Sunday, March 02, 2008

Childhood's End

Over at Observing Japan, Tobias Harris reports on Katō Kōichi's radio broadcast announcement that "YKK is over."

I may be wrong...but I sense that Mr. Harris sees the declaration as both less and more than it is.

YKK – the policy-first political alliance of next-generation politicians Yamasaki Taku, Katō and Koizumi Jun'ichirō--was far more than a footnote in Japanese political history. In the 1990s, the press dutifully covered every flick of a finger by the trio, trying to discern the future course of the LDP, which was assumed to be in their hands. That the trio intended to achieve power on their own terms, without waiting their turn in line for the revolving door of the LDP presidency, in defiance of inter-factional balancing, was a real turn-on for many in the commentariat, the LDP rank-and-file and the general public.

In the end, only one of them managed to become prime minister—but what a prime minister he turned out to be!

As to the significance of Katō's declaration of an end to their fellowship, it must be viewed through the Katō's eyes. He receives a call from his old buddies to come to a restaurant to talk shop. He looks his desk for a moment, then at the pictures on the walls and in the alcove. He reflects for a moment. Koizumi became prime minister, the most celebrated prime minister in a quarter century. Yamasaki had his time in the doghouse due to his mistress...but he is back in the saddle, a faction head who nonchalantly jets off to Beijing once a month, acting as the undisguised back channel to officials of the Pyongyang regime.

He, however, lost control of his faction after failing to topple the lamentable Mori Yoshirō from the premiership. He lost his ancestral home and his aged mother was nearly killed by a nationalist arsonist who burnt down the family's house in retribution for Katō's criticism of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni--a huge loss for simply expressing one's opinion that nevertheless earned Katō and his family almost no sympathy from the public and his fellow party members.

Is it odd then that Katō should tell his former boon companions, "Sorry guys, I can't make it. Politics is not a game for me anymore. Unless whatever you are planning to discuss over dinner is damn serious, count me out."

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