Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Masuzoe Y.’

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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Ichigen koji (28)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 28, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

“He is a sorcerer and a con artist with a genius for using language. Since it isn’t possible to be a politician without the ability to casually take back one’s words, I’m disqualified right from the start. I’d like to pattern myself after him.”

– Masuzoe Yoichi, head of the New Renaissance Party, on Prime Minister Kan Naoto. The Japanese are seldom so sarcastic, either in public or in private, but the prime minister tends to elicit negative reactions from most of the people he deals with.

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Ichigen koji (25)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 20, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything

“They haven’t finished dealing with the nuclear accident, but they still aren’t banking the stem cells of the workers. At this rate, all the workers will leave. That isn’t an approach of, ‘I’ll take responsibility, so you guys on the front line do your best,’, it’s an approach of, ‘You guys in the kamikaze squadron go off and die, and I’ll be the prime minister.'”

– Masuzoe Yoichi, head of the New Renaissance Party

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Is that duck just lame or is it dead?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 5, 2011

– A Japanese proverb meaning that no matter how much one regrets an event after it is concluded, one can’t undo something that occurred because of one’s negligence or tardiness

IT NOW seems that soon-to-be former Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s attempt of political jujitsu on his co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan will result in his spectacularly clumsy pratfall, as noise is leaking out from Democratic Party sphincters that he will resign no later than August (if we can take his word this time). It’s tempting to say that will be the perfect capstone to the career of the classic dullwit who thought he was clever, but some will disagree. One of them is Nishimura Shingo, an MP with the Sunrise Japan party, who has also passed through the LDP and the DPJ entrails:

“Kan Naoto’s finishing moves are superb. He’s an inept prime minister, but no fool. He would have been perfectly suited as an activist for the Comintern or any Communist organization.”

Another reason it wouldn’t apply is because Mr. Kan didn’t dream up that cockamamie scheme by himself. He’s not capable of it, but the roughly dozen people who did put it together knew it would appeal to him. That back story might give us a glimpse of a possible post-Kan administration. It’s not a pretty sight, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Hatoyama Kunio told a journalist he thought the no-confidence motion had no chance of passing until his brother Yukio called him on 30 May. After that conversation, he began to think it just might be possible. He met former Health Minister and former LDP member Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party the next day and laid out the plot. Ozawa Ichiro and his allies would form a new party, but public opinion would be “very allergic” to any political group involving Mr. Ozawa. They wouldn’t be strong enough to establish a prime minister on their own, so they would team up with the LDP to support a new Prime Minister Masuzoe.

Mr. Masuzoe liked the sound of that.

Meanwhile, on the night of 1 June, People’s New Party chief Kamei Shizuka phoned Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio:

Kamei: “Is it your intention to self destruct? Do it (tell him to resign) if you have to grab the prime minister by the neck.

Edano: “I’m thinking of telling him.”

Perhaps bored with completing the assembly of his shiny new political toy, however, Hatoyama Yukio kept hope alive that he could talk Mr. Kan into stepping down. Later that night 10 people met at the Kantei and hatched a plot to leverage that hope to their benefit. The draft of the document to which Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan agreed the next day was hammered out under the direction of Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, the former and current chief cabinet secretaries. Both men were attorneys before entering politics, which explains why the memorandum and Mr. Kan’s insistence on following it to the letter had the stench of the barrister about it.

Naoto explaining on the 3rd how he put one over on his pal Yukio

Several wheels were spinning in different directions simultaneously. The primary objective was to kill the no confidence motion and stay in power — any other solution hastens the day they return to the opposition benches. They decided to heave Mr. Ozawa and his allies from the party if 40-50 of his DPJ allies crossed the line and voted for the motion. That would allow them to retain their lower house majority and get rid of the Great Destroyer at last. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya wanted to X him out before the vote, but Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the party’s delegation in the upper house, said in effect, over my dead body. (Personal loyalty can sometimes be thicker than ideology. A teachers’ union veteran, Mr. Koshi’ishi’s philosophy of the left is closer to that of Messrs. Kan, Sengoku, and Edano, but he’s developed close ties with Mr. Ozawa in their efforts to make the DPJ a serious political party.)

The group planned to eject the rebels even if the no-confidence motion passed. That would cause the loss of their lower house majority, but they had something clever planned for that one, too. Option C was reportedly a time-limited coalition government with the LDP and New Komeito. The Sengoku Reconstruction and Recovery Cabinet — steady, steady — would also work for entry into the TPP and the return of multiple-seat election districts that the LDP and New Komeito seek.

In short, the government would be directed by a man who is every bit as odious as Kan Naoto, but more dangerous because of his intelligence and capabilities. Bringing back the old electoral system would be a step in the direction of bringing back the bad old politics of the past. It would greatly expedite recovery and reconstruction, but at a price higher than the outlay in yen.

Worse yet, it’s still possible. And Mr. Sengoku is the man the opposition absolutely positively could not work with six months ago.

The primary objective, however, was to dupe Mr. Hatoyama and keep Mr. Kan around for awhile without having to resort to a drastic political realignment. The final wording of the memorandum was worked out between Hirano Hirofumi, Mr. Hatoyama’s chief cabinet secretary, and Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi, who selflessly found the time to spare from his duties of protecting the nation from foreign attack.

Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were present during the Hatoyama-Kan meeting. Here’s how the conversation is said to have gone:

Hatoyama: Will you resign when the basic recovery bill is passed and the outlook is established for the second supplementary budget?

Kan: Yes. I agree.

Hatoyama: In that case, please sign here.

Kan: We’re members of the same party, so please trust me. I’m not that attached to the position of prime minister.

After the meeting, Mr. Hatoyama reported on the conversaton to Ozawa Ichiro:

Ozawa: How far did you press him?

Hatoyama: I’ll talk about that at the (party) meeting.

Following the vote that rejected the motion, Mr. Hatoyama spoke with some allies as they waited for an elevator in the Diet office building:

“We still can’t let down our guard. If he doesn’t keep his promise, we’ll have to convene a meeting of (our) Diet members with 150 — no — 250 people.”

Wrote freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken:

“Immediately after the DPJ was created, former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio bluntly told me that Mr. Kan could not be trusted. Several times after that, he grumbled that he had been deceived by Mr. Kan. Was he fooled by Prime Minister Kan Naoto again?”

Is the Emperor Shinto?

Mr. Kan appeared for Question Time in the Diet on Friday. Ono Jiro of Your Party came straight to the point:

Ono: When you held your discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, did the commitment to resign arise?

Kan: I, somehow, under this condition…uh…the idea that I made some promise, if you’re talking about the idea that I made that promise, there was absolutely no promise like that at all.

That was his story, and he stuck to it:

“I said it in the sense of the stage when the outlook for heading in the direction of creating a new society, that direction…Our party has many exceptional people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Then I will pass the responsibility on to them, and hope they do their best.”


“In my conversation with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, there was no sort of promise other than what was written on that document with the items of agreement…the agreement with Mr. Hatoyama was as written on that document. I think it best if I refrain from saying anything beyond that.”

One can visualize Sengoku and Edano, attorneys at law, advising him to clam up on any question beyond the language of the memo.

The news media loved what happened next. Here’s Hatoyama Yukio:

“That’s a lie. The prime minister and I discussed the conditions for resignation.”

Over to you, Naoto:

(shouting) “What’s he saying! That’s not written on the paper!”

Former MP Yokohama Mayor Nakata Hiroshi summed up the exchange:

“When I heard the story about a resignation after the outlook for recovery was set, I thought the Ozawa-Hatoyama side and the Kan side purposely made it vague to prevent a DPJ split. Now I see they’re just trading charges and counter-charges over who said what. This was not a political decision by adults. It’s something even lower than children’s squabbling.”

A Hatoyama associate, probably Mr. Hirano again, told the media:

“In the conversation with the prime minister, the idea that he would hand over authority to the younger generation didn’t come up at all. He added that later.”

Speaking of Hirano Hirofumi, he got a call from Koshi’ishi Azuma berating him for not pinning Mr. Kan down more precisely.

Matsuda Kota of Your Party, the head of a private sector company himself, had this to write about Hatoyama Yukio:

“If Mr. Hatoyama were the head of a private sector company, that company would collapse in an instant. (There would also be a shareholders lawsuit). If he were just a salaryman, he would be immediately fired as an employee incapable of doing his job. That a person such as he was the leader of a country gives me chills down my spine. That the memo had the recovery listed only as the third point clearly shows what they were thinking. The most important thing for them was maintaining their government. Japan cannot be entrusted to that sort of government.”

Many in the DPJ soon realized the quick fix only made matters worse. Party Vice-President Ishii Hajime spoke an officers’ meeting on the night of 2 June:

“The Kan Cabinet is now a lame duck administration, and the focus is on when they will quit. We should resolve to make arrangements with the opposition to have the Cabinet quit with the passage of the legislation for the special bond issue, the second supplementary budget, and the basic recovery law.”

After the meeting, he told the news media:

“I want to go to the Kantei with Koshi’ishi Azuma on the 3rd and tell the prime minister that the road left open to him is an honorable withdrawal.”

Too late for the part about honor, but with Kan Naoto the soap has to be very soft.

Then again, Mr. Kan was making matters much worse for himself. On the night of the 2nd, he was asked about extending the Diet session. Just a week ago, he wanted to finish early to save himself. Now he wanted to prolong it to save himself:

“If we were to respond to the opinion of the people that they want us to be able to debate necessary issues in the Diet at any time, then in fact we would have a year-round diet, until some point in December.”

It helps to know that it’s against the rules to submit more than one no-confidence motion in one Diet session.

Some people couldn’t understand all the brouhaha. Here’s Kan ally and Justice Minister Eda Satsuki:

“This was a high-level discussion between two politicians, so they didn’t decide every last detail.”

Yes, the Minister of Justice of a nation thinks it’s copacetic for written agreements to be vague and open to different interpretations.

Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru was more philosophical:

“It’s natural that a politician would strive to remain in his position.”

Fukushima Mizuho, head of the Social Democrats, said what a leftist lawyer would be expected to say:

“I thought (the memorandum) was a declaration to stay in office. There’s no difference between his afternoon statement and his evening statement…Isn’t Mr. Hatoyama misunderstanding what happened?”

Edano Yukio is another bird of that feather, but he has to be more diplomatic because he’s also the chief cabinet secretary:

“I don’t think either of them is intentionally saying something different than the facts of the matter. The gap in awareness is regrettable. We must work to ensure there is no political turmoil.”

Once again, someone in the DPJ sees the horse galloping into the next county and decides it would be best to close the barn door. Speaking of turmoil, here’s LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 3rd:

“We will cooperate to pass a basic law of recovery. Other than that, cooperation is impossible.”

And New Komeito Secretary General Inoue Yoshihisa that same morning answering a question about upper house censure:

“That is of course one method that will be fully considered at the appropriate time.”

An upper house censure is non-binding, but upper house President Nishioka Takeo would be happy to see Mr. Kan evaporate. Refusing to call the house into session or to allow the prime minister entry are binding in their own way.

The prime minister’s problems extended to well within his own party. Reported Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito:

“DPJ Diet members I know told me that Mr. Kan promised to resign in a month or two, which is why most of the DPJ members voted against the motion. When he tried to extend it until the resolution of Fukushima and came up with the idea of extending the diet until December, it was a broken promise. He has no support in the party.

“When Prime Minister Kan duped his colleague, he made it very likely a censure motion will pass in the upper house in the near future. If the DPJ can’t bring him down, he’ll be prohibited from entering the upper house chamber. At that point the government will come to a standstill. If he’s kept the Diet in session all year, he cannot extend his political life. Yesterday was the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Kan.”

Upper house member Yamamoto Ichita questioned the prime minister and some of his deputies during Question Time on the 3rd. An aide to another MP took notes. He said the records would have to be checked for the precise wording, but it was close to the actual exchange. Here it is in English:

Yamamoto: Is it fair to say you expressed your intention to step down, to resign at the DJP Diet members’ conference?

Kan: That expression (swindler) is not appropriate….I want it to be understood (about resignation) as being at the stage when I have fulfilled a certain role that I should perform — until I have fulfilled my responsibility and the prospects have been set to a certain extent —

Yamamoto: At your news conference on the night of the 2nd, you said nothing about resigning or stepping down. Did you express your intention to step down or resign?

Kan: None of the people in the media are in a position to say this or that about which expression I used

Yamamoto: That isn’t an answer. You won’t resign until next January, right? You won’t resign until next January?

Kan: It is a fact that the mass media has taken my words at the news conference in different ways, but…

Yamamoto: What you meant by the outlook being established to a certain extent is the end of the cooling at Fukushima, isn’t it? When the media reported your intention to resign, you became a lame duck both at home and abroad. The special legislation for the government bonds and the second supplementary budget will be the work of the next prime minister. It isn’t possible for you to dispose of these pending matters. Please set a deadline.

Kan: I said exactly what I said.

Yamamoto: You have no intention of resigning, right? If you can’t say you are stepping down, that’s fraudulent.

Mr. Yamamoto switched to Vice Minister for Internal Affairs and Communication Watanabe Shu:

Yamamoto: Why did you resign?

Watanabe: The prime minister announced his intention to resign. I listened to his speech at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting, and since the prime minister was thinking of resigning, I saw no need to vote for the no confidence motion. I thought the prime minister would resign when the outlook for recovery were set.

Yamamoto: The prime minister has not said he would resign or step down.

Then to Hidaka Takeshi, parliamentary environment secretary:

Yamamoto: Mr. Hidaka, did you envision that situation when you switched your vote to nay? Or did you think that he would step down soon?

Hidaka: I submitted my resignation for the sake of stronger leadership. The prime minister said in public he would resign. I voted no because I sensed his resolve (to help) the damaged area.

Yamamoto: When you heard the intent to resign, did you think he would resign imminently?

Hidaka: I didn’t know how long it would be, but I sensed his resolve.

Back to the prime minister:

Yamamoto: You haven’t said you intend to resign or step down, but what is a rough date for you to leave?

Kan: Outlook is a commonly used word. It’s common sense that the word means there would be a certain interval.

Yamamoto: You’re not answering at all. Former Prime Minister Hatoyama thinks you’ll step down by the end of June. Is he lying?

Kan: I, in my own words…

Yamamoto: That’s the same as saying Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken, is lying, or misunderstood. Who is correct, Mr. Hatoyama or Mr. Okada?

Kan: Both Mr. Hirano and Mr. Okada were at the meeting with Mr. Hatoyama. Mr. Okada is expressing his awareness from that viewpoint. My agreement with Mr. Hatoyama is as written in the document.

Yamamoto: Mr. Hatoyama is saying that if you claim your promise to him was a lie, your only course is to resign. What do you think?

Kan: in regard to the current question, my awareness is the same as Mr. Okada’s.

Yamamoto: So you’re saying that Mr. Hatoyama is mistaken. You won’t even admit that you said you’d step down. Can a prime minister who’s told the world he’ll quit properly conduct foreign policy?…It’s not possible for the government and the opposition to cooperate under a Kan administration.

It didn’t take a weathervane for Edano Yukio to figure out which way the wind was blowing. When asked again about a Kan resignation, he said “It won’t be that long.“ Fukushima Mizuho thought that was a critical development. Others echoed her sentiments when another Cabinet member, Matsumoto Ryu, the Minister for the Environment and Disaster Management said: “In my mind it is by the end of June. The outlook for recovery should be quickly established.”

Abiru Rui is assigned to cover the Kantei for the Sankei Shimbun. Mr. Kan dislikes him so much he refuses to call on him at news conferences, and the feeling is mutual. Even discounting that, however, the reporter likely expressed the thoughts of many, if not most people:

“It’s difficult to describe just how stupid and loopy Mr. Hatoyama is. The prime minister twisted him around his finger when he pretended he would resign soon, and used that to extend the life of his Cabinet. Prime Minister Kan betrayed both the compatriots of his own party and the people of the country. His shabby behavior is at a level that does not withstand scrutiny.

“He told the people around him that he wanted to leave his name in history, and that’s exactly what will happen. The ignobility of his character is at such an unprecedented, isolated extreme, it will not be extinguished from the people’s memory even if they try. I cannot understand the emotions of people who would support this humanoid picture of cheap, cowardly meanness. I don’t even want to.”

Also expressing the thoughts of many was an anonymous first term DPJ member of the lower house speaking to a reporter:

“I have a feeling that the end of the DPJ has only just begun.”


* The Asahi English edition recommends that the prime minister “exit gracefully”. They apparently chose their Deep Space correspondent to write the editorial.

* My father used to say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Had it not been for his shameless behavior as DPJ party head and prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama would have qualified for induction into the Hall of Shame long ago.

During his term as prime minister, which seems about 500 years ago now, I wrote that he was the first junior high school girl to serve as Japan’s prime minister. (Kan Naoto is the first junior high school boy.) An acquaintance of former U.S. President Warren Harding once observed that if Harding had been a girl, he would always have been “in the family way”. I suspect that would equally apply to Hatoyama Yukio.

* Were you surprised to read that Matsumoto Ryu was the Minister for Disaster Management? Most of Japan would be, too. Mr. Matsumoto is one of the DPJ’s Socialist Party refugees. Because his father made a mint in the construction industry, he’s also one of the wealthiest men in the Diet. (Yes, the Limousine Left swanks about in the streets of Japan, too.) He’s such a chowderhead they had to bring back Sengoku Yoshito and give him the de facto job while allowing Mr. Matsumoto to sit by the window. Appointing him to the position was a party favor, in both senses of the phrase, but even they weren’t about to let him do any real work.

Such capable stewards of the nation’s affairs, the DPJ.

* When Yokokume Katsuhito quit the DPJ last week, he said the party no longer had a reason to exist because it had fulfilled its historical mission. By that he meant breaking the LDP stranglehold on power. They’ve also accomplished one more signal achievement. Ozawa Ichiro might be fading from the scene at last. Mr. Ozawa had a party with his younger Diet allies on the night the no-confidence motion failed at a karaoke bar to commiserate. He was in reasonably good spirits, and tried to buck them up by telling them they had accomplished quite a bit even though they lost. No one got down and partied, however. Those present told reporters that no one picked up a microphone and sang.

The Nikkei Shimbun added a telling detail. Some of the MPs came late to the party and some left early, but Mr. Ozawa stayed to the end. Were the Destroyer of Worlds still both respected and feared for his power, no one would have been late to come or early to go.

* Surely the long-suffering Japanese people wish they could live under a political system like the one in Great Britain or the United States. It is curious that Americans are so quick to issue dire warnings about the Japanese economy, while it takes a foreign newspaper to point out the tsunami-sized destruction at home they’re too frightened too look at.

Another worthless politician, another worthless piece of paper

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Ichigen Koji (14)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 4, 2011

– A person who has something to say about everything.

“When people with no confidence in themselves meet someone and are told something they didn’t know, they believe it immediately. They then behave as if it were knowledge they had all along, and go around broadcasting it. If problems arise as a result, they blame the person who originally expressed the opinion.

“That is Prime Minister Kan’s pattern of behavior….That sort of person does not have the qualifications for leadership, and he should resign immediately. The problem, however, is that Prime Minister Kan lacks the proper awareness of his real character. Therefore, he doesn’t have the slightest intention of resigning.

“It’s typical that he has become deluded into thinking that the world approves of him despite all the criticism at home. Both Japan and the world are aghast, but the only one playing happy-go-lucky is Kan Naoto.”

– Masuzoe Yoichi, former Health Minister and now head of the New Renaissance Party. The expression he used for happy-go-lucky was gokuraku tonbo, a combination of gokuraku, the Buddhist paradise after death, and tonbo, a dragonfly.

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Goodbye hello

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 3, 2011

– The great mountain rumbles and brings forth a mouse (Japanese proverb)

Kan Naoto's impersonation of Foster Brooks

ON THURSDAY 2 June, the opposition no-confidence motion was voted down in the lower house of the Diet at about 3:30 p.m., even though just before lunch it seemed as if it would be carried. Here’s what people had to say about the day’s events.

Before the vote

Prime Minister Kan Naoto spoke with a group of DPJ and LDP Diet members in the Kantei on the night of 1 June:

“I and others of the baby boomer generation will withdraw. We want you to create a new Diet.”

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, when asked about the possibility he would leave the DPJ:

“Rather, I think we must renew the Democratic Party. It was not my intention to create this sort of Democratic Party.”

Nishioka Takeo, president of the upper house and DPJ veteran who backed the no-confidence motion:

“I think this opportunity today will be a turning point for overcoming the national crisis.”

Former chief cabinet secretary and current deputy chief cabinet secretary Sengoku Yoshito on Ozawa Ichiro, one of the two primary leaders of the rebellion:

“We will not be able to maintain the parliamentary cabinet system with people of that sort, who are out of control.”

Former DPJ president and defense minister Maehara Seiji on the no-confidence motion:

“This is not for the greater good.”

Aisawa Ichiro of the LDP:

“We submitted this motion in the belief that it was the best choice for the state and the people. This will be an important day from the perspective of thinking about the future of Japan and its politics.”

Prof. Kobayashi Yoshiaki of Keio University:

“In view of conditions in the Tohoku region and the Supreme Court decision (on the unconstitutionality of the difference in district sizes), I do not understand why politicians can make the judgment that it is appropriate to dissolve the Diet and hold a general election.”

Miyazaki Gov. Murai Yoshihiro on the motion:

“I hope they avoid it, because it would pointlessly create a political vacuum…there’s a shortage of people in the coastal area, and we can’t even issue a verification of damage. Making us create a new registry of voters would be inhumane…

On Prime Minister Kan’s threat to call an election:

“An election is physically impossible. I’m astonished that even though he’s been to the area and seen the damage for himself, he would say that without taking (the situation) into consideration.”

Before addressing the DPJ Diet members’ meeting at noon, Mr. Hatoyama met with Mr. Kan and talked him into resigning at an unspecified date —- something he was unable to do the previous day. Here’s the full text of the memorandum to which they agreed, as released by the news media:

* To not destroy the DPJ
* To not allow the return to an LDP government
* To have a sense of responsibility for rebuilding the earthquake-damaged area and saving the victims.
1. Establish a basic law for recovery
2. Establish the prospects for formulating the second supplementary budget

Most people think they listed their priorities in the order of importance to them. Everyone noticed right away that the document contains nothing about a resignation.

The two men then addressed the DPJ meeting at around noon, and Mr. Hatoyama announced he was changing his vote. That’s when everyone knew it was all over but the shouting — of which there was quite a bit during the later Diet debate.

Matsuda Kota, Your Party upper house member and the founder of Tully’s Coffee Japan, when he heard the news:

“Prime Minister Kan brought up three points at the DPJ Diet members’ meeting: (1) Expend every effort for rebuilding and recovery (2) Not split the DPJ (3) Not hand over the government to the LDP. Those are not objectives, those are one person’s wishes. Other than (1), none of them make any difference to the people.”

Kumagai Yutaka, LDP upper house member:

“There’s already no prospect (for recovery). That’s why we’re demanding he step down.”

The no-confidence motion was defeated by a vote of 293-152. Seventy DPJ MPs showed up for a meeting with Ozawa Ichiro the night before in an apparent expression of intent to vote for it, but only two did. They were former Agriculture Minister Matsuki Kenko, an Ozawa supporter, and 29-year-old Yokokume Katsuhito. The party intends to kick both of them out, though Mr. Yokokume already quit the party in disgust last week.

A total of 33 MPs weren’t present for the vote, 17 of whom were from the DPJ, including Ozawa Ichiro and Tanaka Makiko, Kakuei’s daughter and former Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Cabinet. There is some sentiment for booting them out too, but a decision on that has been postponed.

After the vote

Prime Minister Kan:

“Well, that was good.”

LDP President Tanigaki Sadakazu:

“He made absolutely no reference to when the prospect for recovery would be established. This is nothing but a farce.”

Toyama Kiyohiko of New Komeito, whose party voted for the motion:

“Rather than declare he would resign, Prime Minister Kan declared he would stay in office. There’s a problem with the news media reporting.”

Kumagai Yutaka:

“The mass media is showing captions on TV calling it a declaration of resignation, but what is the basis for that?”

Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi:

“The prime minister didn’t specify when he would resign. Unless a deadline is reached, the incentive will be for him to be to prolong it. We can’t have that sort of irresponsible politics.”

On the last-minute change of mind by Mr. Hatoyama and his former Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro, who the day before said he was ready to vote for the motion and leave the party:

“They just created a disturbance to bring down Prime Minister Kan. Their motives were impure.”

When he saw which way the vote would go, Mr. Ozawa told his supporters they were free to vote as they wished:

“We’ve gotten something out of him (Kan Naoto) that we’ve never been able to get before, so it’s probably best to leave (the resignation) up to him.”

Mr. Hatoyama was asked several times when Mr. Kan promised to step down, as some people thought they were just blowing smoke.

“He won’t be staying until the secondary budget is passed, it’s when the prospects are there for the early formulation of the budget. That will happen in mid-June.”


“I reached an agreement with the Prime Minister to step down when the prospects are established for formulating the second supplementary budget. I don’t think it’s that far off. Summer is too long.”


“The content of the second supplementary budget will be decided by about the end of June. In other words, the outlook for its passage will have been established.”

That’s not what DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya said, however:

“Former Prime Minister Hatoyama’s statement about the passage of a second supplementary budget and a basic law for recovery are not conditions for the resignation.”

That’s not what Financial Services Minister Yosano Kaoru said either:

“(Prime Minister Kan) did not use the word “resign”. It’s not as if he reached an agreement with the opposition parties to resign.”

The Asahi Shimbun was confused:

“The prime minister has already said several times that he expects to formulate the second supplementary budget sometime around August, and then submit it to the Diet. He’s also said that he thinks the problems at Fukushima will be resolved by next January at the latest.

Seko Hiroshige, LDP upper house member:

“He’ll resign when there’s an outlook for a response to the earthquake and the nuclear disaster? I think he’ll stay put with the excuse that there’s no outlook in sight.”

Kakizawa Mito, Your Party MP:

“Here’s the reason I can’t trust the Kan Cabinet. No matter how often he says something, he doesn’t do it. Even though he understands, and he’s been warned that a situation will grow serious without a change of approach, he can’t do anything to prevent it. Then, when it happens, he gets angry. That pattern keeps repeating itself. It’s really futile. The damaged region will continue to suffer if a change is not made.”

Maehara Seiji:

“I have extremely mixed feelings about this. Just because the motion was defeated doesn’t mean we’ve settled anything. There’s no change in the problem of the legislation for the special government bonds and other issues. We’re really going to have to rack our brains.”

People outside the political world also had some choice words:

Kurogane Hiroshi, manga artist:

“They talk about the great mountain rumbling and producing a mouse, but this didn’t even produce a mouse. What was this slapstick of the past few days all about? The people have a sense of powerlessness and exhaustion over the DPJ’s lack of ability to conduct the affairs of government. Though they’ve been spiritually beaten, the people who suffered in the disaster have suffered even further by being shown this farce.

“Prime Minister Kan said he would resign, without specifying when he would resign. The people won’t have any expectations for a lame duck prime minister to begin with, and it’s not possible for him to manage Diet affairs. It would have been better to make a change at the top. Mr. Hatoyama, who lent his power to Prime Minister Kan…Mr. Ozawa, who misread the situation…and the LDP, who couldn’t corner that DPJ. If politics of this sort continue, the people will suffer a real misfortune.”

Rengo Chairman Koga Nobuaki, the largest support group for the DPJ:

“The DPJ has not developed into a ruling party of government….Just because the no-confidence motion wasn’t adopted doesn’t mean anyone should raise their hands and shout hallelujah, or say they’re relieved. Unity is not that simple a matter.”

On the motion:

“The act of submitting a no-confidence motion itself at this time means they’re completely divorced from the sense of the people. I am angry at the lack of (good) politics in this situation, and deeply regret it.”

Back to Matsuda Kota:

“I’ve never been as disappointed in Japan’s politicians as I am today. All those Diet members who said they’d support the motion until just a few hours beforehand — how impressive of them to calmly mount the podium and cast their nay votes! More for the party than for the country, more for their faction than for their party, and more for themselves than for their faction.

“Were they afraid of losing their seats in a general election? Were they afraid of being disciplined by the party? Just who was it who shouted that Japan would never recover unless Prime Minister Kan stepped down. If it’s so easy for you to stick your finger up and wait to see which way the wind is blowing, don’t put on airs and tell other people what you think. Don’t make any comments for the TV or mass media. Don’t say anything that would confuse the people.

“This was really pathetic.”

The Metrosexual Faction of the DPJ

At a post-vote news conference, reporters asked Mr. Haraguchi why he changed his mind in less than 24 hours:

“Going along with an opposition no-confidence motion is the path of evil.”

They also asked him whether he would be a candidate to replace Kan Naoto when the latter stepped down:

“I don’t know whether I have the qualifications, but if I’m asked, I won’t run away.”

Freelance journalist Nitta Tamaki:

“Just what sort of a man is Hatoyama Yukio? He couldn’t do anything when he was prime minister, he talks smooth, and he’s the DPJ’s posturing millionaire.”

On what almost happened instead:

“His brother Kunio can’t figure out Yukio. A few days ago, he asked Masuzoe Yoichi to join them in a new party.”

Mr. Kan at a news conference at 9:00 p.m., on when he would resign. Emphasis mine:

“We must be headed toward recovery and reconstruction, and have the second supplementary budget for 2011 for reconstruction. I said (I would resign) when there are prospects for moving in the direction of building a new society.”

Finally, one of the two DPJ rebels, Yokokume Katsuhito, who left the party last week. He’s wise beyond his years:

“I am extremely appreciative and thankful for the help I received from everyone in the DPJ. But beyond that, I daresay the DPJ has already completed its historical role, and the meaning for its existence has been lost.”


Even Richard Nixon resigned when it was time to go. Kan Naoto is incapable of even that.

Politicians who think they can contribute to “building a new society” have demonstrated by that statement their unfitness for public office.

Some in the DPJ were pleased at their victory and the large vote margin. That is akin to expressing marvel at one’s particularly large and well-formed bowel movement.

Some still think it’s possible the Hatoyama Brothers will create a new party using their money, Ozawa Ichiro’s retail political skills, and Masuzoe Yoichi, former LDP Health Minister, as prime minister.

“I can stay until it’s time to go.”

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Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 12, 2010

SUMMER IS THE SEASON for fireworks, but there’s a real possibility the mad festival of Japanese politics could explode in a shower of light, fire, and dead flowers as early as this week.

The fuse has already been lit by an unpopular administration, a nebbish prime minister, and a Cabinet whose principal member is so unattractive one wonders how he ever convinced voters in his district to elect him in the first place. If the fuse doesn’t fizzle, the Big Bang could produce (a) A revived coalition between the Democratic Party and the Social Democrats, (b) A grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or Ozawa Ichiro (c-1) Either splitting to form a new party or (c-2) Being dumped by the DPJ, which would mean the end of the ruling party as we know it. Let’s see what’s burning under all those smoke signals.

Coalition with the Social Democrats

Unless they provide evidence that they’ve suddenly discovered how to negotiate with the opposition, the Kan Cabinet will have difficultly passing the enabling legislation for next year’s budget through the upper house, where the party does not have a majority. (The budget itself does not require upper house approval to go into effect.) One solution would be to form an ad hoc coalition in the upper house. Another would be to reconstitute the coalition with the Social Democrats that fell apart earlier this year when the Hatoyama administration backtracked on its pledge to have the Americans move the Futenma airbase out of Okinawa. Such a coalition would provide a two-thirds majority in the lower house, negating the need for upper house approval of any legislation.

Some in the DPJ are enthusiastic about the idea. Said Matsuno Yorihisa, the former Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary in the Hatoyama Cabinet and the editor of the prime minister’s e-mail magazine:

“We should hold discussions with the Social Democratic Party again and form a parliamentary coalition…regardless of the circumstances, we should create a framework in which we can exercise a two-thirds majority to pass legislation.”

More than a few in the ruling party don’t like the idea at all, however. The price of such a coalition, as discussed by Mr. Kan and SDP head Fukushima Mizuho last Monday, would be to break the agreement with the Americans about Futenma, reduce the Japanese financial contribution to the American military presence, and forget about the new idea floated by the Kan Cabinet to turn Japan into a weapons exporter. On her way out the door after the meeting, Ms. Fukushima said: 私がぶち切れなくてすむようによろしくお願いします.

Translation is not algebra, and there are many ways to approach any passage. For example, the concept of profanity is not the same in the two languages, and the concept of profanity itself has become degraded over the past few years in the Anglosphere. I prefer the high road, but it’s difficult to resist the temptation to translate the above sentence as, “Please make sure you don’t piss me off this time.”

She was joking, but that still wound up pissing off a lot of other people. Said Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi:

“It’s a reversion to the terminal period of a government. They’ve flip-flopped so much they’ve gone into a Dutch roll.”

Considering the context, he also came as close as any Japanese politician I’ve heard to saying, “WTF are they doing?” and added:

“There has been absolutely no self-reflection based on what happened to the collapsed Hatoyama government, in which the dog’s tail wagged the head. They just want to extend the life of this government.”

LDP Secretary-General Ishihara Nobuteru said:

“This would destroy the Japan-United States relationship. What will be lost will be more than what is gained by a two-thirds majority.”

Meanwhile, senior LDP member Nakagawa Hidenao wrote on his blog, “It’s time to bring down the Cabinet.”

While there’s no Constitutional or legal problem with using a supermajority in the lower house to override an upper house rejection, some politicians think it runs counter to the spirit of the Japanese democratic system. Here’s what one MP had to say:

“This (maneuver) has been abused so much, the regular repassage of legislation using the two-thirds majority for bills in the lower house represents nothing more than the expiration of the “sell-by date” for the Diet itself, the denial of deliberative democracy, and, more than anything else, the desecration of the Japanese bicameral system of parliamentary democracy. The true path to resolving this situation is to dissolve the Diet as quickly as possible, hold a general election, and call for a vote of confidence from the sovereign will of the people.”

Oh, wait…that was SDP member Abe Tomoko speaking about the Aso administration on 19 June 2009.

Let’s try this one:

“This is the first time we’ve had such an anomalous situation in half a century, since 1957, and I can only say that it is extremely regrettable from the standpoint of parliamentary democracy. It’s clear to everyone that the only way to overcome this situation and create new hope is to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election.”

Oy, did it again! That was Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito in 12 December 2008, when he was an opposition member criticizing the Aso administration.

This time for sure!

“Isn’t it logical that the first thing that should be done is to dissolve the lower house and have a vote of confidence from the people to determine whether the lower house delegates represent the national will?”

Oh, boy. That’s what Prime Minister Kan Naoto said when he was in the opposition speaking out against the Fukuda administration’s use of the supermajority on 13 May 2008.

Grand coalition with the Liberal Democrats

FNN is reporting that DPJ executives asked Watanabe Tsuneo, the chairman of the Yomiuri Shimbun group, to act as a go-between in talks with the LDP to form one big happy political family a grand coalition. Mr. Watanabe served the same role three years ago during negotiations between then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo and then-DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro. They worked out a deal, but the other DPJ senior members balked and Mr. Ozawa briefly walked.

The Yomiuri chairman met with former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio on the 7th and with LDP head Tanigaki Sadakazu on the 8th. He’s also reportedly met with Sengoku Yoshito.

Writing about the action behind the scenes on his blog, Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji charged that the actors were trying to arrange a structure with older conservative elements and veterans in the background while pushing younger and fresher faces up front. He said, “It’s an artifice for double-crossing the people”.

He thinks such a coalition would ultimately benefit his party, because it would create a battle between “big government on a bureaucracy-led, high-tax course with pork, against forces favoring small government on a private sector-led, growth course with the regions playing the main role.”

He also suggested that people should pay attention to the statements of LDP leadership, as one senior party member said they would have to listen to DPJ proposals for a grand coalition if Mr. Kan came to them “on bended knee”.

It’s time to read between the lines. First Ishiba Shigeru, chairman of the party’s Policy Research Council:

“Reorganizing the coalition without an election is a perversion. If the DPJ cuts loose the Ozawa group, it is not out of the question that the LDP could work with them, but they’ll have to clearly state why they want to work together…if there is a coalition, they’ll have to completely change last year’s manifesto, so unless there is an immediate election and the confidence of the people, the government will not have any legitimacy.”

Bended knee, eh? Here’s Mr. Tanigaki:

“At present I am extremely negative (about the possibility). It is not easy to unify a party to create a grand coalition. Does Mr. Kan have that base and those skills?…Their approval rate is in the 20% range. It’s not possible to form a coalition with that sort of government….and there’s no reason to form a coalition with any party in which Mr. Ozawa is a member.”

Mr. Ishihara again:

“How are we supposed to get together with a party that can’t even clean itself? We can’t join hands with them just to increase their popularity.”

And Koike Yuriko, the chair of the party’s General Council, on the 10th:

“Isn’t the DPJ itself already a coalition of the left and right wings? We know how that grand coalition is working out for them. At this point the LDP should not casually engage in talks about a grand coalition.”

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro doesn’t like the idea at all. He met informally on the 8th with some former LDP and New Komeito officials and spoke against the coalition because it would only benefit the DPJ.

New Komeito head Yamaguchi Tatsuo is thumbs down too:

“Creating a framework of the two largest parties will result in an extreme amount of authority. We must have a clear sense of the side effects. It must not be like the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (of 1940, in which political parties dissolved themselves into a larger entity with the military and bureaucrats)….A grand coalition is not the only path. It is fully possible to form a consensus by creating the opportunity for the ruling party and the opposition to hold discussions…The DPJ as the ruling party of government should take the responsibility to lead those discussions.”

My sentiments exactly. But Watanabe Yoshimi eschewed the high road:

“I want to tell them, enough already–this isn’t a children’s game. If they’re going to turn politics into a game of playing house, it will only result in the people’s distrust of politics.”

It’s a little late for that now, I’m afraid.

That brings us to the prime minister himself. The media asked him about the possibility of a grand coalition, and he answered:

“I have nothing to say.”

Does that mean you’re not thinking about it?

“I have nothing to say.”

So what else is new?

Ozawa Ichiro

It’s not surprising that the bad penny of Japanese politics, now just a regular old DPJ MP, but formerly the head and/or secretary-general of enough parties to form a grand coalition with himself, is the gorilla in the middle of the room that everyone sees. The problem is that no one knows how much he weighs any more.

Another former LDP prime minister, Mori Yoshiro, said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to a grand coalition, but added this non sequitur:

“It’s just weird that the DPJ thinks it has to go that far to protect Ozawa Ichiro. Isn’t it just a ploy to extend Mr. Ozawa’s political career?”

That may be precisely the opposite of what’s happening. Today is election day for the prefectural assembly in Ibaragi. The DPJ has performed miserably in local elections since their poor performance in the July upper house ballot, including the elections for the open Hokkaido 5th district seat, the mayor of Fukuoka City, the governor of Wakayama, and the Matsudo City Council. Earlier this week, Mr. Ozawa told some younger acolytes:

“The local (party organizations) will be spewing fire if there is a (DPJ) defeat in the Ibaragi prefectural assembly election. (The Kan administration) will not survive in the party.”

Mr. Ozawa has already predicted the DPJ will collapse from the sub-national level. The DPJ is supporting 24 candidates, and their bottom line for success is at least 10 winners.

He’s also hinting broadly that he’ll leave the party and form a new one. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s made that threat, nor would it be the first time he’s left a party and formed a new one. Freelance journalist Itagaki Eiken, who seems to have a source in the Ozawa camp, wrote earlier this week that Mr. Ozawa’s mind is made up and that he and Hatoyama Yukio are already working together. A split, he wrote, might come as early as the 17th. Mr. Itagaki says that Mr. Ozawa told affiliates from the old Tanaka faction in the LDP and friendly prefectural politicians to be in Tokyo that day. He also noted that Mr. Ozawa won more than 200 votes in the DPJ presidential election in early September.

The story could be true—after all, if he wants the money from the government subsidy for political parties any time soon, he’s going to have to make his move this month. The story could also be disinformation.

Mr. Ozawa reportedly met at a sushi bar with Hatoyama Yukio on the 8th, in the company of younger brother and former LDP Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio and former LDP Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi. Mr. Masuzoe was considered prime ministerial material a couple of years ago, and left the LDP to form his own group, called the New Renaissance Party. The only people he could get to join, however, were former Ozawa Ichiro allies whose political philosophy would not seem to be in alignment with his. He is seen as an ambitious man, and everyone remembers that Hosokawa Morihiro was also the head of a small party when he became the prime minister in a 1993 coalition government run by Ozawa Ichiro behind the scenes.

Someone present at the sushi bar whispered to a reporter that everyone agreed to cooperate because Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Ozawa are being cut adrift from the DPJ by the Kan administration and the party’s leftist elements as a means to buoy their popularity.

Perhaps hedging his bets, Mr. Masuzoe also met with Prime Minister Kan at the latter’s request the next day. Doesn’t hurt to listen, does it?

Watanabe Yoshimi said he’d have turned down a request by Mr. Kan for a meeting, and observed that Mr. Masuzoe apparently thinks either a coalition to extend the life of the Kan Cabinet or a coalition with Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama would be fine. He added:

“I’m not like Mr. Masuzoe, who doesn’t have a guiding philosophy.”

Then again, Mr. Ozawa might get drummed out of the DPJ before he gets a chance to walk. Leaders of the DPJ will convene a lower house ethics panel this week to hold a vote on whether to summon him to testify over allegations that he helped the group managing his political funds to lie on their official reports. (It’s difficult keeping up with all his alleged financial irregularities.)

Mr. Ozawa doesn’t want to testify, and his supporters say it’s an insult. The DPJ is hinting that they might kick him out if he doesn’t show up.

Let’s leave the last word to Watanabe Yoshimi:

“If the DPJ takes a shellacking in the Ibaragi prefectural council elections, Armageddon will start within the party. It would be best for Japan if they broke up quickly.”

UPDATE: The DPJ won only six seats in the Ibaragi election, one-fourth of the number they backed. Four of the winners were incumbents; two DPJ-backed incumbents lost. In four electoral districts, there was a direct face-off between the DPJ-backed candidate and the LDP-backed candidate, with no others in the race. The DPJ lost all four.

What’s going to happen? I’m not going to make any guesses. Trying to predict the course of Japanese politics is Mission: Impossible.

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Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 22, 2010

ONE REASON it seems to be so difficult for Japanese politicians to create a stable two-party system is that their behavior makes it so difficult for them to gather in conventional groupings. That’s compounded by the natural impulse of politicians everywhere to look out for their own interests first.

People have been watching for some time to see whether upper house member and former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the Liberal Democratic Party would bolt to form a new party or stay put and work from within. The question is of interest because Mr. Masuzoe has been topping the polls in recent weeks as the man Japanese would most like to see as the next prime minister (at roughly the 20%-25% level). More than a few politicians suspected he would stay in the LDP because they thought he really wanted the job of party president, despite a somewhat sulky, uncooperative attitude toward other members in recent weeks.

Other politicians were spreading rumors, however, that he was having trouble coaxing enough people to join him in a new splinter party because he’s a limelight hog uninterested in applying himself to the unglamorous work of starting from scratch and putting together a structure from the ground up. Today, however, brought reports that he’s rounded up the other four Diet members needed to meet the numerical requirements to receive public funds as a political party. Perhaps he finally realized the LDP was not going to turn its lonely eyes to him, and that they would rather die separately than live together.

If there was ever an instance that demonstrates the futility of trying to predict the course of Japanese politics, here it is in capital letters. Mr. Masuzoe has been talking the talk of a small-government, Koizumian-style reformer, but that isn’t even light-years close to the philosophies of his new stablemates—he’s recruited four members of the Kaikaku Club. While that name does translate to “Reform Club”, and they’ve taken to calling themselves the Renaissance Party in English, they are reformers only because that’s what’s printed on the name tags clipped to their lapels. Indeed, most of them would have fit in well with the LDP of yesteryear. Until late summer 2008, one Kaikaku Club member now on Mr. Masuzoe’s team was a member of the now-ruling DPJ when it was in opposition, but he split for several reasons. They included an understandable exasperation with then-party head Ozawa Ichiro, an affinity for LDP policies, and a cultural conservatism that seems incompatible with the DPJ. Another member of Mr. Masuzoe’s new group, Arai Hiroyuki, was once tossed from the LDP for his opposition to postal privatization.

In fact, there were rumors when the Kaikaku Club was founded that the financial backing to create a party came from the LDP itself as a way to whittle away at the DPJ’s working majority in the upper house at the time. (Try the second half of this post for some background on what happened then and to get an idea of what they’re like.)

Has Mr. Masuzoe’s talk been as hollow all along as the Kaikaku Club’s name? Instead of a reform party, this enterprise smacks of a hastily cobbled-together vehicle of expediency. Any stickers on his campaign truck in the coming upper house election campaign should have “It’s all about me” printed on them rather than “reform”.

In the 1732 collection of proverbs known as Gnomologia, Dr. Thomas Fuller wrote: “The higher an ape mounts, the more he shows his breech.”

In Mr. Masuzoe’s case, perhaps it’s time to hide our eyes. Rather than being a productive contribution to political realignment, this is an almost perverse backward step.

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Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 8, 2010

As Fukuzawa Yukichi said regarding an attitude of self-sufficiency and self-respect, a good nation, a good community, and superb people of ability cannot exist unless local governments and individuals support themselves by their own strength.
– Yamada Hiroshi

A CHART in Ito Atsuo’s Political Party Collapse: The 10 lost years of Nagata-Cho outlines the birth and death of political parties in Japan from 1992 to 1998. That chart covers two pages because 22 of those parties no longer exist, and even then I might have miscounted.

After a relatively quiescent decade, the politicos are starting to party hearty once again now that it’s apparent neither of the two major parties which emerged intact from the previous ferment—the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party—will be viable over the long-term as presently constituted.

Left to right: Yamada Hiroshi, Nakamura Tokihiro, Nakada Hiroshi

The news media has focused this week on the new old party soon to be launched by Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo, but they’ve been giving short shrift to the imminent birth of another party with the potential to have a more lasting–and more beneficial–impact. Unlike the granddads of the former group, the three amigos driving the latter venture have a shared, positive vision about the direction of the country and a sense of urgency about achieving their aims. Rather than spending their time in Tokyo television studios, they’re touring the country to take their case to the people.

The three are Nakada Hiroshi, Yamada Hiroshi, and Nakamura Tokihiro, all of whom are veterans of the new party movement of the 90s. They were involved with the Japan New Party headed by Hosokawa Morihiro, the country’s first non-LDP prime minister in nearly 40 years. The New Party was an intriguing mix of people that also included Koike Yuriko, now in the Koizumian wing of the LDP, and Maehara Seiji, the former DPJ head who is currently the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. All three served at least one term in the lower house of the Diet. Mr. Nakada and Mr. Yamada, the two Hiroshis, attended The Matsushita Institute of Government and Management.

What sets this trio apart is that all three turned their backs on national politics and continued their careers as chief executives in local government. Mr. Nakada served nearly two terms as the mayor of Yokohama, Mr. Nakamura is still the mayor of Matsuyama, a city of about 515,000 in Ehime, and Mr. Yamada is the chief municipal officer of Suginami Ward in Tokyo, which itself has a population of roughly 540,000.

They’re pitched a tent on a patch of land similar to that of Watanabe Yoshimi and Your Party, but they arrived from a different direction. They all stand for governmental reform and regional devolution, but as a lower house MP since 1996, Mr. Watanabe is working in the context of national politics. In contrast, these three men are trying to build a national base outside the capital to accomplish similar objectives from the bottom up. Says Mr. Nakada:

What is required is a reorganization to change the approach of the country and the regions. The (people in the) regions understand conditions on the ground, and the reorganization won’t happen unless they apply pressure to the central government.

They call their group 日本志民会議, or the Nihon Shimin Kaigi. The second word is their own creation and literally means people with aspirations. A good English translation is impossible because the word is also a homonym for citizen.

Another difference from Your Party is that the trio comes from a non-LDP background, whereas Mr. Watanabe and his father were prominent members of that party. They say their objective is not to confront the DPJ or the LDP, but to form an all-Japan party and create a core group to rescue Japan from its crisis. An interview conducted with Mr. Nakada last year illustrates their sense of mission and urgency. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m very concerned about the country, and I don’t think there’s much time left. The national budgets contain more debt than tax revenue. The principle behind my approach as mayor is that the regions won’t survive if the country crumbles. I’ll conduct a (national) citizens’ movement from the citizens’ perspective. What I want to do is not the question. The country will crumble unless we do everything we can in the time remaining. I want to do anything and everything.

– Won’t you be active in a political party?

There’s no time to rebuild Japan. I’ll do anything. Doing anything includes starting a new party. As a citizen of this country, I’ll keep building on what I’m already involved with. Part of that might include starting a party.

Japan is in a serious phase. Unless we apply fundamental remedies within five years, the country will be eaten up from within and without. I want to devote all my energy to this full-time, and that includes convening citizens’ conferences and the Alliance of Local Government Executives.

As their past association with both Ms. Koike and Mr. Maehara suggests, they also support a strong defense and a pride in country that would be unremarkable outside of Japan or contemporary left wing groupings incapable of distinguishing between nationalism and patriotism. Yamada Hiroshi wrote an article in the March issue of Voice arguing against the DPJ proposal to allow non-Japanese to participate in local elections. As this previous post based on a blog entry by Nakada Hiroshi demonstrates, they also support individualism and self sufficiency.

The record

They’ve yet to generate top-of-the-fold headlines, but some journalists are aware of them. Sakurai Yoshiko profiled them in a feature article for the July 2009 edition of Voice that presented some of their accomplishments in local government.

Yamada Hiroshi seems to have achieved a stunning success in resuscitating Suginami Ward’s finances. When he took office in 1999, the ward was JPY 95 billion in debt (about $US 1.012 billion) and had just JPY 1.9 billion in the bank. Mr. Yamada’s first step was to cut his own salary by 10%, his bonus by 50%, and the ward budget by 15%. As a symbol of his budget-cutting efforts, he eliminated the free manju distributed to senior citizens’ associations. That may seem like a trivial step, but it illustrates a greater problem whose solution seems beyond the capability or willpower of politicians in free market democracies nowadays. Distributing free confections is not why governments are devised, but people have gotten so used to these handouts that the old folks in Suginami initially complained about the loss of their taxpayer-funded sweets.

Under his leadership, the ward has cut its debt in 10 years to JPY 20 billion and has JPY 23 billion in the bank; in other words, they’re solvent again. He’s also managed to reduce the ward’s workforce from 4,700 to 3,700.

In the 2007 Nikkei Shimbun evaluation of local governments nationwide, Suginami Ward had risen to 3rd from 33rd in the category of government reform, and to 12th from 105th in the category of government services.

Mr. Yamada plans to retire the ward’s debt in two years, and they recently passed a measure to create a fund for reducing taxes starting in ten years, with cuts coming every year.

In Matsuyama

Meanwhile, Matsuyama Mayor Nakamura managed to pull off a merger of three cities that won the approval of most residents in the new metropolis. That was no mean feat; the period from April 1999 to April 2006 was dubbed the Heisei no Dai-gappei (平成の大合併) (Great Heisei Era Mergers), during which the number of municipalities in Japan was reduced from 3,232 (670 cities, 1,994 towns, and 568 villages) to 1,820 (779 cities, 844 towns, and 197 villages). The objectives of the consolidation were to promote the decentralization and the downsizing of government, and to deal with the problems of declining tax revenues and reduced central government subsidies caused by the low birthrate.

Not all of these municipal marriages were love matches, and many had to navigate some rough patches. To cite one example, the new city of Matsuyama would have wound up with 80 city council members had all the delegates from the three municipalities kept their jobs. Some cities involved in the mergers did expand the chambers to include all the delegates, which sparked recall efforts by angry citizens. Mr. Nakamura, however, successfully reduced the number of councilmen from 80 to 45—reportedly by persuasion alone.

All politics is local

The triumvirate has conducted most of the spadework for their new party outside of the national spotlight. They first came to the notice of the public around this time last year, when devolution became a major issue in the lower house election campaign. Attention then focused on Miyazaki Governor Higashikokubaru Hideo and Osaka Governor Hashimoto Toru, both outspoken supporters of devolution, but whose reputations and popularity were based on their prior careers in television and a proclivity to say whatever popped into their heads.

These five formed a loose alliance, but the three municipal executives sidestepped a proposal by Mr. Hashimoto to turn the Local Chief Executive Alliance into a national party. It’s likely they were already planning to create their own party and wanted to keep the drama queens at arm’s length. They also declined the Osaka governor’s suggestion to endorse one of the national parties in the lower house election. Said Mr. Nakada, “It might mislead the people.” Added Mr. Nakamura, “We won’t attract supporters if we increase the risk.” There are no hard feelings, however–Mr. Hashimoto sent them a congratulatory message when they held a conference announcing their intention to start a new party:

The time has come to take action in earnest for all the people filled with the aspiration to change the country.

The Yokohama mayor

Nakada Hiroshi has perhaps the highest national profile of the three. He announced on 28 July last year that he would resign his position as Yokohama mayor with seven months remaining in his second term. Some thought he was getting ready to take a second run at the Diet, but he had other plans. His explained that he had finished the important business of his second term, the city would save money by holding a mayoralty election on the same day as the lower house voting, and the new mayor could get a head start on the new budget and personnel decisions:

The mayor’s election costs JPY 1.1 billion in city funds. By holding it at the same time as the national election, we can save JPY one billion. Considering our harsh financial circumstances, that’s extremely important.

In retrospect, he was surely starting to build the foundation for the new party. They formed a working group at the end of October, when Mr. Nakada would still have been in office in Yokohama had he not resigned. Their vision calls for a low-tax, high-vitality country whose foreign relations are based on the keynote of freedom, responsibility, and mutual respect. At that first conference, they said:

The Diet is just terrible. It’s just pulled along by parties that either want to take power or want to maintain power.


Promoting regional devolution is necessary for a country with a narrowing fiscal base.

Mr. Nakada went into more detail:

There are different views on the population totals that should be required for the classification of local government jurisdictions. The problem, however, is not one of population alone. What is improper is that the national government sets the principles for local government rules, including such details as the number of people in local assemblies and the amount of space required for nursery schools. Each community has different cultures and customs.

On proposals for a province/state system, which would create nine to 14 subnational jurisdictions to eventually replace the prefectures:

If each local government were to decide on the construction of its own roads, harbors, and airports, this would be a very inefficient country, and it would lead to the deterioration of international competitiveness. I support the state/province system because decisions on these matters would be more efficient at that level.

The trio announced their plans to form a party at a meeting in Hiroshima on 20 March this year and in Osaka the next day. Without utilizing an organization to mobilize turnout, they drew 250 to the first meeting and, to the second, 750 at hall that seats 500. They hope to create a support group of 10,000 people, and they already claim 4,000. They also plan to run at least 10 candidates in the upper house election this summer. Mr. Yamada, the group’s primary spokesman, said the upper house election was a prime opportunity to demonstrate their ideas. He explained this opportunity couldn’t be overlooked because the next national election isn’t required for another three years.

Last weekend they visited Takamatsu, Kagawa, to drum up support and attracted an audience of 300. Accompanying them was the leader of their support group, Joko Akira, the former head of the Matsushita Institute. Mr. Joko, who has written books discussing the importance of aspirations, said at the Takamatsu meeting:

It’s impossible to have any expectations for today’s politicians. We want to gather 10,000 supporters and create a new party with the help of citizens with aspiration.

From Mr. Yamada:

Both the LDP and the DPJ have reached a dead end. If citizens rise up individually, Japan will change.

Now for the bad news

There are skeletons in every politician’s closet that will cause some to recoil, and these men are no exception. At one time, Messrs. Yamada and Nakada were part of a group that wanted to boost the idea of Hatoyama Kunio for prime minister. It’s not clear what possessed them to back that goofy plan, unless it was access to the Hatoyama family fortune for political funds.

Also, some people suspect Mr. Nakada stepped down as Yokohama mayor to avoid the blowback from the failure of an expo commemorating the 150th anniversary of that city’s opening as a port. The expo attracted less than one-fourth the expected turnout and wound up JPY 2.4 billion in the red. There were problems with leftover tickets, talk of a possible lawsuit, and suggestions that Yokohama public funds were used to paper over the problems.

Mr. Nakada claims the failures were the responsibility of the organizing committee and not the city, which just provided financial support. He is also involved in an unresolved lawsuit by a former lover, a bar hostess, for the payment of consolation money after he ended their relationship. Perhaps that’s the reason Mr. Yamada seems to be acting as the chief spokesman for the group.

Those issues notwithstanding, Japanese politics would be the better for the contribution from these men who combine experience as national legislators with real accomplishments as local government executives, and who understand the importance of working from the bottom up rather than the top down. As Mr. Yamada wrote on his website, theirs would be a party:

…created from the aspirations and wishes of the citizens, not a party like those in the past formed to suit the convenience of the politicians.

In other words, they’re not going anywhere near the political group that Yosano Kaoru and Hiranuma Takeo are now gluing together.

This week the People’s New Party, one of the junior members of the ruling coalition led by Kamei Shizuka, announced they would sponsor professional wrestler Nishimura Osamu for an upper house seat in this summer’s election. Using celebrity candidates as puppets in the upper house is not uncommon in Japan, and it’s a good bet that’s happening in this case too.

If you were a voter interested in responsible government and fed up with the two major national parties, and were presented with the option of voting for Mr. Nishimura or a candidate backed by the new party of aspirations, whose name would you write on the ballot?

Is it even necessary to ask?


If I may make so bold as to spin a political fantasy, Japan could do a lot worse than a loose coalition between this group working with Your Party, the remaining LDP reformers, and potentially simpatico members of the DPJ, such as the Maehara Seiji group. They already are doing a lot worse now.

Speaking of Your Party, Mr. Nakada held the Kanagawa seat in the Diet that’s now represented by Eda Kenji. Mr. Eda challenged him in his first run for a Diet seat, but lost. He gained the seat after Mr. Nakada left to run for Yokohama mayor.

Mr. Yamada was defeated in his bid for a second term in the Diet by the LDP’s Ishihara Nobuteru. Mr. Ishihara later became the minister for governmental reform in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first Cabinet, and still is viewed as a reformer despite sticking it out with the LDP. Nevertheless, Mr. Yamada is said to be on good terms with Mr. Ishihara and his father Shintaro, the Tokyo governor and the co-author of The Japan That Can Say No.

Mr. Nakada thinks Masuzoe Yoichi, the former Health Minister who tops most opinion polls as the person people would like to see as prime minister, will not form a new party but is rather angling for a leadership position in the LDP.

I’ll get around to the Tachiagare Nihon Party of Messrs. Yosano and Hiranuma as soon as they formally agree on which lies they’ll tell each other to create a vehicle for Mr. Yosano to act as a front man for go-playing buddy Ozawa Ichiro if the latter decides to realign Japanese politics by breaking up the DPJ after a poor showing in the upper house election.


Prime Minister Hatoyama was asked what he thought about the new party. Here’s what he said:

I think they are people who have worked hard for regional devolution, but we’re running ahead of them. Perhaps there are some similiarities in our thinking, but each politician acts based on his own convictions.

Mr. Hatoyama did not explain why he thought his party, which is incapable of coming up with an internal consensus on devolution, is “running ahead of them”, nor did he specify the similarities in their thinking. I sure don’t see any.

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The third way, Japanese style

Posted by ampontan on Monday, March 8, 2010

THE COURSE OF EVENTS in contemporary American politics has led again to talk of forming a third party in that country. Even those sympathetic to the idea downplay it, however, because third parties in the United States are seldom successful.

The parliamentary form of government in Japan, in contrast, allows more parties to have a voice in the political process. A public opinion survey conducted on Thursday the 4th by Shinhodo 2001 suggests that a growing number of people are seriously entertaining the idea of supporting a group other than the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, or the now-opposition and long-time governing party, the Liberal Democratic Party.

Here was one of the questions:

“Former Health Minister Masuzoe (Yoichi) has referred for the first time to the removal of Tanigaki (Sadakazu) as president of the LDP. He has a willingness to form a new party and (bring about) a reorganization of Japanese politics. What do you think of this movement toward a new “third pole” (i.e., third force) of this type?”

* Have expectations for it: 69.8%
* Have no expectations for it: 25.4%
* Don’t know: 4.8%

Here was another:

“What form do you think would be desirable for a government after the upper house election (this summer)?”

* DPJ government on its own: 16.2%
* DPJ-led coalition: 20.2%
* Grand DPJ-LDP coalition: 26.2%
* Coalition led by a new “third pole”: 27.0%
* Don’t know: 10.4%

If the DPJ found that discouraging, they wouldn’t have liked these answers any better:

Rate of support for Hatoyama Cabinet:

* Support: 37.2% (Down 6.4 percentage points since 18 February)
* Don’t support: 55.8% (Up 5.6 points)
* Don’t know: 7.0% (Up 0.8 points)

Falling that fast to that level in just two weeks would seem to fit the definition of “cratering”.


“What party do you plan to vote for in the upper house elections?

* DPJ: 22.0% (Down 5.2 points)
* LDP: 20.8% (Up 2.0 points)

And once again in third place:

* Your Party: 3.6% (Up 0.4 points)

(Eda Kenji, one of the Your Party organizers, writes on his website blog that the party has received inquiries from many highly qualified people asking about running for a Diet seat under the party banner. Mr. Eda was a bit dismayed that the party is still too small to associate with all of them, however. They lack the money to help with the campaign expenses.)

Meanwhile, the undecided were up 4 points to 45.8%.

None of these poll results should come as a surprise. The Japanese electorate has made it blindingly clear what they want—governmental reform and competence—and they haven’t gotten that combination since the Koizumi Administration. The DPJ swore they were capable of handling a government, and had plenty of time to prepare—only to fumble the ball as soon as it was placed in their hands. Inept, indecisive, and immature is no way to run a government, and backtracking on bureaucratic reform, treating the Tenno (emperor) like an office ornament, alienating their alliance partner/security guarantor, and having their dirty money problems exposed while compiling a record-high, debt-laden budget made everything that much worse.

Said journalist/commentator Ito Atsuo this week in a roundtable discussion published in a weekly magazine: “Today’s DPJ is nothing but old people and children.”

And he’s a DPJ supporter (though he dislikes Ozawa Ichiro, and supported Okada Katsuya in the party presidential election last year).

Meanwhile, the LDP has bent over backwards to demonstrate that it has learned nothing at all from events since 2001. That a political party which had been successful for so long can be so ignorant is astonishing.

The DPJ took office in September, speaking and operating on the assumption that they wouldn’t hold another lower house election until the term expired four years later. Their objective was to capture an outright majority in the upper house this summer and then rule as they saw fit.

As things stand today, an outright upper house victory seems very unlikely. Ozawa Ichiro was even reported to have met last week with a former head of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, the backers of New Komeito. (He denied it, but no one believes him.)

Speculation soon arose that he was looking for another coalition partner. Well, why not? Unstable coalitions are what he does best. It would be ironic—but typical—if he did welcome New Komeito into the fold. His dislike of the party is well documented, and the DPJ spent the past decade bashing the LDP for having them as a junior coalition partner.

If there is no clear majority in the upper house once again, the next lower house election might come a lot sooner than the DPJ would have liked. They would be unlikely to care for that result very much, either.

That the two largest political groups in Japan might turn into rump parties in the not-too-distant future would be a stunning development—but it’s by no means out of the question.


A Kyodo poll released yesterday has the support for the Hatoyama Administration slightly lower at 36.3%, and the non-support at 48.9%. When asked if they would like to see the DPJ have an outright majority in the upper house, 58.6% of the respondents said no, and just 28.3% said yes. Only 18.2% want Ozawa Ichiro to stay as party secretary-general, while 74.8% want him gone.

It is true that the bloom went off the rose very quickly with the news media and the DPJ, but there are reasons for the party’s unpopularity apart from the mishandling of governmental affairs. Reformers everywhere are held to a higher standard when they finally take control of government. When they make it plain they do not intend to hold themselves to the standards they have set for themselves, as happened here, the consequences are sharp and sudden.

There are other factors as well. Hatoyama Yukio has plenty of money and ambition, but that can’t offset a public personality with less backbone than a bowl of pudding and leadership skills that are off the charts–at the bottom.

Perhaps the most important was that people are very disturbed by Ozawa Ichiro’s taste for autocracy. I am not referring here only to the general public, nor even only to the media. Every country has people in positions of influence and authority who are not necessarily in government, but who can exert that influence and authority when they think circumstances demand it.

Mr. Ozawa has displayed an unpleasant and anti-democratic authoritarian streak since the DPJ formed a government. I would not dismiss the possibility that an informal, non-partisan consensus arose that enough was enough, and it was time to nip it in the bud.

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Jockeying for position

Posted by ampontan on Monday, February 22, 2010

I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.
– Will Rogers, American humorist

AMERICANS ON BOTH SIDES of the political aisle still laugh about the Will Rogers quip above, but it’s no laughing matter that the same could be said about Japan’s two major parties. All political parties are to a degree coalitions, but the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and the opposition Liberal Democratic Party are little more than coalitions of convenience. The only cement that held the former together during their days in opposition was that they were Not The LDP. Do the members have a common political philosophy? While they are generally left of center, it sometimes seems as if their ideas are as diverse as those of a group selected at random from the phone book. For its part, the LDP was created specifically as a coalition of non-leftist parties in 1955. Now it’s a coalition of the Old Guard and non-leftist reformers.

Their inherent structural inefficiencies make it inevitable that both will either disband or turn into rump parties, behave like paramecium and exchange nucleic material, and reassemble as different entities. Falling out of power might have hastened that process for the LDP. Gaining power might have hastened that process for the DPJ.

One of the speakers at a symposium I attended in Tokyo last October went off topic briefly to say that the Nagata-cho politicos were convinced DPJ strongman Ozawa Ichiro would cut the left out of the ruling party, form a new political entity, and govern in the manner of a milder Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Perhaps that’s inevitable, given his checkered history, but those rumors circulate still.

That’s why eyebrows lifted at media reports of a lecture Mr. Ozawa delivered on the 13th at the Ichiro Ozawa Seiji-juku. The Seiji-juku is an institute he says he created to train people for a political career, and other people say he created to train aides for Ozawa Ichiro.

Declared the DPJ secretary-general, with my emphasis added:

Since losing the election, the LDP has fallen apart, or perhaps it had a meltdown. For now, there is no other alternative than for a DPJ government to handle politics while we go through a process of trial and error.

The Japanese are highly attuned to the use of deliberate subtleties, so everyone spotted those two words right away. For now? What’s coming next?

One hint might come from a brief exchange in a panel discussion in the 13 December issue of the Sunday Mainichi. Said journalist/commentator Toshikawa Takao:

Mr. Ozawa conceived the process of centralizing local government budget requests with an eye on the nationwide 2011 local elections. Budgets are implemented by chief executive officers and the local legislatures. Mr. Ozawa wants to bring down all the LDP-affiliated mayors, governors, and assemblymen in those elections. I think his idea is to crush them beyond hope of recovery.

Responded panelist Futatsuki Hirotaka:

I also think his real aim is the nationwide local elections. If (the DPJ) can win those and crush the LDP, it’s also possible that a new “Ozawa Party” could be created…Could it be that a two-party system with alternating governments was just a vehicle for seizing political power?

Hatoyama the younger

Mr. Ozawa is not the only one jockeying for position. In the 27 February issue of Shukan Gendai released last week, ex-DPJ and current LDP member Hatoyama Kunio, the prime minister’s brother, hinted he would leave the LDP and form a new party, perhaps as early as April.

He said he wants to create a third force aligned with Hiranuma Takeo, the Japanese version of a social conservative, and government reform firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi.

He added that relying on the DPJ was pointless because his brother had been “assaulted” by Ozawa Ichiro. (The word he used was 犯された, or okasareta, which can also mean raped. Let’s not go there.)

Mr. Hatoyama also said he would offer his new party as a vehicle for popular former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi (photo), who tops some polls as the person Japanese would most like to see as the next prime minister.

I’ve already talked to Mr. Masuzoe several times. The hopes of the people are centered on him. But it’s a fact that he can’t do anything by himself. I could support him.

Mr. Hatoyama knew his announcement would get headlines; the Hatoyama name assures media coverage. But no amount of media coverage can offset his lightness of being as a politician, nor can it convince many Japanese to take him seriously.

The idea that he could bring together Mr. Hiranuma and Mr. Watanabe is fanciful to say the least. The former was tossed from the LDP by former Prime Minister Koizumi for objecting to postal privatization. The latter wants to continue the privatization process.

It’s perhaps uncharitable to say so, but his motivation to form a new political party might stem from fraternal jealousy rather than political conviction. His seems to be an ambition springing from envy at the success of his brother Yukio, both in politics and in getting his mother to cough up a substantial amount of the family fortune to pay for it.

Masuzoe doing fine on his own

Meanwhile, Mr. Masuzoe formed and convened the first meeting of a study group with several LDP members. The stated objective was to examine economic strategy, including international competitiveness and employment measures. The implicit objective, however, was to explore the potential of either gaining control of the LDP or forming a new party of his own. Some of the people involved include:

  • Suga Yoshihide: A former interior minister and something of a reformer, he’s been allied with a wide range of people in the past. He started out in the camp of Kato Koichi, an extreme conciliator on North Korean issues, but finally pitched a tent on the grounds of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, whose hard-line stand against the North Koreans put him at the head of government.
  • Shiozaki Yasuhisa: A former chief cabinet secretary under Abe Shinzo, Mr. Shiozaki has taken a consistently strong stand in favor of bureaucratic reform. He was criticized in his previous position for his inability to serve as a coordinator between the party (LDP) and the Abe administration.
  • Seko Hiroshige: A former aide to Mr. Abe, he fulfills the key role of handling mass media relations.
  • Kawaguchi Yoriko: She was a foreign minister in the Koizumi Cabinet, though it was widely assumed that then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda Yasuo did the real work.

The study group also backs the Koizumian structural reform agenda, including postal privatization. It’s worth noting that Mr. Masuzoe explicitly mentions the former prime minister’s name and policies in his speeches.

About 30 mid-level and younger Diet members attended the group’s first meeting last week. Mr. Masuzoe told them:

The LDP lost because their reforms were insufficient…Merely redistributing the wealth without increasing it will destroy the nation. We should correct the government’s mistakes and lead the nation.

The group espouses seven core principles. One holds that “economic growth is the basis for enhancing social welfare and minimizing income differentials.” The others include accelerating the shift of power from the bureaucracy to the people, and opposition to the DPJ’s plans to renationalize Japan Post.

Hatoyama Kunio was at the meeting and didn’t care at all for that last part:

What does true postal privatization mean? In the end, (the postal services) won’t extend everywhere unless the government provides them.

Other Koizumian reformers attending included the influential Nakagawa Hidenao, Kono Taro, and upper house member Yamamoto Ichita.

Mr. Masuzoe is taking the battle both to the DPJ and to the mudboat wing of the LDP, his own party. He wrote an article in this month’s Gendai Business blasting what he calls Prime Minister Hatoyama’s “Daydream Pacificism”.

In a speech in Utsunomiya on the 20th, he said:

I am preparing to boldly recruit members from the DPJ when that dictatorial party reaches a dead end and collapses…I will do everything I can if Prime Minister Hatoyama or Mr. Ozawa resign, or if an opposition group arises within the party.

Commenting on the senior members of the LDP:

If they’ve got the time to complain about people who would rebuild the party, they should complain about the DPJ instead. Some senior members have no sense of the crisis facing us, and that will doom the party.

On former Agriculture and Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru’s suggestion to ban factions in the LDP:

Factions aren’t necessary in an opposition party. The old factions aren’t functioning.

Though he invokes the Koizumi name, some suggest Mr. Masuzoe is not quite as Koizumian as he would have us believe. They think he merely senses a shift in the public mood back in that direction (if it ever really drifted that far away to begin with).

Regardless, he clearly is starting to make a move. His advantages include popularity with the public and a demonstrated vote-getting ability–which other politicians always respect. (He held his upper house seat in the 2006 election that swung control of that body to a DPJ-led coalition.)

He also sees the public moving away from the DPJ. Some polls are now showing Mr. Hatoyama’s popularity below the 40% level. At those numbers, red lights start flashing in the inner sanctums of party headquarters. Also, the LDP-backed candidate in the Nagasaki Prefecture gubernatorial election, Nakamura Norimichi, won that race handily on Sunday against the candidate backed by the three ruling coalition parties and several other contenders.

The defeat was all the more remarkable because three prominent DPJ Cabinet members had campaigned for their candidate in Nagasaki, including the popular Maehara Seiji and Haraguchi Kazuhiro. It still wasn’t enough. Yomiuri Shimbun exit polls showed that more than 40% of the voters were influenced by the DPJ financial scandals.

For the time being, Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro cling to power and refuse to admit they’re part of their party’s problem rather than the solution. The latter may break away to form his own group, but he is now so distrusted by both the people and other politicians it’s difficult to see how an Ozawa Party will have a long-term impact.

Now that the DPJ has failed to smartly grasp the reins of power, the other jockeys are looking to move into the openings along the rail.


Sometimes Ozawa Ichiro does make sense. For example, in this year’s upper house election, he’s gunning for Aoki Mikio, 75, the head of the LDP bloc in that chamber. Mr. Ozawa has declared Mr. Aoki’s Shimane seat to be the party’s priority.

Said Mr. Ozawa:

Mr. Aoki represents the old system. His role is based in that era, and it is over.

Ain’t that the truth. There are more than a few in the LDP reform wing who would agree with him. Mr. Aoki is most definitely not a reformer, and he has personal veto power over who runs as the LDP candidates in the upper house race this year.

But it’s never all good with Ozawa Ichiro. He recruited a 34-year-old local TV announcer, Iwata Hirotaka, to run in the district. Mr. Iwata was on the job until four days ago, when he abruptly resigned.

If Mr. Iwata wins, he will be little more than an Ozawa puppet who votes as instructed out of gratitude for a national spotlight and the generous perquisites of a Diet member. Undoubtedly the party will try to employ his infotainment business background and put him on stage as a pitchman if he wins.

There’s another aspect to the race as well. When Ozawa Ichiro headed the Liberal Party that he later brought into the DPJ, Hatoyama Yukio observed that Ozawa’s primary political motivation was to destroy the LDP after he lost an internal power struggle.

That battle occurred in the old Takeshita Noboru faction. Both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Aoki are veterans of that faction who backed different horses. The former was on the losing side.

Really, a lot of problems would be solved by instituting a party primary system. One benefit would be the end of party fiefdoms. An Iwata win would help perpetuate them.

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Coming up on the outside, Your Party

Posted by ampontan on Friday, January 29, 2010

RECENT POLLING about party politics in Japan has picked up a trend worth keeping an eye on. A joint Nikkei Shimbun/Tokyo TV survey conducted on the 26th and 27th asked the subjects which parties they supported and/or liked.

Here are the results in order from top to bottom:

  • Democratic Party: 42% (four points down)
  • Liberal Democratic Party: 24% (one point up)
  • Your Party: 5% (three points up)
  • Communist Party: 4% (two points up)
  • Komeito: 3% (one point down)
  • Social Democrats (part of the ruling coalition): 2% (no change)
  • People’s New Party (part of the ruling coalition): 0% (one point down)

In short, Your Party now ranks third among all parties in Japan, albeit at 5%. That’s still quite a development for a small party formed last year by LDP rebel Watanabe Yoshimi with long-time independent and bureaucracy reformer Eda Kenji. (Mr. Eda was a bureaucrat himself, so he knows where all the bodies are buried.)

This suggests the electorate is starting to realize they’re unlikely to get the reforms they seek from the DPJ and are looking elsewhere for alternatives. A few are turning to Your Party, whose reform message has so far remained consistent.

This still hasn’t translated into personal support for Mr. Watanabe, the party head. The poll also asked respondents which politician they would like to see exercise influence over Japanese politics in the future, and he didn’t show up on the list. But it’s also worth noting to see just who did, and the order in which they appeared:

  • Masuzoe Yoichi: 26% (eight points up) Mr. Masuzoe of the LDP is a former Health Minister. He has been hinting he might leave the party.
  • Maehara Seiji: 14% (seven points up) Mr. Maehara is the former head of the DPJ and now Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport. This indicates the public likes what it has seen of him so far in a role more highly visible than usual for MLIT ministers. He is also a sharp critic of Ozawa Ichiro and favors modifying the Peace Clause of the Constitution to permit self-defense.
  • Okada Katsuya: 8% (one point down) Another former DPJ head and current Foreign Minister
  • Hatoyama Yukio: 8% (four points down) Are you surprised?
  • Kan Naoto: 7% (Unchanged) Current Finance Minister
  • Ishihara Nobuteru: 6% (Unchanged) Served as Minister of State for Administrative and Regulatory Reform and Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in LDP governments. He lost his bid for LDP party president last fall.
  • Ishiba Shigeru: 5% (one point down) Former Minister of Defense and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in LDP governments. He could be described as what the British once referred to as a “wet” Tory.
  • Nagatsuma Akira: 5% (one point up) Current Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare
  • Ozawa Ichiro: 2% (five points down) Are you surprised?
  • Tanigaki Sadakazu: 2% (one point down) Current LDP president. No one is surprised.

Could the terrain be slowly starting to shift? A political movement incorporating the likes of (1) Mr. Masuzoe and other disenchanted LDP reformers, (2) Mr. Maehara, who is on the right flank of the DPJ, has little in common with the teachers’ union refugees and other leftists in the party, and has informally associated with the Koizumians in the past, and (3) Your Party might just be a way out of the political wilderness for Japan.

These numbers also suggest that Messrs. Hatoyama, Kan, Ozawa, and the LDP old guard represented by Mr. Tanigaki are a spent force, regardless of the positions they currently hold. While free of the baggage weighing those people down, Mr. Okada is not the type of person to attract enthusiastic popular support. He may have become seasoned in the interim, but he was obviously out of his league when he led the party to a resounding defeat in 2005.

Former Lower House member Ono Jiro announced this week he met with Watanabe Yoshimi and agreed to join Your Party. He will be a candidate for a proportional representation seat in this summer’s upper house election in Yamanashi.

Mr. Ono was formerly an aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who dispatched him to Yamanashi to run as an assassin in the 2005 election. He took on the incumbent opposed to postal privatization and won despite never having lived in Yamanashi. (His father was born there.) One of the so-called Koizumi Children, he lost his bid for reelection last August against the DPJ challenger.

Realizing that a) the LDP brand is fatal, and b) the party has become a field of Mimosa pudica (Sensitive Plants) and returned to its former configuration now that Mr. Koizumi has passed through, he left earlier this month.

Your Party is a natural home for some of the Koizumian reformers. One question now is whether any more will follow.

Another question is whether the observation of G.K. Chesterton will apply:

“The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.”

One possible error is that Mr. Watanabe styles himself as an expert on economic affairs, but some of his ideas seem eccentric and unworkable. For example, in late 2008 when the world’s politicians were reeling from the financial crisis, he suggested the Japanese government should temporarily issue its own currency for use along with that of the yen issued by the Bank of Japan. (There is a historical precedent.)

Your Party also joined the ruling coalition and Komeito in the lower house on the 25th to pass a second supplementary budget that contains an added JPY 7.2 trillion in economic stimulus measures.

Considering the failure of the stimulus measures in the United States, and the growing public opposition to them, this does not seem like such a wise step. The demonstrable effect on private sector employment has been zero. (Saving public employees from being laid off doesn’t contribute to the economy.)

The way to strengthen a national economy is not by spending more money of the mind to incur more debt.

Eda Kenji explains on his website the reason the party voted for the measure:

“We reluctantly backed the measure for the negative reason that ‘it’s better than nothing’.

“There’s nothing new about it. They cut JPY 2.9 billion from the Aso administration’s supplementary budget, but found ways to put most of it back in. The whole budget cutting exercise seems to have been a way to exert their authority because they took control of the government.

“Not only that, much of what they did won’t have an impact on the economy, such as offsetting JPY 3 trillion in cuts of local tax grants and transfering JPY 350 billion to unemployment insurance. GDP will still decline by about 0.1%.

“The Hatoyama administration basically understands nothing about the economy, which is why they have no solutions. That’s not surprising when you have a minister who doesn’t even understand the difference between the multiplier effect and consumption propensity.”

Here is a summary of the Watanabe/Eda reform platform, which they published in book form before officially forming a party.

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Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HECKLING DURING QUESTION TIME in Britain’s Parliament is a tradition that I sometimes wish were possible in the United States, if only for the demonstrations of spontaneous wit. The classic exchanges in Britain were between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill, with both giving as good as they got. Churchill once told her that having a woman in Parliament was like having one intrude in the bathroom. Astor shot back: “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears”. The most well-known was Churchill’s reply to Lady Astor’s statement, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” Said Sir Winston, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Japan’s Diet also has question time, which is broadcast live, and heckling (yaji in Japanese) is also allowed. The wit of most of the MPs, alas, more closely resembles a butter knife than a rapier. The sharpest blade in my experience was wielded by former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who provoked my spontaneous laughter more than once, but that was as much out of surprise for his bluntness as for his humor.

Question time is now underway in the Diet, and though there’s plenty of heckling, it’s often difficult to hear what the back benchers are saying. Second-term MP Ozato Yasuhiro of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party wrote a short post about it on his blog in Japanese focusing on the heckling from the ruling Democratic Party members. Mr. Ozato’s objective was to show how the DPJ was trying to avoid the hard questions, but the examples he presents are little more than schoolyard taunts.

For example, when Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was being pressed on the party’s reaction to the scandals enveloping Ozawa Ichiro, their de facto boss, Finance Minister Kan Naoto yelled out, “Show us the proof!” That’s the best he can do?

Mr. Ozato also reports some of the comments made sotto voce by a first-term DPJ legislator sitting behind him during the questioning. They weren’t very inspiring:

  • “Stop these stupid questions.”
  • “You’ll be sorry for this.”
  • “How about it? We’ll reveal (your scandals) too.”

The best I’ve heard so far this year is the dry comeback from former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the LDP during his questioning of both Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan about the budget. The prime minister deferred to his finance minister for an answer that was evasive at best.

Deftly skewering both the DPJ’s reliance on the Finance Ministry civil servants despite their pledge to minimize Kasumigaseki influence, as well as Mr. Kan’s well-known lack of expertise about financial matters, Mr. Masuzoe commented, “That sounds like a bureaucrat wrote it,” and then asked the question again.

It worked because it did sound as if a bureaucrat had written it.

We’re probably not going to get much better. As I write, there’s so much shouting the NHK radio announcer had to break in twice to explain to the listeners what program was being broadcast. The noise is understandable–the questioning turned to Mr. Hatoyama’s excuses for his own fund-raising scandals. Now that’s laughable!

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Japan’s bureaucrats bite back

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, August 13, 2009

NO GROUP ANYWHERE has been on the receiving end of as many brickbats in recent years as the Japanese national civil service. Reformers nationwide are calling for the gutting of Kasumigaseki, the generic term for the bureaucracy taken from the Tokyo district where many of their offices are located. The platform of firebrand Watanabe Yoshimi’s newly formed Your Party has a plank that would cut civil service personnel expenditures by 30% and eliminate 100,000 positions altogether. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, on the verge of taking power and forming a new government, has vowed to separate Kasumigaseki from the political process.

While most of the opinions of the bureaucrats themselves about this trend are likely to be unprintable, the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi sent Yokota Yumiko to conduct a roundtable discussion with a group of them and find out what the civil servants were willing to say with a civil tongue. The discussion with Ms. Yokota, a journalist who often covers the Japanese bureaucracy, appeared in the magazine’s 24 July issue. The bureaucrats are privy to a lot of information, and they are sharp observers, so it’s worth reading in English. I translated most of it here, though I omitted some sections where there was a bit too much inside baseball. Those participating in the discussion were identified as follows:

Assistants to division heads in the following ministries

Ministry of Finance (MOF)
Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)
Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)
Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT)
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT)

We’ll start with the discussion already in progress:


MOF: The LDP really should hold a presidential election and change their leadership. Since they’re going to lose the lower house election, they could position themselves for the next one by putting such structural reformers as Ishihara Nobuteru and Koike Yuriko (both former Cabinet ministers) in prominent positions. At this rate, they’ll be in the opposition forever.

METI: On 10 July, the prime minister’s closest aides (from the bureaucracy) stayed at the official residence to attend a party given in appreciation for their services. They used the opportunity to begin developing a scenario for dealing with the DPJ, enabling them to deal with the transfer of power whenever it occurred. They didn’t go into much detail, however. It mostly involved creating in each department an A team of bureaucrats for the ruling party and a B team of bureaucrats for the opposition party.

MOFA: Come to think of it, one LDP Diet member lamented that the frequency of attendance of bureaucrats at briefings had fallen to 70%. Are 30% of the human resources now being devoted to the DPJ?

METI: There might have been an increase in the percentage assigned to the DPJ. Many of the party’s younger MPs are ex-METI employees, so they’re often sent to METI offices to call on former colleagues and subordinates.

MOF: There’ve been some rumors the MOFA has frantically been destroying important documents in anticipation of a change in government. A former high-ranking MOFA official recently testified about the existence of documents related to a secret agreement about American nuclear weapons on Japanese territory when the security treaty was revised in 1960, and that officials destroyed those documents.

MOFA: That’s because the DPJ says they’ll look into the problems with those treaties. It’s true that some politicians were told about this, including prime ministers and foreign ministers, such as Hashimoto Ryutaro and Obuchi Keizo. They were selected for their reliability.

MLIT: I’ve heard that the Foreign Ministry submits documents with slight differences to the ruling party and to the opposition party.

MOFA: There are two types of documents created, and some that were checked by superiors and had language changed or omitted have been submitted to the DPJ. They contain less information than those submitted to the (ruling) Liberal Democratic Party. Still, this is great progress, considering that the ministry never used to respond to DPJ requests for information.

MOF: Documents are being saved thanks to requests for the disclosure of information. There’s been a considerable decline in the ability of government offices to gather information. In the past, they would take notes on what was discussed with politicians in informal situations as if they were reporters, and share it with people in their bureau. Now, however, if they make poor judgments about what to keep, they’ll have to destroy the information. It would create serious problems if the information became public.

– Before the summit, it was unfortunate that Prime Minister Aso didn’t make any important personnel changes in LDP party officials, nor did he have a major Cabinet reshuffle.

MHLW: We’ve calculated that the DPJ will win an outright majority. It’s not another case of the “10 lost years”, but it certainly has been “several lost years”. It would have been better to name Masuzoe Yoichi (HLW Minister) party secretary-general and Higashikokubaru Hideo (Miyazaki governor) as the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications. Mr. Masuzoe is a good minister, though he has a poor reputation in the department responsible for handling policy for those suffering from illnesses due to the atomic bombing.

MOF: He is a good minister. He worked with former MHLW Minister Otsuji on the Robust Policy 2009 to eliminate the gap caused by the ceiling of annual growth in social welfare expenditures to 220 billion yen (about $US 2.23 billion) as set forth in the 2006 policy. That caused a lot of trouble for the MOF.

METI: To be honest, the bureaucracy has it the easiest during an election period. Everyone wants the election to come so they can take a break. Even if the DPJ forms a government, we’ll be worried about the Cabinet they put together. It’s possible that Hatoyama Yukio’s problem with campaign contributions will prevent him from sliding into the prime minister’s job so easily. Each of the ministries has had to rework their initial forecasts for the ministers to be selected. That’s caused us a lot of trouble.

MOFA worried about Makiko and Muneo

MOF: And here we thought (DPJ Secretary-General) Okada Katsuya was going to be Finance Minister. If something happens to Mr. Hatoyama, he’ll probably become prime minister. The person holding the finance ministry portfolio in the DPJ shadow cabinet is Nakagawa Masaharu, and he’s incompetent, so the best he can hope for is Vice-Minister. The economist Sakakibara Eisuke would really like the job, but his personality makes that difficult. A lot of his ex-colleagues in the Finance Ministry dislike him.

MOFA: Some people have suggested (former party head and current Vice-President) Maehara Seiji as Foreign Minister, but that would complicate things with China, so he’d probably be better off as the Defense Minister. The worst-case scenario is the rumor of Tanaka Makiko as Foreign Minister, Suzuki Muneo as Vice-Minister, and Sato Masaru as parliamentary aide. Muneo has already asked Mr. Ozawa to put him in a Foreign Ministry post. There are also rumors that a non-politician will be appointed.

(Other rumors about more obscure people omitted)

– The DPJ has a policy of Kasumigaseki reform, including statements that they’ll have everyone at the bureau chief-level and above resign.

MLIT: The senior officials certainly seem to be fretting over it.

MHLW: There’s been a lot of higher-ranked officials drowning their sorrows in Shinbashi bars and grumbling, “What the heck, I’m going to get fired, too.” They’re working hard to get all the information they can, and they say things like, “I hope the LDP government lasts as long as it can,” or “I hope the political realignment hurries up and gets here.”

MOFA: But the DPJ lacks the personnel, so they can’t very well fire some 130 senior officials all at once. They’ll probably wind up keeping about 70%-80% of them.

(A discussion of which bureaucrats in the various ministries would be asked to go follows. One name mentioned was that of Tango Yasutake in the MOF, a former aide to Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro. Mr. Tango was a key person in implementing structural reform and stepped on a lot of toes in the bureaucracy. The MOF representative says that for the DPJ, he is “a Class A war criminal”.)

– Do your ministries have any key people for dealing with the DPJ?

MOF: We have Kagawa Shunsuke…who’s handling that by himself. It’s unusual to have a person like him (a former aide to Ozawa Ichiro).

MLIT: Mr. Kagawa wrote the rough draft for Mr. Ozawa’s 1993 book, Blueprint for a New Japan. I’ve heard that Mr. Ozawa praised him for being “the most accomplished civil servant”. We’re jealous, considering that we have so few connections with the DPJ.

(Further discussion of personnel omitted.)

– Are you making any progress in your response to the DPJ platform?

METI: That platform underwent some editing, and now it’s a lot more realistic. The younger (bureaucrats) are optimistic. They’re relieved, thinking, “At any rate, they won’t be able to achieve any reforms.” There’ll be more people coming over from the new government, but when so many Diet members and private sector personnel who don’t know anything about Kasumigaseki suddenly show up, they won’t know what to do or how to do it. A Cabinet minister can’t handle policy by himself. The vice-ministers and parliamentary aides Mr. Ozawa will bring over won’t be doing any work.

MHLW: Realistically, it will be too late to deal with one measure after the platform is finalized. That’s the idea of merging the Social Insurance Agency with the National Tax Agency. If they’re serious, the shortest amount of time in which it can be accomplished is six months. The DPJ wants to eliminate the citizen payment of insurance premiums and switch to a tax-based system, but there just aren’t any funding sources. Until now, the funding source has been half from taxes and the other half from the insurance premiums paid by citizens. In the end, raising the consumption tax is the only choice.

MEXT: At any rate, the Social Insurance Agency is supposed to be transferred to a new organization next year.

– The DPJ is seen has having a close relationship with labor unions.

MOF: The biggest concern about a change of government is in fact the problem of labor unions. Many of the DPJ Diet members are backed by the Japan Teachers’ Union, the Federation of Electric Power-Related Industry Workers’ Unions of Japan, and the All-Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers’ Union. If the power of the unions increases, there’ll also be an increase in featherbedding, civil servants who don’t do any work. Forget about Kasumigaseki reform. Their slogan of Separation from the Bureaucracy and the facts on the ground don’t match.

MEXT: If Koshi’ishi Azuma becomes the next Minister of Education, that will probably make the JTU more powerful.

MLIT: Government offices won’t be broken up, and you won’t be able to fire civil servants; the problem will just persist.

MOFA: Every organization (in the bureaucracy) has civil servants from labor unions who are really just professional agitators that don’t do any work. That’s particularly true for the non-career types. They can’t be fired, so some departments have even created “lucky charm” positions for them. If you’re looking for wasted money, there’s a good place to find it. I think they should eliminate amakudari (the practice of giving senior bureaucrats important jobs in government-affiliated organizations and private companies when they retire) and institute a system in which at least 10% of the senior positions are replaced. They should demote those in management who are incapable of working. I wonder if the DPJ is capable of that.

MLIT: With the amakudari problem, the biggest issue is how to deal with the non-career types. That’s how the public interest corporations and the government-affiliated corporations got created. The problem of watari with high-level civil servants got out of hand, but then again, how are we supposed to make ends meet with our career salaries? (Watari is the name for the ministries’ arrangement of finding successive jobs for retired bureaucrats at government-affiliated corporations, with the former civil servants receiving a pension each time.)

MEXT: Then there’s the campaign promise about changing the way the budget is formulated. Most agencies are fooling themselves by thinking it will go no further than the DPJ submitting its requests to each ministry.

MOF: The DPJ says they want to examine those budget practices that haven’t been looked at before. We can do that if they round up the best and the brightest from each ministry and increase the number of personnel at the Budget Bureau five-fold. And if they separate the Budget Bureau from the Finance Ministry and put it under the direct jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office, it won’t diminish the Finance Ministry’s power. Rather, it will create a new foothold for us.

METI: Our budget is only about one trillion yen (about $US 104 billion), and our biggest worry in the special account is that the expenditures for small businesses are so great. In this economic downturn, some sectors can’t be touched, so we’re optimistic. Meanwhile, there are many sectors such as agriculture, where the ruling party and the opposition party are competing to see how much money they can throw at them. Just what does the DPJ think it’s going to do?

MHLW: Look at it from different angles and it doesn’t seem as if a DPJ government will last that long. Nowadays, the public’s expectations are too great. They can put together a terrific campaign platform, but with a lot of those planks, they’ll wind up saying, “We can’t do that,” or “We’ll put that off.” I wonder if political realignment will come sooner than we think.

MOF: At any rate, they’re only going to be able to find the funding sources for about one year’s worth of programs. There is nothing at all to fear from a DPJ government. No matter what government is in power, we just go quietly about our business. That’s the duty of the civil servant.

MHLW: There was the line in the recent drama, Summer of the Bureaucrats, that went, “We’re not rewarded for our work.” When I saw that, I cried in spite of myself.


* Note that one minister refers to Nakagawa Masaharu as incompetent. This May, Mr. Nakagawa told the BBC the government lost a lot of money from exchange rates after buying U.S. treasuries. He suggested that the American government issue yen-denominated bonds (so-called samurai bonds). His comments ignited a selloff of the dollar against the yen, resulting in a higher yen.

* Maehara Seiji is the former DPJ president who is in the party’s strong national defense wing. He and his allies were bitterly opposed to Ozawa Ichiro as party president, and by extension to Hatoyama Yukio replacing him. During the party election to replace Mr. Ozawa after he resigned, there were reports that he would make it his personal mission to ensure that those who wanted him to quit would never get a high-ranking party or government position in the future. It will be interesting to see where Mr. Maehara winds up.

* A Tanaka/Suzuki/Sato triumvirate at the Foreign Ministry sounds as if it is a nightmare rather than a rumor. Ms. Tanaka briefly served as Foreign Minister in Prime Minister Koizumi’s first cabinet, and the bureaucrats detested her. Their internecine warfare became great soba opera fodder for the daytime TV and current affairs discussion programs until she resigned. Mr. Suzuki had carved out a small fiefdom for himself in the Foreign Ministry until he was discovered carving out too much of a financial share for himself, and wound up doing a record amount of jail time for a Diet member. He’s now back in the Diet heading a vanity party and allied with the DPJ. Sato Masaru was a diplomat and Suzuki Muneo ally, praised by the latter as being the “Rasputin of the Foreign Ministry”. He was found guilty of malfeasance of office and his appeal was dismissed at the end of June, so he resigned his position and is now unlikely to be named to a position in government.

* A look at the English website for the Japanese Teacher’s Union has this on the top page:

Mr. Yuzuru Nakamura, President of JTU, referred first in his address to the issue of “poverty of children”, urging the participants that child-raising is not exclusively an “individual” issue. He said JTU should encourage the society to share the responsibility of child-raising among the “society” and the importance of returning the fruit of this effort to the “society”; and to shift the paradigm of educational philosophy (the value of coexistence and mutual assistance).
He also stated that the union should take every opportunity to have social dialogues with the communities, PTAs (parents’ and teachers’ associations), parents, children, educational and other administrations, and the government in order to exercise its social influence, and that it should issue easy-to-understand messages to the citizens.

One can imagine what sort of “social dialogue” they’d have with parents who insisted that child-rearing was an individual matter and that the union should butt out.

Combine that with Mr. Koshi’ishi’s recent statements that politics cannot be separated from education and it becomes apparent why the MOF official was concerned about labor unions. The JTU hobbled Japanese education with its “yutori education” policies of the 90s, some of which the Abe administration managed to roll back. Education and the schools are likely to become a political battleground in a DPJ administration.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (2): Aso edition

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 30, 2009

THE YEASTY FERMENT brewing in the world of Japanese politics is a heady blend with ingredients ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Anyone who thinks politics in this country is moribund either isn’t paying attention or their beverage of choice is Kool-Aid. Today’s draft is drawn primarily from the Aso Taro keg.

Politicians say the darndest things

Logorrhea is an occupational hazard for politicians, and all sorts of things come out of their mouths when they’ve switched on cruise control. This is from a recent speech by Prime Minister Aso Taro:

“(The current Japanese national soccer team) doesn’t have a superstar like Nakata Hidetoshi. Eleven people working together—that’s Japanese soccer. If Japan had a superstar, it would be His Majesty the Emperor.”

Do you ever wonder how Mrs. Aso would answer if someone asked her whether her husband talks like this when they’re relaxing together at home?

Then again, if the idea of Jesus Christ Superstar can sell millions of albums, launch productions on Broadway and the West End of London, generate two films with a third planned, and still be performed on stage 35 years later, it should be harmless for some Japanese to consider the tenno to be the local superstar.

Why people dislike journalists #4,937

Journalists defend themselves from the charge of pointlessly repeating the same question by saying it’s their job. Well, yes, for some people, working for a living does involve creating make-work projects designed to convince the boss you’ve got the situation well in hand. All they usually accomplish, however, is to waste the time of people with more productive things to do. Try this dialogue from a recent Aso Taro press conference:

Reporter: First, about the personnel for senior party positions and the Cabinet…

(Mr. Aso leans back and smiles)

Reporter: Last Saturday you had a discussion with Mr. Kuroda (LDP secretary general), and at that time you took a negative approach to making major personnel changes. You said, “I’ve never talked about it; it’s just outsiders making things up.” Could you tell us again what your thoughts are about the personnel issue?

PM: I haven’t thought about personnel.

Reporter: Does that mean you won’t think about personnel until the Diet is dissolved and there’s a general election?

PM: It means I’m not thinking about it now.

Reporter: Now.

PM: Now look, you’re jumping on everything I say as soon as I say it, and you also did it not long ago. This sort of thing…saying these needless things will just lead to a pointless conversation, so let’s drop the subject…well, that was a close call (laughs).

Reporter: I see.

PM: (Clear voice) I haven’t thought about it.

Reporter: OK. Next…

PM: Do you understand?

Reporter: You’re not thinking about it all?

PM: (Laughs, doesn’t answer)

Update: Well, it looks like this reporter knew more than I gave him credit for. The very next day, Mr. Aso said that he had been thinking for a while about “the most suitable people at the most suitable time”. Nevertheless, it should have been obvious he didn’t want to answer the question when he was asked. That’s no reason to bug the man.

Why would Mr. Aso double back on his word so quickly? Some television journalists speculated that former PM Abe Shinzo, a long-time Aso friend, had been urging him to reshuffle his Cabinet and had nearly convinced him. But then party bigwig Mori Yoshiro told Mr. Aso not to waste his time.

How typical: Mr. Aso’s lack of decisiveness and willingness to listen to either of those men for political advice are two of the reasons his popular support is negligible to begin with.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the latest teacup tempest in an administration known for them is that one of the TV journalists casually commented that “he lied” the first time before moving on to comment about subsequent developments.

That does not speak well of contemporary Japanese politics at the highest level, does it?

Grated Aso

A lower house election must be held within the next few months, and it looks very much like the LDP is going to be trounced, allowing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to form a government for the first time. The ruling party no longer offers a coherent political philosophy, and their post-Koizumi prime ministers have been the politically clumsy manipulated by the terminal klutzes behind the scenes.

It’s no wonder then that some senior party members want to move up the September election for LDP party president (who would become prime minister) to find an alternative to going down with Mr. Aso and the rest of the mudboat crew before the lower house election.

LDP faction leader Yamasaki Hiraku (AKA Taku) has submitted a petition to LDP MPs and other party members specifically calling for an early election. He also set up a special area on his website for citizens to provide their input.

Said Mr. Yamasaki:

“It’s not (designed) to bring down the Aso Cabinet”.

It is to laugh. No one believes that, particularly because the special area materialized on his website the day after the LDP candidate was defeated in the election for Chiba City mayor. A former Cabinet minister also admitted off the record that the idea is to create a popular consensus to replace Mr. Aso.

Indeed, Mr. Yamasaki later quit beating around the bush. A week ago, he claimed he had 108 signatures from lower house LDP members, though he wasn’t showing them to anyone. That’s about halfway to his goal of signing up an outright majority of LDP MPs in the lower house. He says that would prevent Mr. Aso from calling a snap election out of petulant frustration.

Then came the release of the following poll:

  • People intending to vote for the LDP: 16.4%
  • People intending to vote for the DPJ: 40.4%

A 24-point differential causes alarm bells to ring so loudly even those with earplugs can hear them. It also tends to shake up senior party leaders with heretofore safe seats because an electoral tsunami that large could just as easily wipe them out as it would the small fry in marginal districts.

The secretaries-general

Said Kato Koichi at a press conference:

In my 37 years as a diet member, I have never seen the reputation of the LDP sink as low as it has now. It’s the lowest it’s ever been. Calling an election now would be an act of suicide…Some MPs say we can take only 165 seats, but I think that outlook is too optimistic.

Said Takebe Tsutomu to reporters at party headquarters:

“We (Diet members) will work hard until the end of the term on 10 September, (but) we should have a showdown in the election with new policies promoted by a new leader.”

Ibuki Bunmei was slightly more optimistic, if optimistic is the word to describe a prediction of the loss of the party’s lower house majority:

“The cabinet support rate has fallen. We could have taken 241 seats with New Komeito, but now that will only be 220 to 230.”

All four of these gentlemen have served as LDP secretary-general, the top position in the party apparatus, so they know when electoral defeat is staring them in the face. Another former SG, Nakagawa Hidenao, has been saying the same thing every day for months now.

The names that arise most frequently as possible replacements are the Acting Secretary-General (i.e., representative) Ishihara Nobuteru, the son of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro; Health, Labor, and Welfare Minister Masuzoe Yoichi, a former University of Tokyo professor who won public favor as a TV commentator slamming bureaucrats for their handling of public pensions; and former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, a favorite of the Koizumian wing of the party, but disliked by some for a perceived shallowness of loyalty to the LDP. The problem with all three is that none of them are strong enough on their own to serve in that role without substantial help from the old boys in the backroom, most of whom have been out of touch for a generation.

Not everyone has jumped on the dump Aso bandwagon, however. Those who think they can swim–or cling to the flotsam and jetsam–when the ship sinks include former postal rebel Noda Yumiko and former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Mr. Abe may be a man of principle and party loyalty, but he is sorely deficient in the third P of political acumen.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Kawamura Takeo is also opposed to a change:

“Party unity is of the utmost importance before the lower house election. Turmoil in the party will cause its own downfall. Would the people really understand if we only changed the leader? How would we answer the criticism that holding a party leadership election before the general election was done only with the general election in mind?”

Yes, the people would understand if you removed a leader they don’t support who lacks a firm political touch. They’d probably sympathize with you, in fact. To answer the carpers, you could always point out that the parties sitting in the opposition rows don’t get to make policy.

New Komeito, the LDP’s coalition partners, also want to stick with the loser. Said a senior official:

“It will have a negative impact on the election for governor in Shizuoka and the Tokyo Metropolitan District council. It’s also possible the voters would not support (the coalition) in the lower house election.”

You mean the same voters who already favor the opposition over the coalition by a 24-point margin? Those voters?

The official dropped hints the party would withhold support from LDP Diet members who tried to oust Mr. Aso.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that candidates running behind a party leader promoting regional devolution, delinking from the mandarins of the civil service, putting the nation’s finances in order before raising taxes, continued privatization, and a resolute foreign policy probably wouldn’t need New Komeito support to win.

Naturalists speak of the cornered prey summoning all its energy for a desperate counterattack. Some hunters, however, know that cornered prey tracked for a long time often become too tired and dispirited to continue, and willingly surrender. What else could be the explanation for those people who are ready to fight an election campaign led by Mr. Aso—a man who has demonstrated no leadership ability, is not amenable to the reforms the public knows are needed, and who thinks that promising a large tax increase will earn the party public favor?

Mr. Aso might even be among those willing to surrender to the hunter. He’s dropping hints that he’ll hold the lower house election in August. Was this done to forestall a putsch? Was it his idea, or did someone put him up to it?

Why is it that the dimmest bulbs invariably think they’re the brightest?

Taro and the pirates

But let’s be fair: Mr. Aso does have his moments. The Diet recently passed a bill that allows Japanese self-defense forces (i.e., the military) to be sent overseas with the authority to fire on pirate vessels overseas if they do not respond to an order to cease and desist their attacks—even on non-Japanese ships—and allows Japan to participate in joint international anti-piracy operations. It also criminalizes piracy, which permits the offenders to be apprehended and punished in Japan.

Yet the DPJ chose to potentially sacrifice Japanese lives and ships by refusing to pass the bill in the upper house. They and the other opposition parties delayed the measure for two months and forced the LDP to use its supermajority in the lower house to get it through.

Said the prime minister:

“Naturally you’d protect yourself if you were attacked by thieves. I don’t understand (their opposition to the use of weapons). What are they thinking about when it comes to the safety of the Self-Defense Forces and the Coast Guard?”

There have been about 150 pirate attacks on shipping off Somalia this year, already exceeding the 111 attacks in 2008. What was the opposition “thinking”? For starters, the DPJ and the Social Democrats were concerned that the bill allows the Cabinet to send the SDF overseas without Diet approval.

Well, their two-month foot-dragging and gamesmanship while piracy continues unabated demonstrates why waiting for the approval of more than 700 people in both houses of the legislature, many of whom are all too willing to create artificial political crises to delay bills on any pretext, is unwise and possibly fatal when real world circumstances demand prompt action.

Meanwhile, the SDP and the Communists think the Coast Guard should be the only military forces involved against the pirates, and called into action only in Japanese territorial waters. They were also opposed to the relaxed rules on the use of weapons. What do they think works against Third World pirates looking for a multi-million dollar payday? Moral suasion? Do they expect the Somalians to start raiding along the Seto Inland Sea?

Let’s be clear: Many in the DPJ supported this bill as it was. That meant it could have sailed through the upper house with little or no problem, but the party leadership felt compelled to object. That’s partly because they lack the political sophistication to understand that for critical areas of national interest, it really is OK to agree with the government and not to oppose something merely because they’re the opposition. It’s also because they chose again to ignore the national interest by playing a numbers game for their own political ends and ally with the SPD solely to bring down the government.

What this demonstrates:

  1. The SPD hold their countrymen in such contempt that they believe Japanese are still too irresponsible to be trusted with lethal weapons overseas in matters of self-defense. (It’s also possible that the wool in their heads has grown so thick they’re no longer capable of coherent thought.) That, combined with their other positions, past associations with North Korea, their socialist/Marxist background (which includes circumstantial evidence linking a leading party figure to the Japanese Red Army terrorist group of yesteryear) reveals serious character flaws.
  2. That the DPJ would put to risk Japanese lives, commercial interests critical for an island nation with limited natural resources, and nascent efforts to show that the country is a responsible international partner willing to help enforce the basic concepts of right and wrong, solely to feed the fantasies of miniscule fringe parties for the sake of gaining power, is another sign that they are too immature to successfully lead a government.
  3. Communists always behave like Communists.

Want more? DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio was asked if he would roll back the decision if they gained a lower house majority and formed a government later this year. You know, if you’re opposed, you’re opposed, right? His answer:

“We will not make a hasty decision to do an immediate about-face.”

Bless their pointed little heads, but aren’t they dependable? The DPJ can always be counted on to choose expediency over principle.

Some claim the DPJ maintains its alliance with the SPD because it “needs them” in the upper house.

“Needs them” for what? It’s not as if the SPD is going to start voting with the LDP if the DPJ tells them to bugger off.

The Democratic Party of Japan—still shameless after all these years.

Getting real

During the same discussion, Mr. Aso continued:

“It’s the same with North Korea. At a minimum, we must fight when we should fight. If we aren’t prepared to do that, we won’t be able to defend the nation’s safety.”

Added current LDP Secretary-General Hosoda Haruyuki in a Yurakucho speech:

“Who knows what North Korea, which has nonchalantly abducted hundreds of people, will do if they develop nuclear weapons? We must apply more pressure to North Korea. Our ultimate objective is to bring about a collapse of the current regime and have the country be reborn as a peaceful state. The DPJ’s response to (this issue) is extremely soft.”

And why not? Who better than the Japanese to understand that a malevolent regime can become a peaceful state?

Messrs. Aso and Hosoda aren’t the only ones tired of the international pussyfooting. The aforementioned Koike Yuriko resigned last week from the chairmanship of a special LDP committee studying the question of enemy military bases. A party council submitted a statement to Prime Minister Aso on whether Japan should maintain the capability of conducting an attack on enemy military installations. The council adopted a policy of ruling out preemptive defensive attacks, which caused Ms. Koike to walk.

Instrumental in adopting that policy was Yamasaki Hiraku (also mentioned above), who said:

“We must not cause misunderstandings overseas”.

Retorted Ms. Koike:

“A policy exclusively oriented to defense is too restrictive, and a defensive preemptive attack policy is even more restrictive. All we talk about is limiting what we can do. Is it such a good idea to continue to limit Japan’s policies for defense? People say it’s done out of consideration for neighboring countries, but they don’t show any consideration for us at all.”

Bingo. And give that last sentence bonus points.


The people overseas who might misunderstand could be divided into two groups. The first consists of those in the region who would choose to purposely misunderstand. That would allow them to use Japanese policy as both a diplomatic weapon in bilateral relations, and as a domestic weapon to stir up anti-Japanese sentiment at home. Their feigned ignorance would enable them to continue painting the country as a false enemy, thereby strengthening their base of support.

North Korea threatens Japan with military action every day and has the hardware to make those threats very real. The Chinese are not going to stop until they have made themselves the East Asian hegemon (at least). Russia seized Japan’s Northern Territories after Japan surrendered in 1945 and refuses to return them. South Korea used military force to seize Takeshima in 1954, still illegally occupies the islets, and still refuses international mediation (which Japan says it would accept).

The second group of people who would misunderstand is in the West and principally consists of politicians, academics, and journalists, most of whom can’t be bothered to do the research to get it right to begin with. Perhaps that’s because a real understanding would conflict with their preconceptions.

Japanese diplomatic and military behavior has been the gold standard in Northeast Asia since 1945. Ms. Koike, Mr. Aso, and Mr. Hosoda are right: Japan should choose to defend its legitimate interests as a sovereign nation. The decision-makers in neighboring countries will understand perfectly, regardless of what they say in public for the gullible or the Barnumesque suckers who want to be deceived. As for the people on the other side of the Pacific, there’s a Japanese expression that covers them: Baka ni tsukeru kusuri wa nai. There’s no medicine to cure a fool.

Some people in this country pretended they didn’t understand what Abe Shinzo meant when he said he wanted Japan to move beyond the postwar regime. Well, here you are.

But of course they always knew exactly what he was driving at—they just didn’t want to face the implications. It’s not always easy for adolescents to embrace responsibility and take charge of their lives.

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