Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Ren Ho’

Maneuvering on a multicellular level

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Democratic Party is essentially the same as the Liberal Democratic Party, so they’ll be tranquil when they put up with their differences to avoid a civil war, or when they’re forcibly held in check. Once a fight breaks out, however, the situation will spin out of control.
– Watanabe Yoshimi, Your Party president

I would go so far as to say that, for the political objectives I want to achieve, it would be better not to become prime minister
– Ozawa Ichiro, in a self-published 1996 interview

THE FIRST TIME Ozawa Ichiro disappeared from public view for a few weeks was in July 1993. He emerged with an eight-party coalition that became the Hosokawa administration, the first non-LDP government since 1955. That and the subsequent Hata administration lasted a combined 11 months.

Just before evaporating a second time after the ruling Democratic Party’s poor showing in the July upper house election, he told the media that “anything could happen”. Once a drama queen, always a drama queen.

In happier times

As we’ll see later, some unusual things almost did happen, but after Kan Naoto refused an offer he couldn’t accept, Mr. Ozawa chose to go bare-knuckle with the prime minister for the DPJ presidency. During his seclusion, he stayed in several hotels in the Tokyo area for private meetings with politicians from all the parties and the leaders of large interest groups, such as Koga Nobuaki of Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), to examine his options and to count the votes.

Regardless of what people think of Mr. Ozawa, everyone will stipulate to this: He is capable of conceiving options that elude everyone else and making those options a reality. Take it for granted that he has counted the votes.

The other numbers he can count are what some estimate to be JPY three billion in a personal political kitty with perhaps the Hatoyama family fortune and an emergency fund that Rengo has saved for a rainy day in reserve. Japanese law does not limit how much can be spent on a party election, and the Japanese tradition of fishing politicians often involves baiting the hook with wads of yen. There is also one more number to consider—he is 68 years old, and this will be his last chance to shape Japanese politics. The only things he hasn’t left to chance are the calculated risks.

So, for a quick review:

In January 2009, the DPJ under the leadership of Ozawa Ichiro overtook the LDP in public opinion surveys at last to become the leading party in Japan. The polls somersaulted again shortly thereafter when an Ozawa aide was arrested in connection with a political funding scandal. Following a few months of soba-opera, Mr. Ozawa and then-Secretary General Hatoyama Yukio accepted responsibility for their malfeasance by trading jobs.

Mr. Hatoyama became prime minister in September. By the end of the year, the bottom began to fall out on DPJ support again when the public discovered that (1) The DPJ had no business leading a government (2) Anyone picked at random from the phone book would have made a better prime minister than Hatoyama Yukio, and (3) More Ozawa and Hatoyama aides were arrested for more political funding scandals.

With his party facing decimation at the polls in July, Mr. Hatoyama showed some public spine for the first time in his life by taking Mr. Ozawa with him when he resigned. Mr. Hatoyama then said he would retire from politics after his lower house term expired.

But his replacement, Kan Naoto, forgot the sandbox factor in politics. He made a point of telling Mr. Ozawa in public to zip his lip and appointed well-known Ozawa detesters to the key posts in his Cabinet. The new Kan-Sengoku-Edano troika saw their chance to get rid of him for good and use that for their advantage it in the election. It almost worked. But Mr. Kan stuck his other foot in it by botching the election campaign.

Therefore, just three months after being shown the door, Ozawa Ichiro, the former:

  • Secretary-general of the LDP
  • Secretary-general of the Japan Renewal Party
  • Secretary-general and president of the New Frontier Party
  • President of the Liberal Party, and
  • Secretary-general and president (twice) of the DPJ

…will run for party president a third time with the backing of Hatoyama Yukio, who isn’t going to resign from the Diet after all. They’ve faced off in a DPJ presidential election once before, and Mr. Ozawa won handily.

People overseas think Japanese politicians are disposable. Meanwhile, the Japanese public would like nothing better than to get rid of these guys for good.

Machinations early

After the upper house election, Japanese politicians started doing what they do best—hashing out Byzantine alliances in hotel suites and the private rooms of exclusive restaurants.

Mr. Ozawa began his series of entre nous meetings with everyone except the Kan clique. Those close to the prime minister complained that Mr. Ozawa didn’t return his calls, but those close to Mr. Ozawa said he didn’t receive any. Either or both could be lying.

Maehara Seiji

Secrecy spawns rumor, and some of the rumors about the people whom Mr. Ozawa met were quite delicious. For example, former DPJ head and current Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Minister Maehara Seiji has long been part of the anti-Ozawa camp, and even openly flirted two years ago with some prominent LDP members. Nevertheless, the story arose of a possible rapprochement, with Mr. Maehara being sounded out to run against Kan Naoto. The go-between was said to be Inamori Kazuo, the founder of Kyocera, KDDI, and the Inamori Foundation, as well as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist priest. He is connected with both men. (Both he and Mr. Maehara are based in Kyoto.)

One reason it might make sense is that Mr. Maehara is closer to the political center than the leftists now in control of the DPJ, and he wants to be prime minister too. At the same time, a story began circulating of a backstabber in the Kan Cabinet, and all fingers pointed immediately to him. Another report had him meeting with former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, which ignited speculation that Mr. Ozawa was exploring the option of a grand coalition between some elements of the DPJ, the LDP, and smaller parties.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito and DPJ Secretary-General Edano Yukio are members of the same group/faction within the party, so Mr. Maehara’s support for someone other than the prime minister would mean the end of his support group in the party. He might also have been swayed by Mr. Sengoku’s promise that he would be the next prime minister, which was another delicious rumor.

Sengoku Yoshito

The chief cabinet secretary has options of his own, and he wants to be prime minister too. One story had him obtaining a promise of money supplied by the Finance Ministry to fish long-time Ozawa loyalist/pit bull Yamaoka Kenji, but he came home with an empty creel. That did not go down well with Mr. Ozawa. There were also whispers of a Sengoku overture to Nakagawa Hidenao of the LDP, though what an old Socialist and a Koizumian would have in common isn’t clear.

Ozawa Ichiro

Mr. Ozawa sounded out former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, the daughter of his patron Tanaka Kakuei, for a possible run as prime minister in July, but she passed. She instead encouraged him to run, but he said there wasn’t enough time to put a candidacy together. He is said to have changed his mind about Ms. Tanaka as a surrogate when she blabbed about the content of their meeting to reporters. Omerta is part of the Ozawa code, too.

Ozawa's back

Remember that Mr. Ozawa had a deal in place with former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo of the LDP two years ago for a grand coalition. That was another option he explored, and it still isn’t off the table, either as head of the DPJ or at the head of a new party if he loses and leaves. There are an estimated 30 Ozawa diehards in the DPJ out of the roughly 160 in his group; if he managed to take 100 people with him and struck a deal with some people in the LDP and the smaller parties, the DPJ government is over. The new coalition would pass a no confidence motion, triggering a general election.

Mr. Ozawa knows that the Kan/Sengoku/Edano wing of the party wants him out, and he’s also heard the tasty tidbit that they were ready to kick him out had one of the prosecutors’ review panels decided it would have been “appropriate” to prosecute Mr. Ozawa, rather than their judgment of “inappropriate not to prosecute”.

The grand coalition talk of two years ago was brokered by Yomiuri Shimbun publisher Watanabe Tsuneo and LDP elder statesman Nakasone Yasuhiro, who sees in Mr. Ozawa the best chance to achieve one of his own ambitions, which is to rewrite the Japanese constitution.

Sharp-eyed observers have noticed that the Yomiuri and Sankei newspapers on the right have toned down their Ozawa bashing. The Ozawa camp confirmed rumors that their man had met with some senior LDP party members even during the upper house campaign. Yet another rumor circulated that some of the visitors to the Ozawa hotel suite included Fukuda Yasuo and former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro.

There were even whispers that Mr. Ozawa went fishing for Your Party head Watanabe Yoshimi, as unlikely as the prospects for success would seem to be. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji will have nothing to do with the man, but the story gave some people pause because Mr. Ozawa almost fished Mr. Watanabe’s father Michio from the LDP to replace Hosokawa Morihiro more than 15 years ago.

Machinations late

19 August

Hatoyama Yukio conducts a political seminar every year during the summer at his Karuizawa villa. This year’s seminar was held just as speculation about Ozawa Ichiro’s intentions started to peak. More people than usual showed up—160, which accounts for just under 40% of the party’s Diet membership. They included Mr. Ozawa, for his second visit ever, and his ally Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the DPJ upper house caucus. An estimated 70 to 80 were from the Ozawa group, while about 40-50 were from the Hatoyama group.

The newspapers ran photos of the three grinning amigos, drinks in hand. Mr. Ozawa was serenaded with shouts of “kiai” (fighting spirit). Some observers insisted Mr. Ozawa would not run, but that episode alone should have given them pause. And they really should have reexamined their assumptions when long-time Hatoyama associate Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in the Hatoyama administration, also publicly urged Mr. Ozawa to make it a race.

23 August

Mr. Kan held a meeting of his own with the DPJ’s first term Diet members. He raised a few eyebrows by telling them he wanted to create a “forward looking approach” that included Mr. Ozawa—just a few months after telling Mr. Ozawa to put a sock in it and appointing his enemies to key party positions.

24 August

Four people are said to have met in a private room in the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo–Hatoyama Yukio, Hirano Hirofumi, Ozawa Ichiro, and Hidaka Takeshi, a former deputy secretary-general of the party and the son-in-law of Hirano Sadao, a retired politician who is the closest of Mr. Ozawa’s associates.

Here’s a mix of rumor and fact as to what happened:

Mr. Ozawa ran down the numbers for Mr. Hatoyama and showed him that he would win the election with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama wanted to avoid an election brawl because he thought it would split the party. He also realized the party might split regardless of who won.

According to one story, the generalities of which have been partially confirmed, Mr. Hatoyama acted as a go-between and called Mr. Kan on the spot to report the numbers. He offered the Ozawa deal: You can stay as prime minister, but tell your friends Sengoku Yoshito, Edano Yukio, and (probably) Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko they’ll have to go. The new Cabinet would have an Ozawa ally as secretary-general (perhaps Yamaoka Kenji) and perhaps a Hatoyama ally as chief cabinet secretary. Mr. Kan would be allowed to stay on until next spring. He would then be replaced by Ozawa for a year, followed by someone else, perhaps Maehara Seiji.

25 August

Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan met. Another version of the story says that this was the meeting at which the Ozawa deal was offered.

At the news conference afterwards, Mr. Hatoyama said:

I told him what Ozawa Ichiro was thinking, and that if he wanted his cooperation, he would have to ask for it very seriously. We didn’t come to any conclusions…Mr. Ozawa is not taking the idea of the so-called shift away from Ozawa (in the party) in good humor. The explanation that it was just for party unity is not satisfactory.

There’s an even wilder story that lends credence to the idea of a grand coalition. Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya and MLIT Minister Maehara Seiji could stay in the Cabinet, perhaps with different portfolios. They would be joined by former Finance Minister Yosano Kaoru of the Sunrise Party (ex-LDP member), former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the New Renaissance Party (ex-LDP member), and former Financial Services Minister Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party (ex-LDP member whose party is still in the DPJ coalition). The possibility of New Komeito joining the festivities was also discussed. The possibility of Fukushima Mizuho’s Social Democrats joining wasn’t.

Mr. Kan, to his credit, turned the offer down. No one knows exactly what he wants to do, but becoming another Ozawa puppet isn’t part of it. The most he would offer in return is to appoint Ozawa Ichiro as a “senior advisor to the party”, which translates as “old guy who used to be important but isn’t any more”.

26 August

After a morning meeting with Hatoyama Yukio at the latter’s office, Ozawa Ichiro held a news conference and announced he would run for the party presidency with Hatoyama support. Mr. Hatoyama later confirmed it. Considering the circumstances when Mr. Ozawa joined the party, he said, it was for the greater good.

When a reporter asked about his previous, sphinx-like support for Kan Naoto, he answered:

I said that in the sense that it was natural as one party member to support the prime minister who has acted as the head of the government.

What’s in it for him? After his national humiliation, he gets to play kingmaker again in the party he created with his mother’s money. He might also be foreign minister in an Ozawa Ichiro administration. Other people would formulate the policy, while he would get to meet exotic people and travel with his trophy wife to exotic places and talk about yuai all day long.

Then there’s the sandbox factor again. Some people say he doesn’t like Mr. Kan very much.

The election

It’s mostly a fight between punks. It’s even worse than the faction battles of the old LDP…I’m going to be fed up with having to watch this for the next three weeks.
– Watanabe Yoshimi

This is going to be a cutthroat election…It will probably be very difficult for the DPJ to conduct their own affairs (during the campaign)…It’s also possible this will provide an opportunity for a political realignment.
– Sonoda Hiroyuki, secretary-general of the Sunrise Japan Party

This will be the 14th DPJ presidential election since the party was founded—an average of one every 10 months—but it’s only the second to allow the votes of party members and supporters. The latter two groups are differentiated by the amount of money they spent to buy the privilege. Anyone over 18 can be a supporter for JPY 2,000 (about $US 23.55), and the DPJ website says that foreigners are eligible to be both party members and supporters. Thus, though their votes could be counted in units of parts per million, foreigners will have a say in who becomes the next prime minister of Japan.

The Big O: I am the one I've been waiting for

The breakdown of votes goes like this: the ballots of the 413 DPJ Diet members count two points each, for 826. The votes of all sub-national assembly members will count for 100 points in the aggregate. The aggregate for the party members and supporters is 300 points, for a total of 1,226.

The other inclusive election was in 2002, when there were four candidates. Kan Naoto won the most votes among Diet members, but Hatoyama Yukio won the election with the votes of local prefectural assembly members.

Kan Naoto has run in eight of the previous 13 elections. He’s won four and lost four.

Ozawa Ichiro is said to be strong among all those groups, particularly among the upper house Diet members and in the prefectural legislatures. The man has spent a lot of time on retail campaigning on the rubber sushi circuit. He’s also assigned quotas to the members of his group to round up votes among the party members and supporters, after dividing the country into blocs. They started work as soon as Mr. Ozawa made his announcement.

Ishiba Shigeru, now of the LDP, was a member of the New Frontier Party when Hata Tsutomu and Ozawa Ichiro ran for party president in 1995. He remembers that a large volume of ballots from supporters appeared for counting at the last minute. All of them had only “Ichiro” written on them in the same handwriting. When he and some other members heard the story, they went to look for the ballots, only to find they had already been thrown out.

Who’s going to win this time? Making predictions for anything in Japanese politics is a silly way to kill time, especialy when ballot box-stuffers are running, but this election reminds me of some advice an old man gave me years ago: Never bet against the New York Yankees in the World Series. Substituting Ozawa Ichiro for baseball’s evil empire is a fair comp. And as long as we’re betting on form, here’s another tip: Take the block in the office pool that has his administration lasting less than a year and collapsing in rubble.

The weekly Shukan Post has already made up its mind. Here’s one of their headlines on the cover of the 6 August issue:

“Ozawa Landslide: Already Kan’s only choice is to submit”

Why Kan?

Because he’s a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state? Let’s pause for the laughter to die down.

There aren’t many reasons to vote for Mr. Kan unless you like desiccated social democrats/political activists who sold out what remained of their principles to the bureaucrats of the Finance Ministry to stay in power.

He offers no coherent policy, no political skills, and he’s unlikely to be in office this time next year even if he wins. The only reasons to vote for him are negative rather than positive, and that’s exactly how his supporters are selling him.

Party poster girl Ren Ho, who is in the anti-Ozawa camp, gives her reasons for supporting the prime minister:

I welcome the party president election itself in September, but if there is a new prime minister, there would normally be a dissolution of the lower house and a general election.

She’s only just started her second term in the upper house, but that’s some serious gall she’s got working. If the election of a new prime minister requires a general election, Mr. Kan should have already called one after replacing Hatoyama Yukio in June–particularly after the upper house election defeat. But she didn’t stop there:

There will be a policy review of the special account at the end of October, and that will have a big impact on it. One reason I support the prime minister is to minimize the effect on the policy review.

She’s the minister in charge of policy reviews, so she should already be directing a continuous policy review. But she’s afraid a mid-September election will interfere with the TV coverage of her star turn six weeks later. If reviewing policies were her intention, based on her previous three or however many there were after the first one, she could have a report on the desk of the prime minister by 1 September so he could give it to the Finance Ministry for approval.

The Asahi Shimbun took her first argument even further in an editorial. They claimed there was a new principle in this age of change in governments that prime ministers should be replaced only through general elections. Where did this new principle come from? From the backside of the editorial writer on the day he wrote the piece.

Another reason to oppose Ozawa Ichiro is his identification with money politics in general and the possibility that he could still be prosecuted for political fund scandals. Said Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya:

It would be strange to have as party president and prime minister someone who could be indicted. Changing the national leader so many times in a short period is a problem for the national interest.

Showing some gall of his own, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications and Ozawa toady Haraguchi Kazuhiro responded:

We should not make statements that stray from the fundamentals of democracy. The principle of presumed innocence is the principle of democracy.

To which Mr. Okada retorted:

The presumption of innocence is an issue of the law. Discussing issues of political ethics is in a different dimension.

And yes, both of these men are in the same party and in the same Cabinet at the same time. Isn’t the nation in good hands?

Why Ozawa?

Yamaoka Kenji counts two reasons. Here’s the first:

We’re going to go into the (local) elections next March with a half-baked executive branch. We must select a person with powerful leadership capable of conducting politics that ‘Puts the peoples’ lives first’.

He later added:

The people’s conclusion in the upper house election was to say no to the Kan administration, but then (the Kan supporters) claim we can’t keep changing prime ministers. But is maintaining the status quo responding to popular will? We should stabilize the political base with a new system and a new face….To resolve the crisis, increasing numbers of people are calling on Ozawa Ichiro.

That last thought leads into the second reason:

The (leader) must be a man who can work with the opposition to create a stable government. If the budget negotiations come to a standstill with the Diet in gridlock, it is possible the lower house will be dissolved and a general election held next spring…Mr. Ozawa would be the suitable party leader to pass the 2011 budget and related legislation in the gridlocked Diet.

Stagnation is a word the Japanese often use to describe contemporary political conditions. After entropy had its way with the LDP, the people finally turned to the DPJ. But the electorate’s worst fears were realized once the DPJ formed a government—they were not ready for prime time, and as presently constituted, never will be. At least the LDP prime ministers during their endgame were marginally competent—the two DPJ prime ministers have been a post-adolescent spacehead and a man for whom hangover is the default state of sobriety.

The LDP hasn’t learned its lesson, and as a group, probably never will. As one freelance journalist commented, they’re like horse manure floating down the stream (i.e., going with the flow and naturally breaking up).

The reason people will vote for Ozawa Ichiro, other than the universal factor of sucking up to power, is because they think he’s a man on a white horse who will end the stagnation—by sheer force of will, if necessary—and get things done. You know, make the trains run on time. How can the demoralized resist? He’s the only person with a chance to lead a government capable of putting together the votes to ensure that important legislation, however that is defined, passes. He’s also the only person with the cojones not to care what other people think.

Some might find ad hoc coalitions for each issue appealing, while others will find a grand national coalition more to their taste. Even Kan Naoto has referred to it indirectly. On the 16th, he compared the current situation to the gridlock between the two major parties in the 1930s:

I wonder if we will be able to provide functioning politics by trying to trip each other up. This demands party politics that transcends ruling and opposition parties.

During an interview in a recent issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai, first term DPJ MP Okuno Soichiro thought a “national salvation cabinet” would be the solution.

We’ve already seen the rumor of a potential national salvation cabinet put together by Mr. Ozawa during his summer vacation.

The danger here is the same danger with all broad coalition governments: The voters can’t throw the bums out. The bums are so dysfunctional they create alliances of convenience to facilitate their own interests, rather than the interests of the nation at large or of its people. Few politicians anywhere are capable of making that distinction under the best of circumstances, and a grand coalition means they will ignore that distinction altogether.

The people have very clearly told the politicians–repeatedly–what they don’t want them to do. But here, as elsewhere, the politicians are too dense or too self-interested to listen, and some of them are so befuddled they’re willing to walk into a cage and hand Ozawa Ichiro the key.

What happens?

This is a time-limited party that will vanish in 2010.
– Hatoyama Yukio on the DPJ during a 30 August 1996 news conference

If Kan Naoto wins

The past is prelude. The suffocation intensifies with the downside risk that he, Mr. Sengoku, and Mr. Edano slip in some social democrat ugliness before they join the LDP in breaking up as they float down the stream. He kept on Justice Minister Chiba Keiko despite her election loss, and she favors creating a Japanese version of Canada’s execrable Human Rights Commission. And the dependency on the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy will grow worse.

If Ozawa Ichiro wins

Lordy lord.

An Ozawa victory gives the mass media a gold-plated “Go directly to hog heaven” card. It will turn a “free, for all” democracy into a free-for-all. There will be a national political fistfight both egged on and refereed by the mass media.

Because one possible benefit of an Ozawa administration would be an effort to tame the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, the faceless elites will do everything in their considerable power to bring Mr. Ozawa down. After former Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro displeased the Finance Ministry, for example, a severe credit crunch just happened to emerge by some quirk of coincidence. It’s dreadful to imagine what they might try to pull off now.

Will he be indicted? The 16 August edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun offers the consensus of opinion of the reporters covering the Tokyo prosecutors. They think he’ll skate.

But if Mr. Ozawa becomes prime minister, that issue will be moot. Here’s Article 75 of the Japanese Constitution:

The Ministers of State shall not, during their tenure of office, be subject to legal action without the consent of the Prime Minister. However, the right to take that action is not impaired hereby.

A Prime Minister Ozawa is not likely to consent to his own prosecution. Hey, it’s worth a shot. Jacques Chirac seems to have gotten away with it.

The opposition (and some in the DPJ) will demand that he testify in front of the Diet to explain how his political funds management committee could buy real estate with suitcases full of cash. Mr. Ozawa understands that the opposition will not allow Diet business to proceed until he appears as a witness. He’s gone through multiple grillings with prosecutors, so at least he’s had the time to get his story down.

That’s unless there’s a grand coalition, in which case they’re all in it together and won’t care if the Communists and Social Democrats are uncooperative.

Here’s a safe bet: There will be record low support ratings from the public. Mr. Ozawa understands that, too. One of his supporters said that even 0% was fine. He suggested the media puts too much weight on the polls, and the numbers will rise once an Ozawa Cabinet starts producing results.

There is another possibility—that he will break precedent and not serve as prime minister during his term as DPJ president. He might be able to skip out on Diet testimony that way, and anyone he selects as prime minister will surely not consent to his prosecution.

Most politicians accumulate power to implement policy, but Ozawa Ichiro is the reverse. He implements policy to accumulate power, and most any policy is fine by him. He’s fond of using a play on words in Japanese to say that campaign pledges are convenient because they can be easily replastered.

What policies would he support? Let’s take the word of Haraguchi Kazuhiro in an interview in the 4 September Shukan Gendai:

We should sincerely reflect on our failure to uphold the manifesto. There is a move to amend the manifesto in view of the upper house election results, but for us the manifesto itself is structural reform, so that is not what we should do…If there is to be a change of government, we should reexamine the Cabinet decision to set a ceiling on expenditures at JPY 71 trillion and Japanese treasury floatations of JPY 44 trillion in the 2011 budget.

The interviewer noted that the Kan Cabinet is also having second thoughts about those budgetary limits.

The centerpiece policies in that original platform included the child allowance, subsidies to individual farmers, and free expressways, not all of which were fully implemented, but all of which are unnecessary drains on the public treasury.

There was one tax break in the manifesto—eliminating the gasoline surtax. Mr. Ozawa himself ordered Prime Minister Hatoyama to forget about that one last December.

In other words, if you think the economy is bad now, wait until you see an Ozawa administration. The Finance Ministry might not stop them, either. Picking up the pieces and gluing them back together when it’s over gives them more power down the road.

That manifesto also called for the reversion of Japan Post to state control rather than continue with privatization.

Here’s Haraguchi Kazuhiro again:

There are many reformers in the LDP we can work with…They’re the ones who think the people’s rights should be guaranteed in Japan Post.

He later explained to reporters that by reformers, he meant the people who ran against privatization in 2005.

Since the announcement of his candidacy, Mr. Ozawa has already visited the head of the national postmasters’ association. Who do you think those men will be pressing their local DPJ Diet members to vote for?

While secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa also arranged matters so that budgetary requests from sub-national governments came directly to his office rather than to Diet members or the bureaucracy.

Thus, an Ozawa administration will be characterized by money politics with no transparency and blatant schemes to buy off voters, overseen by a man who demands such discipline that he has long been known in political circles as a fassho yaro, or fascist bastard.

And don’t forget he’s going to cock a snoot at the Americans every chance he gets. He’ll even find ways to create a few chances on his own.

If anything good comes of it, Komori Yoshihisa of the Sankei Shimbun describes what it will be:

If he becomes prime minister, it will touch off a large political realignment. The DPJ would very likely split. That would enable the serious politicians of the DPJ and those of the LDP to come together to form a new force….We can expect most Japanese to be fiercely opposed. The Cabinet support rate will fall through the floor. An administration of that type cannot possibly last long. But during that short period, Prime Minister Ozawa will awaken the people’s awareness of proper government.

Sight is quarterly magazine dealing mostly with political topics, with about half of each issue focusing on one topic. Here’s the headline on the cover of the Spring issue:

Thank you, Ozawa Ichiro, we are now going to graduate.

Not quite yet, alas. But they will.

As the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci observed, “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

What we’re seeing now is the inevitable morbid symptoms. The old will die and the new will be born.


The English-language media got a free reach-around when Mr. Ozawa held forth on Americans and the British among other topics of interest during a political seminar earlier this week. He was reported as saying that Americans were unicellular (i.e., simple-minded) and weak in the head, though he was pleasantly surprised they elected Barack Obama.

To be accurate, what he said was that the Americans had unicellular “aspects” (or tendencies, depending on how it is translated). Not exactly sweetness and light, but not a blanket condemnation either. Such much for unicellular translations.

Unicellular is also a good word to describe their coverage. Most seemed to think it was a gaffe for some reason, or perhaps they desperately wished it were so. There are about a half-dozen skyrocketing story lines in Japanese politics right now, but that was the one that got them all excited.

It would have been a gaffe if he slipped and said something he didn’t mean to say. I suspect he said what he meant and doesn’t care what Americans think. He might have even said it on purpose.

Mr. Ozawa lives with the knowledge that he’s under the media microscope in Japan 24/7. That focus has intensified since his resignation as secretary-general in May, and has gone into hyperdrive since the upper house election.

He made the statement during a political seminar at which everyone with a press credential was present, including the Japanese version of the Pocatello Idaho Weekly Shopping Gazette. He knew it would be his most closely watched political speech of the year (so far) because people thought he might announce his political intentions. (He didn’t.)

It would have been a gaffe if it hurt him politically.

Do I really need to finish that thought? It wasn’t even mentioned at first in the Japanese sources. It was reported here only after the overseas media noticed, and only because they noticed. The story is already dead in Japan.

One of the more hysterical Australian newspapers thought this might swing the DPJ election to Kan Naoto.

Aren’t they precious?

There’s an old proverb common to China, Korea, and Japan about the frog at the bottom of the well who thinks he knows the world. Mr. Ozawa does bear a resemblance to a frog, and that is a deep well he’s croaking in, but as a long-time American resident of Japan who has witnessed the behavior here of his countrymen for more than quarter-century, I also see where he’s coming from. So do many East Asians, from the northeast to the southeast, but that will fly over the media’s head too.

Meanwhile, the current American president thinks, among other things, that the Showa Tenno (Hirohito) signed the Japanese document of surrender at the end of World War II on board the battleship Missouri, that the Americans liberated Auschwitz, that the Austrians speak some language called “Austrian”, that people in Japan bow and shake hands at the same time, and that his own name is derived from Swahili, even though it is derived from Arabic. But the American mass media has swept all those under the rug. They’re suck-ups to power too, and their swoon is particularly delirious whenever the Democrats find someone who can pass for an alpha male.

There are lots of frogs at the bottom of lots of wells, all over the world.

I’m not a Christian, but Matthew 7:1 works fine for me here.

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (6): Heigh ho, silver lining!

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

The reason the left loses is, paradoxically, because of its periodic successes: once in power the mask slips, they cannot control themselves, and so the people ultimately recoil.
– Michael Walsh

LAST SUNDAY, the voters of Japan again unsheathed their terrible swift sword to lay vengeance upon and smite down the latest cohort of a political class that believes what it says is more important than what it does.

After eying the results, the broadcast media in Japan and the print media overseas chose to believe the sky is in danger of falling. In a matter of months, the Democratic Party of Japan showed that it still isn’t ready for prime time and probably never will be as presently constituted. Yet the bien pensants are in anguish because they didn’t win an outright majority.

Some nattered that the loss will hinder the DPJ’s effort to rein in Japan’s massive government debt. One outlet even said it would “create obstacles for much-need fiscal reforms”. And who do they think was responsible for the ultra-redlining of debt levels with a 33% boost in the amount of deficit-financing bonds to cover a budget increase for programs only they wanted and no one needed? The record-high budget with record deficits and record deficit-financing bond totals passed when Prime Minister Kan Naoto was Finance Minister, and was written with his input. The preceding Aso administration also has a lot to answer for, but at least they had the excuse of following the same clueless path as the United States. Isn’t it time for the overseas media to keep its big government / Keynesian stimulus / tax increase agenda overseas and limit the wreckage to their own countries?

Some asked rhetorically if anyone can govern Japan. Maybe they should knock off the rhetoric and ask Koizumi Jun’ichiro straight up about how he managed for five years and left office with popularity ratings of 70%. Just because Hatoyama Yukio was more empty schoolgirl uniform than empty suit and hangover seems to be the default state for Mr. Kan’s sobriety doesn’t mean the people are ungovernable because they coughed out both of them like hair balls.

Some also worry that the “twisted parliament” (i.e., gridlock resulting from the DPJ’s loss of upper house control) bodes ill for the country.

Why should they worry? It’s great news. The election results were a red letter day for politics in Japan, which should be apparent even to realistic DPJ supporters.

To find out why, let’s push the reset button.

Track 01

Many people are using Prime Minister Kan’s ill-timed discussion of a consumption tax increase as a facile excuse for the defeat. Well, that was one reason—of many. Other contributing factors included rank incompetence, breaking their word as expressed in the party platform, and the political acumen of an empty catsup bottle.

Yet, despite more negative factors that can be counted on the fingers of both hands, and the voters’ readiness as demonstrated over the last three national elections to punish politicos who don’t pay attention, some people claimed to have been surprised by the result. They must not have been paying attention either.

Then again, neither were the pollsters. Most pre-election polls forecast the DPJ would take roughly 50-54 seats, with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party winning from 40-45. The DPJ wound up with 44 and the LDP with 51.

To be sure, some circumstances did conceal or delay trends. According to this previous analysis of Jiji polls over the past five years, a majority of the Japanese electorate is independent and tends to break for one party or the other four to six weeks before an election. Everyone was thrown off stride by the resignation of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio and DPJ Secretary General Ozawa Ichiro six weeks before the election. New Prime Minister Kan’s open humiliation of the unpopular Mr. Ozawa delighted the public and led to a sharp but ephemeral bounce in the polls. In retrospect, it’s clear that the brief interlude of poll sunshine for Mr. Kan was due to gratitude for removing the Ohato duo rather than a vote of confidence in the new prime minister himself.

Also, the voters’ interest in the election took longer than usual to build, but rapidly picked up momentum at the end. Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji thinks the public did not become engaged until Japan was eliminated in the World Cup. He also said the intensity level at the end of the campaign was higher than he had ever seen it. The crowds of people that listened to his speeches at train stations were so large and animated they created obstructions that angered station personnel.

That bears some resemblance to the American presidential elections of 1968 and 1976. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter held comfortable leads in those contests coming into the final stages of the campaign, but there was a massive, last-minute swing in voter sentiment that almost tipped the elections to Hubert Humphrey and Gerald Ford. Some hold the latter two would have won had the elections been held a few days later. Mr. Eda also thinks his party would have picked up two or three more seats had the election come three days later, and that’s probably true for the LDP as well.

Nevertheless, it was the first national referendum on a new DPJ government that had been tested and found wanting as stewards of the government. Most of them seem incapable of running a fried octopus stand at a summer festival, much less a Cabinet ministry. The task of any administration is to get things done and to make things work in the public sector, and they failed at both. Though once hailed as major policy wanks who were finally ready to lead the nation, the spectacularly unprepared DPJ accomplished less in its first Diet session than any previous government in the postwar period, and what they did accomplish amounted to little more than bribing voters with their own money.


Some claim the decisive factor was Kan Naoto’s readiness to talk about an increase in the consumption tax and his subsequent incoherence on the subject. The analysts at NHK offered this explanation on Sunday night. So did many in the English-language media, but we’ve long ago passed the point where they should be taken seriously. After all, they’re now saying the public voted against a higher consumption tax while trumpeting polls saying the public is willing to pay it.

While the consumption tax issue itself was a factor, it also served to remind people of the reasons they were unhappy with the DPJ to begin with. People seem to have forgotten that the Hatoyama Cabinet’s approval rating was in the high teens at the end of May.

Here’s a more coherent explanation: Mr. Kan and his party lost credibility because after talking for more than a decade about politicians exerting control over the government, they ceded control to the bureaucrats shortly after taking power while deboning reform of Kasumigaseki and Nagata-cho. It was suicidal to swallow whole the Finance Ministry’s excuses for their objective of tax increases and the Ono Yoshiyasu theorem that tax increases help economies grow. The people gagged on them both.

Add to that the record budget with the record float of deficit-financing bonds while pushing greater government expenditures through a child allowance and other giveaways…The sheer incompetence in handling the Futenma issue…Backtracking on the pledge to eliminate the gasoline surtax and highway tolls…Filthy Ozawa money and illegal Hatoyama Mama money blamed on the Lords’ loyal retainers…Ozawa Ichiro’s mid-campaign criticism of his own party’s officials…Slips, blunders, petty dishonesties, attitudes, the failure to overcome the giddiness of their September victory and the failure to find a voice of reason or a sense of leadership.

What they did have was a sense of entitlement combined with the expectation that people just shut up and listen. Here’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito on 5 July:

It would be best if the media itself were to do us the favor of having a proper position on the consumption tax, government finances, and social security issues.

But why would anyone expect tolerance for free speech and a free press from a former Socialist?

Mr. Kan is clutching at the tax straw himself. He said to aides this week:

I caused a lot of trouble for the party by suddenly bringing up the issue of the consumption tax, which led to this result. I am seriously reflecting on my errors.

His real problem was an ignorance of anything related to the economy and government finances, yet presenting himself as an expert because he could recite half-digested knowledge from the Finance Ministry and other home tutors such as Mr. Ono. He actually claimed to have bested economist Takenaka Heizo, Mr. Koizumi’s financial services minister, in a debate while he was in fact asking him for help on the QT. He pretended to know what he didn’t know while parroting the last things he heard to impress his audience. The Sufis call this “unloading”.

Other people were willing to entertain other theories. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Haraguchi Kazuhiro was asked about the appointment of Saito Jiro to head Japan Post last fall. That was widely viewed as a capitulation to the bureaucrats and an abandonment of the attempt to reform civil servant employment practices before it began. Mr. Haraguchi responded with some tongue calisthenics:

I can’t say very strongly that I can completely deny the appointment had a negative effect.

He also defended the choice, but people weren’t listening when he got to that part of the sentence.

Some people couldn’t look beyond their own front yard. Kina Shokichi, the famed Okinawan roots musician and airhead extraordinaire, lost his reelection campaign. He said:

There was a strong feeling that the people of Okinawa were betrayed by the government in the move of the American base at Futenma.

As usual, Fukushima Mizuho of the Social Democrats had an idea. As usual, it didn’t make any sense:

I think the biggest reason was that all the people thought the DPJ had begun cold, unfeeling politics.

Leave it to an adult–Yonekura Hiromasa, the head of Keidanren—to put it in perspective:

The people watched the DPJ for the eight months before the Kan administration began.

Now combine that with the observation of Kono Taro, the LDP’s acting secretary-general:

The upper house election was an own goal for the DPJ. The LDP didn’t even touch the ball.

Mr. Kono, an LDP reformer, used the occasion to issue a warning to his own party.

It would be absolutely unacceptable if this marked the end of (internal) reform.

Good news

Here’s the good news. This presents an excellent opportunity for the politicians to show they’re capable of doing the jobs they’re paid to do, and it will be the DPJ’s second test of adulthood after flunking the first. They failed to reach their target for an outright majority in the upper house, and since their remaining coalition partner, People’s New Party, won no seats at all, they’ll be unable to pass legislation without help.

With the exception of the budget, both houses of the Diet must approve all legislation. If the upper house rejects a lower house measure, the lower house can still pass it with a two-thirds supermajority. The DPJ doesn’t have one. Even if the lower house passes a budget, the enabling legislation, such as that required for deficit financing bonds, must still pass the upper house.

Will they be able to cobble together a new coalition? Here’s what the primary opposition leaders think of the idea. First, Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party:

A coalition is the same as a marriage. Pretty words alone aren’t enough. The DPJ rejected our bill to reform the Kasumigaseki bureaucracy. After doing something like that, we won’t be able to join them even if they ask us.

During a television interview the night of the election, he said it was the party’s intention to act as gatekeepers. If they see legislation they like, they open the gate. If they don’t care for the bill, the gate stays shut.

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

(The voters) have just held up a red card to the DPJ. It would be unthinkable to join a partner like that.

He’s got another reason, too–both parties detest each other. Here’s Kan Naoto in the April 2004 issue of the monthly Bungei Shunju:

The LDP and New Komeito coalition are not a coalition, they’re a fusion, a fusion party…New Komeito is a religious party…the LDP is like a house that’s been eaten by termites. There’s nothing to prevent its collapse.

New Komeito is unlikely to have forgotten that Mr. Kan thinks they’re termites. Nor did they care for this speech earlier in the campaign from Sengoku Yoshito:

There’s a half-baked party of charlatans called New Komeito. What do they mean, “The party of peace”? What do they mean, “The party of welfare”? Once the order comes down from someplace, 50,000 votes move in three days. What sort of malarkey democracy is this?

Next on the list is Tanigaki Sadakazu, head of the LDP. His answer about the possibility of a coalition was brief:


This across-the-board refusal means several things. First, the DPJ can forget about the yogurt-weaving part of their agenda, and that will be one substantial benefit for the nation already. It also means that the DPJ will be forced to do some things it has never shown itself capable of in the past—serious negotiation, self-control, and compromise. Like many on their side of the aisle, gesture politics is a large part of their game. Now they’ll have to stop playing with mudras in front of the mirror and form ad hoc coalitions for each item of legislation they propose. If they develop that skill, everyone wins and they reclaim their reputation. If they don’t, the next lower house election will come before their term expires, and the voters will give other people a chance to pay attention.

It’s by no means certain that they will change their thought process. The party could have behaved responsibly and offered to do the same thing after their 2007 upper house victory, but chose instead to use their position to foment mini-crises as a way to blow the LDP out of office. After they got their wish and finally formed a government, their performance was so miserable the voters turned the tables to put them behind the eight ball. It’s enough to make one believe in karma.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume the party finds some MPs to back an increase in the consumption tax to 10% before they take an axe to government spending. That seems unlikely considering the impact tax talk had on the election, but let’s entertain the possibility. Some of those MPs are going to have to come from the LDP in the upper house. But not everyone in the LDP is on board with their party’s own platform admitting the possibility of a rise to 10%, and neither is the Ozawa Ichiro group in the DPJ. If a tax increase were to pass, it would again allow voters to give other people a chance to pay attention. Or, it could spur the Koizumians in the LDP or the Ozawans in the DPJ to walk, thus accelerating the inevitable political realignment into philosophically compatible groups.

Opposition parties will introduce serious measures of their own to reduce civil service expenditures and the number of Diet members. The DPJ supports those moves, according to their manifesto. But the DPJ’s largest organizational support is derived from labor unions, especially public sector unions, so they’ll have to make a choice. If the government is downsized, everyone will benefit. If the DPJ blocks those measures, the voters will be waiting for them next time around.

It’s all good!

Gemba Koichiro of the DPJ thinks there’s some room to maneuver on civil service reform. He said:

Your Party’s thinking and direction is identical to ours. We might have room for compromise.

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

Some sections (of the platforms) use the same language, but I’m not sure we could get together on the specifics. I’m not optimistic.

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

There is a wild card. Desperate to gets its Japan Post bill enacted, the PNP has asked the Social Democrats in the lower house to informally cooperate with them. Since there are two vacancies in the lower house, the DPJ, the PNP, and the SDPJ together could reach the two-thirds threshold for a supermajority in the lower house. The SDPJ said they’d talk about it amongst themselves, but were otherwise noncommittal. That party is on shaky ground nowadays—they won only two PR seats in the upper house, and there’s talk of dumping Ms. Fukushima as party leader. Will they return to the coalition? We’ll have to see, but they might do the PNP this one favor. If that bill passes, it will provide plenty of ammunition for politicians in the next election. Those who think otherwise might take a hint from current political conditions in the U.S.

The near future

Watanabe Yoshimi jumped on the bully pulpit and isn’t letting go of the mike:

It’s necessary to dissolve the lower house and hold a general election as early as possible to normalize the Diet gridlock. Local elections will be held nationwide next spring, so it would be best to hold them together.

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

It’s necessary for the lower house be quickly dissolved and ask for the trust of the people.

What should Mr. Kan do? Here’s Mr. Watanabe again:

Three years ago (after the last upper house election) when the LDP lost its position as the leading party, they said the Abe administration should step down. I’m telling them the same thing.

The DPJ used to claim that Cabinets should bend to the most recently expressed will of the people. Taking power seems to have created short-term memory loss syndrome in the party, however.

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

His party was thrilled with their election results because they picked up 10 seats in the upper house to bring their total to 11. A Diet member needs 10 co-signers to submit a bill, so they’ve cleared that hurdle. Unlike the DPJ, Your Party members actually have the capability of putting together legislation on their own, and they have several bills ready to go. They’ll surely use this new weapon to publicize their policies, and as the newest television darlings, they’ll surely receive the publicity.

Your Party and the LDP also want to bounce Upper House President Eda Satsuki for what they call his outrageous Diet management. That role requires him to give up his party affiliation, but he’s a DPJ man. The LDP is particularly irritated because they wanted to dump a no-confidence resolution on Hatoyama Yukio. (It would have lost, but it would have forced the DPJ to vote for him, perhaps keeping him in office for the lower house election.) Mr. Eda squelched that, as well as other opposition measures.

Said Mr. Watanabe:

It would be a good idea for the opposition parties to unite and stop this DPJ high-handedness…A change is natural. The opposition parties will work together to choose a new president.

The LDP agreed, but New Komeito doesn’t want to go along. Even though the opposition outnumbers the government, New Komeito says it wants to maintain the principle of having the president come from the party with the largest number of members. Others say that New Komeito might be keeping their options open for a possible coalition down the road. And Mr. Watanabe says he will press the issue.

The DPJ’s future

Several alternative realities could manifest on the material plane for the ruling party, and all of them would be for the greater good.

A Kyodo poll after the election showed the support rate for the Kan Cabinet plunged to 36.3% from the 61.5% figure tallied last month. 52.2% are opposed.

Barring a Kan Naoto-led Era of Good Feelings in Nagata-cho, which would be out of character, the Cabinet’s numbers will continue to head south. Mr. Kan was chosen to manage the election at a minimum, and he choked in the clutch. His return to the minor leagues would seem to be a matter of time.

On election night, despite the national vote of no confidence and the DPJ’s long insistence on obeying the most recent expression of popular will, Mr. Kan appeared on television and said that dissolving the Diet and holding a new election was the farthest thing from his mind.

Not only was Mr. Kan unable to manage an election, he was unable to manage his emotions. His hands shook, his fingers were restless, and he kept touching things on his desk, licking his lips, and drinking water. Those looking for grace or strength under pressure didn’t see any. The photo in my local newspaper the next morning showed him on the verge of tears, and a similar photo already festoons the cover of one of the weeklies.

What, me worry?

Typical of the DPJ, however, everyone thought everyone else was just doing fine. In a round robin show of support, Mr. Kan said that Messrs. Edano and Sengoku should continue in their jobs, and the other two took turns saying the same about the others. The three men met the morning after the election and agreed that keeping their jobs was just the ticket. That leaves them open to the charge of failing to take responsibility, which is a particularly heavy one in Japan.

Mr. Kan in particular seemed to be having a problem with cognitive dissonance. Speaking on the consumption tax:

I don’t think it was a rejection of the debate (consumption tax) itself. My explanation was insufficient…It’s unfortunate that our idea of just moving forward with debate was clumsily and prematurely conveyed to the people.

That reminded more than a few people of Hatoyama Yukio’s comment regarding his own resignation: “The people stopped listening.” In other words, we’re doing the right thing, but can’t get the yokels to pay attention.

Mr. Sengoku came up with a novel spin on the situation on the 12th:

I think we will writhe in agony, but by passing through it Japanese politics will mature.

Thus equating the DPJ with Japanese politics and confirming the observation that self-absorption remains a serious problem in the party. And there was this from Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko:

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

We will make a start by calling for cooperation from other parties on a drastic tax reform, including the consumption tax.

Instead of paying for their own mistakes with their jobs, they’re going to make the people pay for their mistakes with their assets. Not a word on drastic spending reform.

But there’s another aspect to the situation. Acting party Secretary-General Hosono Goshi said this about Mr. Kan:

He’s only been in office a month. We shouldn’t replace the prime minister three times in a year.

He’s got a point, but wouldn’t it be better to let him writhe in agony at home, where there’s plenty of cold beer in the refrigerator, instead of subjecting the public to it?

It’s possible they’re just being realistic and waiting until the party presidential election in September, now slated for the 5th. Mr. Kan will surely have to survive a challenge from the Ozawa forces, if not Mr. Ozawa himself. Others might think Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya is starting to look good right about now.

Mr. Kan has kept Justice Minister Chiba Keiko in office even though she lost her election in Kanagawa, which some see as a sign he realizes he’s finished. Ms. Chiba was willing to resign, but Mr. Kan talked her out of it. Mr. Sengoku’s excuse was that it would provide “continuity in government”. As one Japanese wag put it, the role of the Kan Cabinet has been downgraded from election management to office management. In other words, another group of incompetents blocking progress have been unmasked and will soon be kicked to the side of the road.

The joker in the deck

If by some miracle Mr. Kan’s Cabinet stays somewhat intact after September, they still might find themselves out of power due to a sudden reduction in the number of DPJ Diet members.

Even though Kan Naoto was the DPJ leader during the negotiations to bring Ozawa Ichiro and his Liberal Party into the DPJ, the two men do not get along. TV commentator Tahara Soichiro said that when they appeared on his program at the time to discuss the merger, they wouldn’t speak to each other in the studio. Mr. Tahara had to act as a go-between.

The impolite fiction of party unity receded further into the distance when Mr. Kan told Mr. Ozawa to pipe down soon after taking office and stacked Cabinet and party positions with Ozawa foes. The latter then attacked DPJ leadership for bringing up the consumption tax increase during the campaign. It’s entirely possible that he lashed out at Mr. Kan from spite, and to purposely sabotage the DPJ’s chances for his own ends.

The relationship between Edano Yukio and Mr. Ozawa is even more venomous. When the former replaced the latter as party secretary-general, Mr. Ozawa cut their only meeting short after two minutes. He also neglected to pass on to Mr. Edano critical information required to conduct the election campaign, such as which candidates needed financial assistance from the party.

Since the election, Mr. Ozawa has maintained a strange silence and has not appeared in public. The prime minister has sent several messages asking for a meeting, but Mr. Ozawa isn’t returning his calls. The idea, it seems, is to slowly put the screws to him.

Writing in a labor union newspaper, Takashima Hoshimitsu, the DPJ secretary-general of the upper house caucus and an Ozawa supporter, said:

It’s certain that the Kan administration has abruptly come to a dead stop.

According to a mid-level DPJ MP close to Mr. Ozawa:

Edano Yukio and the rest are dead meat. To use a line from the popular comic, ‘You’re already dead.” (The comic is Hokuto no Ken, or Fist of the Big Dipper.) They’ll self-destruct sooner or later, so there’s no need to go to the trouble of criticizing them.

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

We’ve already taken steps for the party presidential election. It will be impossible for Kan to be reelected without a vote.

That should be one interesting election. A member of the Maehara Seiji group, part of the hard-line anti-Ozawans, said:

We’ve got three arguments ready.
1. Politics and money and Ozawa
2. His strategy to run two candidates in multiple member districts failed.
3. His criticism of party executives in the midst of campaign harmed party unity.

There’s a rumor from a journalist with ties to the Ozawa camp that he’s resumed conversations with Tanaka Makiko, the former LDP defense minister and daughter of Kakuei, Mr. Ozawa’s political tutor, about serving as prime minister. The two already discussed it when Hatoyama Yukio quit. She told him she wasn’t interested in managing the election, but to come back later.

Her presence might attract some current members of the LDP into a coalition. In fact, there are also rumors that LDP elders Mori Yoshiro and Koga Makoto met with Mr. Ozawa recently. Several Ozawa group members confirm that Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Koga met in Kyushu during the campaign.

To add another ingredient to this unlikely cocktail, a review panel in the Tokyo prosecutor’s office said yesterday that the original decision not to take Mr. Ozawa to court for campaign funding violations was inappropriate.

No matter what happens with this most motley of crews, it will turn out for the best regardless of how bad it looks at first. I’ve said before that the Nagata-cho toilet needs a few more flushes, and this will likely present the opportunities. Any group that Mr. Ozawa leads is going to be in the media crosshairs, and they will not stand at ease until he is gone. The combination of Mr. Ozawa and Ms. Tanaka, headstrong drama queens both, would further accelerate their departure from political leadership positions. Regardless of who wins or loses the party presidential election, the inevitable rupture of the DPJ draws closer, leaving the labor unions and the lawyers of the limousine left to their own devices and the creation of a boutique agenda party. A graft with the LDP mudboaters would grease the skids for that greasy group too.

The only downside to the current political situation will be the steps taken in the short term to delay the day of reckoning. Over the long term, it’s a process of purification with nothing but upside.

Numbers of interest

* Few people are talking about it, but the DPJ won more votes than the LDP:

PR districts
DPJ: 18.45 million votes
LDP: 14.07 million votes

Direct election districts
DPJ: 22.75 million votes
LDP: 19.49 million votes

The LDP’s strategy of focusing on single districts trounced the Ozawa strategy. This should put to rest the belief that Mr. Ozawa is an election wizard. His record in big elections is again back to 50/50.

* The only parties to win seats in direct voting were the LDP, DPJ, Your Party, and New Komeito. The other parties won seats through proportional representation.

* Kyodo exit polls showed only 28.8% of independents voted for the DPJ, down from 51.6% in 2009. Independents account for a majority of Japanese voters.

* Several LDP members who lost lower house seats in 2009 won seats in the upper house, including some Koizumians. They included Inoguchi Kuniko, for whom Mr. Koizumi campaigned twice, Katayama Satsuki, and Sato Yukari. Another returnee is Fukuoka Takamaro, who campaigned on the slogan, “Jobs, not handouts”.

* One of the ex-LDP losers, however, was Sugimura Taizo, who became a media sensation after winning a seat in the 2005 Koizumi landslide. No one expected the young, unemployed office worker who registered as an LDP PR candidate in position #35 to win, but Mr. Koizumi’s coattails were very long that year. Mr. Sugimura quickly earned a reputation as a doofus after he babbled about looking forward to eating at the exclusive restaurants where Japanese pols hang out to eat, drink, and hatch their strategies. He was bounced from the Diet last year after moving to Hokkaido, but this year the geriatrics of the Sunrise Japan Party recruited him to run under their banner for reasons that defy logic. He lost again.

* 17 women won seats, or one out of every six female candidates. That’s more than in 2004 but down from 26 in 2007. Their 17% election rate is also down from the 28.6% in 2007. The gorgons in academia, the Japanese version of the Guardianistas at the Japan Times, and the self-appointed wonderful ones will complain, but the only people who care are those who think equality of results trumps equality of opportunity. What little gender had to do with the winning or losing might have worked to their benefit. The DPJ’s Ren Ho capitalized on her good looks and favorable publicity to overcome her lack of experience at anything other than talking in public and posing seminude for photos to reap an impressive number of votes.

Wakabayashi Aki

In contrast, the less attractive but more capable Wakabayashi Aki, a former bureaucrat and journalist who exposed the blunders of the bureaucracy and the DPJ’s policy reform in three books, lost her election as a PR candidate for Your Party. Had the DPJ really been serious about their policy review instead of just using it as TV entertainment, she would have been a much better choice for the panel than Ren Ho.

Incidentally, a sign that someone turned on the light switch at DPJ headquarters is the statement yesterday that they would consider allowing other parties to participate in their policy reviews. That will make it much more difficult for the Finance Ministry to write the script and for the DPJ to slip snipped programs back into the budget later when no one is looking, which is what happened the first time.

* Interest group influence was down with the exception of the labor unions. When voting in the PR phase, voters can either write in the candidate’s name or the party’s name. An indication of union strength was that roughly 80% of the PR votes cast for the DPJ were for the party rather than the candidate. Of the 16 PR seats won by the DPJ, 10 were taken by former Rengo executives. Mr. Edano made sure to visit them and express the party’s gratitude.

* Vote totals were down for those candidates backed by the interest groups associated with doctors, dentists, truckers, pharmacists, the construction industry, and the association for families of the war dead. Those backed by the nurses’ group polled better, as did those backed by Zentoku, the national association of postmasters. The latter group naturally backed the PNP, but the party was skunked in the seat count and failed to win a million votes nationwide.


* Tanaka Makiko

The current issue of the weekly Shukan Bunshun has excerpts of a remarkable political stump speech/rant delivered by Ms. Tanaka in her home district. She was for years a member of the LDP, left the party to serve as an independent, and then joined the DPJ last year. She doesn’t seem to have much use for any of them, however.

The term dokuzetsu (poison tongue) doesn’t do it justice. She said the people still in the LDP were “garbage” now that the only ones with popular appeal have left, and she congratulated herself for being the first to leave. She described those who did bolt the LDP as “the Sunset Party” (the Sunrise Party), “Kame-chan” of the PNP (The first kanji in Kamei Shizuka’s family name is “turtle”) and “the bald guy with a head like a scallion who used to be Health Minister” (Masuzoe Yoichi). She dismissed the LDP leadership as “Tubby Mori, Oshima What’s-his-name, and Ishiba What’s-his-name”.

Ms. Tanaka didn’t spare the DPJ. She called Hatoyama Yukio an “elitist who’s always talking about discrimination”, and said the current Cabinet was “packed with nothing but lawyers from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University”. She also took a shot at “the Policy Review Minister who goes around in a white suit” (Ren Ho), but as soon as it turned out she had some dodgy accounting for her office expenses, Kan Naoto hushed everything up by ending the Diet session because it was time for an election.

The crowd ate it up. (Don’t I keep saying that the Japanese love nails that stick out?) But Ms. Tanaka doesn’t have the temperament required of a political leader. She’d be a firecracker as a political commentator or a blogger, however. Koizumi Jun’ichiro could also be wicked, but he was funny. Ms. Tanaka is just cruel for cruelty’s sake. If she ever did manage to wind up as prime minister, her term in office would be nasty, brutish, and short.

* Politicians aren’t the only ones who need to grow up.


All except Jiji use random digit dialing, which is less accurate than more targeted methods. If any of the major polls focus on likely voters only, they aren’t talking about it. Jiji polling suggests more than half of all Japanese adults are independent, but a Kyodo exit poll showed they accounted for only 17.2% of the people who wound up voting.

Print media

The headline of the cover on the 18 June Shukan Asahi, after Kan Naoto took over as prime minister:

DPJ Poised to Take Majority in Upper House / DPJ Reform Resumes

Their 23 July issue had a photo of Mr. Kan near tears with the headline:

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

The late Watanabe Michio, father of Your Party’s Yoshimi, observed that television is the number one means for a politician to promote himself to the public. Number two is weekly magazines, there are no numbers three and four, and number five is newspapers.

Were he to reprise that today, he might put the Net at number 6. Meanwhile, TV and the Net are probably running neck and neck at number 1 in the U.S., and no one else counts anymore. People in Japan have yet to realize that such media outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Newsweek have lost their influence and preach only to the converted. In fact, Newsweek will be lucky to survive much longer.


Everybody’s irritated with the way Japanese TV covers politics, but one of the more unfortunate events of the last election was their failure to treat the Spirit of Japan Party as the equal of the other parties during televised debates. TV limited participation to those parties who had five or more representatives in the Diet, which left the SOJ out in the cold. That meant they won no seats, though nationwide they did get about half the votes of Kamei Shizuka’s People’s New Party, which had both television coverage and the strong backing of an interest group.

That’s unfortunate because the party leaders have both legislative experience in the Diet and executive experience at the local government level–something the national government desperately needs. They’ve had significant success in rebuilding shattered public finances without automatically reaching for the tax lever.

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

We didn’t have as much time to prepare as the established parties, and we had no organization.

They were organized just three months ago. Another factor was the number of new parties, all of which were led by people with an established national profile. Only Your Party out of this group developed any traction.

Mr. Yamada says they will continue to work with an eye on next year’s local elections. Let’s hope they survive—they’re a little too close to people like social conservative Hiranuma Takeo for comfort, but the opportunity to offer their views and experience on managing government with common sense would elevate the national discussion.

And to close, here’s the best political cartoon I’ve ever seen. It has nothing to do with Japan specifically (though it’s applicable in general), and it comes from a surprising source, but it deserves a larger audience.

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Whose side are you on anyway?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 30, 2010

SHORTLY AFTER taking office, Prime Minister Kan Naoto turned everyone’s head by suggesting that former DPJ Secretary-General (and former party head) Ozawa Ichiro keep his lips zipped for a while. Mr. Ozawa’s problems with the law and his unpopularity with the public were two of the reasons the DPJ’s popular support had collapsed, so former Prime Minister Hatoyama made sure to take the old puppet master with him when he left.

He was also unpopular with many in the party for his iron-fisted leadership style. (He’s long believed that the people who understand will shut up and do as they’re told, while those who don’t understand and ask questions are hopeless.) It was therefore natural that the new prime minister wanted to create some breathing room for his Cabinet by having Mr. Ozawa go someplace where people couldn’t see or hear him. On the other hand, Mr. Kan took the risk that alienating Mr. Ozawa could cause the serious rupture in the party they’ve been trying to avoid since he joined.

Mr. Ozawa took the hint and behaved himself for most of the subsequent month—in public, anyway—but during a campaign speech yesterday in Imabari, Ehime, he seems to have finally looked at his watch and said, “Time’s up!”

That’s not all he said. Indeed, it would be understandable if one read the text of his criticisms of the Kan administration and thought the remarks were delivered by an opposition politician. Here’s how he started out:

It’s not my position to be talking about policy decisions…

Translation: I’m going to talk about policy decisions.

…but the DPJ has become the ruling party, so if we don’t keep our promises to the people, society will not be realized.

Yes, he said that last part.

Therefore, as a result, we will have lied to the people.

The man who once joked with a double-entendre in Japanese that the advantage of campaign promises was that they could be replastered then spoke about keeping specific campaign promises:

In last year’s lower house election, we campaigned by saying we would not raise the consumption tax during the four-year Diet term….we promised the people during the general election last year that we would remove tolls on expressways and provide a child allowance and income supplements (to farming households)—and we won a majority.

He elaborated:

Is there anything so stupid…

Yes, he said that too.

…as to form a government and then say, ‘There’s no money, so we can’t do it’? Politics is keeping your campaign promises.

He wasn’t finished. On Mr. Kan’s ideas about raising the consumption tax to 10%:

I don’t know what (Prime Minister Kan) was thinking (when he talked about an increase in the consumption tax), but we said during the election that we would not raise it for four years. We’ll work as hard as we can to eliminate waste in government, and after four years, if the funds for social welfare expenditures are still insufficient, we must consider it.

Then he made a pledge of his own:

I will definitely use all of my meager abilities to achieve our campaign promises.

Now that sounds like a man running for office, doesn’t it? Mr. Ozawa has already hinted he might challenge Mr. Kan in September; the prime minister’s term as party chief ends that month because he’s filling up the unused portion of Hatoyama Yukio’s term. Everyone in Japan is well aware that many in the DPJ, including those in party and government leadership positions, wish he would go far, far away, and just as aware that others in the DPJ are afraid he might make their wish come true. Not only does this speech raise the possibility of a party split, it also sows doubts among the electorate about whom in the party they should believe (assuming that it’s possible to believe any of them). That could dampen the DPJ vote, which Mr. Ozawa might have had in mind.

Finance Minister Noda Yoshihiko couldn’t leave well enough alone, and snapped at the bait:

Our upper house campaign platform was put together by the planning committee under Prime Minister Hatoyama and Secretary-General Ozawa. I don’t understand what all this blah, blah, blah about the platform is supposed to mean.

Memo to Mr. Noda: You know the media is going to jump all over this (more than 60 separate articles on Google News before the day was out), so why fan the flames this close to an election? Now that you’re in the Cabinet instead of coffeehousing, isn’t it time you started to learn when and how to deflect that which you want people to ignore?

Besides, why would a finance minister want to defend himself against the charge of not spending money that the government doesn’t have?

The article in the Nishinippon Shimbun covering Mr. Ozawa’s speech, by the way, drily noted that he played the leading role in formulating this year’s current budget. The newspaper also reminded their readers that he insisted on keeping the “temporary” gasoline surtax despite the party’s pledge in the election platform to eliminate it. That seems to have slipped his mind during the speech yesterday.

Whoops Mr. Kan #1

Now that their party’s taken a hit in the polls, the DPJ leadership is trying desperately to backtrack from Mr. Kan’s ruminations about a boost in the consumption tax. The prime minister will have more than egg on his face if the party falls a few seats short of an absolute majority in the upper house election.

Government Reform Minister Ren Ho even tried this line: “That’s not what this election is supposed to be about.”

I repeat myself, but now that you’re in the Cabinet instead of coffeehousing, isn’t it time you started to learn that once the prime minister says something about a matter of policy—especially tax increases—that statement becomes what every subsequent election is about? It’s not as if elections have name tags for placement in tidy little categories.

Whoops Mr. Kan #2

The prime minister seems not to have had a very good summit, though the major media outlets are covering for him. The stories still filter out anyway.

For example, when referring to a meeting with the leaders of India and Indonesia, Mr. Kan wanted to say “emerging countries” (in English), but out popped “emergency companies” instead.

He also botched the names of the presidents of South Korea and Russia, and called it the G7 instead of the G8.

Finally, during a casual conversation at lunch with the other national leaders, he suggested inviting the Chinese in the future. An awkward silence followed.

And yes, if it had been Aso Taro, you would have already heard these stories by now.


Speaking of free expressway tolls, the first stage in that program finally got underway this week—just three weeks before the upper house election. Golly, isn’t it amazing how that timing worked out?

And speaking of politicians going someplace where people can’t see or hear them, that was too much to hope for from Fukushima Mizuho, head of the junior coalition partner Social Democrats and the former Cabinet Minister who got her 15 minutes of fame by getting herself fired by Mr. Hatoyama over the Futenma base issue.

In a speech on Tuesday in Matsudo, Chiba, she said:

The Hatoyama Cabinet was yuai politics. With the Kan Cabinet, I’m worried that yuai might have disappeared. They immediately said they would build a base at Henoko (in Nago, Okinawa), and that they’re thinking of raising the consumption tax to 10%. To tell you the truth, I’m the parent who gave birth to the Kan Cabinet. Since I am its parent, I will keep placing my orders with that Cabinet (i.e., as in a restaurant) and strive to ensure that they don’t change.

Who knew that Fukushima Mizuho was the queenpin of Japanese politics? Other than herself, of course.

But as often happens with parental nagging, her orders will surely go in one ear and out the other—or, as the Japanese say, the Cabinet will have chikuwa mimi (chikuwa ears). You can see why from the photo of chikuwa below.

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Some people

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 18, 2010

SOME PEOPLE were pleased with Prime Minister Kan Naoto’s recent announcement that he wouldn’t visit the Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister, though no one was surprised.

Some people, however, were angry. Some people in the latter group were upset for reasons that others might find distasteful, but others were angry for a reason that should be understandable to everyone, regardless of their position on the issue.

Earlier this year, when relations between Japan and the United States grew tense with Prime Minister Hatoyama’s blundering over the Futenma issue, then-Finance Minister/Deputy Prime Minister Kan visited Washington D.C. as part of his official duties. Realizing that he might well wind up as prime minister himself before long, and looking for a way to mollify the Americans, he visited the national military cemetery at Arlington, Va.

That’s why it’s natural for some people in Japan to be dumbfounded that he would visit a site to commemorate American war dead, but not a similar site for Japanese war dead.

Some people might object to a Yasukuni visit because they would claim some of the Japanese memorialized there fought in an immoral war. But there are a lot of people around the world who think some of those buried at Arlington fought in immoral wars too. Including some Americans.

The Chinese will be gratified that Mr. Kan won’t visit Yasukuni, but some of the men buried at Arlington killed plenty of Chinese when the army of that country came to the assistance of Pyeongyang on the Korean Peninsula 60 years ago.

Some people would object because Yasukuni enshrines Class A war criminals. Then again, nearly 500 soldiers of the Confederacy are buried at Arlington in concentric circles around the Confederate Monument. One of the reasons they fought in the American Civil War was to maintain the institution of human slavery.

On the base of the monument are the following words: (I)n simple / Obedience to duty / As they understood it / These men suffered all / Sacrificed all / Dared all-and died.

Those words wouldn’t be out of place at Yasukuni, either.

Some people were nonplussed when Ren Ho, the Wide Show Daijin, grilled a bureaucrat during last year’s policy review and asked why it was necessary for Japan to aim at being number one in the world in the development of a supercomputer. What was wrong with being number two, she demanded?

For the same reason your party wasn’t satisfied with being the second-largest in the Diet, would be the obvious answer for some people familiar with evolutionary biology.

Now she’s interested in walking that one back, particularly after the successful return to earth of Japan’s asteroid probe has generated some positive publicity. In a recent interview with the Sankei Shimbun, she said:

(Japan) aims to be number one in the field of science and technology. It’s natural that we should aim to be number one in other fields, too.

She was asked the same question by the opposition in the Diet. Her first instinct was to use an excuse that some people no longer accept from politicians:

My words were taken out of context.

But she also got a bit huffy:

My word alone was not the determining factor for everything in the policy review.

No one thought that it was. Some people just assumed you meant what you said.

Some people were mildly surprised that Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party didn’t withdraw from the ruling coalition instead of merely resigning his Cabinet post after the DPJ brain trust double-crossed him like they two-timed Fukushima Mizuho and the SDPJ over Futenma by postponing passage of the Japan Post renationalization bill. Then again, some people wondered why a man of his age and political experience should have expected the DPJ to keep its word, especially after their behavior of the past few years.

Mr. Kamei explained his reasoning during a speech at the JR Shinjuku Station in Tokyo:

(The DPJ) are neglecting an important political issue and holding an election while their support rate is high. There have been repeated crashes-and-burns in Japanese politics. The PNP is gritting its teeth and staying in the coalition to prevent the DPJ from running out of control.

Even some people who don’t care for the PNP and Mr. Kamei will have to admit that makes a lot of sense…

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Japan’s political kaleidoscope (5): One degree of separation

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HUNGARIAN AUTHOR Frigyes Karinthy is credited with developing the concept of “six degrees of separation”, which holds that everyone on earth is at most only six links in a human web away from everyone else.

But with Japanese politics you can stretch the definition just a bit and the separation between everyone shrinks to only one degree!

When the Hatoyama administration was burning up on reentry into the atmosphere last month, Democratic Party of Japan elder statesman Watanabe Kozo (who as a former Liberal Democratic Party member and former friend of Ozawa Ichiro in both parties is a key player in the degree of separation game) suggested that the DPJ might form a coalition government with the hard-line reformers of Your Party. A few columnists in the weekly magazines picked up the idea and gummed it over.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji was having none of it:

I firmly declare that we will not join with the DPJ after the upper house election….If we were to form a coalition with the DPJ, it would be suicide for the party. It’s not going to happen.

It’s a wise man who never says never about anything in Japanese politics, but Mr. Watanabe and the journalists really are out of touch. Your Party does not just stand for bureaucratic reform, small government, devolution of power, and lower taxes, they stomp their feet on that platform like lumberjacks at a hoedown. They are as much an agenda party in their own way as the Communists are in theirs. It should go without saying that it would be political hara-kiri for them to sell out to the DPJ by joining a coalition, but some people are still looking through the eyeglasses of the last century.

Someone else who should have known better is the Internet pundit who suggested that we’d find out what Your Party is really like after they join a larger party. Not only are they unlikely to join either the DPJ or the LDP as presently constituted, it is more likely that people will wind up joining them, particularly if they do well in the upper house election. Every day the RSS feeds coughs up another article about a new Your Party candidate announcing his candidacy in either the national or a local election.

Speaking of Watanabe Kozo, he had this to say in a TV interview on the 11th about Ren Ho, the new Minister for Government Reform:

Having a minister like that in the television age is good for our popularity with the people. She’s a made-for-TV minister.

Out of the mouths of babes and the elderly. Ren Ho is now ending her first term in the upper house after a career as a model and TV announcer.

When Mr. Watanabe tried to recover, he shoved his foot in deeper:

She’s a flower, the Cabinet’s flower, both in name and in fact.

Speaking of Ren Ho, her mother recalled this in a recent interview:

Just before he died, her father told her, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go into politics,’ and now she’s a Cabinet minister.

Ren Ho’s father was Taiwanese and her mother is Japanese. She became a naturalized citizen in 1985.

The leaders of her party, including Messrs. Kan, Hatoyama, Ozawa, and particularly Foreign Minister Okada Katsuya, are supporters of legislation allowing people with permanent resident status the right to vote in local elections (though the Japanese expression refers to political participation, which also implies candidacy).

They wanted to include this pledge in the party’s political platform for last summer’s lower house election campaign, but someone launched a petition drive to prevent that. The petition was circulated among the party’s Diet members and got roughly 50 signatures. Though her office denies it, she is thought to have been the person most involved in collecting those signatures. She is also on record as saying:

If you want the right to vote, you should become a citizen.

Here’s what else Ren Ho said on the record, this time at a news conference on the 15th about the recovery of the Hayabusa capsule in Australia after seven years and four billion miles in deep space. It was the first spacecraft to land on an asteroid and return to Earth. Scientists are anxious to see if it brought back a sample from the asteroid Itokawa, on which it landed twice in 2005.

Said the minister:

All Japanese should be proud of this magnificent achievement. We made a major statement to the world.

One of the reporters present pointed out that the DPJ policy review conducted last November—the platform that launched her into the Cabinet—cut the budget for space exploration. One of the items whose budget was slashed–from JPY 1.7 billion to JPY 30 million–was the program to create a successor for the Hayabusa.

First she bought some time:

I was not directly responsible for space exploration (in the policy review). I’m in the process of confirming what happened.

And then she answered:

We shouldn’t defend all the results of the policy review, no matter what. Of course we should incorporate the different opinions and judgments of the people when compiling the next budget.

This is the person the Japan Times called a “firebrand reformer”.

She may be a relative newcomer to politics, but she’s already grown a second face.

Speaking of two-faced politicians, Tanaka Shusei reminded people in the current issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai that when Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro concluded the agreement with the Americans in 1996 to move the Futenma marine base to another location in Okinawa, current Prime Minister Kan Naoto was a member of the New Party Sakigake, which was part of the coalition government. Mr. Kan was in the Cabinet as the Health Minister, and former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was then the acting secretary general of the party.

Neither man objected to the agreement at the time.

Speaking of Tanaka Shusei and the lack of a dime’s worth of difference between the two major parties, Mr. Tanaka had this to say about the DPJ’s comeback in the polls in the Weekly Diamond online:

This closely resembles the events of last year, in which disillusionment with the LDP government resulted in a DPJ government. We cannot ignore that the disillusionment with and unpopularity of the Hatoyama Yukio government (the Ozawa – Hatoyama structure) is linked to the public’s expectations for the new Cabinet. At any rate, it is likely that most people wanted to end the Hatoyama administration in the same way they wanted to end the LDP administration.

Speaking of Ozawa Ichiro, he was in the Kumano area of Wakayama on the 12th. It was his first trip outside of Tokyo since Hatoyama Yukio maneuvered him out of the post of DPJ secretary general. Mr. Ozawa has a habit of saying things that raise people’s eyebrows. He did it again:

People with an illness have come to this area since ancient times for rebirth or resuscitation. This land has long held a belief in revival.

Just like the Terminator, eh? “I’ll be back!”

Speaking of reminding people of the old LDP, the new Cabinet’s national strategy minister, Arai Satoshi (of the Kan faction) was found to have purchased some curious items that he charged to office expenses. And speaking of Mr. Arai’s office, it was found to have been located smack dab in the residence of what the media called “an acquaintance”. The DPJ released receipts for the years 2007 to 2009, and a total of JPY 42.44 million (about $US 462,000) of his expenses turned out to be of dubious value for political activity.

Count on the Akahata, the house organ of Japan’s Communist Party, to have the most detailed list. Here’s what they said he charged:

Under the category of equipment and consumables:

JPY 4,485 for five volumes of Yazawa Ai’s Paradise Kiss comics (37 comic magazines were charged in all)
JPY 2,210 for a hamburger set at the McDonald’s at Nagata-cho


JPY 2,500 for a CD of background music for pachinko parlors
JPY 26,500 for books on improving pachinko technique
JPY 22,670 for 18 articles of clothing, including underwear, briefs, and camisoles
JPY 7,350 for toys purchased at a department stores

Under office expenses:

JPY 2,300 for a massage at a Sapporo massage parlor
JPY 150,000 for a man’s suit
JPY 2,547 for onions, milk, and cooking oil bought at a supermarket

Mr. Arai said the comic book receipt got mixed in with the real expenses, but he had no explanation for the others.

The response of the DPJ was also reminiscent of the LDP. Acting Secretary General Hosono Goshi said on TBS:

It’s not against the law to buy comics, but it is inappropriate. I hope he adjusts his accounts quickly.

Looking after his own, Prime Minister Kan said he doesn’t think Mr. Arai should resign, but everyone knows what he would have said had the man been in a different party. They know because they remember what he usually said about politicians in other parties when the DPJ was in the opposition.

Speaking of Mr. Kan, and “that was then, this is now”-type answers, the prime minister was asked in the Diet about his reasons for submitting an amendment to the 1999 bill that would have removed the clause making Kimi ga Yo the official national anthem. At the time, then-DPJ party head Hatoyama Yukio argued in favor of his colleague’s measure because of what he termed the song’s unpleasant wartime associations.

Eleven years later, however, Mr. Kan told a different story. He explained there was a difference in opinion in the DPJ at the time, and added:

Some (in the party) thought a livelier national anthem would be better.

Speaking of Mr. Kan making stuff up, he did it again on the 14th in the Diet. Mr. Kan has often cited political scientist Nagai Yonosuke as a political and personal influence. Prof. Nagai taught at the Tokyo Institute of Technology when Mr. Kan was a student there, and the two stayed in contact after he graduated. The prime minister has said:

We had a close relationship for a long time.

It turns out that another admirer of Prof. Nagai was Watanabe Yoshimi, now the head of Your Party. Mr. Watanabe said that when he was a student at Waseda, he snuck over to the other campus to sit in on his classes. He said he was struck with the depth of his thought and the beauty of his prose.

Mr. Watanabe asked the prime minister:

Prof. Nagai said that Article 9 of the Constitution (the Peace Clause) should be amended. What do you think?

Replied Mr. Kan, on the most-frequently debated subject in Japanese politics over the past 65 years:

The topic of Article 9 itself never came up in discussion between us.

See, it’s not necessary to think fast to be a politician. You just have to say something fast.

Speaking of Mr. Kan, let’s take a closer look at Kan the Man. We’ve already quoted Tanaka Shusei once today, so let’s take a second dip from the weekly Shukan Gendai:

I’ve seen both Miyazawa Kiichi and Hosokawa Morihiro serve as prime minister at close range. From that experience, I can say that a person’s abilities and character are completely exposed once they become prime minister. Deception and disguise are absolutely impossible. That is the decisive difference between being a party leader and being a prime minister. Mr. Hatoyama became prime minister without understanding that. Eventually, after eight months, every aspect of his personality was laid bare before the people.

Since the Kan breech has long been exposed in Japan, let’s transfer some of it to English.

It’s nearly impossible to read a feature article about Mr. Kan that doesn’t include a mention of his hair-trigger temper. He’s been trying to keep a lid on it for past month or two, after it became apparent that the Hatoyama administration was evaporating and he was the likely choice to succeed him.

But most Japanese journalists expect it to erupt eventually, and it won’t be attractive when it does.

For example, one report from earlier this year had him throwing an ashtray at a bureaucrat who told him it was not possible to do what Mr. Kan asked him to do.

The steam might already be rising. Mr. Kan revealed at a news conference that he was unlikely to ask for an extension of the Diet session just to pass the Japan Post legislation. Reporters told him that the opposition had charged him with “running away from” the issue.

Cue the unpleasant face and the sharp voice: “What criticism was this? Why are they criticizing?” He asked four times in all.

The Asahi ran an editorial titled Realism without the Specifics about his first speech as prime minister in the Diet. Snapped the prime minister:

Did they listen to all of it? I wanted to say things that were even more serious.

Mr. Kan is a fan of go. One of the reporters assigned to the Kantei said the prime minister had became hooked on the online Pandanet go game, and was frequently seen playing it on the PC in his Deputy Prime Minister’s office. The reporter added: “But when he went to the Diet he just sat there with his eyes closed.”

The Japanese tend to be indulgent of men who are serious drinkers, and most Japanese men who consume prodigious amounts of alcohol are blasé about it. During his university days, Mr. Kan’s favorite pastime was drinking and arguing politics, and he seems to have turned his avocation into his life’s work. One report this week described him with the expression, sakekuse ga warui, or a problem drinker.

Maybe there’s a reason he nods off so frequently in the Diet.

In the current edition of the weekly Shukan Bunshun, freelance journalist and open DPJ sympathizer Uesugi Takashi describes the background of the founding of the modern DPJ. He was an aide to Hatoyama Kunio at the time (who was also present at the creation). Mr. Uesugi reports that Mr. Kan, Hatoyama Yukio, and their wives met secretly at the latter’s villa in Karuizawa. He thought there was nothing amiss about reporting that Mr. and Mrs. Kan knocked back more than a few jars during the meeting, as the Irish say.

Speaking of Mrs. Kan, by the way, she and her husband are first cousins. Her mother and his father were siblings. Those marriages aren’t encouraged in Japan, but they do happen.

The current edition of the weekly Shukan Shincho ran some informal photos taken at the couple’s home one morning in 1998, shortly after that meeting in Karuizawa. There were open beer cans (tall boys of Kirin Ichiban Shibori) on the kitchen counter and kitchen table, probably left there from the night before.

They also recounted several of his escapades, one of which occurred at his favorite drinking establishment, identified as S.

In 2006 he was a candidate in the race to replace Maehara Seiji as DPJ party president, to whom he had lost by two votes in the same election the previous year. Friends tried to talk him out of it, but he ran anyway and was trounced by Ozawa Ichiro. That night, he got ripped on white wine at S, shouted to no one in particular, “I’m the one who built this party! Why shouldn’t I run (for party head)?” and passed out on the floor. (I’m assuming tatami mats in an alcove, but then I’ve never been to S.) He woke up when another customer’s dog mounted him. He started petting the dog and exclaimed, “Wan-chan, thank you!” (Wan-chan is a generic term for addressing a dog. I don’t know how else to translate noru for what the dog did, which is the word the magazine used.)

Mr. Kan also has a vision, and it isn’t one of pink elephants. According to the Shukan Shincho:

The reason I left the Socialist Democratic Federation was that in my 30s, I thought a small party was the best way to stay on as a Diet member, but in my 40s, I wanted to go to a larger party and take leadership positions within the party. From the latter part of my 40s to my 50s, I wanted to be the leader of a large organization. Then, in my 60s, I would be prime minister. That is my vision.

He did not use the word for dream or ambition. It was bijon, taken from English.

Mr. Kan also thinks highly of himself. In 1998 he met Lawrence Summers when the latter was in Japan and a deputy treasury secretary in the Clinton administration. After the meeting, he told an aide:

He’s not such a big deal.

The lightweight Mr. Summers later became the last treasury secretary in the Clinton administration, served as Harvard president for five years, and is now the director of the National Economic Council in the Obama administration.

When the economist Milton Friedman died, Summers wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times called The Great Liberator. He said that “any honest Democrat will admit that we are now all Friedmanites.” He added that even more important than Friedman’s contribution to monetary policy was his work “in convincing people of the importance of allowing free markets to operate.”

It would surely be enlightening to hear the heavyweight Mr. Kan—a former finance minister himself for a few months—discuss anything to do with Milton Friedman’s theories, either pro or con.

Speaking of Mr. Kan and economic policy, Takahashi Yoichi wrote a column in the Gendai Business on 14 June about Mr. Kan’s maiden Diet speech. It’s long and in Japanese, so here’s a summary.

Mr. Takahashi said the speech consisted of a rehash of his political experience and a summarization of the policies for each ministry, which consisted of several lines each. The journalist was startled to see that Prime Minister Kan had gone back to the old LDP custom of reading aloud from what the bureaucracy calls tanzaku, or strips of paper. Each ministry presents a sheet of paper with a few sentences for the prime minister to say, and they’re stapled together to use as a text. Recent prime ministers had abandoned the practice, but Mr. Kan brought that back. The bureaucrats, said Mr. Takahashi, must have been delighted to see him reading from their script again.

He also addressed Mr. Kan’s claim that his policies would be a “third way”, with the public works pork of the LDP being the first way and the extreme market fundamentalism of the ten-year period centered on the Koizumi administration (2001-2006) being the second way. The prime minister blasted the excessive deregulation of the second way.

Mr. Takahashi—a former Finance Ministry bureaucrat/turncoat—pointed out that in the 1998 OECD ranking of G7 nations by stringency of regulatory systems, with the top position being the least regulated, Japan was #5. Ten years later, in 2008, they were fourth, overtaking Germany.

The prime minister charged that the Koizumi restructuring had caused widespread unemployment. Mr. Takahashi noted that the total number of employed persons rose by one million during the five years of the Koizumi administration, and has fallen by 30,000 since the DPJ formed a government last September.

Further, Mr. Takahashi referred to DPJ claims that income gaps widened during the Koizumi era. The OECD uses the Gini Coefficient to monitor that gap. In their rankings of the G7 countries, Japan was 4th in the Gini Coefficient in 1998, and stayed there through the mid-2000s. In fact, with this used as a metric, the income gap actually shrank in Japan under Mr. Koizumi (and in Great Britian) while it expanded in some other G7 countries during that period.

Mr. Takahashi warns the DPJ will use these fables as the justification to fashion policies that will limit deregulation and redistribute income to reduce the so-called income gap. He used the Japanese expression, e ni kaita mochi, or a rice cake drawn into a picture, to describe the DPJ approach.

In English, we’d say “pie in the sky”.

Speaking of Mr. Kan, drinking, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious economic policies, the Shukan Gendai quotes a Finance Ministry official describing an impromptu news conference with the reporters assigned to cover the prime minister at the Kan residence last week. Mr. Kan was sailing along righteously–whether from white wine or Kirin tall boys, he didn’t say.

The new prime minister claimed the people would swallow a rise in the consumption tax to 15% if the funds were diverted to long term care, social welfare, and pensions. He then said that when the economy improved, they could cut the rate back to 8%.

Speaking of rice cakes drawn into pictures…

The Finance Ministry official said he heard the story second hand, but liked what he heard. They could work with a prime minister like that.

And speaking of people in the government whose economic ideas have about as much substance as an empty Kirin tall boy can, Ikeda Motohisa is one of the new deputy finance ministers. He was also one of roughly 130 DPJ MPs that proposed in April the passage of a law requiring the Bank of Japan to set an annual inflation rate of more than 2% as a target.

I have a feeling this is not going to end very well either, whenever it ends.

And that means there won’t be any degrees of separation at all from this administration and its recent predecessors.

Mr. Hatoyama had all the political substance of a piece of wet flannel. That might not turn out to be so bad, in retrospect. Mr. Kan, on the other hand, could cause some real damage.

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The day datsu-kanryo disappeared

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 11, 2010

“Politicians in Japan are weak, you know? The bureaucracy has to be strong in a country such as this.”
– former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo to reformer Watanabe Yoshimi of Your Party

THERE WERE hundreds of glowing reports in the print and broadcast media last week about Kan Naoto’s replacement of Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister of Japan. It’s only natural for the media to do what it considers its job and inform people about a change in the politicians who control the Japanese government.

What’s missing from those media reports is that many–if not most–Japanese have other ideas about who really controls the national government. They look instead to the national bureaucracy, collectively known as Kasumigaseki from the district in Tokyo where many of the ministries are located.

Included in that group are the nation’s civil servants themselves.

Veteran journalist and editor Hasegawa Yukihiro describes how things really work in his award-winning book, Nipponkoku no Shotai (The Real Face of the Japanese Nation). Mr. Hasegawa explains that the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats believe that their authority is permanent, the authority of politicians is temporary, and that their behavior is derived from that belief. That behavior very much resembles the operations of a political party in power in a Western country.

They formulate policies on their own initiative and draw up detailed briefing papers to promote those policies. The briefing papers include Q-and-A sections in which possible objections to those policies are raised and rebuttals to those objections provided. The papers are distributed to ministry personnel, enabling them to speak in one voice to outsiders. Some are given the assignment to promote those policies among individual Diet members, and Mr. Hasegawa says they can be seen prowling the halls of the Diet office building every day. Their job is to sell the policy proposals to politicians who haven’t taken the time or trouble to master the details themselves.

They also manipulate the mass media, particularly those in the print media, and use exclusive information and the promise of scoops to cultivate reporters. Mr. Hasegawa says—not suggests, says—that the job performance evaluations for personnel at some civil service levels are determined in part by one’s success in getting favorable stories planted in newspapers. Most of the legislation presented in the Diet for debate has been created and written by bureaucrats who sold it to the ruling party. The terms of the Diet debate have been staked out in advance, and most of the work is finished by the time the actual “debate” starts. When the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, some of the advance work was done by zokugiin, Diet members affiliated with individual ministries who functioned as something akin to legislator lobbyists. (There were exceptions. Koizumi Jun’ichiro was the first to effect a meaningful change in this system, but the process of rolling back his achievements started under Fukuda Yasuo.)

There are other ways in which the civil servants are more politician than servant. They actively work against people who oppose their policies and play serious hardball with those who get in their way. For example, it’s been openly charged that after then- Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro told the Finance Ministry of his decision to spin off the Finance Department into a separate agency, the Ministry leaked to the press that Yamaichi Securities, the third-largest broker in the country, had gone finally gone bankrupt after years on life-support. That was followed by a massive credit crunch. Mr. Hashimoto’s LDP was trounced in the upper house election, and the Cabinet resigned.

Your Party head and former Government Reform Minister Watanabe Yoshimi told Mr. Hasegawa that bureaucrats threatened to bring down a Cabinet of which he was a member (he served in both the Fukuda and Aso administrations) if he continued his efforts to reform the civil service.

It signaled the beginning of the end for the Abe administration when the Social Insurance Agency retaliated against his measure to privatize the agency by leaking the news that government workers had mishandled and lost the payment records for millions of national pension accounts.

Mr. Hasegawa sees Kasumigaseki as representing all the problems with modern Japan. He writes:

I suspect the bureaucratic mechanism of Kasumigaseki is a portrait of Japan in miniature. That’s the sense I’ve developed from my association with bureaucrats. Honne and tatemae (one’s real beliefs and what one says in public), making a distinction between actions for public consumption and those taken behind the scenes, an emphasis on precedent, a vertical society based on seniority, an awareness of the importance of controlling one’s turf, in which individuals will say nothing about other (sectors) while allowing no one to say anything about theirs…the more I observe the “statutes of Kasumigaseki”, the more I think of it as Japanese society itself.

That’s because the history of Kasumigaseki began with the modernization of Japan itself in the Meiji period. After repeated trial and error, they’ve developed both the form and content. By formulating budgets, debating policy, and proposing laws, Kasumigaseki has created the shape of the nation that is Japan. If that is the case, it is no exaggeration to say that the rules, customs, traditions, and culture that have been put in place and fostered by Kasumigaseki are Japan itself.

The most powerful of the ministries is the Finance Ministry, and the power in that ministry resides in the Budget Bureau, which controls the national purse strings. Mr. Hasegawa also wrote:

The real issue is, ‘What is the real objective of the Finance Ministry?’ The conclusion I reached (after serving on government panels) was that their real objective was tax increases. Achieving that involved the seeming contradiction of not objecting to spending increases. In 2006, when a large increase in tax receipts was projected, the ministry played a tag team match with the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry to come up with a scheme to use JPY 2 trillion (about $US 21.87 billion) in the supplementary budget from these tax receipts to keep the possibility of a tax increase alive.

There’s no mystery in the Finance Ministry’s motivation in lobbying for tax increases–it’s a way to increase their power. The more money that flows to the central government, the more power they have.

A political movement has emerged calling for datsu-kanryo, or roughly, disassociation from the bureaucracy. This is the rallying cry of Your Party, formed last August by Mr. Watanabe, who broke with the LDP over the unwillingness of party leadership to back his reforms, and Eda Kenji, formerly of METI and a long-time independent MP. The remaining Koizumian wing of the LDP, led by Nakagawa Hidenao, champions the same cause. The idea has so much resonance with the public that the DPJ itself copped the datsu-kanryo slogan during its election campaign last year.

Until they won. Then, they quietly changed the slogan to datsu-kanryo ison, or disassociation from a reliance on the bureaucracy. Former Finance Ministry officials were appointed to important positions in the Hatoyama Administration, including the head of the to-be renationalized Japan Post—whose funds from savings accounts and insurance policy will again be the source of money for purchasing deficit-financing government bonds.

There were hundreds of glowing reports in the print and broadcast media about the high-profile policy and project reviews the Hatoyama administration began last fall. Sengoku Yoshito, now the Chief Cabinet Secretary, suggested that Edano Yukio, now the party secretary general, and first-term upper house member Ren Ho, a former model and TV announcer and now the Minister for Government Reform, act as masters of ceremonies for the televised event in which they forced bureaucrats to justify their programs and expenditures, and recommended the elimination or reduction of some of them.

What’s missing from those reports is that the entire process was stage managed by the Finance Ministry’s Budget Bureau. Recall that Mr. Hasegawa wrote about actions in public and behind the scenes, and how the bureaucrats had everything planned in advance. Label this Exhibit A. The Budget Bureau selected all the programs to be examined and made recommendations on those which should be eliminated—in advance. Ren Ho is an experienced reader of scripts.

What’s also missing from those media reports is that the televised proceedings had no legal standing whatsoever. There’s no business like show business. The Budget Bureau compiled the current budget last December, as it always has. In at least one instance, they reinserted cuts made by the Edano-Ren Ho Show from the Ministry of Education for IT in the classroom into the budget for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

It was as if a fox sat at the door of the hen house with a can of beer in his paw telling the farmer which hens he would be allowed to take with him.

Mr. Hasegawa explained in the 23 January issue of the weekly Shukan Gendai that part of the ministry’s motivation was a bureaucratic turf battle:

The Finance Ministry initially welcomed the inauguration of the Hatoyama administration. That’s because it provided them with the chance to cut as much as they could from the untouchable parts of the budgets of the Land, Infrastructure, and Transport; Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries; and Health, Labor, and Welfare ministries that they had been unable to cut due to the opposition of the powerful zokugiin when the LDP was in control. In fact, the policy review was the perfect chance to cut some of it, and they gloated over their victory.

Kinoshita Toshiyuki worked for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries for 15 years, served as the mayor of Saga City, and now heads his own policy research group. He is also the author of Naze Kaikaku ha Kanarazu Shippai Suru no ka (Why Reform Will Never Succeed), a title meant as a challenge rather than a lament. He said in an interview:

The DPJ has to be closely watched for how much reform it will bring to Kasumigaseki because it receives so much support from public sector unions.

He added that when he was hired by the Agriculture Ministry, he was told:

‘Cabinet ministers are performing monkeys. Your job is to skillfully beat the drum and make them dance.’ That is the presumption of the civil service. There has been no change to the general rule that the politicians do not become involved in policy formation, a role taken over by the bureaucrats.

Both he and Mr. Hasegawa say that power struggles, either with politicians or with other ministries, are what they really are about. Mr. Kinoshita claims that if the politicians were in fact interested in ferreting out wasted tax money, it would be easily accomplished by reworking the nation’s personnel system into something resembling those in place in the private sector.

There were hundreds of glowing reports in the English-language print and broadcast media explaining that the new members of the Kan Cabinet are “fiscal reformers”. Whether through political sympathy, linguistic ignorance, or the desire for shorter headlines, they have adopted the wrong word. The phrase the Japanese commonly use in this context is “fiscal reconstruction”.

What those reports also fail to mention is that “fiscal reconstruction” is Japanese media code for “tax increases”. Perhaps someone in a Kasumigaseki office helped lighten the journo load by coining a convenient euphemism.

Mr. Kan, Mr. Sengoku, and other recent Cabinet and party nominees are in favor of “fiscal reconstruction”. Mr. Kan wants a higher consumption tax and a more “progressive” income tax because he thinks this will lead to higher growth. He must think it, considering how often he talks about it. These are natural positions for a long-time social democrat, but they became more public and more pronounced after his appointment as…Finance Minister!…in January despite having as much expertise in economic and financial matters as the average convenience store clerk.

Not to worry. The ministry has decades of experience in housebreaking new lapdogs.

Writes Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji:

The mass media has been cheering the new DPJ government, but that’s the way it always is. It’s a Pollyanna-ish, carefree country (notenki).

No one in the media has pointed out that the Cabinet has been completely absorbed by the Finance Ministry. Try going out for a drink with some Finance Ministry bureaucrats and listen to what they say: “It was as easy as twisting a baby’s hand.” “It really was easy to do—Neither Mr. Kan nor Mr. Noda (the new finance minister) have any knowledge or experience of the economy or finance.”…

For more than 10 years, the Finance Ministry has been pushing the queer logic that the economy would improve with tax increases, and now it comes naturally out of both their mouths. There won’t be any future for this administration.

What the glowing reports also fail to mention is that Sengoku Yoshito, whom Mr. Kan said would be the axis on which his Cabinet rotates, is the leader of a Diet group affiliated with Jichiro, the nation’s local government employees’ union (see right sidebar). Jichiro’s 21st Century Declaration includes the pledge to work to defend and expand public services.

According to a book by Kitami Masao, public sector salaries in Japan are 40% higher than private sector salaries. Can Mr. Sengoku be expected to look in that direction to contribute to Japan’s “fiscal reconstruction”? Or is the key man in the Kan Cabinet a major part of the problem rather than part of the solution?

The front page of this morning’s Nishinippon Shimbun, which is usually sympathetic to the DPJ, carried the first part of a new feature series titled, The Day Datsu-Kanryo Disappeared. Here are some excerpts:

Hatoyama did not have a monopoly on ‘disassociation from reliance on the bureaucracy’. In 1996, when the scandal arose over the cover-up of the infection of hundreds of patients by AIDS-tainted blood transfusion products, Kan sat at his word processor, typed out a ‘minister’s directive’, and thrust it into the face of senior officials in the bureaucracy. Fighting the bureaucracy was Kan’s point of origin.

But an aide says, ‘He realized that the bureaucracy is something to be mobilized and used’ after becoming Finance Minister. At his first Cabinet meeting on the evening of the 8th, he said, ‘Leadership by the politicians does not mean eliminating the bureaucracy.’ In that instant, it was apparent that the notorious realist had undergone a change of heart.

Here’s what he says now: “In regard to the approach of each government agency, I intend to tell them, if necessary, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if you did this?’” This is the man who once wrote: ‘Democracy is a dictatorship in which the leaders can be replaced.’

The Kan administration has applied the brakes to datsu-kanryo. They’ve won initial public support, but there are still many unknowns…The Hatoyama-Ozawa regime that turned the hopes for a change in government to disappointment has been brought down, but will there be true progress in removing their politics from the new administration?”

In an interview in the latest edition of the monthly Bungei Shunju, Watanabe Yoshimi says the DPJ has turned out to be a “grotesque clone” of the LDP.

Well, they’re not all grotesque. A former model, Ren Ho looks quite attractive in her trademark white suit. There are hundreds of glowing reports in the media describing her as a “firebrand reformer” grilling bureaucrats and hunting for wasted tax money like a heat-seeking missile.

But what they fail to mention is what you already know—that she was working off a Finance Ministry script.

It would be churlish of me to suggest that she was just another performing monkey in the DPJ government dancing in a routine choreographed by the Kasumigaseki bureaucrats, as Mr. Kinoshita had it.

But you can draw your own conclusions about that.

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The bounce and the bounced

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Men should be either treated generously or destroyed, because they take revenge for slight injuries – for heavy ones they cannot.
– Niccolo Machiavelli

AFTER 420 PEOPLE in Tokyo elected Kan Naoto to replace Hatoyama Yukio as prime minister, polls showed a rebound in support for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Reports in the English-language news media used some colorful language to describe this shift in public sentiment. One said there was a “leap” in the rate of support, and another said it had “spurted”. Those aren’t words one usually associates with the people involved, particularly the second.

But there’s already an excellent descriptive term in common use in English to describe such a rebound in support, a political phenomenon that regularly occurs in all democracies. They could have called it a “bounce”.

Kan Naoto on tour

In the United States, for example, there are always stories after the two major parties hold their summer conventions during an election year to examine how much of a bounce they receive in the polls, and how quickly and to what extent that bounce dissipates. The media also uses it in such instances as, “President Obama received no bounce from the passage of his health care legislation.”

In Japan, the polls always bounce when a new prime minister is named in these circumstances. This time, the Kyodo (RDD) poll had the support numbers for the DPJ rising from about 21% to 36.1%, roughly 15 points. Meanwhile, the Fuji-Sankei RDD poll pegged the bounce at 30.6%, and Mainichi’s RDD poll showed it at 28%.

While we can’t compare the rate of support for the new Cabinet because it hasn’t been officially installed yet, we can look at the bounce the last two replacement prime ministers received in identical circumstances. Here are the figures from the Jiji poll when Fukuda Yasuo replaced Abe Shinzo in 2007:

Abe Shinzo in September: 25.5%
Fukuda Yasuo in October: 44.1%

And here are the numbers when Aso Taro replaced Fukuda Yasuo a year later:

Fukuda Yasuo in September: 15.6%
Aso Taro in October: 38.6%

Compared to the Fukuda and Aso bounces, the DPJ bounce seems to have been an unremarkable squirt rather than a spurt.

Indeed, what should concern the DPJ is that the Kan bounce will turn out to be just like the other two. Had the journos spent more time reading the financial pages of their own publications—I know, I know—they would be aware of a well-known Wall Street term that fits the circumstances perfectly: the “dead cat bounce”.

That expression originates from the idea that “even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a great height”. Here’s the definition from one website:

Securities that are prone to a dead cat bounce share a few common characteristics. First, the securities are not held in high esteem, based on past performance. Second, there are no indicators that the securities in question are capable of attaining and sustaining a higher value in the current market. Last, there are no indicators that sustained growth would be achieved if some major economic shift occurred in the market.

Sound familiar?

We’ve already seen two dead cat bounces within the past three years. The most recent Asahi poll found 38% of the respondents supporting the continuation of a DPJ-based government, but an equal number disagreeing. That suggests the possibility of a third dead cat, perhaps before the end of the year.

It took a few months for those other cats to hit the pavement a second time, however. It is to Mr. Kan’s advantage that the upper house election will be held next month, before gravity begins to take effect.

Speaking of dead cats, Kan Naoto might wind up being one dead cat politically after his Cabinet selections over the weekend.

Some commentators, including me, thought that selecting Mr. Kan as Mr. Hatoyama’s replacement was a sign that Ozawa Ichiro still controlled the party. But not only did the new prime minister suggest that Mr. Ozawa get lost for a while, he also selected Ozawa enemies to fill posts in a Cabinet reshuffle. (This is one of the things people mean when they talk about the DPJ’s structural incompatibilities.)

Everyone realized that Mr. Kan would have to demonstrate he was not an Ozawa puppet if he wanted his government to have any credibility at all, but selecting Edano Yukio as DPJ secretary-general to replace Mr. Ozawa, Sengoku Yoshito as chief cabinet secretary, and to a lesser extent, Ren Ho as governmental reform minister / consumer affairs minister is equivalent to the prime minister sticking his middle finger in the Boss Man’s face on live television. All three are anti-Ozawans, and the Edano-Ozawa animosity is particularly venemous.

Here’s Mr. Edano’s position as stated before his appointment:

Drive Ozawa Ichiro out of the DPJ!


Mr. Ozawa is undemocratic. He does not recognize anyone who doesn’t listen to him.

The Japanese proverb kega no komyo is used to describe a misfortune (literally, an injury) that eventually has an unexpected benefit. It’s possible that Mr. Kan has created that situation in reverse. He’s winning plaudits for distancing himself from Mr. Ozawa now, but he could pay for it dearly down the road. He doesn’t seem to be the type of pol to be aware of the Machiavellian maxim at the top of the post, but Mr. Ozawa probably understands it instinctively. The latter is the kind of guy who brings a squad armed with submachine guns to a knife fight, while Mr. Kan is no one’s idea of a political street fighter.

Former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson once counseled that it was best to have the late FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover as an ally because he’d “rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

Mr. Kan has now ensured he has the man with the most toxic political urine in Japan inside the tent pissing in.

Here are some of the disadvantages of the new prime minister’s approach.

1. See you in September, baby

Mr. Kan was selected to fill out the remainder of Hatoyama Yukio’s term, which ends in September. Word from the Ozawa camp is that they’re already preparing for a rumble.

Mr. Ozawa sent a video message to a party meeting in his home prefecture of Iwate held on the evening of the 4th. Here’s part of what he said:

We can achieve real reform by stabilizing the government with a victory in the upper house election. At that time, I myself will do everything to lead the charge.

Some think that means he’s considering another run for party president in September. In fact, word is now leaking out, mostly from former Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, that he briefly considered running against Mr. Kan, but decided there wasn’t enough time to mount a campaign.

2. Sayonara, baby

Even his enemies in the party have put up with Mr. Ozawa for two reasons. First, he showed them how to win, which was beyond their political capabilities before he got there. They are not the smoothest of political operatives. Second, he’s put them on permanent notice that he’s always ready to walk. More than a few people think he’s always planned on walking someday anyway.

Recall that he worked out a deal with then-Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo to create a grand coalition government, a deal the other party elders led by Messrs. Hatoyama and Kan rejected. When they failed to kiss his ring, Mr. Ozawa abruptly quit as party head and made an unmistakable threat to split and take his supporters with him. The elders knew that if he left, their chance to take power left with him. He was back in the catbird seat a few days later.

Japanese commentators generally assume that he controls roughly 150 of the party’s 423 Diet members. That total might rise in the July election. Some think he can’t count on all of them to walk out the door with him, in part because people dislike his iron-fisted leadership methods. They may be right, but that would present practical problems for the ones who choose another political planet to orbit.

Mr. Ozawa knows how to run campaigns and raise money. No one in the DPJ knew before he showed up—they were just the beneficiaries of the default anti-LDP votes. The same applies to many of the current Diet members whose fannies are sitting in the plush seats of Nagata-cho because of him. How would they fare in a re-election bid without his support, election skills, and money-raising abilities?

3. A different breed of cat

Mr. Ozawa has been through similar situations several times before with several parties and reemerged each time. A cat with nine lives lands on his feet instead of bouncing off the sidewalk, and even though he’s 68, he might have a few of those lives left. He certainly knows the layout of this particular alley.

4. Back to square one

People have noticed the new Cabinet looks very much like the pre-Ozawa DPJ, led by the hapless Hatoyama and the irascible Kan, which could never gain serious traction with the voters. It had the reputation as a left-of-center coffee house debating society for squishes. Are they capable of standing on their own? Some think they spot the outlines of a battle between the Old DPJ and the Ozawa Liberal Party-wing taking shape.

The problem will be exacerbated by appointing Mr. Edano to serve as party secretary-general. His job will be to create party unity and run the national election campaign, and he’s never had any experience of that type before. How does he develop party unity when fingers already have started pointing after the Hatoyama debacle? How does he foster party unity among the more moderate elements such as himself and co-group leader Maehara Seiji, the hard-line left wingers who joined the party because they couldn’t win running as socialists, and those in the pockets of the labor unions? How does he create unity with Ozawa Ichiro disinclined to help him, though he is sure to be Johnny-on-the-spot for those loyal to him.

Add to that the dissatisfaction already expressed by Mr. Kan’s own faction for being passed over for important Cabinet posts. (Mr. Edano, Mr. Sengoku, and several other appointees are from the Edano/Maehara group.) The spoils are supposed to go to the victor, but the victor’s supporters didn’t get many.

Depending on circumstances, this election could well determine whether the DPJ survives as a party, and the campaign is now under the nominal supervision of people whose track record at this level contains more stumbles than successes.

In any event, the Old DPJ bloc in the party will have to lie in the bed they made. A lot of Mr. Kan’s support, particularly that from the Edano-Maehara group, came with the condition that he distance himself from Ozawa-style politics and the man himself. They got what they wanted. Now we’ll see if they know what to do with it.

Something to watch for

It was assumed that the upper house election would be called for July 11. One reason for circling that date is that prosecutors will make another decision on Ozawa Ichiro’s prosecution in mid-July. Will Mr. Kan choose to hold the election later in the month and hope the prosecutors bear good tidings?

A Kanusian quote-a-rama

From page 73 of the expanded edition of Daijin (Minister), which Kan Naoto published last December:

The problem (with the LDP era) was that the next prime minister was selected from the same party that had been responsible for the misgovernment…Fundamentally, when the ruling party selects its next prime minister, he should dissolve the lower house at that point and ask the people in a general election whom the prime minister should be. That didn’t happen, however, partly due to the weakness of the opposition parties.

Some prime ministers and presidents are tested by economic or security crises. A good test for Mr. Kan is how he would handle a question asking him about that passage from his book.

Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo was forced out of office during the Abe Shinzo administration for calling women “baby-making machines”. Mr. Kan was one of those who called for his head, but he’s also talked about the low birthrate:

The economy is good in Aichi and Tokyo. They say productivity is high, but in one sector, they’re competing for last place. They are the lowest in productivity for having children.

When called on it, he resorted to quoting the dictionary definition of “production”.

On the Marines in Okinawa:

After we form a government, we’ll have them leave right away.

When the Isahaya Bay project, in which part of the bay was closed off for dikes and landfill, became an issue after fishermen complained of red tides and a poor fishing environment, he stormed:

Under whose authority was this done?

He was a cabinet minister when the government approved the project.

He’s had a sex scandal of his own. Here’s how he handled it:

We spent the night together, but there was no male-female relationship. I bear no responsibility for explaining this.

On 5 June, the Ryukyu Shimpo, a regional Okinawa newspaper, rounded up some quotes of interest to their readership:

He agreed with Hatoyama Yukio that security was possible without American forces stationed permanently in Japan.

August 2001:

The absence of Marines in Okinawa wouldn’t cause great harm to Japan’s security.

July 2003:

Rather than moving (the Futenma-based marines) inside the country, it should be easier to think of moving them somewhere in the US, such as Hawaii.

July 2001:
On the Status of Forces Agreement

Rather than improving its implementation, mustn’t we reevaluate (i.e., change) the agreement itself?

November 2003:

The vertical structure of Kasumigaseki (the bureaucracy) is horrendous. We promise to appoint a minister responsible for all aspects of the Okinawa problem at the Cabinet level.

This weekend, on the consumption tax:

I hope to indicate a direction with the new cabinet and party executives, including the manner of expression.

By expression, he means the name they give it. As our last post on Mr. Kan explained, he was interested in renaming the national tax burden the “share” or “allotment”.

Here are some more English-language quotes rounded up by Jillian Melchior of Contentions, the blog for Commentary magazine, mostly about what Japanese foreign policy might be under Mr. Kan. Alas, my fellow self-absorbed Americans still don’t get it:

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had played to populism, running his campaign partially on promises to reduce American presence in Japan.

How shall I put this?

America, it isn’t always about you. I know you like to think of yourself as the center of the universe, but most people in the rest of the world manage to live their lives without thinking about you much at all.

Had Mr. Hatoyama said absolutely nothing about the American presence in Japan during the campaign, the election result would have been identical, with the possible exception of a few seats in Okinawa.

Have you forgotten Tip O’Neill? All politics is local. Last year’s election in Japan was as local as they get.

Kan the irascible

The new prime minister’s nickname in Japanese is Ira-Kan for his notoriously short temper, and that slides nicely into English as the irascible Kan.

Your Party Secretary-General Eda Kenji has developed a personal relationship with Mr. Kan, visiting him at his home to discuss politics. He wrote on his website about one such debate:

When I argued that reform was absolutely impossible for a party that relied on public employee labor unions (i.e., the DPJ), he pounded the table with his fist so hard he smashed a teacup and bloodied his hand.

Mr. Eda says that Mr. Kan has asked him several times to work with the DPJ, but he’s refused for this particular reason. He added, “As long as Your Party is the antithesis of the 90s political reorganization, we’ll never work with a party with the philosophy of the DPJ.”

Mr. Kan has kept a low profile recently, anticipating that he would replace Hatoyama Yukio, and he’s been holding only two pressers a week. Now he’s going to have to go to two a day. Said one reporter: “It hasn’t been conveyed because he’s had so little exposure in news coverage lately, but he still sometimes looks like he’s going to explode in anger, demanding of reporters, ‘Who said such a thing’. He reportedly banged a table and shouted at some bureaucrats over the search for the secret U.S.-Japan treaty.”

Kan the republican

A post by Miyazaki Masahiro floated around the Japanese-language Internet over the weekend claiming that Kan Naoto refuses to sing the national anthem. This naturally got people upset, some more than others.

I spent some time looking for confirmation, and the only thing I could come up with was his–and the DPJ’s—opposition to the 1999 bill making the Hinomaru the national flag and Kimi ga Yo the national anthem. He proposed an amendment that kept the clause about the flag but removed Kimi ga Yo as the anthem. The DPJ and other parties of the left voted for it. They lost.

Those who can read Japanese can see some of the debate on this page, as well as the people who voted for and against it. Hatoyama Yukio spoke in the Diet in favor of Mr. Kan’s amendment against designating Kimi ga Yo as the national anthem. He justified his opposition by citing the association it has in some people’s minds with the glorification of the Imperial household during the war.

It really is time to end this charade.

The DPJ knows as well as anyone else—and better than I—that the lyrics to the song originated as a poem more than a millennium ago, and that kimi (you) referred not to the Tenno (emperor) but to one’s lover. It came to have Imperial associations later.

They know as well as anyone else the difference between shrine Shinto and the state Shinto of the war years, the reasons for the difference, and the reasons for the eventual abuse of state Shinto. They know as well as anyone else that this period in Japanese history is an exception rather than the rule.

Here’s my conclusion: Kan Naoto and the rest of the DPJ are republicans in the way the British use the term. In other words, they’re opposed to the existence of the Imperial household itself. They would still be republicans had World War II never happened. The republican position can be controversial in Britain, and it is even more so in Japan. The Japanese republicans realize they wouldn’t stand a chance with public opinion unless they played off war guilt.

There are many rational, intelligent people in Japan who can and do make the case for maintaining the Imperial traditions as the symbol of the nation. Yet they are no more interested in marching back into the Korean Peninsula than a British monarchist would be in re-colonizing India.

When the new Cabinet officially takes office, they will go to the Imperial Palace in formal dress and receive a proclamation from the Tenno. They will not swear an oath of allegiance, as is done in Britain. There, at the start of every Parliament, all the MPs take the oath: “I [name] swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

This site shows a photo of the late Tony Banks crossing his fingers while taking the oath, which caused a bit of a ruckus. In 1998, 15 dukes, three of them from the royal family, refused to take the oath. One MP added the words “and all who sail on her” after the words Queen Elizabeth. (A funny line, isn’t it?) The British monarchists and republicans may not care for each other’s views, but everyone still soldiers on without the nation collapsing.

It’s time for Mr. Hatoyama, Mr. Kan, and others to quit griping about the song, knock off the lame excuse about the war—which gets lamer with each passing year—and just admit that they’re republicans. The “forever guilty” pose is as tiresome as it is unattractive and false.

Mr. Edano and Mr. Maehara also voted for the Kan amendment, incidentally. Whether they did so out of party loyalty, or whether they too are republicans, is not possible to know.

And, to steal a line from Detective Columbo, I almost forgot: When opposing the 1999 bill for the national flag and anthem, Mr. Hatoyama complained that only 13 hours of debate were allowed. That’s more than twice the amount of time he allowed for debate in the lower house on the Japan Post re-privatization bill last month.


The photo shows Mr. Kan in 2004 making the 88-temple pilgrimage in Shikoku to atone for his failure to pay his share into the general pension fund, for which he was bounced as party leader during his first time around. Note the shaved head.

Another Cabinet minister to be bounced will be Agriculture Minister Akamatsu Hirotaka for his mishandling of the foot and mouth epidemic in Miyazaki. It isn’t just the politicos who are prone to that malady. A total of 130,000 cows and pigs will be slaughtered in that small, mostly rural prefecture, with a loss of roughly JPY 35 billion (about $US 380.3 million). It’s a major story in Japan that’s caused yet more trouble for the DPJ government, but political free-for-alls in the city get more TV time than dead animals in the country, even when the economic impact is severe.

Memo to the DPJ: I know your English-language website isn’t a priority, but don’t you think that keeping the old “You have made history!” banner is inappropriate under the circumstances? Isn’t it time you updated the site to include a national apology?

Finally, the Iconic Photos website with the picture of the MP crossing his fingers during the oath in Parliament has nothing to do with Japan, but I enjoy following the site’s posts.

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Posted in Government, History, Imperial family, International relations, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 2, 2010

HERE’S a contrast worth examining.

The first item to consider is from the new book, Uragiri no Minshuto (The DPJ Backstabbers), by Wakabayashi Aki. Ms. Wakabayashi started her career in the Health Ministry and is now a journalist concentrating on issues involving Japan’s bureaucracy, known collectively as Kasumigaseki. She also helped behind the scenes to organize the first DPJ policy review last year, and didn’t care for what she saw.

She writes:

Diet member Ren Ho caustically announced the cancellation of a JPY 700 million ($US 7.45 million) Education Ministry program to distribute electronic blackboards, PCs, and televisions to schools.

Not only was the program restored to the budget for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications a month later, the amount was increased to JPY one billion.

For comparison, the second item is a long hagiographic interview with Ms. Ren running in today’s Japan Times. The headline is:

Japan’s Fiscal Firebrand

The longer the DPJ stays in power, the more I might have to start using the ROTFLMAO acronym.

Those who want to read the Japan Times article should plug the fiscal firebrand’s name into Google or Yahoo with the publication’s name and the headline. The search engine should retch it up. Why reward the developmentally arrested with a link?

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