Korea move in same direction.”

The Japanese media spoke to one of the KBS reporters after the interview, and he told them:

“There’s quite a lot of reporting on Hashimoto in South Korea. After actually meeting him, I sensed his strong intent for reform.”

Critical to the success of any politician is his capacity to appeal to people who don’t agree with all his positions, but are on board for the most important of them — in this case, governmental reform. For example, Mr. Hashimoto supports amending the Constitution to permit the Japanese to maintain military forces for self-defense. Chiba Mayor Kumagai Toshihito also supports amending the Constitution, but for the opposite reason — he wants to prevent Japan from becoming involved in any conflict. Nevertheless, he said:

“The structure of the local governments where we live is an important issue, but one that has not attracted much interest. That it became the primary issue contested in the Osaka election is epochal…We of the “government ordinance cities” (cities with authority similar to that of prefectures) strongly seek the transfer of authority from the prefectures. I don’t agree with all of the opinions in Mr. Hashimoto’s Osaka Metro District concept, but our intent to change Japan from the regions is the same.”

Local party time!

Hashimoto Toru is the most visible manifestation of the ferment of regional politics in Japan, but he is by no means alone. This time last year, all eyes were on the newly elected mayor of Nagoya, Kawamura Takashi, and the governor of Aichi Prefecture, Omura Hideaki. Their victory in a February 2011 triple election might have been more impressive than the Osaka result because the Kawamura — Omura alliance is between men originally of different parties. Also, their tax-cutting, small-government message was accepted by people in a region that has been a stronghold for the tax-raising, big government DPJ. (This is the national headquarters of Toyota, and there are plenty of labor unions.)

Mr. Hashimoto actively lent his support to the two men and their respective regional parties last year, and members of One Osaka came to help campaign. (It should not be overlooked that this revolution is occurring in Osaka and Nagoya, Japan’s second- and third-largest cities.) It’s expected that the three men will form an alliance for a national election, and while that will probably happen, there are some differences in viewpoints between them.

For example, Kawamura Takashi’s party is called Genzei Nippon, or Tax Reduction Japan. He favors sharp cuts in taxes (which he has partially achieved in his first year in office). Though Mr. Hashimoto has criticized the Noda Cabinet’s plan to raise the consumption tax, and he is allied with the anti-tax increase Your Party, he has also criticized the Kawamura approach. That criticism provides a fascinating glimpse of his philosophy:

“The awareness I would like to see is not transferring work or duties from city hall to the ward offices, but transferring decision-making authority from the mayor to the heads of the ward offices. The ultimate objective is, ‘We don’t need a mayor’.”

He’s also said that he would be cool to a formal alliance with them unless Mr. Kawamura makes some adjustments, including his campaign for tax cuts:

“At the current stage, let’s stop talking about tax increases, or reducing taxes, or opposing tax increases. It is nonsense in our present state for politicians to be expressing an opinion about either tax increases or cuts. If society as a whole is going to create a system of mutual support, it’s natural for the members of society to assume the liability for an appropriate share. First, we should identify what sort of social system we want to create. Whether or not the residential tax should be cut is a minor matter that should be discussed at the end of the process.”

Mr. Hashimoto has presented this view on several occasions. If he’s serious, that would represent a drastic departure from the political status quo anywhere, much less Japan. He’s talking about bottom up government with the political class last.

The Aichi governor and Nagoya mayor have a plan for the administrative reorganization of their own area, which they call Chukyo-to. (Ishihara Shintaro won’t like that to either.) While they’re working on common ground, Mr. Hashimoto believes they need to do some more thinking about the concept, and he has the sense that they aren’t clear on exactly what they want to accomplish. Representatives from Aichi and Nagoya have had meetings on the Chukyo concept, but they have yet to present a plan for changing the current form of the administrative bodies, such as breaking up Nagoya (The Osaka plan calls for eliminating the administrative entity that is the city of Osaka and creating self-governing wards in the region.)

Mr. Kawamura says, however, that he spoke to Mr. Hashimoto by phone and explained that their plan calls for the merger of Aichi and Nagoya, but that the framework will take into account regional considerations. That will include maintaining the form of a city of Nagoya. Nevertheless, he wants to maintain their alliance.

Complicating this somewhat is that Your Party’s Watanabe Yoshimi has his own plan for the region, which would eliminate Nagoya and its current 16 wards and create seven new regional districts. Each of these special districts would have a chief municipal officer and a legislature. As with the Osaka Metro District concept, the idea behind the Watanabe plan is to eliminate redundant government systems. It would reduce the number of city workers by 20% and save JPY 50 billion. Mr. Kawamura thinks the people of Nagoya would not support it, and Mr. Omura thinks the Watanabe plan lacks specifics.

Meanwhile, both men have decided to establish a political juku of their own. The first was Mr. Omura, who announced his at the end of January:

“I want the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Aichi, and Osaka to form an alliance and change Japan.”

His idea is to present candidates for the four Tokai prefectures of Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Mie. Mr. Omura announced yesterday that he had received 751 applications, and after reviewing their documents, 678 have been accepted. About 80% are from Aichi, and include company employees, national and local civil servants, and local government council members. One of the speakers will be Takenaka Heizo, the Koizumi privatization guru, and another will be one of the elder statesmen of Japanese journalists, Tahara Soichiro.

Oddly, Mayor Kawamura didn’t like the idea at first. He told reporters, “I cannot agree with how they’re going about it.” That didn’t change his relationship with the Aichi governor, however. He still supports the Chukyo-to concept, and said, “There is no change in our friendship.”

But Mr. Kawamura suddenly changed his mind — you know what they say about imitation and flattery — and plans to set up his own political science class to start next month. His reasons:

“I want to communicate my thinking to the next generation. It is also for the next lower house election.”

The curriculum at his school will focus on taxes and national defense issues, and he will ask Hashimoto Toru and Omura Hideaki to send over some teachers. He expects to run Genzei Nippon candidates in the next lower house election in the five lower house districts in Nagoya.

He’s sticking to his tax cutting pledge, too. Despite Mr. Hashimoto’s criticism, it’s easy to like his approach.

“To improve the people’s lives, we must not raise taxes. Rather than tax revenue, we must raise (the people’s) income…the revenue source for tax reduction is governmental reform.”

It’s not often mentioned in the media, but Mr. Kawamura would have special committees established in each district of the city to have the residents determine how they would spend the tax revenue in their area. While taxes would be cut, it would give — you got it — power to the people to decide how they want to spend the money.

Now this is the kind of debate I can get behind. One man is opposed to immediate tax increases absent reform and says let the people decide what they want first, while the other man says the issue is raising income rather than taxes and tax reduction should be achieved by cutting government.

That’s my idea of win-win.

Coming next: An overview of other Hashimoto policies and a first look at his critics. Here’s a taste — He’s backing an idea proposed by the man being interviewed.

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Hashimoto Toru (1): The background

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

**This is the first of a multi-part series on Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and the phenomenon he represents.**

One Osaka, led by Mayor Hashimoto Toru and others, won a landslide victory in the Osaka double election. That shows the voters are an active volcano, and that they haven’t given up on reform.
– Nogata Tadaoki

IT’S tempting to say that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru is the change Japan has been waiting for, but prudence and the corruption of that phrase by the hope and change hucksters demand that we resist the temptation. This much, however, is true: Mr. Hashimoto is today the most visible manifestation of the hope for change the Japanese electorate has long demanded and voted for, but seldom gotten.

Open fires of non-violent rebellion have been burning at the local level for years, but now there is a viable receptacle for the nationwide malcontent with the malefactors of not-so-great government. Not since Koizumi Jun’ichiro, the icebreaker of Japanese politics, has there been a figure as important, and Mr. Hashimoto has the potential to surpass the pioneer. The difference is that Mr. Koizumi worked from the top down, but the Osaka mayor also works from the bottom up. His message is simple: power to the people. Not the people in the imagination of those who wear raised fist tee-shirts, but real people in the real world.

The mugshot of Public Enemy Number One is identical to those on the wall in the United States and Europe — a glossy PR photo of that congeries of political, bureaucratic, and academic elites grown torpid from their confiscation of public funds and their lazy, inbred assumption that they rule through the divine right of secular kings; the big business interests that go along to get along very handsomely indeed; their wingmen in the international jet set of NGO doo-gooders; and their enabler/cheerleaders of the industrial media. The default mode of operation is a slouch toward the Gomorrah of tax-and-sloth social democracy and global governance. One of the many boons of the Information Age has been the broad exposure of their “insolence of office”, in Shakespeare’s felicitous phrase, and the contempt the public servants have for their servants in the private sector.

Left, Hashimoto Toru; Right, Matsui Ichiro

Owing to the nature and speed of their post-Meiji and postwar development, the Japanese might be ahead of the international curve in recognizing the face of the enemy and in trying to use the means of democracy to do something about it. The response of the local mugs to the Tohoku triple disaster seems to have amplified an already present trend and created a greater urgency for action. The aim of this reform wave is not mere reorganization, but resuscitation. The woolgatherers who doubt that the country is capable of it need only to look at the relatively recent example of the heady atmosphere of change that occurred during the Meiji period after more than 250 years of isolation — a period as familiar to the Japanese as the Civil War is to Americans. The Silent Majority in this country broke their silence long ago, but it is in the mugs’ self-interest to play deaf and ignore the popular will. Now, it is at last beginning to look as if, soon or late, they will pay for their hearing disability in the way that the Liberal Democratic Party part of the problem paid in 2009.

That the eyes and ears of the nation are on Mr. Hashimoto is undeniable. He is now the most followed person on Twitter Japan, and, as the first national politician since Mr. Koizumi capable of speaking directly to the people over the heads of the know-it-alls, he is worth following for the entertainment alone. He is not the blow-dried, focus-group tested, oatmeal-mouthed, and teleprompter-fed Oz Wizard-machine politico that has been the professional ideal since JFK. Nearly every day, he fires all of his guns at once on any and every issue, explaining his ideas and his positions with lucidty, hammering his critics unmercifully with a barrage of machine-gun Tweets, so relentless that one wonders if he will explode into space. He is an attorney in a country that requires extraordinary intelligence and effort to pass the bar, so few of his foes can out-argue him, and most are left impotently spluttering. Every major newspaper carries an article about him every day, and the Sankei Shimbun and the J-Cast website make a point of featuring his continuing adventures. We’ve all heard the tired old Japan hand pseudo-wisdom that the nail that sticks out gets hammered in. Hashimoto Toru is the ultimate protruding nail, but he’s the man swinging the hammer, and the nation is spellbound.

When still an attorney/television personality before launching his political career, Mr. Hashimoto wrote a book called “Negotiating Techniques”. The publicity blurb read, “You’ll never lose the psychological war with these negotiating tactics.” When published in 2005, it sold for JPY 1,000. Now out of print, it is selling on the web for as much as JPY 24,570 per copy, with others changing hands on auction sites for JPY 20,000 and 18,000.

The start

The political attention began four years ago when he was elected to the governor of Osaka Prefecture in a walk. His approval ratings throughout his term hovered at the 70% level, and he resigned a few months before his term was to end to run for mayor of the city of Osaka (more on why later). Inspired by the simultaneous election victories of Kawamura Takashi as mayor of Nagoya and Omura Hideaki of Aichi Prefecture in that region’s triple election of February 2011, he ran as a team with Matsui Ichiro, a fellow member of his One Osaka group, who stood as the candidate to replace him as governor. Mr. Matsui, formerly of the Liberal-Democratic Party, was in his third term as a prefectural council member, and is the son of the man who was once head of the chamber.

Mr. Hashimoto took on the incumbent Osaka mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, while Mr. Matsui’s primary challenger was Kurata Kaoru, the mayor of Ikeda in Osaka Prefecture. Both Mr. Hiramatsu and Mr. Kurata were officially backed by nearly everyone in established politics: the local chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Communist Party. (New Komeito stayed out of it because they didn’t want to antagonize Mr. Hashimoto.)

It was open warfare. Hashimoto Toru said the elections were “a battle between citizens who favor change and those who have benefitted from the status quo.” Hiramatsu Kunio said the elections were “a battle to crush Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka).” Kurata Kaoru didn’t know exactly what to say, so he emphasized cooperation within the existing structure. The Communists, always outspoken opponents of Mr. Hashimoto, charged a Hashimoto win would make Osaka “a bastion for dictatorship”. (Pots call kettles black in Japan too.) They went so far as to withdraw their own candidate in the mayor’s race to help Mr. Hiramatsu. It didn’t help.

There are roughly seven million registered voters in greater Osaka, and the turnout in the mayoral election was 60.92%, up 17.31 percentage points from the 2007 election and more than 60 percent for the first time since 1971, the last time a double election was held in the region. Turnout is usually at the 30% level. In the election for governor, 52.8% of the eligible voters showed up, 3.93 percentage points higher than in the previous election (when Mr. Hashimoto was elected).

Public interest was so great that the NHK television stations in the six prefectures of the region rescheduled for an earlier time the final segment of a popular drama series to present live election coverage as soon as the polls closed.

The identity of the winners was clear at 8:40 p.m., 40 minutes after the NHK live coverage started. Mr. Hashimoto wound up with roughly 750,000 votes, about 58% of the total and almost a quarter of a million more than Mr. Hiramatsu.

Mr. Matsui won election as the Osaka governor with roughly two million votes, almost double the total of Mr. Kurata, his closest opponent. He received 54% of the total vote in a field of six candidates.

The Asahi Shimbun (a Hashimoto opponent) said that nonaligned voters accounted for 36% of the total, and their exit polls showed that Mr. Hashimoto won almost all of them.

Though Mr. Hashimoto has an outspoken opinion on everything under the sun, moon, and stars, the centerpiece of his campaign for mayor was a proposal to combine and reorganize the separate city and prefecture of Osaka into a single administrative unit similar to that of the Tokyo Metro District to end the duplication of government services. It is part of a larger vision to eliminate Japan’s prefectures and create what is known as a state/province system, the elements of which would assume greater authority over local affairs from the national government, and would pass some of that authority down to smaller administrative units within the state/province. They would resemble Tokyo’s wards, but have more autonomy and fund procurement ability. Since the November election, the Osaka City Council solicited essay applications from people interested in becoming the chief executive officers of those wards and received 1,460. Mr. Hashimoto was pleased:

“They’ve passionately communicated their desire to make changes and take part in the great current of the age.”

Though the issue might sound dry to people outside Japan, the idea is to drive a stake through the heart of the vampire national government and bureaucracy, and deprive them of what most of the public perceives as their excessive authority. This is the vehicle to neutralize the power of the national bureaucracy at Kasumigaseki through the devolution of authority. It would also have the salubrious effect of reducing the size of the national government.

Power to the people, right on!

The idea has been floating around for decades and started to gain traction in the early 90s, even among some politicians and bureaucrats at the national level. In 1996, Tajima Yoshitsuke published a book called Chiho Bunkengotohajime, or The Start of Regional Devolution, which describes the efforts at the local level nationwide and at the national level to achieve just that. One chapter, which outlines the official policy of the Murayama Tomi’ichi Cabinet in 1995 on the issue, could have been written yesterday. Plans were afoot even then to devolve authority to local governments, reform the unneeded “independent administrative agencies” that suck up public funds to serve as the receptacles for post-retirement bureaucrat employment, rethink the system in which the national government returns to local governments the taxes it collects in the form of grants (a system Mr. Hashimoto would abolish), and offer legislation allowing local governments to issue bonds. Those measures, like so many other reform proposals, were deboned, as the Japanese expression has it, by national civil servants and their allies in the political class.

For Mr. Hashimoto and other advocates to realize the plan, however, requires a substantial amount of legislation to amend existing laws and create new ones in the Diet. That in turn requires allies in the Diet, and the establishment realizes the reforms now championed by Mr. Hashimoto are an existential threat. The mayor’s solution is to get a slate of One Osaka-backed candidates ready to run in the next lower house election. He is not merely offering the nation an alternative, however. He’s declared war on the national government, just as he declared war on the old Osaka leadership.

The declaration was bound to come before long, but was issued after Deputy Prime Minister Okada Katsuya of the Democratic Party of Japan revealed an inability to read the writing on the wall extreme even for his party and the mudboat wing of the LDP in a speech in Tsu on 28 January. He spoke of the Noda Cabinet’s proposed consumption tax increase:

“A certain percentage of the 5% consumption tax goes to the regions. There’s an argument that the national government must cut out the fat if it is to raise taxes, but local governments also ask the people to share the liability, so they should make the same efforts to cut out the fat.”

This from a party who bequeathed to the nation a legacy of record high national budgets for every one of its three years in power with record high deficit bond floats, that promised to shake out funds by standing the budget on its head until it got a nosebleed (their exact words), who claimed they could shake loose JPY 16 trillion through policy reviews that would slash waste and fat, but whose efforts to do so produced less than 10% of that amount in non-binding recommendations handed down during a series of dog and pony shows that trumpeted the cuts and muted the reinsertion of some into different budget categories weeks later.

That was a bit rich even for a man as wealthy as Mr. Okada, whose father is the head of the Jusco chain of mass merchandise outlets. It was all red meat for Mr. Hashimoto, however:

“Deputy Prime Minister Okada said local governments must also cut the fat. The central government and the regions are in complete opposition. It’s now time to accelerate the trend for recreating the system of the state. The state system of Japan devised during the Meiji restoration had centralized authority. The regions were the arms and legs of the nation…but the chief executives and the assembly members in regional areas are also chosen by election. There’s no justification for binding the nation’s arms and legs. With Okada’s statement, we can expect a great battle between the central government and the regions…

…A clear division will be made between the work of the central government and the work of the regions. Then, there will also be a clear division in the funding sources. The national tax allocations to local governments will be abolished. Then this pitiful consumption tax system, in which the regions would receive the portion that the national government increases, would end. The regions should be able to raise the consumption tax on their own responsibility…Let’s move to a national system in which there is a division of roles between the nation and the regions, with authority and responsibility clearly defined.”

He went into overdrive on 16 February:

“The Diet members are retreating, but the people are telling them what they have to do. The question is whether or not the MPs will get serious. If they don’t, it will lead to a large national war that will be bloodier than the Osaka double election.”

It wasn’t his blood on the floor after that election, either.

How would his allies do in a national election? As that old faux soldier Ozawa Ichiro, the former president and secretary-general, and currently suspended member of the DPJ, continues to fade away, he told his acolytes the obvious earlier this month:

“While the rate of support for the Cabinet and the DPJ is falling day by day, One Osaka is climbing.”

For data instead of anecdote, the Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a poll on 5 March asking if the respondents had high hopes for the regional parties (a euphemism of Hashimoto’s One Osaka, though others are included).

Yes: 61%
No: 34%

Or, about twice the current public support rate of the Noda Cabinet.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Metro Governor Ishihara Shintaro (a Hashimoto supporter) is planning to create another old-guy conservative party with Hiranuma Takeo and Kamei Shizuka, the head of the People’s New Party. That was a splinter group formed specifically to stop Japan Post privatization and float on the votes of the postal lobby. The same poll asked the public if they had expectations for the codger group:

Yes: 38%
No: 57%

Further, a 16 January survey conducted by the Sankei Shimbun and Fuji TV network asked respondents which prominent political figures were most suited to be the national leader. The results:

1. 21.4% Hashimoto Toru
2. 9.6% Ishihara Shintaro
3. 8.3% Okada Katsuya

9. 3.6 % Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko

The result that curdles the innards of the national parties, however, is the one from the 19 March Yomiuri Shimbun survey. In addition to individual candidates, voters in Diet elections also cast ballots for political parties to allocate proportional representation seats. For the Kinki bloc, where Osaka is located, the results were:

One Osaka: 24%
LDP: 18%
DPJ: 10%

Dumb and dumberer

Anyone who’s surprised hasn’t been paying attention. Even after years of clearly expressed popular discontent, the national parties still insist — today — on ignoring the national will. For example:

Koizumi Jun’ichiro won the second largest majority in postwar history when he dissolved the lower house of the Diet to take the issue of postal privatization to the people — a plan favored by 70% of the public. The legislation that subsequently passed the Diet called for the creation of four companies (two of which were separate firms for Japan Post’s banking business and life insurance business), and the sale of government stock in the companies by 2017.

But the triple disaster of the DPJ government, the LDP, and New Komeito put their sloping foreheads together and agreed — this week — on legislation to change the privatization framework from four companies to three, and to modify the requirement that the stock be sold by 2017 to a clause stating that the government would make every effort to sell it with the aim of disposing it. The deadline for the sale date was eliminated. In other words, they’ll sell it whenever they feel like it, and they’re unlikely to ever get in the mood. Why would they? When some people say the Japanese don’t have to worry about the deep doo-doo of deficit spending and the bonds floated to pay for it because the bondholders are domestic, they mean that much of those purchases are funded by the captive bank accounts in Japan Post. The change in language is a classic example of how reform is deboned in Japan.

The national government is in the hands of a platypus party whose members can’t agree internally on a common statement of political ideals, much less tax increases. Even many in the political class are calling for the government to reform civil service before trying to raise the consumption tax, so the Noda Cabinet proposed a 7.8% cut in government employee salaries and began discussions for unifying the pension systems of the public and private sector. (The former sector has more benefits, of course).

But that plan got changed by the party. Reform? That’s just campaign boilerplate. The cuts will now be limited to national government civil servants, which results in only JPY 600 billion savings, and will last for only two years. The civil servants working in regional areas have an aggregate salary seven times greater than their national trough lickers, but they were exempted. The butchers handling this deboning were DPJ-affiliated labor union leaders and labor union-affiliated DPJ Diet members, led by party Secretary-General Koshi’ishi Azuma, a former Robin Redbreast of the Japan Teachers Union.

Prime Minister Noda this weekend continued his Dark Churchill impersonation by declaring he would stake his political life on passing a tax increase, i.e., maintaining the spendthrift status quo of the administrative state. He also spoke at a Tokyo conference of business executives on the 24th on the subject of Japan’s participation in the TPP trade partnership:

“If Japan is Paul McCartney, then the U.S. is John Lennon. It is not possible to have The Beatles without Paul. The two must be in harmony.”

This brings to mind Juvenal’s observation of two millennia ago that it is difficult not to write satire.

One of the factors driving Hashimoto Toru’s popularity is that nature does abhor a vacuum, after all.

Next: The Hashimoto political juku and his allies.

The man was born to be wild. So is this pedal-to-the-metal performance. For those unfamiliar with Kuwata Keisuke, he sings the same way in Japanese, and it’s sometimes hard to say just what language he is singing in.

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Sakaiya on Hashimoto

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THE last post contained a reference to Sakaiya Taichi as a key advisor of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru. Mr. Sakaiya was a bureaucrat in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now Economy, Trade, and Industry), the head of the now defunct Economic Planning Agency for two years, and a special Cabinet advisor from 2000 to 2004 (the Mori and Koizumi administrations). He’s also been a university professor and written shelves of non-fiction and fiction works.

The Sankei Shimbun interviewed Mr. Sakaiya earlier this week to ask about Mayor Hashimoto and his intentions. Here it is in English.

Media coverage has been overheated since the release of the Ishin Hassaku (Political guidelines from Mr. Hashimoto’s local One Osaka party), with calls for the direct election of the prime minister and the elimination of the upper house.

ST: Ishin thought and the actual political movement are two different things. Former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro also called for the direct election of the prime minister in the past. The elimination of the upper house is an “expectation for the future” and not a policy of immediate focus (for the political movement). One Osaka is now conducting three reforms. The first is a reform based on the logic of a shift in emphasis from the suppliers — government officials — to the consumers. This spirit is the criterion for everything. Next is structural reform. That is creating Osaka-to (a sub-national administrative district in which Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, and the city of Sakai would be combined in a form resembling that of the Tokyo Metro District).

A book-length dialogue between Hashimoto Toru and Sakaiya Taichi

Will this be changing Japan from Osaka?

ST: From Osaka to a state/province system based on regional sovereignty. That is the extreme form, but it’s not possible to achieve right away. The third is enterprise reform. That is to make public enterprises in Osaka profitable in conjunction with the Osaka-to concept. To do that, the municipal subway will be privatized and the bus system sold and reorganized.

How do you view Mr. Hashimoto as a politician?

ST: As a reformer of a type that emerges in history. He has the character of Taira Kiyomori and Oda Nobunaga. What is most important is that he has a clear vision. Without that, he becomes just an agitator.

Is the priority to disseminate and gain the acceptance of One Osaka’s ideals?

ST: It is to declare that this is a politician with ideals. Both Nobunaga and Kiyomori had ideals; Nobunaga in the shift from feudal society to early modern society, and Kiyomori in the shift from the nobility to the samurai. Mr. Hashimoto is that type of person. Actually achieving those ideals involves the three reforms: the structural reform of Osaka-to and the profitable growth of public enterprises based on the logic of consumer supremacy. He is extremely adamant about this. This adamancy, this fidelity to the logic, is most important.

Are you concerned that the mass media will run amok and the reforms will be crushed?

ST: A political crisis is like a wave. The One Osaka reforms will not create a wave, but change that into the form of a river. Nevertheless, the mass media views Mr. Hashimoto as one wave. This talk of whether he will work with Your Party (in the next lower house election), or field 300 candidates in the election, it’s all just ripples.

Will involvement with the national government be limited?

ST: Achieving reform in Osaka leaves no alternatives to involvement with the national government. There will be involvement with the national government to change Osaka.

Do you think Mr. Hashimoto can become a (national) political leader in the future?

ST: I think so. But first he has to succeed with the Osaka-to (plan). Nobunaga would not have succeeded without conquering Owari.

Mr. Hashimoto has said that politicians have a sell-by date.

ST: If he can achieve the three reforms of the logic of consumer sovereignty, Osaka-to, and growth before his sell-by date, he can create other dishes and extend his sell-by date. A new logic in Japan can be created with an investment of 20 years. By that time, we may have moved from Oda Nobunaga to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. If that happens, we can create a new Japan.

(end translation)


* It has been fashionable in the Anglosphere of late, among some journalists, academics, and the schoolgirl diary wing of Internet bloggers, to talk and write about Japan’s decline. I wouldn’t be too sure about that. Mr. Hashimoto is the most prominent of many people working in the same general territory of decentralization and reform. There’s more going on in this country than meets the eye of the English-language mass media.

* Mr. Sakaiya also addressed the Your Party National Meeting on 28 January this year. The content of that speech is worth putting into English, when I find the time.

Talk of a possible alliance between the two groups is interesting on several levels. Your Party was founded by Watanabe Yoshimi, its president, and Eda Kenji, its secretary-general. Mr. Watanabe comes from a political family and served in the Fukuda and Aso LDP Cabinets. Mr. Eda, like Mr. Sakaiya, is a MITI veteran. Mr. Watanabe is pedal-to-the-medal type of guy, and was interested in exploring an alliance with Mr. Hashimoto a couple of years ago. Mr. Eda, who is more buttoned down, viewed the then-Osaka governor as a loose cannon and advised against it. They seem to have changed their minds after Mr. Hashimoto won election as Osaka mayor.

* Consumers here is likely meant in a very broad sense, though the usual political elements will see it as an excuse to start vibrating.

The success of those three concepts in Osaka might cause the spontaneous eruption of excitement such as that seen in the best song-and-dance scene in cinema history.

YouTube — How did we ever live without it?

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This could be the start of something big

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 29, 2012

– Water conforms to the shape of the vessel; i.e., a ruler’s actions determine those of the people (Japanese proverb originating in China)

LAST week I presented the argument that Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, the so-called peace clause, was a misunderstood anachronism used as the means to stifle Japanese nationhood, and should be amended. I didn’t discuss the practical obstacles to that endeavor, however. (The post was long enough as it was.)

The primary obstacle to amendment is the same as that for any controversial issue: It would require a long, contentious debate to mobilize popular opinion, and inertia will always be the default position of the people absent a sense of urgency.

The support in Japan for maintaining the status quo is expressed in Japanese as “defending the Constitution”. Supporters of the status quo both in Japan and overseas often cite polls showing that a majority of the Japanese public opposes amending Article 9.

While that is correct as far as it goes, the flaw in the assertion is that it doesn’t go very far. The polling used to back their claim is shallow and two-dimensional. In his superb Yoron no Kyokkai (The Distortion of Public Opinion), University of Tokyo Prof. Sugawara Taku examines how the responses of the public to polling on this issue change depending on the questions asked.

For example, when asked for a straight yes/no response to a general question about amending the Constitution, the majority of participants answer yes. When asked for a straight yes/no response to a question about amending Article 9 of the Constitution that includes an explanation of the article’s contents, the majority of participants answer no.

But then Prof. Sugawara examines a poll that allowed five different answers, rather than a simple yes or no. Those five answers were:

1. No (i.e., keep Article 9 as is)
2. Can’t say for sure, but lean towards no
3. Don’t know
4. Can’t say for sure, but lean towards yes
5. Yes (i.e., amend Article 9)

The responses to this poll are revealing. The answers can be grouped into three categories of roughly the same size. Those are the people in the No group (1 and 2), the people in the Yes group (4 and 5), and the people in the Don’t Know group (3). In the survey Prof. Sugawara cites, all three groups were at the 30% level. Only one percentage point (well within the margin of error) separated the totals for the No group and the Yes group. The group with the highest percentage was the Don’t Know group.

Those results suggest public opinion on the issue remains fluid after all these years. It also suggests that a leader with conviction and with broad popular support in general could create a national consensus to amend the Constitution. As the proverb at the top indicates, it is the duty of the national leader to create the framework for any consensus.

Few politicians or leaders in any country, however, are capable of talking directly to the people over the heads of the political and commentariat classes, expressing themselves in accord with popular sentiment, and arousing the people in a positive way. Few anywhere even try. Japan hasn’t had a leader of that sort since Koizumi Jun’ichiro relinquished higher office in 2006 (though he kept his Diet seat for three more years). Mr. Koizumi, having several other rather large fish to fry, spent little or no time talking about Article 9. There hasn’t been a public figure capable of mobilizing public opinion on that or any other major issue since his withdrawal from politics.

Now there is.

In something of a surprise, Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru — the cynosure of politics in Japan today — addressed the issue last week. He started by reminding everyone of the obvious:

Japan’s national security is weak. That has an impact on everything…Nothing will be determined about national security, even with policy discussions, until we come to a conclusion about Article 9.

He then suggested holding a national debate for two years, followed by a national referendum on the issue. Constitutional amendments require passage in the Diet by a two-thirds vote as well as a majority vote in a national referendum. He would urge that national legislators vote for the amendment if that is the result of the referendum. In other words, he proposes to reverse what people would ordinarily consider the sequence of the process.

Once we see the results, the people can move in that direction. I will conform (to that direction) even if the result differs from my own opinion. That is democracy capable of making decisions.

What is Mr. Hashimoto’s opinion on Article 9?

It represents a sense of values in which a person says he won’t do something he dislikes to help another person in trouble. If there is to be no self-sacrifice, I think I might want to live in another country.

That first part is a bit elliptical, even for Japanese political debate, but it means he wants to either broadly amend or ditch Article 9 altogether. Take it for granted that he thinks he is just the man to drive the discussion. Considering his past electoral successes and approval ratings, it also may be taken for granted that he thinks he can bring about a result close to his own views. It would be a mistake to assume that he will be successful, but it would more of a mistake to assume that he has no chance of success.

Within days after Mr. Hashimoto’s statement, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party revealed their own proposals for amending the Constitution. Fancy that coincidence. Their plan for Article 9 would maintain the language about renouncing war as an instrument of national policy. It would specifically permit military forces, which would be renamed the jieigun rather than the current jieitai. (Jieitai is translated as Self-Defense Forces. The change from tai to gun means they are unambiguously referring to military forces.) The role of the jieigun would be defined as protecting territorial land and waters. The new Article 9 would specifically permit collective self-defense. (The old LDP government’s interpretation was that the Constitution allowed collective self-defense, but that they would not exercise that right.) Finally, the party’s proposed amendment would establish a military court system.

Collective self-defense is authorized by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, for those people who take the UN seriously. It grants a country the right (but not the obligation) to come to the defense of another country when attacked, on the conditions that the threat is immediate and that the response is proportionate to the original attack or threat. There is no requirement for UN approval in advance.

Mr. Hashimoto does not care for the LDP proposal. His view is that it is a mistake to conduct the debate through the prism of political platforms and election programs. He thinks the process in the Diet should be the last step, rather than the first, and that the primary debate should be conducted in the nation at large rather than in the Diet. He also knows that the nation does not trust the national legislators, and he shares their mistrust.

We all know that if this debate gains momentum, overseas commentators, both in the West and in East Asia, will generate enough uninformed drivel, hysteria, intellectual incontinence, and geopolitical rent-seeking to dwarf the Tohoku tsunami. One would have to be a masochist to read or listen to it.

Whether or not the debate moves forward remains to be seen, but Mr. Hashimoto has brought it to the forefront of the nation’s attention at a moment when he knows the nation’s eyes are on him.

The Japanese electorate have made their political wishes as clear as Waterford. Their preference, loudly expressed over several elections, is for smaller government, lower taxes, and an end to the collusion between politicians, the bureaucracy, and Big Business. While they do not fill town hall meetings or occupy public parks, march on the Mall or threaten public health and public order, their voting behavior predates both the American Tea Party and Occupy movements by almost two decades. It should have been obvious to local politicos that it would be perilous to ignore them, but the flybait class is too stupid, too avaricious, too convinced of its superiority (and too afraid of offending the powerful bureaucratic class) to pay attention instead of lip service. For that, they have paid, and will continue to pay, with their political lives.

Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s support ratings during his five years in office started out higher than 80%, ended at 70%, and never fell below the high 40s. During his term, he dissolved the Diet to take to the people the issue of privatizing Japan Post, whose bank accounts and life insurance policies provide the money to purchase the bonds that fund Big Government spending without relying on overseas investors. He led his party to the second-highest majority in postwar Japanese history.

His successor Abe Shinzo also started with a 70% rating, but that lasted only until he allowed back into the LDP the paleo-cons Mr. Koizumi booted out for opposing his program. Two years later, the LDP had turned its back on the Koizumi path, and the public turned its back on them.

The opposition Democratic Party knew enough to run on a program of reform, though much of it wasn’t Koizumian. It is impossible to determine the relative weighting of seriousness and opportunism in their subject-to-revision-at-any-moment program, but the leadership showed signs they weren’t serious even before the election that swept them into office. That they were either charlatans with no intention of keeping their word, or cowards without the will to try, was apparent in fewer than two months after they formed a government. (Their first prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, started with a public approval rating of about 70% in the fall of 2009. It was in the teens by the spring of 2010.) After the party’s betrayal of reform, their mishandling of the Senkakus incident, and their rank incompetence in dealing with the Tohoku disaster from the day it occurred, it is just as apparent that their brand is so disgraced the party may not survive in its present form after the next election.

Having seen that both the LDP and the DPJ are not to be trusted, the voting public supported with even greater enthusiasm those politicians running on reform platforms at the local level throughout the country. Some of those politicians are imperfect vessels, but the people are willing to overlook a lot to get what they want. The triple disaster in the Tohoku region last March seems to have kindled a quiet sense of urgency in everyone except the national political class.

That Hashimoto Toru is an imperfect vessel of reform is known to everyone, but after four years of superlative ratings as the governor of Osaka Prefecture and a cakewalk of an election for the mayor of Osaka last November in the face of establishment opposition, it should be obvious to even the most oblivious that The People don’t give a flying fut about that.

The American Horace Greely is well known for his exhortation to “Go West, young man” in the latter part of the 19th century. After Mr. Hashimoto’s victory, the call went out — literally — for young people eager to build a new Japan to head to Osaka. Among those heeding the call are the former bureaucrats and reformers Koga Shigeaki (subjected to gangsterish threats on the Diet floor by former DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and forced out of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry) and Hara Eiji. Their numbers also include the leaders of the small Spirit of Japan Party, former Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi and former Suginami-ku head Yamada Hiroshi, as well as the former bureaucrat and non-fiction author, Osaka native Sakaiya Taichi.

It is difficult to characterize Mr. Hashimoto’s political beliefs in brief, other than that they tend toward empowering the people and disempowering the elites, and toward smaller government that is stronger at the subnational level. For example, he intends to privatize the municipal public transport systems of Osaka and eliminate the subsidy for the symphony orchestra. (He does support some social democrat-type welfare schemes, however.) He is what most people would consider patriotic, and what the left would (and increasingly will) disparage as nationalistic.

It is impossible to know what will happen with or to Mr. Hashimoto in the future. He might become the national leader the nation seeks, spearhead the reforms that the nation wants while allowing others to serve in a national role, or he might just as easily fall victim to hubris. As I noted above, however, he knows that the people listen when he speaks to them directly. It will be hard to lose if that’s the stuff he’s going to use.

He’s already been subjected to fierce criticism and low blows, and transcended some spectacular disclosures. Just before the November election in Osaka, several national publications revealed that his father and uncle were members of a now disbanded yakuza gang associated with the gambling business. (His father committed suicide when Mr. Hashimoto was in the second grade, though his parents were not living together at the time.) It is also possible that his father was a burakumin, a member of the Japan’s former untouchable class. (His gravestone is in a burakumin cemetery.)

It cannot be stressed enough, however, that the public is so desperate for real reform, they don’t care about the man’s background. He keeps winning elections, after all. That Mr. Hashimoto has now chosen to address Article 9 suggests he has the confidence to overcome whatever’s thrown at him. He’s already dodged the kitchen sink.

But regardless of what happens to Hashimoto Toru the man, the public will not be denied. It might require many more years, and many more flushes of the electoral toilet, but the public will get what it wants in the end. They might even get a new Constitution — and a new nation — in the bargain.


Books have already been written about (and by) Mr. Hashimoto, and he is such a distinctive figure that a fortnight’s worth of website posts would be insufficient to describe him or the phenomenon he represents.

For example, he thinks special districts for casinos and the sex industry are a good idea. Also, though his father’s family might have been burakumin (his uncle says they were, but his mother says they weren’t), he favors ending local governmental subsidies to organizations that support them.

It should also be remembered that Mr. Hashimoto’s first career was as an attorney. That would not be remarkable of itself in the West, but admission to the bar in Japan requires a high level of both intelligence and commitment to serious study. Style points notwithstanding, the man is not a lightweight.

That few Japanese are bothered about his father’s background indicates the Japanese aren’t as prejudiced as some outside observers would like to think. Some of the naturalized zainichi (Japanese residents of Korean ancestry) in the Democratic Party — such as Maehara Seiji — should take the hint and come out of the closet.

No, I haven’t seen Mr. Maehara’s family register. Yes, I do have it “on good authority”.

This could be the start of something big.

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Ichigen koji (89)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

After covering the nationwide local elections (last winter) and the Osaka double elections, I have come to believe that (new Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto’s momentum is real and not transitory. In fact, all the major parties and politicians are making overtures to him to make him an ally and not an enemy.

One aspect of Japanese elections for more than 20 years has been the movement on the axis of Ozawa Ichiro — i.e., whether one is pro-Ozawa or anti-Ozawa. I suspect the next election, however, will move on the axis of Mr. Hashimoto.

Even if he were not to run for the lower house and become a member of the Diet, he can cross swords with the leaders of the existing parties from his position as a local government chief executive and influence national politics. That would mean he would replace Mr. Ozawa as the political kingmaker. In that sense, the aftershocks of the revolution of his Osaka Restoration Association (One Osaka) are still continuing.

After he sets a course as mayor for the creation of an Osaka Metro District, he could run in the election after the next one. If he wins, that could lead to the creation of a Hashimoto government. The progress of Mr. Hashimoto’s strategy of using the existing parties to have an impact on national governance is not possible to predict, however.

– Hakuoh University Prof. Fukuoka Masayuki. He thinks an alliance between Mayor Hashimoto’s party, Your Party, and the LDP is a possibility.

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