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Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Yamada H.’

Hashimoto Toru (2): The company he keeps

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hara Eiji: Another METI vet and bureaucracy-bashing author

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

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

Suzuki Wataru: Economics professor

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

The belle of the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local party time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s my idea of win-win.

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

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Ichigen koji (90)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 22, 2012

一言居士
– A person who has something to say about everything

People defend their own country by themselves. We also have to be aware of an education that creates splendid Japanese. This talk about being a global citizen…if you called yourself a global citizen in the United States, you’d be put in a hospital right away. There is no such thing as a global citizen. People make the world better by making their own country better.

– Yamada Hiroshi, former chief municipal officer of Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, the head of the Spirit of Japan Party, and an advisor to new Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru.

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

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Track 01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good news

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

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

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

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

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

New Komeito’s Yamaguchi Natsuo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero.

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

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

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

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

It’s all good!

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

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

Sengoku Yoshito disagrees:

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

But then Mr. Sengoku works for the union.

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

The near future

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

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

Tanigaki Sadakazu agreed:

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

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

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

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

Mr. Watanabe has other plans too:

We’ll present bills in rapid succession.

Watanabe Yoshimi

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

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

Said Mr. Watanabe:

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

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

The DPJ’s future

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

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

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

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

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

What, me worry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I take the people’s election results seriously.

But not that seriously:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The joker in the deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Said another Ozawa acolyte:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Numbers of interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wakabayashi Aki

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

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

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

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

Afterwords:

* Tanaka Makiko

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

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

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

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

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

Pollsters

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

Print media

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

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

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

Japan will collapse if Kan doesn’t leave

The Internet

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

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

Television

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

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

Said party leader Yamada Hiroshi:

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

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

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

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

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Aspirations update

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, April 10, 2010

HERE’S SOME MORE information on the new party soon to be formed by a group of local government chief executives calling themselves the Nihon Shimin Kaigi, which I profiled earlier this week.

I included Matsuyama Mayor Nakamura Tokihiro as a party member in that report, but the new party head Yamada Hiroshi says that Mr. Nakamura, who has worked closely with the founding members in the past and appeared on stage with them last week, will not formally be a member. In addition:

* Mr. Yamada himself will not run in the upcoming upper house election, though key member Nakada Hiroshi, former Yokohama mayor, might.

* In regard to Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru:

We’ll work together in different ways, but he is not directly involved now.

* On the party’s philosophy:

From (our) perspective of promoting governmental reform at the local level, there are too many problems with the operation of national government. We’ll apply our experience (to those problems) based on our success in local government.

* On the Democratic Party administration:

Some prominent DPJ members declared earlier this week they had much in common with this new party and that they should work together. Said Mr. Yamada:

There’s too much pork (in that government). That has no connection with reviving the state…We want to be a gathering of the voices of the people nationwide and draw a clear line of demarcation with what’s happening in Nagata-cho.

One prominent DPJ member that I speculated might have interest in forming ties with this group is former party head and current Cabinet minister Maehara Seiji. Mr. Maehara is a graduate of the Matsushita Institute, as are some of the prominent people in the new party, and they would seem to share some important elements of their philosophy. He ruled an alliance out by saying there was no reason for that to happen, however.

Does Mr. Maehara really prefer working with those labor unions, the party’s other undifferentiated leftists, Kamei Shizuka, and the Ozawa Ichiro brigade? Well, look at it from his perspective–some in the party have been questioning his loyalty for quite a while, and he has to keep up appearances. Also, why should he ally himself with a new group now that he’s finally secured a high-profile position in government?

I got mine, right?

The May issue of the Bungei Shunju is out on newsstands today. It contains articles by members of this new party, as well as an article by Yosano Kaoru announcing the start of his Stand Up Japan party.

The vernacular newspapers put reports of Messrs. Yosano and Hiranuma on the front page, and the news of Mr. Yamada and his new party on page two, but it goes without saying which group is driving with its eyes on the road ahead, and which is driving in the rearview mirror.

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Aspirations

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, April 8, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The record

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

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

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

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

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

In Matsuyama

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

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

All politics is local

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

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

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

The Yokohama mayor

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

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

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

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

And:

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

Mr. Nakada went into more detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Mr. Yamada:

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

Now for the bad news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it even necessary to ask?

Afterwords:

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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