Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Winning by Losing

"I will not be able to sleep at night."

That was former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yosano Kaoru's reaction to his October 28 defeat at the hands of Ozawa Ichirō in a clash of the Diet's titans of the go board. The lower-ranked Ozawa had not just beaten Yosano; he had obliterated him.

Given recent news reports, it seems Yosano came up with a fine recovery strategy during his hours of staring at the ceiling. Indeed it may be possible that he did not lose the match at all.

Yesterday's Yomiuri Shimbun echoed an earlier Sankei Shimbun article* in noting that Yosano, instead of being exiled to the wilderness in the post-Abe Shinzō reorganization of the government, seems to have insinuated himself into the Kantei as the Prime Minister's go-to guy.

When a problem is tied up in knots, the PM seems to be turning to Yosano to untie it.

According to reports it was Yosano, not the PM's formal advisors or the ministers, who guided the PM to end the gyrations and evasions over the government's ability to provide compensation to the victims of blood-product borne Hepatitis C infection.

The arguments that swayed the PM to give up on the two-month extension of the temporary gasoline levy--a move that has killed any hope of continuing the present use of the levy as a sop to the road construction industry--also seem to have been Yosano's.

As for why the PM would follow Yosano's advice in this matter of vital interest to the future of the Liberal Democratic Party?

It seems that Yosano, in losing a game of go to Ozawa, won himself something more valuable than bragging rights. He and Ozawa are suddenly being referred to as nakama (comrades, boon companions)--when they had little in the way of notable interaction in the past. In December, Yosano joined the board of the Kokusai Kusa no Ne Kōryū Sentā (known in English as the John Manjirō Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange) in the exalted position of Vice Chairman, second only to one Ozawa Ichirō, Chairman of the Kokusai Kusa no Ne Kōryū Sentā. The two of them naturally sat together at the organization's first board meeting of the year on January 4.

Now a back channel to Ozawa is a rare and wonderful thing. Ozawa's imperious manner and duplicitous, self-serving nature make him a very hard man to like--and he does not admit many persons as his equals.

By getting beaten in the October match, Yosano seems to have managed to entice Ozawa to lower his self protective shield a bit. Theirs seems to be a relationship that Ozawa can take pride in--where the homely country bumpkin outwits and then befriends the suave city boy with the illustrious family history.

Yosano's capacity to talk directly to Ozawa may be crucial in the next few weeks as the deeply estranged LDP and DPJ try to come to terms in the promulgation and passage of the new budget and its ancillary legislation by a March 31 deadline. The formal mechanisms of Diet debate and compromise are either frozen up from disuse or too damn hot to handle.

The question now is, with Yosano's interventions coming out into the open, whether the formal leaderships of the LDP and the DPJ will sign off on the deals worked out through the back channel.


* I am indebted to Tobias Harris of Observing Japan for drawing my attention to this article.

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