Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Tanaka K.’

Ichigen koji (241)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, November 26, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

In this world, it is not the case that there is only white or black, or enemies or allies. There’s a gray zone right in the middle, and this is the largest zone of all. What will you do if you don’t win over that group? If you don’t make the gray zone your ally, you won’t be able to capture your objective. The truth is always in the middle. It is important to know this.

– A Tweet from the Tanaka Kakuei bot

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The words behind the words

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 7, 2012

A report from the Wedge Infinity website describes a conversation between former Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during their summit on 27 September 1972. Tanaka suddenly asked:

“What do you think about the Senkaku islets?”

This startled the Japanese diplomats in attendance. The Foreign Ministry insisted then, as it does now, that the islands weren’t in dispute after the Chinese took it into their heads just the year before to claim that the islets were theirs after all. Zhou replied:

“I don’t want to talk about it during this meeting. It’s not a good idea to talk about it. This became a problem only because oil was discovered there.”

Foreign Ministry sources now think the transcript of that meeting is useful for the Japanese. One said:

“He admitted that the Chinese claim to the territory arose for the first time only because of oil…We should release the transcripts to the public.”

The Chinese have a different view:

“Even though Japan has actual control, the fact that Tanaka was the one to bring up the subject is an admission that a territorial dispute exists, and that both prime ministers agreed to shelve discussions on the issue.”

They also like to use a statement by Deng Xiaoping when he visited Japan in 1978. He too suggested shelving discussions, which the Chinese insist shows there was the mutual recognition of a dispute:

“We lack wisdom. Perhaps the next generation will be more clever.”

Japanese diplomats counter by pointing out that just because Deng said something doesn’t mean they agreed with him. Note the Chinese attitude in both examples is that their unilateral declaration = bilateral agreement.

Without reading the rest of the exchange, it seems the Japanese view of the Tanaka-Zhou summit is logical. The Chinese never said a word about the Senkakus until the year before. Tanaka is politely asking, “What’s up with you guys.” Zhou didn’t want to say.

But everyone (in this part of the world) understands what Deng Xiaoping said.

The words were, “We lack wisdom. Perhaps the next generation will be more clever.”

What he really meant was:

“China lacks strength. Perhaps the next generation will be strong enough to take them.”

Taipei Times Op-Ed Time

This op-ed by Dan Bloom in the Taipei Times describes another Chinese map that the New York Times and the Washington Post swallowed whole.

And this one by Prof. Lai Fu-shun in the Department of History at Chinese Culture University suggests that Taiwan cut the malarkey and admit that the Senkakus are Japanese. This excerpt is most interesting:

It should be noted that contemporary Chinese newspapers reported on Japan’s declaration of its occupation of the Diaoyutais in 1885, but the Qing Dynasty government did not raise any objection either at the time of Japan’s declaration or thereafter.

Compare that with the Shaw Han-yi assertion in Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times column that Japan kept their claim on the QT.

Shima Uta means “Island Song”.

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The worst and the worse

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 12, 2010

If there’s one thing I’ve learned up here (in Washington)…the only way to get Congress to balance the budget is to give them no choice, and the only way to keep them out of the cookie jar is to give them no choice, which is why – whether it’s balanced budget acts or pay as you go legislation or any of that – is the only thing. If you don’t tie our hands, we will keep stealing.
– Tom Perriello, Democratic Party congressman from Virginia

Current Keio University Professor and Former Man of Many Portfolios in the Koizumi Cabinet, Takenaka Heizo, last week described the Democratic Party of Japan presidential election as a contest between “the worst and the worse”. He didn’t specify which one of the candidates was which, but deciding which tail to pin on those two donkeys would be enough to stump anyone.

Here’s what the former Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and Minister for Financial Services said about Kan Naoto:

There are no experts who think Japan’s economy will improve with Prime Minister Kan’s economic policies.

And about Mr. Ozawa:

His approach to democracy is extremely unsound. Historically, when the conflict between political parties creates a stalemate, dictatorships emerge.

Mr. Kan was challenged by an interviewer earlier this week on his view that employment drove economic growth, rather than the opposite. He answered:

If the national government provided subsidies for the salaries of long-term health care workers, for example, to increase employment, it would enhance those services and boost consumer demand. Economic growth would result.

He plans to fund those subsidies, of course, with a massive consumption tax increase. The best description of measures of that sort is Your Party President Watanabe Yoshimi’s analogy of an octopus feeding off its own tentacles.

The people who filled Mr. Kan’s head with these sugarplum visions must realize fiscal stimulus of this type is a sugar high whose growth ends when the stimulus ends. The only sustainable growth achieved is in the money the government filches from one set of pockets to place in another. How is the employment supposed to continue when the subsidies stop? Regardless of whether the subsidies to hire more long-term care workers are a short-term measure or a long-term government employment program, they are little more than a form of unemployment compensation.

Is not the conclusion inescapable that they don’t want the subsidies to stop? More money under the control of the government and the bureaucracy is where they perceive their interests to lie. In Mr. Kan’s case, it has the advantage of being in accord with his political philosophy.

The long-term health care industry isn’t even a true growth sector. Even assuming a rise in consumption from the workers employed with the subsidy money, the revenue from the services they provide depends on the social insurance premiums paid by the public. Which is more likely to result from rising social welfare expenditures for an aging population: families spending more disposable income, or increasing their savings in anticipation paying for those welfare expenditures? One of Mr. Kan’s economics tutors, Ono Yoshiyasu, would attribute the higher savings rate to the public’s “love of money”, rather than to the public’s common sense. Yes, ivory towers populated by social engineering elites with little or no real-world experience also exist in Japan.

This outlook also ignores the true engine of growth, which is not consumption, much less consumption resulting from artificially created employment. The factor that spurs economic growth is net private-sector investment. Mr. Kan might benefit from reading that link:

Politicians, if they truly wish to promote genuine, sustainable recovery and long-run economic growth, need to focus on actions that will contribute to a revival of private investment, not on pumping up consumption.

But Mr. Kan, a lifelong leftwing citizen activist, was unfavorably disposed toward the supply side even before his recent remedial economics tutorials began.

The prime minister might be an all-in-one package of the worst and the worse himself. Here is his answer to a similar question in a different setting:

Q: You’ve brought employment policies to the forefront. What specific policies do you have in mind?

A: There are three elements. The first is to create hiring by such means as long-term care, for which there is long-term, latent demand, and relaxing the issuance of visas to foreigners. The second is (ameliorating) the mismatch between (job-seekers and employers, i.e., more of one than the other). One more is protecting employment to prevent the disappearance of jobs when plants move overseas. Employment will be created by providing subsidies to build new plants for a low-carbon society.

That idea of issuing more visas to foreigners came out of nowhere, by the way, and so far hasn’t generated much comment. How many visas he would issue to whom and for what jobs, he hasn’t specifically addressed. This wouldn’t be the first time he regurgitated undigested briefing material: His blunder about discussing a consumption tax increase during the recent election campaign was another example. One wonders what other schemes are being discussed behind closed doors that he’s managed to keep from blabbing about so far.

And as for green jobs stimulus, even the Socialist government of Spain admits their program was a disaster that cost the country 2.2 jobs for every one it created.

The punch line to this sick joke is that the English-language media and commentariat are peddling the story that Mr. Kan is a “fiscal conservative”, thereby obliterating what little credibility they had about people and issues in Japan to begin with. One suspects their journalistic probes went no further than the nearest source in the Finance Ministry, which already has the Japanese print and broadcast media marching in lockstep and sounding off about the necessity for a consumption tax increase.

Now comes word on Friday that the Cabinet of Mr. Fiscal Conservative has approved another stimulus, this one worth $US 10.9 billion:

“We will ensure growth by laying the basis for employment and ensure employment by encouraging growth,” Kan told his economic ministers.

He probably thinks that was a clever line.

Ozawa Ichiro

At least Mr. Kan has the excuse of his lifelong political philosophy. Ozawa Ichiro has no excuse at all.

In fact, he seems to have forgotten the practical wisdom of his political patron and father figure, Tanaka Kakuei. Here’s an excerpt from Mr. Tanaka’s 1972 book, Building a New Japan:

Some people claim that high growth isn’t necessary, or that they would rather not see industrial development, or that we should enhance welfare services in the future instead. But it’s a mistake to think it must be a choice of either growth or welfare, or either industry or the lives of the people. Social welfare is not bestowed upon us by heaven, nor is it something provided from overseas. There is no other way to obtain the funds required than to use the vitality of the Japanese people to expand the economy, and to create that society through economic strength.

Instead, Mr. Ozawa now speaks in non sequitur:

Everyone wants to hear about what we can do to expand employment. We must be forward-looking about improving the economy with public spending.

It gets even worse. As reported in the 13 September issue of the weekly Aera, he says that extraordinary measures are required because conventional policies are unlikely to lead to recovery. One of these extraordinary fund-procurement measures he touts is the securitization of national assets. He claims this will raise the money to pay the bills for all the pork in the 2009 DPJ manifesto that the country can’t afford. In some cases, he seems to be using the term securitization loosely, by referring to the conversion of housing for civil servants into homes for the elderly, or the public/private joint use of public buildings as a revenue source.

For example, he would issue zero coupon bonds to obtain the money for highway construction. Instead of receiving interest payments, those who bought the bonds would be exempt from inheritance tax. The government would benefit by getting off the hook for some or all of the JPY 7.7 trillion in interest payments that they paid last year.

But it’s immediately obvious that the bond purchasers will not be exempt from inheritance tax. They’re just making a deal with the government to pay a lump sum in advance and call it by a different name.

The Mainichi Shimbun points out only 4% of all estates are large enough to trigger the payment of an inheritance tax. The government received JPY 1.3 trillion in revenue from these taxes in FY 2009. It would require a substantial amount of tax exemption for this scheme to work, which means the government would receive less revenue over the long term.

The Mainichi also noted this is not the first time the idea has been floated. It was suggested during the Hashimoto administration in 1997 as a way to retire the pre-privatization debt of the Japan National Railway, during the Mori administration as a way to raise revenue in 2000, and during the Aso administration in 2008 as an economic stimulus. Yet it’s never been adopted.

In some cases, the scheme would also “securitize” government-owned office buildings and residential properties by selling them to investors. The government would continue to use the properties for a rental fee, while receiving the income from the sale. If any securities are issued, it would be by the purchaser of the property, who would use the land, buildings, and the rental income as collateral. The Finance Ministry doesn’t care for this idea. They say it could generate losses over the long term, i.e., after the amount of the rental payments exceeds the revenue received.

Others have noted that at the end of FY 2008, the government’s assets totaled JPY 665 trillion, with fixed assets and real estate amounting to JPY 183 trillion. Of the latter category, however, roads, bridges, military bases, and other public financial assets that do not generate revenue accounted for JPY 143 trillion. Mr. Ozawa said he would securitize JPY 200 million worth of assets. What exactly does he intend to securitize?

Mr. Kan offered his opinion on the matter, which is of interest to those who would like to know the Finance Ministry’s view. Here’s what he had to say on NHK:

The securities would have little liquidity, and the interest payments could be higher than for bonds. I’m studying this, but it would be difficult.

Difficult in Japanese is a euphemism for impossible. When he said “study”, he used the expression benkyo suru, as if he were in school, rather than study in the sense of examine. Give him credit for honesty.

Some speculate Mr. Ozawa is not offering a serious proposal, but rather an overture to Your Party for an ad hoc coalition if he were to win the election. In their upper house election platform earlier this year, Your Party called for securitizing two-thirds of the government’s JPY 500 trillion in financial assets. (Your Party does think outside the box, but some of their ideas shouldn’t be taken out of the box to begin with. During the dark days of 2008, Watanabe Yoshimi seriously suggested that the government issue a second, temporary currency.)


Few government securitization schemes have been implemented in Japan. Niigata Prefecture successfully raised money in 2006 using a residential building for prefectural employees they owned in Tokyo’s Kita Ward. They “securitized” it, but it was a de facto sale of the land to real estate developer Morimoto for JPY 2.5 billion, as the prefecture’s website clearly states. (Configuring the sale as a securitization gave everyone tax breaks.) Morimoto tore down the building and put up a five-story condo with 69 units for themselves and a seven-story building with 20 units for the prefectural employees. The prefecture pays rent to Morimoto for the latter building.

What actually happened is that the prefecture sold the rights to the land and its use to a special purpose entity created with the funds from the real estate developer. That entity issues the securities for sale, rather than the prefecture.

What did they do with the money? This is also on the prefecture’s website:

In regard to the connection with the prefectural baseball stadium, (the income from this transaction) exceeds the JPY 1.9 billion from general finances required for now, so we’ve gotten the funding we need.

There you see the problem. Niigata automatically expects that everyone will understand the need for a prefectural baseball stadium. But the people in Niigata and other prefectures who use baseball stadiums are high school teams, adult recreational leagues, and semi-pro teams. If those teams in the United States can get by playing their games on high school diamonds or in public parks with non-permanent bleacher seating and restroom facilities instead of the unneeded stadium superstructure, Niigata (and the other prefectures) could certainly do the same. They could have spent that money on essential services, or better yet, not spent it at all.

Unfortunately, the Japanese public’s sense of urgency for tying the hands of the politicians flares up only sporadically and hasn’t reached the prairie fire proportions of the United States. The American movement arose only because of the combination of a severe economic downturn, a rapid increase in unemployment, and stimulus programs that succeeded mainly in throwing money down the public sector rat hole. The ruling elites here are perhaps not as overtly arrogant as those in the United States, but they compensate with the blithe nakedness of their self-interest. The Japanese electorate is more than willing to throw the bums out when the opportunity presents itself, but their righteous anger has yet to manifest as a sustained force.

That might change before long, however. Whether the DPJ chooses the worst or just the worse in this week’s election, their stewardship of the Japanese economy is about to become a lot uglier.

Yes, Japan has a serious debt problem. The solution to a debt problem, however, is to stop spending money you don’t have–not to allow the people who are responsible for the problem to figure out ways to find more money to spend. There’s no reason to reward failure.


Another strain of thought that has yet to appear in the public debate is the one expressed by David Warren of Canada:

(T)he only measure that can possibly save us from riding over that cliff…is, quite frankly, the complete dismantlement of the Nanny State, and the restoration of the status quo ante — governments focused on the provision of national defence, and domestically on the machinery of law and order. Full stop.

While that happens to be the only available formula for mitigating our impending economic and social catastrophe — leave people free not only to earn, but to help each other flexibly and directly — the issue of freedom itself lies deeper. For the Nanny State isn’t, and never was, compatible with the organic development of a free society. We do need laws to be enforced against specific, definable evils. But insofar as we are adults, we have never required comprehensive daycare.

Political criticism in Japan is often framed by saying that an opponent’s idea or behavior is counter to the principles of democracy, but that misses the point. Democracy is not a principle, or a means to feed, inform, educate, or distribute money. It is instead the means by which the people hire their representatives in the legislative and executive branches of government.

The issue is not democracy. It is, as Mr. Warren observes, freedom.

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Letter bombs (4)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, June 14, 2010

THANKS TO RMILNER for sending another thoughtful note. He writes in his latest:

Too much Japanese government spending has been on useless assets such as concreting riverbeds, and bridges to no-where, which were done to justify the diversion of tax revenues to organisations which supported the LDP system — the amakudari bureaucracy, large building corporations and local government.

I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said, but allow me to make two points to provide another perspective.

One: I’m not a civil engineer and know nothing about riparian works, but perhaps some of those concreted riverbeds really needed concreting, particularly in places like the city where I live. The people here call them rivers, but where I grew up, we’d call them creeks, and this town might as well be the Venice of creeks. We’ve just entered the rainy season, and there’s bound to be one, and maybe more, heavy rains that cause those rivers to overflow. I wonder–doesn’t that concrete prevent a lot of collapsed riverbanks?

Two: The spending may create useless assets now, but they might not have been so useless when the paradigm was developed by Tanaka Kakuei.

In 1972 he dictated a book called Nippon Retto Kaizo Ron (Building a New Japan), incorporating ideas from young bureaucrats and aides. The concept was to create a unified national infrastructure that would raise the living standards of the regional areas to the level of those in the big cities. As he explained it to one of those bureaucrats, “If you get drunk and pass out in Hibiya Park, an ambulance will come and take you to a hospital. If you did the same thing in Hokkaido, you’d freeze to death. The conditions of life are different depending on where you live. We have to eliminate that difference.”

A translator of my acquaintance has lived in Japan since the late 1960s, and he remembers unpaved streets in the Tokyo Metro District in those days.

Tanaka’s book was really a blueprint with an enormous number of new ideas for linking the country through highways, airports, and the Shinkansen. (In fact, he called for building more Shinkansen track than exists now, or will exist after the Kyushu leg opens next spring.) He proposed the creation of a telecommunications network that anticipated the Internet, as well as cable TV and videophones. He called it the unification of omote Japan with ura Japan (the front and the back). He also wanted to create rural/industrial cities of 250,000 people throughout the country. If they were attractive places to live and work, people wouldn’t concentrate in Tokyo, and it would help alleviate pollution and the other problems of unbalanced industrialization.

Some of the quasi-national corporations that became amakudari nests were created to implement those programs, and some had the ability to procure funds quickly on their own. He even encouraged what are called zokugiin (the legislator lobbyists), because he thought it would facilitate the national business if the legislators made themselves experts in the affairs of one of the ministries. In other words, there was a good reason for a lot of that stuff in the beginning.

His book was released in June and it wound up 4th on the best-seller lists that year. It even outsold a mass market sex manual called How To Sex, which wound up in 5th place.

The downside of all that has become obvious over the years, and it was just a matter of human nature for that downside to emerge. Nevertheless, an ambulance will pick you up if you pass out drunk in a Hokkaido park today and take you over paved streets to a fully equipped hospital with an Internet connection.

That it would be difficult to leave that old vision behind and take the next step is understandable (especially for the LDP). I’m certainly not going to make excuses for any of it, or for his money politics, but from what I can tell, a lot of it did happen with the best of intentions.

But if anyone who was around in those days thinks I’m off base, feel free to write in and set me straight!

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Government, History, Letter bombs | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Caveat emptor

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CAVEAT EMPTOR–let the buyer beware–is a legal doctrine that warns the purchasers of property they will not be able to collect for damages after the sale absent of fraud.

The motto of the New York Times is All the News that’s Fit to Print. It’s long past time to replace that with either caveat emptor, or Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Read Here.

Example number 24,910 is an article by Martin Fackler published on 7 March headlined U.S. Reaches Out to Tokyo’s Real Power. It starts with semi-accurate snark about Japan, ends with a borrowed, backhanded slam of American behavior, and in between is festooned with comments and observations from unidentified Japanese and American “officials”, unnamed “political experts”, an identified Japanese professor who has little of interest to say, an identified American professor who talks more but says even less, unnamed “others”, and, on five different occasions, unnamed “analysts”.

At the end, all the reader will know for certain is that Secretary-General Ozawa Ichiro of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan might or might not visit the United States soon. The rest of the text presents a bottom-of-a-Coke-bottle view of Japanese-American diplomatic relations while omitting the critical information necessary for an understanding of what’s really happening.

To start:

Even as Japan’s new leaders have promised to transform the way the nation is governed, they have left one thing unchanged: the prime minister, like many before him, is backed by a shadowy leader who is widely seen as really running the country.

Japan’s new leaders have left a lot more than one thing unchanged, but if there is anything they modified, it is the prime minister’s role. If some shadowy leader was running the country from 2001-2006 when Koizumi Junichiro was prime minister, he must have worked out of a basement broom closet.

The DPJ regressed to an earlier age because the not-very-shadowy Ozawa Ichiro now running the country was the protégé of Tanaka Kakuei, the man most closely identified with that model in postwar Japan. Mr. Ozawa tried his hand at playing Shadow Shogun once before during the Hosokawa administration in the early 90s, but that lasted less than a year. Meanwhile, the poll numbers for the Hatoyama administration have fallen to basement broom closet levels—a 32% approval rating–in just six months. Running the country from backstage does not seem to be Mr. Ozawa’s métier.

Now, at a time of turmoil in Washington’s ties with Tokyo, American officials are reaching out directly to that power behind the throne. According to Japanese and American officials, diplomats have been quietly negotiating a visit to Washington as early as next month by Ichiro Ozawa, the secretary general of the governing Democratic Party and its widely acknowledged power broker. The possible visit, which could include a meeting with President Obama, was first suggested to Mr. Ozawa in February by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell during a visit to Tokyo…

As we’ll see later, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun earlier this month reported that the Americans might be thinking of calling the whole thing off.

As for the possibility his visit “could include” a meeting with President Obama, Mr. Ozawa discussed the Campbell offer with the Japanese media during a 2 February press conference. He said he would be interested in leading a group to visit the United States, and added:

This is President Obama of the Democratic Party, so if we’re going to go all the way (to the U.S.), it just won’t do unless we receive sufficient time from the President.

In other words, Mr. Ozawa’s condition for agreeing to the trip is a meeting with the president that lasts “a sufficient time”.

(T)he offer has also drawn some criticism because it could be seen as circumventing the prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, in favor of a scandal-tainted figure who holds no formal cabinet position.

Someone is forgetting that Mr. Hatoyama is as equally tarred with scandal as Mr. Ozawa. Is it the unnamed critics or Mr. Fackler? Probably the latter—facts have a way of disrupting the narrative flow in historical recreations.

Political experts said the fact that the Obama administration would propose such a move, and the government of Mr. Hatoyama might accept it, appears to underscore a shared feeling that current difficulties like a disagreement over an American military base in Okinawa are caused at least partly by an underlying problem: a breakdown in communications….

That might be a valid point had not the American government already been well aware of Mr. Ozawa and the likelihood that the DPJ would form the next government for at least the past two years. There is no mention at all that Ozawa Ichiro was the DPJ president until last May and would now be prime minister had not the first of his scandals erupted. The Bush administration was in contact with him when the DPJ under his leadership tried to turn Japanese assistance to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan into a political issue. (That ploy failed.) Then-Ambassador Thomas Schieffer asked for a meeting with Mr. Ozawa to explain that the Security Council actually had authorized the operations in Resolutions 1386, 1413, and 1510.

Mr. Ozawa agreed to the meeting, but kept the ambassador waiting for half an hour before seeing him. The DPJ boss is notorious for being imperious and rude, though he makes an exception for Chinese pols.

In February last year, while still party president, Mr. Ozawa met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for half an hour. That same month, he spent 75 minutes in a meeting with Wang Jiarui, the Chinese Communist Party International Department Minister, during the latter’s visit to Japan. That was longer than Mr. Wang’s 60-minute meeting with then-Prime Minister Aso Taro.

The significance of those time differences will soon be apparent.

The Democrats not only swept aside the Liberal Democrats, but they have also tried to fulfill campaign pledges to pry policy making from the hands of bureaucrats and give it to political officials.

Those who pay closer attention to Japanese politics—i.e., people who read newspapers and watch television—realize that the DPJ has been pilloried for months for not trying very hard to pry policy making away from the hands of the important parts of the bureaucracy.

The resulting lack of information fed excessive alarm in Washington last fall when Tokyo began to call for changing a 2006 agreement to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

If Washington began to be alarmed only last fall, they’re not paying attention either. Surely someone in the government knew that Hatoyama Yukio has long called for what he refers to as “a security (treaty) without (military forces) permanenty stationed in Japan” (常時駐留なき安保).

Mr. Hatoyama’s older brother Kunio, who helped create the party that became today’s DPJ in 1996 but departed when it took a leftward turn, referred to that policy last November (my emphasis):

The fundamental idea for Kan Naoto (now Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister), my brother, and Yokomichi Takahiro (current lower house speaker, former member of the Socialist Party, and the leader of the party’s most leftward faction) has always been that American forces do not have to be permanently stationed in Japan. He should (therefore) try to move Futenma overseas as soon as possible. If he can’t do that, his thinking has changed (from the days of the party founding).

It was also last November that Hatoyama Yukio asked Barack Obama to trust him.

Mr. Hatoyama, incidentally, admitted on 16 December that he had always felt that way, but had to put a lid on his beliefs in the role of prime minister. He has never offered a credible alternative program for Japanese self-defense. If he has such a program that involves Japanese military forces, it would require a Constitutional amendment.

The comments by ministers have often been contradictory and confusing, reflecting a lack of consensus in an inexperienced government, analysts say.

Lack of consensus, yes, but the Hatoyama administration is not the world’s first disorganized coalition government. Washington has dealt with that sort of thing before.

As for experience:

Ozawa Ichiro: 41 years in the Diet, served in the Nakasone Cabinet, secretary-general of the LDP and the DPJ when both were in power, de facto ruler during the Hosokawa administration, head of the Liberal Party when the latter was a junior coalition partner in the Obuchi government.

Hatoyama Yukio: 24 years in the Diet, son of a former foreign minister, grandson of a former prime minister, great-grandson of a former lower house speaker, deputy chief cabinet secretary in the Hosokawa administration, a founding member and bankroller of the Democratic Party, now the prime minister.

Okada Katsuya (Foreign Minister): 20 years in the Diet, former president and secretary-general of the Democratic Party.

Their administration is now six months old.

Barack Obama: Part-time state senator for Illinois for seven years, part-time adjunct law professor at the University of Chicago, U.S. senator for four years.

Hillary Clinton: U.S. senator for eight years, wife of former President Bill Clinton till death do them part.

Their administration is now 14 months old.

While Mr. Hatoyama has said he wants to maintain the two nations’ security alliance, his voice has often been drowned out by the din. One result was that American officials misread Tokyo as seeking a much larger push away from the United States than was actually the case, analysts said.

Perhaps Mr. Hatoyama is being drowned out in the din because he’s not speaking with any conviction.

It’s too bad Mr. Fackler didn’t specify the identity of the “analysts” so we could ignore whatever it is they might say in the future. Here’s why.

Yamaoka Kenji, Chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee (who’s served in both houses of the Diet for a combined 27 years) is known as Ozawa Ichiro’s closest associate in politics. It is not just widely assumed that he speaks as an Ozawa surrogate—everyone knows he is the Ozawa surrogate.

Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Yamaoka led a DPJ-sponsored troupe on a trip to China in mid-December. At a symposium in Shanghai on 14 December, Mr. Yamaoka delivered a speech in which he said that the relations between Japan, the United States, and China should be that of an “equilateral triangle”. This is known to be a long-held view of Ozawa Ichiro. He added:

It is a fact that Japanese-American relations have become strained over the base issue. That’s yet another reason why a realistic process to resolve the problem with the United States is to first, strengthen Japanese-Sino ties, and to then create the equilateral triangle.

He continued:

This was confirmed in the meeting between Mr. Ozawa and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Japan’s security has been guaranteed by the United States since the end of the Second World War. The Japanese Constitution does not permit the country to engage even in legitimate self-defense. That’s why there are American military installations in Japan to begin with. The security arrangement defines Japanese foreign policy.

To declare that Japan will maintain an equal distance from both China and the United States is tantamount to abandoning this relationship with the United States. It would be the most important change in governmental policy of the last half century. To initiate the strain in Japanese-American relations, and then use that as an excuse to cozy up to the Chinese, is tantamount to being a creep.

Note that Mr. Ozawa, who is only a party official and not a member of the government, is “confirming” this policy in a one-to-one meeting with the Chinese leader.

Note also that Prime Minister Hatoyama seems to think this was just hunky-dory. Considering that he wants the American military to be gone, and that he wants to rely on an ill-defined, EU-like East Asian entity, no one should be surprised.

Note also that this apparent watershed change in policy was never discussed with or explained to the Japanese public.

The Sankei Shimbun reported on 9 February that Mr. Ozawa referred to a possible meeting with President Obama during a meeting with senior DPJ officials on the 8th. He said—and this was a direct quote:


I left that in Japanese for a reason. In unadorned English, it might read something like this:

Chairman Hu Jintao received me when I visited to China. President Obama will probably do the right thing by me, too.

But as readers of Japanese will spot right away, there’s a lot more happening in those two sentences. When referring to Mr. Hu, the DPJ secretary said “receive” or “meet” in the sense of someone greeting a visitor at the door or meeting one at the airport.

More important, he attached the honorific “o” in front of the verb, which exalts the person who performs the action. Even more important, he attached suffix “itadaku” at the end of the verb. By doing so, Mr. Ozawa is signaling (a) that he is inferior in status to Mr. Hu, and that (b) he received a favor when the Chinese leader bestowed an honor on him by meeting him.

In contrast, he attaches no honorific prefix to the verb when talking about Mr. Obama. He uses the verb “kureru”, which is a verb of giving rather than receiving. The speech level also signals that he considers the American president to be either equal to or below him in status.

One university-level Japanese language textbook has the following example sentences for those verbs. Here’s the one for itadaku, the verb Mr. Ozawa used about the Chinese leader:

“I received a dictionary from my teacher.”

Here’s the one for kureru, the verb Mr. Ozawa used for the American leader:

“My roommate gave me a t-shirt for my birthday.”

If the Hatoyama administration didn’t move as far away from the United States as they feared, what was it the “analysts” expected? Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro trying to make their dream come true? Japan’s abrogation of the Security Treaty with the U.S. and recognizing China as its suzerain?

Back to the Times:

But some analysts warn that the move to bring Mr. Ozawa to Washington could send the wrong message. By suggesting that the Obama administration views Mr. Ozawa as the real center of power in Japan, these analysts say, the invitation could undermine the authority of Mr. Hatoyama, who already faces growing criticism at home for weak leadership.

This particular set of “analysts” needn’t worry. No one in Japan has ever thought Mr. Hatoyama had much authority in this administration to begin with. Everyone has viewed Mr. Ozawa as the “real center of power” since Hatoyama Yukio was elected party president last May. That has been the common assumption of every report from every news organization in the print or broadcast media, without exception, regardless of political orientation. The only message the Americans would send in that event is that they’re paying attention.

Here’s a question. Did these “analysts” warn that Mr. Ozawa’s “confirmation” of the equilateral triangle policy with Hu Jintao last December, with neither the prime minister nor the foreign minister in sight, might “send the wrong message”?

Here’s a better question: Did they even know that’s what Mr. Ozawa said?

Washington may also be seen as allying itself with an unpopular political figure who has come under a wave of media criticism here as a last holdout of the old regime’s backroom-style politics.

The headline of the article refers to Mr. Ozawa as Japan’s “real power”. It says “like many before him”, his backroom control is “unchanged” from the past. Now, a few paragraphs later, he’s “a last holdout”.

Warning to the New York Times: You might be sending a confusing message here.

Speaking of warnings:

An Ozawa visit might even be seen as an effort by the United States to engage in petty one-upmanship with the Chinese, warned Gerald Curtis, a professor of Japanese politics at Columbia University. American officials risk appearing as if they want him to repeat his performance last December in Beijing, when he took more than 140 Democratic lawmakers to meet with the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, Mr. Curtis said.

Why anyone would see this as “petty one-upmanship” instead of just the Americans doing business with the man who has the keys to the shop is not explained.

Mr. Curtis, like some other American analysts, said the Obama administration had also stumbled by seeming to stubbornly insist that the new government in Tokyo adhere to the existing agreement. They said this heavy-handed approach has appeared to backfire by raising ire here that Washington was failing to recognize the right of the new Japanese government to change the policies.

Follow this quick summary and timeline about the Futenma Base agreement, and see if you think the Americans have been “stubborn” and “heavy-handed”, if their approach has “backfired”, and which of the two parties is justified in feeling irate.

Futenma is a U.S. Marine Air Corps Station in Ginowan, Okinawa. It has been an airbase continuously since World War II, when it was used by the Japanese military. The U.S. Air Force assumed control in April 1945 and passed control to the U.S. Navy in 1957. The surrounding area is now densely populated area due to postwar development. Under current safety standards it would not be chosen as the location for a new airbase.

September 1995: Three U.S. Marines from the base gang rape an Okinawan school girl.

December 1996: The Japanese and American governments agree to relocate the base to an area offshore Camp Schwab in Okinawa. They decide in 2005 to move the location a few hundred meters further inland at the same location to Henoko in the city of Nago due to the difficulty of building an offshore airstrip in the original location.

December 1996: More than 80% of Nago residents vote against the air station move in a local referendum. Shortly after that, however, they elected a mayor willing to accept the air station.

August 2004: A Marine Corps CH-53D transport helicopter from Futenma crashed into Okinawa International University. Three crew members were injured. No local residents were harmed.

March 2006: A new mayor was elected in Nago, who was also willing to accept the new base. He received more votes than his two anti-relocation opponents combined. He signed an agreement to that effect with Defense Agency chief Nukaga Fukushiro in April 2006. The agreement was later signed by the mayors of the five principal cities in northern Okinawa.

May 2009: After his election as DPJ president, Hatoyama Yukio promised to work to have the base moved outside of Okinawa. He and other party members campaigned in Okinawa during the lower house election in August 2009 on the pledge of actively working to have the base moved. This pledge was not officially written into the party’s election platform, however, because of the difficulties and controversy involved.

29-30 October 2009: In both houses of the Diet, Prime Minister Hatoyama said that developments regarding the base needed to be reviewed, but went no further.

13 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama met President Obama, said “Trust me,” and promised to resolve the issue soon.

14 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said the Security Treaty with the U.S. would not be the basis for his decision about Futenma.

27 November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama said he would resolve the situation within the year.

Late November 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama sent Terashima Jitsuro, the chairman of the Japan Research Institute think tank, to the U.S. as a confidential emissary to discuss the issue. The White House called up the Prime Minister and asked why they had sent a private sector employee to negotiate.

Meanwhile, one of the DPJ’s minor coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party of Japan, was due to hold an election for party leader. Current party leader Fukushima Mizuho is a member of the Cabinet as the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Social Affairs, and Gender Equality. The SPDJ was added to the ruling coalition because their five votes in the upper house helps gives the DPJ a majority in that chamber. It is an anti-American party and has long campaigned to have the base removed from Japan entirely. Other party members criticized Ms. Fukushima for being lukewarm on the Futenma issue.

3 December 2009: Ms. Fukushima threatened to withdraw the party from the coalition if the air station was not removed from Japan.

3 December 2009: That same day, Prime Minister Hatoyama said, “I never said I would resolve (the issue) within the year.”

3 December 2009: That night, he summoned Defense Minister Kitazawa Toshimi and directed him to look into other options for the base site, including Guam. Guam is not part of Japanese territory.

4 December 2009: Fukushima Mizuho was selected by acclamation to head the SDPJ for a fourth term.

4 December 2009: In the morning, Prime Minister Hatoyama said it was necessary to consider Guam as a compromise solution for the base location.

4 December 2009: During the day, Foreign Minister Okada and Defense Minister Kitazawa met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos to discuss the issue. According to the weekly Shukan Shincho of 17 December 2009, they told the ambassador that the prime minister was considering a location for the air station other than Henoko, and it would be difficult to reach a decision before the end of the year. Mr. Roos asked everyone except the two ministers to leave. After they did so, he raised his voice and demanded to know what was going on. He reminded the two men that the prime minister had asked the president to trust him. Was he no longer to be trusted?

Mr. Okada and Mr. Kitazawa had no answer. Mr. Okada finally suggested again the possibility of merging Futenma with the Kadena air base. This solution had originally been suggested during the 1996 negotiations, but the Americans have repeatedly rejected it because Futenma was a Marine facility and Kadena an Air Force facility. The American position is that it is not possible to combine the command structures of the different branches of the service.

Foreign Ministry officials had informed Mr. Okada of this on several occasions, according to the Shukan Shincho, but he tried again anyway. The suggestion was rejected again.

4 December 2009: That same night, Prime Minister Hatoyama said he never brought up the idea of Guam as a compromise solution, claiming that it was the idea of a “different minister”.

15 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced he would put off a decision indefinitely. When he was criticized for this decision, he said he would decide before the end of the year.

16 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama admits that his personal objective has always been to have American military forces removed from Japan.

29 December 2009: Prime Minister Hatoyama announced his decision by saying he would reach a decision by May 2010.

25 January 2010: The city of Nago elected as mayor an opponent of the air station move by a margin of 17,960 to 16,362. That’s 52% of 34,322 votes cast among 44,896 eligible voters. The Okinawan prefectural assembly later unanimously voted to oppose the relocation of the base within the prefecture.

Today: Now word is circulating that Prime Minister Hatoyama wants to stick with the original agreement. Reports also say he is claiming that he wanted to stick with the original agreement in December.

Mr. Ozawa, however, has criticized that policy because it could harm the party’s chances among the Okinawa voters in the upper house election in July.


Editorialized the left-of-center Mainichi Shimbun on 3 March:

When there’s a change of government, it is standard practice internationally to uphold the diplomatic agreements of the previous administration. That should have been the guiding principle of this government as it conducted negotiations over several years for further cuts in the Okinawa bases. This childish diplomatic friction has exposed to the international community (the government’s) lack of statecraft.

The Shukan Shincho quoted an unidentified American official:

Japan is (now) a banana republic. It’s not possible to negotiate with them about security matters.

Said Eda Kenji of Your Party about the Hatoyama adminstration:

I want nothing to do with politics of this sort. It’s like children playing house, ignorant of the ABCs of politics and diplomacy.

The Shukan Shincho also quoted Kato Koichi on the issue. Mr. Kato is a former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Defense Agency chief, LDP secretary-general, and was nearly prime minister. Remember, this was in December:

The American government has gotten perversely cross over this, and it’s possible they’ll allow the American auto industry to bash Toyota and refuse to cooperate with interventions to halt yen depreciation in currency markets. In other words, this issue is not limited to security alone. It could also have a harmful effect on automobile trade, Japan’s primary export industry, and foreign exchange policy. It could even cause a further deterioration in the Japanese economy.

That seems rather prescient, does it not?

He added:

Every politician has dreamt once about some of Mr. Hatoyama’s ideas, such as a security arrangement without foreign troops permanently stationed here, or an East Asian entity. But he is completely unable to distinguish between a medium- and long-term vision on the one hand, and circumstances that require a decision within a few months on the other. It’s a new administration, so of course he can seek changes in the promises of past governments. What would be rational, however, is to present a definite substitute proposal.

For its part, the Shukan Shincho wondered whether it will be possible for Mr. Hatoyama to even meet the American president again.

The Times piece concludes:

How does it help improve accountability in Japan if we strike a deal with the powerful man behind the folding screen? Mr. Curtis said.

By this point, the reader should understand the sheer pointlessness of the question. He might also be questioning why Mr. Curtis was interviewed for the article at all.

Now let’s look at what the Sankei Shimbun reported in two articles earlier this month.


The newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Sasaki (I can’t confirm his given name) wrote the first article on 2 March.

Mr. Sasaki said that discussions were proceeding with the idea of inviting Mr. Ozawa to the U.S., but they were based on the idea that it would not be a formal invitation from the White House or the State Department. If Mr. Ozawa were to insist on a formal invitation from Mr. Obama, he said, it would decrease the likelihood that an invitation would be extended.

The superficial reason is that Mr. Ozawa is not a member of the government. He’s just the head of the ruling party.

Translating back from the Japanese, Mr. Sasaki reports that Mr. Campbell extended the invitation informally “if his schedule permitted”, and that they would “welcome him with respect”. The latter phrase seemed to suggest a presidential meeting.

But Mr. Ozawa’s scandals have begun cause alarm in US government circles, and now some believe it would be best not to invite him at all. As his source, Mr. Sasaki cited someone “familiar with Japanese-American relations”. He added:

An invitation from the American government would mean that President Obama could not avoid a direct meeting. Another reason for the hesitation is the memory of Kanemaru Shin.

Kanemaru met with President George H.W. Bush for 50 minutes on 4 June 1992. At that time, he was the vice-president of the LDP and not in the government. Mr. Bush pledged his support to help Japan in the Northern Territories issue. (Those are the four Japanese islands currently held by Russia.)

Three months later, Kanemaru was indicted for JPY 500 million in political donations in the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, and was arrested for income tax evasion the following March.

It is rare, said the source, for an American president to meet a politician not in the government. Mr. Bush made an exception to help push the bill then pending in the Diet to allow Japanese Self-Defense Forces to participate in UN peace-keeping operations. The bill passed later that month. The newspaper quotes another American source “familiar with Japanese-American relations” who says the “trauma” from that visit still remains.

Ozawa Ichiro was close to Kanemaru Shin, and accompanied him on that visit. Now he’s the one involved in financial scandals.

The paper’s regular Washington correspondent, Komori Yoshihisa, wrote an article shortly thereafter saying that the Obama administration is trying to arrange for the invitation to come from Virginia Senator Jim Webb, the chairman of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

During Mr. Webb’s visit to Tokyo on 15 February, Yamaoka Kenji hit him up to wangle an invitation for Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Webb was non-committal. Mr. Webb has since received phone calls and other contacts from the Ozawa camp asking for help, according to the Sankei’s source. Mr. Ozawa wants a written invitation.

The Sankei article didn’t mention it, but it is not unusual in situations such as these for a foreign dignitary to meet with other political leaders in Washington, and for the president to just happen to “stop by” during the meeting. That might be the situation the Americans envision for Mr. Ozawa.


Zachery Kouwe resigned from the New York Times last month because he was caught red-handed in plagiarism. He wrote several articles for the business section that copied sections verbatim from The Wall Street Journal and Reuters. Type “The New York Times” and “plagiarism” into Google and watch how quickly the name Jayson Blair turns up. He was fired. Times columnist Maureen Dowd also got caught copying, but she skated.

The Times even publishes the columns of a Nobel Prize-winning economist. In one of those columns, he refers to a U.S. senator’s statement as a “bizarre point of view”. That point of view is identical to the point of view cited in an economics textbook–written by that same economist and his wife.

On the other hand, the Sankei Shimbun had to issue a public apology when Komori Yoshihisa was caught making up a story. He’s still working for them in Washington.

Then again, his account concerned only secondary details and cited just one or two sources. The New York Times, meanwhile, cited enough unidentified people to cast a chorus line in a Broadway musical, had only a glancing relationship with the facts, and seemed more designed to push a point of view than to present information.


Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio asked President Barack Obama to trust him.

Fat chance.

The New York Times asks us to believe them.

Caveat emptor.

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Thoughts on Buddhahood, alliances, and polite fictions

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 20, 2009

“At eighteen our convictions are hills from which we look; at forty-five they are caves in which we hide.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”

BY NOW, the world knows that Ozawa Ichiro, Secretary-General of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, beclowned himself last week when he held forth on global cultural and religious matters to reporters after a meeting with Matsunaga Yukei, chairman of the Japan Buddhist Federation in Wakayama.

Mr. Ozawa asserted that Christianity is “exclusive and self-righteous” and that Western society is “stuck in a dead end” (or “has reached an impasse”, depending on the translation.) He added that “Islamism is also exclusive, although it’s somewhat better than Christianity”.

That the man who controls both the Japanese government’s ruling party and the Diet seems to know so little about the world outside East Asia is disquieting. Did he not learn that America exists because it was originally a haven of religious freedom? Does he not realize how secularized Western society has become? Is he unaware that the continued Islamification of Europe will alter the face of that continent within a generation?

And where did he get the idea that Islamism is less exclusive than Christianity? It isn’t the Christians who treat non-believers as infidels to be given the choice of death or dhimmitude if they don’t convert. It isn’t the courtrooms in Christian countries that give more weight by law to the testimony of believers.

This is not to defend Mr. Ozawa—ignorance is ignorance, after all—but his is not an isolated example. More than a few politicians from the Liberal Democratic Party also exposed their breeches after their climb to the top of the greasy pole. But it’s rare for the politico in any country to have more than a rudimentary knowledge of people and events overseas. U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, thinks the people of Austria speak a language he refers to as “Austrian”. We should have learned by now that the political class devotes its time and energy to schmoozing and outsources the rest to their aides, speechwriters, or the Foreign Service.

The infotainment media worldwide bears a heavy responsibility for this ignorance. The Japanese media’s presentation of conditions overseas is kiddie-pool shallow and usually consists of little more than the superficial translation of a few newspaper or television reports. Meanwhile, the overseas media’s offerings on Japan are filled with enough bologna to launch an international chain of delicatessens.

What he also said

But the spitballers and peashooters missed several comments by Mr. Ozawa that are even more worthy of interest. For example, he also said this at his Wakayama press conference: “Modern society has forgotten or lost sight of the spirit of the Japanese people.” And most interesting of all: “Buddhism teaches you how humans should live and how the conditions of the mind should be from a fundamental standpoint.”

People also seem to be overlooking more of the Ozawa Analects delivered at a press conference on Monday this week, and at another meeting last week on the 11th. None of those bon mots seem to be in wide circulation in English, perhaps because they offer no diversion for the coffeehousers.

During his Monday press conference, Mr. Ozawa not only refused to apologize for or retract his comments, he also gave us further insight into his personal philosophy:

“The Eastern view is that humankind is one of the workings of eternal nature, while Western civilization believes that human beings are of the highest order as primates.”


“(In the Buddhist worldview) people can become Buddhas during their lifetime, and when they die, everyone achieves Buddhahood. Do any other religions allow for everyone to become divinities? I expressed the basic differences in religion, philosophy, and view of life.”

He also quoted Sir Edmund Hillary, the man who gave as his reason for climbing Everest, “Because it was there”:

“Western civilization believes that (everything) exists for human beings, even nature. But Everest is worshipped as a sacred mountain by the people in the region where it is located. Most Asians do not have the idea of trying to conquer it.”

He concluded:

“Both you and I can attain Buddhahood when we die.”

Who knew that the master practitioner of Chicago-style politics in Japan was such a spiritual being at heart?

To be fair, this is nothing new for Shadow Shogun V.2. He has spoken in the past about the importance of symbiosis (kyosei) between person and person, country and country, and people and nature. There seems to be a streak of Buddhism in Mr. Ozawa that informs his views on government, and it ranges from foreign affairs to environmentalism.

In fact, it makes one wonder if he and Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio are political and religious soul mates of a sort. We already know about Mr. Hatoyama’s family heirloom philosophy of yuai. Indeed, the man whose ideas were the inspiration for yuai once wrote (emphasis mine):

“The chaos of modern politics will only…find its end when a spiritual aristocracy seizes the means of power of society: (gun)powder, gold, ink, and uses them for the blessing of the general public.”

Here’s the latter day spiritual aristocrat explaining his support of suffrage for foreigners with permanent resident status:

“The Japanese archipelago is not only a Japanese possession. The Japanese are more infused with the Buddhist spirit than anyone else in the world, so why do we not allow foreigners to participate in local elections?”

Giving expression to that Buddhist spirit, he added:

“The earth is for all people who live with gusto. The same is true for the Japanese archipelago. It is not just for all human beings. It is the possession of animals, plants, and all creatures.”

Is there any other government among the world’s economically advanced nations in which the two most important figures talk this way? Had George W. Bush used his Christian beliefs to justify or elaborate the reasons for his policy decisions while head of government, he would have been pilloried in the U.S. for mixing church and state. That would have been followed by a global epidemic of tongue-swallowing. Meanwhile, the Japanese merely roll their eyes over yet another mention of yuai and say, “That’s Yukio.” Mr. Ozawa’s observations are considered unremarkable.

That brings us to another underreported Ozawa comment. The day after his Wakayama press conference, Mr. Ozawa addressed the closing assembly of the third Japan-China Exchange and Discussion Mechanism in Tokyo, of which he is the chair. The top-ranking representative from China was Wang Jiarui, the Chinese Communist Party International Department Minister.

He got all cosmic on us then, too:

“I am convinced that both countries can cooperate and work together in the 21st century to achieve an epochal partnership in the history of humankind in both political and economic terms, as well as in terms of culture and civilization and the global environment. This will enable the world to prosper in peace and stability, and human beings to live together and coexist with each other.”

Mr. Ozawa was not just whistling Dixie for his Chinese guest. He has long been open about his pro-Chinese sentiments while coming as close to anti-Americanism as any mainstream Japanese politician who wishes to hold power dares.

The DPJ Secretary-General has been the leader of a citizen exchange group called the Great Wall Project since 1986, when he was still a member of the LDP. He plans to lead a delegation of the group to visit China again this year. It will be their 16th trip, though this one is being conducted under the auspices of the DPJ. During a visit in late 2007, he was so obsequious to his hosts it even angered some members of his party. (They have since split.) At about the same time, he purposely kept then-American ambassador Thomas Schieffer waiting for 30 minutes before deigning to meet with him and discuss his party’s approach for global anti-terrorism efforts. China was the first country he visited after being named head of the DPJ for the second time in 2006.

Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Wang go back a long way. Their last meeting was in Tokyo in February, when Mr. Ozawa created a minor stir by telling him that he has always had a “special feeling of closeness with China”. As he was then still head of the DPJ and in line to become prime minister after the next lower house election, he promised Mr. Wang that relations with China would be given a special emphasis in a DPJ government. That same month Mr. Ozawa made his more publicized observation that the Seventh Fleet was the only American military force that needed to stay in Japan, and that the country should instead focus on closer ties with China and South Korea to deal with regional issues.

He met with Mr. Wang for 75 minutes during the latter’s February visit, but could spare only a half an hour for American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Mr. Wang’s meeting with then-Prime Minister Aso Taro lasted 60 minutes.

Ozawa The Sinophile

Mr. Ozawa comes by his Sinophilia honestly. At the start of his national political career, he became attached to Tanaka Kakuei, who was the Big Enchilada of Japanese politics for the better part of two decades even when he wasn’t serving a term as prime minister. It was Mr. Tanaka who spearheaded the drive to recognize mainland China when the nation’s political class was split 50-50 on the issue, achieving his objective in 1972. He long worked to improve Japanese-Sino relations and formed close personal ties with members of the Chinese ruling class.

For their part, the Chinese always considered Mr. Tanaka a friend, and that friendship extends to his daughter Makiko, who briefly served as Foreign Minister in the first Koizumi Jun’ichiro Cabinet. A chip off the old block, Ms. Tanaka followed her father’s line during her term in office by urging a stronger relationship with China and South Korea and less dependence on the United States. She also disagreed with U.S. policy on Taiwan and tried to steer the Japanese position on that issue on a course independent of the Americans.

Whenever he meets with the Chinese, Ozawa Ichiro insists that he is simply following the lead of Tanaka Kakuei. He likes to quote former Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai on the subject, saying that the people who drink the water of a well should always remember the people who dug it.

While perhaps not as blatantly pro-Chinese as Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Hatoyama is clearly intent on steering Japan on a course closer to Asia than the United States (the emphasis is mine again):

The one important thing now is the spirit of yuai in foreign relations, which I have devoted the most attention to since becoming party president. That is to say, the yuai spirit elevated France and Germany, which constantly fought each other, into the EU, which does not have wars. I think that is by no means impossible to achieve in East Asia. First, cooperation between Japan and South Korea is extremely important, and then we can add China. If necessary, we can have the Americans join. I’m saying that an East Asian entity, the concept of an Asia-Pacific mechanism, is important. That’s why I said the early creation of a free trade agreement between Japan and South Korea is critical.

That’s Yukio!

Try this on for size: If Buddhism indeed informs the perspective of both Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama, might it be one factor underlying DPJ positions regarding political circumstances in Japan, East Asia, and the alliance with America?

Japanese-Korean nationals

For example, both men strongly support suffrage in local elections for foreign nationals who are permanent residents. In practice, that means the people born and raised in Japan of Korean ancestry who have chosen to retain Korean citizenship. Supporters of the measure hide behind the euphemism of “permanent residents”, but their meaning is clear. Openly advocating the vote for that particular group would ensure focused opposition because the zainichi could easily obtain Japanese citizenship, and because of the size and outspokenness of Chongryun, the pro-North Korean organization in Japan.

Is it possible that their position is a statement of East Asian solidarity based on their expressed cultural and religious perspectives?


Certainly some, if not most, members of the Liberal Democratic Party understand and share these Buddhist sentiments. It is also certain that somewhere in both the Ozawa and Hatoyama homes there is a kamidana, a small Shinto altar/shrine (usually on a shelf) to honor the family guardian deities.

Yet one seldom hears the LDP politicos express such explicitly Buddhist sentiments. They are more likely to talk of Shinto, and that offers an intriguing contrast between the parties. Explaining the relationship between Shinto and the Japanese would be like trying to explain the relationship between fish and water, but to put it briefly, it consists of two strains. One involves community-based customs and attitudes that have existed as long as there have been Japanese, and the other resembles an organized religion associated with the imperial line. These strains have repeatedly interacted and diverged over the centuries, but when today’s politicians speak of Shinto, it is not tantamount to a referral to the state-established variety that lasted from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 to 1945. That was just one chapter of a much longer history.

On the other hand, despite its immense impact on the country, Buddhism is an import that arrived from China via the Korean Peninsula. In fact, it was subjected to attack at the beginning of the Meiji Restoration just for this foreignness.

Thus, the visits of prime ministers Suzuki, Nakasone, and Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine, and the visits of prime ministers Mori and Abe to the Meiji shrine, might be viewed mainly as an expression of national identity. The invocation of Buddhism by Mr. Ozawa and Mr. Hatoyama, in contrast, would therefore seem to be expressions of regional identity.

Some in the media compared Mr. Ozawa’s observation about Buddhism and Western religions to former Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro’s controversial statement to a Shinto group that Japan is a “kami no kuni”, centered on the Tenno (Emperor). That Japanese sentence is impossible to translate in a meaningful way in English, however. Without background knowledge, the Western conception of “divinity” will prevent those in the West from understanding the meaning when they read the commonly used translation of “Japan is a divine country.”.

It might be that Mr. Ozawa’s claim that “Modern society has forgotten or lost sight of the spirit of the Japanese people” sprang from a similar source within. It’s just that Mr. Mori’s approach was from a Shinto perspective, while that of Mr. Ozawa is from a Buddhist perspective.

Therefore—speaking very broadly and generally—could the emphasis on Buddhism as opposed to Shintoism by the two DPJ leaders be one way they differentiate themselves from the LDP, intentionally or not?

New Komeito

The New Komeito political party is widely assumed to be the political arm of the Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist organization. An enigma for many Japanese was their willingness to form a coalition government with the center-right LDP, despite a center-left outlook that includes pacifist tendencies and a program calling for more social welfare benefits. A relatively high percentage of the Soka Gakkai membership consists of Japanese-born Korean citizens, most of whom would welcome the chance to vote in local elections, a policy the LDP opposes. It would seem that New Komeito and the DPJ would be natural allies.

Yet Ozawa Ichiro is known for an intense dislike of New Komeito that dates back at least to his days as head of the Liberal Party, when they were in a coalition government headed by the LDP under Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo. No one seems to be able to explain it, or at least they aren’t trying to explain it in public.

Is it possible that Mr. Ozawa’s dislike of New Komeito stems from a belief that their backers represent a divergent sect of Buddhism whose beliefs have been used for nationalist aims in the past? (Soka Gakkai claims it is based on the teachings of Nichiren. See this previous post for a brief discussion of the influence of Nichirenists on early 20th century Japan.)

Polite fictions

The factual or interpretive accuracy of the Ozawa/Hatoyama cosmology is not the point in any of these matters. Nor is it important whether Buddhism was their point of departure for reaching the political position of regional identity, or whether they started from an awareness of regional identity and then employed Buddhism as a justification. What is important is whether they sincerely believe it, and whether they act on those beliefs.

But Mr. Hatoyama in particular must weigh his public statements carefully and engage in polite fictions, because telling the truth would be asking for trouble both at home and abroad. There is a long-standing debate in Japan whether it should align primarily with the West or with East Asia. Those who favor alignment with the West consist of several elements, including people who think China and the two Koreas will never take Japan’s interest into account in any regional grouping. Mr. Hatoyama’s calls for an East Asian entity are sufficient to arouse their opposition.

These folks are well aware this ground has been covered before. In a 1973 interview with Time magazine, Tanaka Kakuei felt compelled to reassure his visitors that “the U.S. comes first.” After his now notorious article in the September issue of Voice, portions of which were translated into English and published in the New York Times, Mr. Hatoyama has been similarly compelled to reassure contemporary Americans that the U.S. still comes first.

That’s what he says. In his article, Mr. Hatoyama wrote that America is waning and China is waxing. He also wrote that the U.S. is seeking to maintain its dominance, and China is seeking to attain dominance as it becomes economically powerful. He claims that an East Asian entity would be the best way to keep Chinese ambitions in check, bring order to their economic activity, and defuse nationalism in the region. It is perhaps an irony that the U.S. government pre-Obama sought to do something similar through a strategy of simultaneous engagement and balance, though more through friendship than through marriage.

Unfortunately, Mr. Hatoyama is all too sincere in these beliefs, which suggest a level of ignorance similar to that of Ozawa Ichiro’s views on international religion and culture. It is not enough to note that the Chinese naturally assume that regional dominance and hegemony is their national birthright. One has to realize the term they use for themselves is “the flower in the center of the universe”. Mr. Hatoyama is never going to change that, no matter how willing he is to share his cookies and milk.

And his view of the European Union is a mirage. The EU has had little to do with preventing another continental war, for which Europeans thankfully no longer have the stomach. Instead, it has evolved into an oppressive, top-down meddling behemoth of a bureaucracy that is a multinational Kasumigaseki times ten. Czech President Vaclav Klaus calls its governing principle “post-democracy”: “where there is no democratic accountabiity, and the decisions are made by politicians, appointed by politicians, not elected by citizens in free elections.” That sounds like just the sort of thing a spiritual aristocrat could sink his teeth into.

Japanese-American relations

Too much Hatoyama honesty causes too many problems for Japanese-American relations, but we can be frank: some contemporary Americans make too much of themselves for what their ancestors did and act as if they are owed eternal subservience.

As it is unfair to hold contemporary Japanese responsible for their ancestors’ behavior, it is just as unreasonable to remain in liege to America for its past behavior. Yes, the Japanese did what they did, and the Americans did what they did, but Imperial Japan and the U.S. of the 1940s no longer exist, and the world is a much different place. It is as if the Americans perceive a Japanese and Western European failure to pledge emotional and financial fealty as ingratitude.

Christopher Preble, writing on the Cato Institute’s blog, recently expressed this idea:

From the perspective of our allies in East Asia (chiefly the Japanese and the South Koreans), and for the Europeans tucked safely within NATO, getting the Americans to pay the costs, and assume the risks, associated with policing the world is a pretty good gig.

Mr. Preble needs to pay more attention to the details. In 2002 Japan’s contributions represented more than 60% of all allied financial contributions to the US, and covered 75% of the USFJ’s operating costs. That contribution has declined somewhat since then, but it is still substantial. He also overlooks the risks Japan faces if the American military were to use its locally based forces to intervene in a Chinese attack on Taiwan, for example. Does he think the Chinese would consider those bases in Japan to be off-limits for retaliation?

To those Americans who would complain that the Japanese are using the Peace Constitution as an excuse, it might be asked: Just whose idea was that anyway? Americans wanted to create a pacifist culture in Japan after the war, and they succeeded. The legal basis for the Japanese state does not come in a ring binder whose leaves are to be inserted or removed on the whims of politicians in another country according to the circumstances of the day.

And that brings us to the ultimate in polite fictions—unless you’re certain that the United States would come to the aid of the Japanese if the latter were attacked. There is speculation from U.S. sources now circulating in the Japanese media that an American military response would be a 50-50 proposition at best.

Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo called for an end to the post-war regime. Would it not be an irony if his political foes in the DPJ were the ones to achieve it?

But why stop there? Isn’t it high time the Americans moved on from the post-war paradigm as well? Everyone might be better off by letting the neo-Buddhists in the DPJ start the process of Japan seeking a new equilibrium on its own. Owing to its history, Japan is unlikely to ever be wholly aligned with either East or West. And owing to its history, that might be the best course for all concerned, because it’s uniquely positioned to serve as a bridge between both.

In that event, the key for the Japanese would be to remain aware that lurking in the shadows of the shining path is the resentment from both for belonging to neither.


* Some Japanese worry that the DPJ approach will cause the U.S. to move toward the Chinese at Japanese expense. Surely they are forgetting the traditional Chinese outlook toward foreign affairs and other countries. Now that the Chinese are reverting to their default attitude, it would seem that Japan doesn’t have much to worry about.

* Here’s a link to a review of the book Zen at War by Brian Victoria, which describes Zen Buddhism’s intellectual and emotional contributions to the Japanese war effort. The review is worth reading for that reason, despite the self-indulgent prose and the swallowing whole of the claims in Iris Chang’s book. The reviewer also claims the book could never have been written in Japan, and he has a point. The Japanese would not have failed to mention that the Tokugawas used the requirement for families to register with Buddhist temples as a weapon to eliminate Christianity. Nor would they have failed to mention that since the warrior class initially popularized Zen in Japan, it would have been natural for some Japanese Zen Buddhists to get behind the war in their own way. The reviewer also seems to think that “it could happen again”, which is just silly.

* The Time magazine interview with Tanaka Kakuei contains this passage:

“In the big cities, the left tends to support academic men. They usually are not very hardworking, but for some reason they appeal to people, especially since they don’t wave the red flag of their socialist and Communist sponsors but the green flag [of the fight against pollution].”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

* When I taught adult English classes years ago, I liked to do quick surveys of my students to find out what religions they professed to believe in as part of the classroom discussion. About 1% of Japanese are Christians, but historical factors boost that to about 5% in Kyushu, and a slightly higher percentage than that show up to study English on their own time and dime.

I asked students to raise their hands when I mentioned a religion. Almost no one raised their hand when I asked if they were Shinto. Almost everyone raised their hands when I asked if they were Buddhist.

* The quote at the top of the post refers to the behavior of everyone mentioned in the post itself.

Posted in China, Government, History, International relations, Religion, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Japan’s Democratic Party on a mudboat of its own

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, May 14, 2009

That’s life, that’s what all the people say.
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May
– That’s Life, Kelly Gordon and Dean K. Thompson, as performed by Frank Sinatra

Without bread, a stud can’t even rule an anthill.
– Lord Buckley, riffing on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

IT HAD LONG BEEN OBVIOUS to all but the most wishful of thinkers and rankest of hacks and sycophants that Ozawa Ichiro, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, would have to step down after his chief aide was arrested in a fund-raising scandal earlier this year. He finally did so on Monday after letting his party, the Diet, and the business of the nation twist slowly, slowly in the wind for more than two months. Rather than retire to write his memoirs and revise history while the iron is hot, however, he appears to be reverting to type–and to Japanese politics of the 1970s.

Would you buy a used car from this man?

Would you buy a used car from this man?

The scandal couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time for the DPJ. Newspaper polls in early January had at last showed a swing toward the party, though their internal polling at the end of November had been pointing to the capture of 260 out of 480 lower house seats. That would have given them an outright majority and enabled them to form a government.

The weekly Shukan Gendai reported in its 31 January edition that spirits were bright at the DPJ’s New Year party. Diet members are said to have slapped each other on the back and addressed each other as “Minister”. The 30 April edition of Shukan Bunshun quoted a reporter describing a political party intoxicated with itself, as members flooded headquarters with policy proposals and scavenged for political appointments.

The situation got so out of hand that Mr. Ozawa had to make the rounds of the candidates’ headquarters to tell them the election wouldn’t be that easy.

They should have listened.

Just a few weeks later, one pollster found the arrest and Mr. Ozawa’s subsequent mishandling of affairs could cost the DPJ as many as 46 seats in the next election. A Yomiuri/Waseda poll showed the number of respondents who were “disappointed” in the DPJ rose to 60%, up from an already high 50% in January. Only 45% thought they were capable of handling the reins of government, down from 51%. Meanwhile the number of people who found the LDP capable rose to 61% from 54% (though 73% were disappointed in them, too).

The DPJ members must have known in their hearts that Mr. Ozawa’s refusal to leave his position was killing them, yet few had the courage to say it when other people could hear them. Those who did at first were members of the party’s anti-Ozawa Maehara/Edano group (faction), including Maehara Seiji himself. Addressing the aide’s arrest and Mr. Ozawa’s excuses, he told a group in Kyoto:

“Even if it was legal, it would be a problem whether it’s acceptable to accept that amount of money. That amount of money would be inconceivable for me.”

The inconceivable amount for Mr. Maehara—once the party leader himself and still a group/faction boss—was roughly $US three million since 1995, with the possibility of still more to be uncovered. What he didn’t mention, but other party leaders later confirmed, was that the DPJ had instituted a policy in 2000 in which individual members were disallowed from accepting personal contributions from corporate donors. Not only was Mr. Ozawa thumbing his nose at those calling for his resignation, he flipped off his own party rules as well.

A more principled politician would have resigned immediately after his aide’s arrest to preserve his party’s chances, but no one would use that word to describe Mr. Ozawa, and few principled politicians become leaders in any party anyway. The DPJ promotes itself as the clean alternative to the LDP, but the arrest let all the air out of that already leaden balloon. The party leader held a tearful press conference in March in which he protested his innocence, ruled out a resignation, and vowed to fight on. Far from convincing anyone, his performance raised more questions than it answered and left his party vulnerable for the better part of two months during one of the most critical periods in postwar Japanese politics.

The fallout

The electorate was not impressed with what it saw. Polling after the press conference found that 79% of the public didn’t believe him and 66% thought he should quit as party head. (That 13-percentage-point differential makes one wonder whether cynicism has become the default position for some of the Japanese public.) The poll numbers never budged after that.

Komiyama Yoko, the DPJ’s shadow Education Minister and a member of Mr. Maehara’s group, was another one of the few who spoke out:

“The most important thing is to take an approach (to ensure) that we win the next election. I really think he ought to do us the favor of withdrawing at this point. I don’t think we’ll be able to win a difficult election by apologies and excuses.”

Less circumspect was one of the party’s three Supreme Advisors, Watanabe Kozo. Mr. Watanabe, who was elected as an independent to the Diet in 1969, joined the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, served in three Cabinet positions, and then fled to the DPJ, commented:

“He shouldn’t have cried. It’s one thing if a man cries over what happens to other people, but he can’t cry over something that happened to himself. The people seek a strong Ozawa—a crybaby Ozawa isn’t acceptable. After the press conference, one of the Ozawa toadies told some people he knew that he had suggested the tears. That’s just what I thought.”

Mr. Watanabe also noted that one of the biggest hits in the poll numbers had been among women, a group that generally favors the DPJ.

I am not a crook!

I am not a crook!

The tears reminded the public that Mr. Ozawa had also gotten weepy the last time he appeared at a critical press conference—in November 2007 when he withdrew his resignation as party head after his efforts to form a grand coalition with the Fukuda Administration blew up in his face. Whether the voters considered him a crybaby, or believed as Shakespeare that “ambition should be made of sterner stuff”, the result was the same. They wrote him off and didn’t change their minds.

Why should anyone have pretended to think otherwise? The voting public, not to mention the mass media, are unforgiving when politicians who sell themselves as cleaner than everyone else turn out be just as dirty as everyone else—particularly when they all assumed Mr. Ozawa was simply more successful at hiding the dirt to begin with.

By late April, the party’s dilemma was summed up when Komiyama Yoko told Mr. Maehara during a hallway conversation in the Diet building that they’d reached their limit. He responded: “No, we’ve already gone beyond the limit.”

But rather than oust their leader, the dismayed DPJ MPs resigned themselves to the situation. Ren Ho, (also known as Murata Renho; Noda group) a former magazine model and TV presenter now serving her first term in the upper house, and the party’s deputy minister in charge of pensions in the shadow cabinet, said:

“If Mr. Ozawa’s not going to quit, we’ll just have to wait until he does.”

Mr. Ozawa decided he would try to ride things out in the absence of a public outcry, or unless he was dealt the ace of spades from the prosecutorial deck of cards. By allowing him to do so, the party members were guilty of enabling behavior. One of his DPJ opponents, Edano Yukio, co-chair of the faction with Maehara Seiji, admitted that most members wanted Ozawa to stay on if the investigation didn’t spread to him. In a classic case of denying the obvious, some even suggested that the problem with the funds was only a “violation of the regulations”, and if the scandal went no further, it would constitute an Ozawa victory.

The bunker mentality

But the poll numbers showing public disapproval never changed, and Mr. Ozawa started exhibiting signs of a bunker mentality. There is a national invitational baseball tournament for high school boys held every year in Osaka during spring vacation. The team representing Iwate, Mr. Ozawa’s home prefecture, reached the finals (but lost). Party Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio suggested that he attend the championship game; public appearances at events such as those are catnip for politicians. He declined, however, saying, “I can’t very well go.”

A debate between party heads was held in the Diet on 28 November last year, and the consensus was that Mr. Ozawa outperformed Prime Minister Aso Taro. The LDP suggested a second round, but the DPJ head kept ducking the request. He finally agreed a scant few days before he resigned. Perhaps he only agreed because he knew he was going to resign.

Senior party members gingerly suggested that he needed to provide a more detailed explanation of the circumstances, both to the public and to themselves—a tacit admission that the explanation he gave at the press conference was so much lunchmeat. The pressure grew more intense for everyone; Mr. Hatoyama developed an ulcer in March from defending the indefensible, though he would not reveal it until later.

Some in the DPJ suggested their leader should resign if the Chiba gubernatorial election on 29 March turned out poorly for the party candidate. Mr. Ozawa went to Chiba to appear for the candidate, but heard discouraging news during a visit to campaign headquarters. A female volunteer told him to his face: “I’m hearing serious complaints over the telephone.”

Reports said there was a sharp, collective intake of breath from those nearby when this lowly campaign worker had the impertinence to deliver bad news to the boss himself, but Mr. Ozawa accepted it without a word.

The DPJ candidate wound up losing to Morita Kensaku, an independent formerly associated with the LDP and running with support from many local LDP politicians. He took 43% of the vote in a five-man field.

Mr. Ozawa still did not step down. The first question he was asked at a press conference to discuss the election was whether he thought the scandal had an effect on the results. Mr. Ozawa replied:

“For more than three weeks, all of you (reporters) have been working overtime reporting on this issue involving my aide, so I think there may have been an impact.”

That was yet another telltale sign of the bunker mentality. The DPJ claims the mantle of the clean government alternative, the party leader’s chief aide is arrested for his involvement in collecting more than three million dollars in illegal campaign contributions over 10 years from a dummy organization, and the first words out of his mouth when the public expresses its disapproval are to blame the press for covering the story. Did Mr. Ozawa read nothing about Watergate?

The blowback

Those outside the party had no reason to hold their tongues, however. Kamei Shizuka of the People’s New Party, a splinter group nominally aligned with the DPJ, was blunt. He alluded to the political paralysis caused by the party’s failure to clean up their mess, and to how the party appeared to the real world:

“During the lower house election campaign, it will be difficult to clear the air of the charge that Mr. Ozawa is a disgrace. He should sacrifice himself for the sake of allowing a DPJ victory…The DPJ is now in a brain dead state. Their hands and feet are bound and can’t do anything. This is not the time to be telling us to wait until the investigation is over. The people will draw the conclusion that Ozawa is trying to flee from justice after all. Yet no one in the DPJ speaks up…The voters will watch how they handle a crisis. It’s not my party, so I shouldn’t be telling them to do this or that, but I do want to tell them to take this more seriously.”

Shii Kazuo, head of the Japanese Communist Party, commented on the Ozawa justification that he broke no laws:

“Even if there isn’t a law, he could still resign of his own free will. “

But no one enjoyed watching the DPJ squirm more than the LDP. Speaking in Osaka, ruling party member Suga Yoshihide minced no words to describe how the DPJ Diet members avoided discussing the subject at a party meeting:

“Very few (of the members) expressed opinions. Those are the people who always demand an explanation of responsibility, yet they haven’t lifted a finger. The people’s verdict is that he hasn’t explained who is responsibile, yet the DPJ protects him and lets him continue in office. What a horrible party!” (hidoi seito)

On the same day, LDP Koizumian reformer Nakagawa Hidenao went so far as to suggest dissolving the Diet and holding a general election in May:

“If this were the ruling party, they (the DPJ) would say he should resign. The DPJ emphasized its clean hands regarding politics and money, but they support Mr. Ozawa’s remaining in office. All that’s left is for the voters to make a decision.”

When Aso Taro opponent Nakagawa, who seems to be simultaneously mulling the formation of his own party while trying to drag the LDP back to its reform stance under Prime Minister Koizumi, suggests a snap election under Mr. Aso’s leadership, the DPJ should have realized just how much of a hole it had dug itself.

Hamayotsu Toshiko, the acting chief representative of LDP coalition partner New Komeito, and their number two until last November, said:

“Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ are still clinging to the ways of the old LDP years ago.”

Funny she should say that. One of the few politicians of note outside the DPJ who defended Mr. Ozawa was Suzuki Muneo, a former LDP mini-baron who spent 437 days in jail after being found guilty of influence peddling in connection with local lumber contracts. That time behind bars is a record for a Diet member. He was also famously called “a trading company for scandal” to his face during questioning on the Diet floor. After his release from jail, he formed a vanity party and was returned to the Diet as a proportional representative.

The two men met privately in Mr. Ozawa’s Tokyo office, and during the meeting Mr. Suzuki offered his strong support and advice on handling problems related to political funds. The embattled DPJ leader must have found that comforting.

With Ozawa Ichiro in a cauldron up to his neck in boiling water as the cannibals were peeling turnips, the question remains: what took him so long? He was almost certainly driven by stubbornness, vanity, and an overdeveloped sense of pride. Add to that his understanding that stepping down meant he would never become prime minister.

Let me make myself perfectly clear...

Let me make myself perfectly clear...

That much would be clear to the casual observer. Less widely known, however, were the rumors from close associates of Mr. Ozawa that he was convinced he would never be arrested. His self-assurance was not based on a belief that he didn’t do anything wrong. Rather, he had applied himself to the study of campaign financing after the Lockheed scandal brought down Tanaka Kakuei, his patron as a young politician. Mr. Ozawa thought he had his tracks covered.

The ghost of scandals past

The manifestation of the ghost of Tanaka Kakuei also leads to the question of why his party didn’t insist that he be gone. Ms. Hamayotsu’s charge that the DPJ was behaving like the LPD of the bad old days is one that occurred to many people in Japan. Writing in the May issue of Shokun!, journalist Ito Atsuo argued that the Democratic Party of Japan as led by Ozawa Ichiro is the last real faction in the style of Tanaka Kakuei of the old Liberal Democratic Party—the Japanese version of Boss Tweed and his political machine. In other words, the new boss looks and acts a whole lot like the old boss did.

In addition to their shared preference for party organization, Mr. Ozawa is said to resemble his patron in another important aspect: his attitude toward political associates. As was the case with Tanaka Kakuei (and daughter Makiko), you’re either his slave or his enemy. He demands total obedience and has no patience with people who don’t offer it immediately. He is not interested in debate or explanations to people with different opinions. During his days as leader of the Liberal Party, he is said to have told an acquaintance:

“If a person can’t understand without an explanation, they won’t understand even if they’re given an explanation.”

Now you know why he briefly quit the party leadership in November 2007 when others objected to his idea of a coalition. (That Mr. Maehara and others of his group criticized their party leader so openly speaks to their degree of political courage. Mr. Maehara will never get a chance to lead the DPJ again as long as it stays as presently constituted.)

That’s also why he refused to meet with groups inside the party to provide them with a more detailed explanation of his fund-raising practices. His avoidance of those meetings with other party members continued before and during the week-long holidays at the beginning of May, which the party expected him to attend.

The most compelling evidence that Mr. Ozawa and his coterie were not congruent with reality came when it was reported that his allies in the party vowed that the crisis would be over at the end of April. The counterattack would begin in earnest after the early May holidays. Yet rather than mount the long-awaited defense, Mr. Ozawa chose that moment to resign his party position.

Of course Mr. Ozawa was disliked within the party, especially by its younger members. Senior party members had long told them to put aside their emotions and think realpolitik instead. The Asahi Shimbun reported that those senior members were working overtime to prevent a breakup. But they held their noses and stuck with him because no one else in the party was capable of organizing the members and their wildly incompatible philosophies into group capable of a credible political challenge to the LDP. They neutered themselves for a chance to be at the seat of power.

There was another reason that the DPJ members were hesitant to push Mr. Ozawa too hard. Here’s an off the record comment from a DPJ anti-Ozawa member to a reporter covering the party:

“We’re afraid that Mr. Ozawa will run off. It’s possible that he’d also bolt the party if he quits as party leader. If he takes the 50 people in his political group with him from the upper and lower houses of the Diet, he might plot a political realignment (without us). He won’t do that, however, as long as he’s party leader.”

This was not a case of a man seeing a twig in the dusk and mistaking it for a snake. Mr. Ozawa threatened to do just that in November 2007. Indeed, his entire career has been spent sloughing off his political skin and slithering through one party after another.

Even were he not to bolt, the party could still collapse of its own internal contradictions without his Soviet-style iron fist. The LDP has been waiting for that to happen since the party was formed, but so far has been waiting in vain. Many in the DPJ view him as some men view women: they can’t live with him, but they can’t live without him either.

What next?

Anyone who ventures to predict the actions of Japanese politicians is talking through the flimsiest of hats, but it’s worth looking at some of the possibilities for the immediate future.

A few DPJ supporters are excited at the departure of their party leader because the press won’t have Ozawa Ichiro to kick around any more. That sentiment might be both premature and ill-advised.

A survey of DPJ Diet members conducted early during the crisis revealed that the older members preferred either Acting President Kan Naoto or Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio as a successor, while the younger members backed Vice-President Okada Katsuya.

All three have held that post before, and all three have failed.

Mr. Kan is not running. That leaves Mr. Hatoyama, whom former Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro, his former faction leader in the LDP, once compared to “melted ice cream”, and Mr. Okada. If Mr. Okada is the answer, the only question can be, “What’s a good cure for insomnia”. Former New York Gov. Thomas Dewey was once derided as looking like the little man on top of the wedding cake; Mr. Okada is the Japanese version, except Mr. Dewey didn’t have those bags under his eyes. He was such a lackluster campaigner in the 2005 lower house election during his previous term as leader that it made the national news when a junior high school girl asked him why he didn’t smile more.

Why is this man laughing?

Why is this man laughing?

Most observers assumed that Mr. Hatoyama would not run because he had vowed during the crisis to resign his position if Ozawa Ichiro quit. But most observers should know better than to take politicians at their word. Just because a guy quits the job of party secretary-general doesn’t mean he can’t run for party president, and he has already announced he will stand for that office. After all, what’s integrity to a bonbon politician who knows this is his last chance of becoming prime minister at the head of the party he helped found?

Though it cuts no ice inside the party, the public seems to prefer Mr. Okada. An Internet survey conducted by Livedoor showed that he was favored by 37.12% of the respondents, while Mr. Hatoyama had less than half those numbers at 15.26. Maehara Seiji, who isn’t running (and probably never can for his Ozawa apostasy) even outpolled him at 19.16%.

A party that doesn’t get it–and doesn’t want to

Remember the comparisons of Ozawa Ichiro to former Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei? Being driven out of office by the Lockheed scandal in the 1970s didn’t stop the latter from controlling LDP affairs from the back room. There are signs that Mr. Ozawa is still the chip off the old block and intends to keep pulling the strings in the party. He says he will help run the next election campaign, and there are indications he pushed for an early party election to ensure a Hatoyama victory.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that he will support Mr. Hatoyama in return for the latter’s servitude loyalty, but that does not necessarily mean that Mr. Okada would cross the boss were he to win. All three of these men are ex-LDP members. The story is told that when Mr. Okada ran in his first election for the Diet, he couldn’t persuade the LDP to endorse him. He eventually paid a visit to Ozawa Ichiro and begged for party support–on bended knee—and got it. He has been the devoted servant ever since.

It was also assumed that Yamaoka Kenji, the party’s Diet Affairs Committee Chairman, would leave his post in the event of an Ozawa departure. Mr. Yamaoka is Ozawa Ichiro’s lap pit bull, who came to the DPJ with him from the old Liberal Party. Were he also to step down, it might mean that the DPJ would become a little more cooperative when discussing LDP Diet proposals and drain off some of the bad blood that exists between the parties. (Mr. Yamaoka has a personality as repellent as that of Democratic Party hatchet man Paul Begala in the United States, though he is not the pencil-necked geek that the latter is.)

Here’s what Mr. Yamaoka said when he assumed the post in August 2007:

“Consultation between the two parties will not exist when I am (in that post).”

Now you know why there’s been government gridlock in the form of the “twisted Diet” since the DPJ’s victory in the 2007 upper house election. And why that will continue as long as Ozawa Ichiro has anything to say about it.

If Ozawa Ichiro continues to channel Tanaka Kakuei and pulls the levers from behind the curtain—a role he has always found much more to his liking—it won’t make a dime’s worth of difference if either Hatoyama Yukio or Okada Katsuya succeeds him. Under Mr. Ozawa, the party put its political manhood in a blind trust while they boarded a mudboat of their own. That they have morphed into their father’s LDP means that political machinations will always precede policy and principle. The only difference between them and the zombies back in charge of the LDP is that the latter have demonstrated a slight measure of competence in government.


* If there is anyone left who thinks the DPJ can still be taken at its word, they might consider this: The party is set to implement a policy of withholding support for candidates whose Diet seats have been handed down within the family as de facto hereditary positions, which is commonplace in Japan. It is yet another way they hope to contrast themselves with the LDP; one-third of the LDP’s MPs have parents who also served in the Diet, while the DPJ’s ratio is much lower at one-seventh.

The early indications are that Hatoyama Yukio—the man who was supposed to quit his party post—will be chosen as the new DPJ head in the Saturday election. He is the fourth generation of his family to serve in the Diet.

* Some DPJ cheerleaders are spinning the Ozawa retreat to the shadows as a step that clears the daylight for a DPJ victory in the next lower house election. It’s possible—anything is possible in Japanese politics—though the Nishinippon Shimbun, among many other sources, think the public’s response at this point is still a michisuu, or a mathematical unknown.

That is a rather sunny view of the current situation. To believe it, one would also have to believe that the public is ready to forgive and forget. They will have to forgive the putatively clean party for being just as dirty as the dirty party, forgive both the party leader and the party for blocking national traffic since the beginning of the year, forget that their own allies have called Mr. Ozawa a disgrace and the DPJ as a whole brain dead, and forget that the name of the only man outside the DPJ to publicly support him is synonymous with lying to the public about corruption.

Before they start counting the skins of the raccoons they haven’t caught (the Japanese version of counting the chickens before they’ve hatched), they might want to point their Internet browsers to Our Friend Google and search on the terms “Pangloss”, “Pollyanna”, and “Gerald Ford”. Those who prefer to search in Japanese might add the term “Hata Tsutomu”.

* It’s also been suggested that the DPJ could lead a coalition in partnership with the LDP reform group. Again, anything is possible, but if Ozawa Ichiro is still calling the shots, that coalition would likely have the functional lifespan of a mayfly. A breakaway LDP reform group would find Mr. Ozawa even less appealing than the younger members of his own party, and unlike the DPJ reformers, the LDP renegades would by then have shown they had the cojones to have actually bucked party leadership. The government could sell tickets to the meetings at which Yamaoka Kenji tried to give any LDP rebels their marching orders.

Additionally, the LDP reformers tend to be small-government budget hawks that won’t be giving the glad eye (or turning a blind one) to the labor unions backing the Ozawa wing of the DPJ, the phantasmic spending proposals in the party’s platform, or the anti-reformers Mr. Ozawa has chosen as allies.

* The lower house Diet members Okada Katsuya and independent Eda Kenji present an interesting contrast. Both men started their careers as bureaucrats in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and both resigned to purse political careers. Mr. Eda has always been independent of parties and is one of the most outspoken leaders in the effort to break the stranglehold of the bureaucracy on Japanese politics and government. He is the foremost ally of LDP renegade Watanabe Yoshimi. Click on the tag below to read more.

The DPJ's point man for pensions

The DPJ's point man for pensions

Meanwhile, Mr. Okada started out in the LDP and passed through a couple of other parties before winding up in the DPJ. His primary responsibility for the past couple of years under Ozawa Ichiro’s leadership has been to organize and hold fund-raising galas to collect money from corporate contributors for the party. He was ordered to cease and desist after the arrest of Mr. Ozawa’s aide, but that was like closing the barn door after the horse had already galloped into the next county and sired a new foal.

* If there is a third rail in domestic Japanese politics, it is the national pension system. More politicians have gotten in trouble over that issue than any other. Yet, the party that considers itself a haven for policy wanks has given the portfolio for national pensions in the shadow cabinet to Ren Ho, a rookie member of the upper house with no demonstrated expertise in the field. She did, however, spend the better part of 15 years appearing on television in commercials and as a program host and news reader.

So much for the claim of policy wankery in the DPJ. The man who said that politics is show business for ugly people mustn’t have seen Ms. Ren.

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