Monday, February 01, 2010

I Want to Give Up On Hatoyama Yukio

In the first book of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, protagonist Arthur Dent escapes Earth as the unwelcome guest of the Vogons -- a race of nasty-tempered, ugly-minded, hideous-looking space-faring bureaucrats infamous for being the third worst poets in the Universe.

"On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry to you," warns the Guide.

Vogons, it seems, have nothing on Hatoyama Yukio's speechwriters.

Policy Speech by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama at the 174th Session of the Diet

I want to protect people's lives.

This is my wish: to protect people's lives.

I want to protect the lives of those who are born; of those who grow and mature.

I want to bring change to the sort of society where a young couple gives up having children because the economic burden is cause for unease. We must build a society in which children, who will support our future, are free to pursue their limitless potential.

I want to protect working people's lives.

Securing employment is an urgent issue. In addition to that, however, I want to create a society in which those who have lost their jobs and those who, for a variety of reasons, are continuing to search for work can remain active as members of the community, not losing their opportunities to interact with others. I hope to consider a new type of community in which all people can feel a connection with society, having a place where they belong and a role to play - through economic activity, of course, but also cultural, sports, volunteer and other activities...
The above is the official translation of the Prime Minister's policy speech to the regular session of the Diet.

The text seems off-kilter and off-putting. This is not the fault of the translators. Indeed, the translators should be lauded for their courage and forebearance. However awkward the speech in its English version, its defects pale to insignificance compared to the callow Japanese original. The translators having imposed structure, body, sense and decorum upon an avalanche of aspiration. In the original, the syntax is contrived; the rhetoric, incomprehensible; the diction, indefensible. At 51 minutes in length, the speech ties the record for the longest Prime Minister's policy address in history and is the second longest ever in terms of word count. Inochi ("life") makes 24 appearances. Hearing the Prime Minister deliver the speech must have been a near life-threatening experience for lawmakers sitting in the first few rows of the chamber. Had I been present in person, I would have sat, eyes like saucers, my fingers in tightening against each other in prayer, begging the Divine to please make the Prime Minister stop.

"I want to protect life. I want to protect life -- that is what I am asking for."
(Inochi o mamoritai. Inochi o mamoritai to negau no desu.)

What kind of opening line is that? What is it in response to? Has anyone ever started a policy speech with "I want to destroy life. I want to destroy life -- that is what I am asking for" in any venue other than a C-grade fantasy movie?

I sympathize with what I must assume is the foundation to Hatoyama's declarations of a strong desire to protect life. That which we call life in all its facets and forms -- life on earth, family life, life in the countryside, life’s golden age, working life – is under threat. In one way or in many, we all are standing upon the knife's edge.

However, by starting out with the solipsistic "I want..." Hatoyama reveals a complete misapprehension of his station. "I want to protect life" -- great, wonderful, become a volunteer fire fighter or a lifeguard at your local swimming pool. In the meantime, you are prime minister of Japan. Is it not time to start behaving like one, having your speeches begin with:

“Here are the problems our nation faces…”

shifting to

“Here is what I believe are the keys to solving our problems…"

building up to

“Here are the specific ways this government is going to deal with our nation's problems in the current Diet session…”

and ending with a mighty,

"I ask the cooperation of all here present to bring the plans of this government to fruition"?

Tobias Harris calls the Hatoyama approach professorial. Mr. Harris is too kind and his kindness obfuscates the seriousness of the dilemma facing the electorate. Prime Minister Hatoyama's approach to his jobs has been adolescent. He has viewed both leadership of the DPJ and the prime ministership as showcases for his creativity (Look at me! No one has ever delivered a policy speech like this before!) rather than crushing burdens. The serious business of being the duly selected leader of a people has been reduced to the level of a school art project, with its creator completely unconcerned about the marketability of his final product.

I have been willing to give Hatoyama Yukio the benefit of the doubt. The aggravating, misplaced and in the end foundationless idealism displayed in the essay he published last year in Voice could be attributed to either a lack of familiarity with the concept that words have consequences, or to a lousy ghostwriter. However, last Friday’s policy speech represents Hatoyama's second massive lapse in editorial judgment in less than a year.

A famed adage has it that while there is no shame in being fooled once, it is shameful to allow oneself to be fooled twice. I have had it for the time being with Hatoyama-san and his failures to respect the offices entrusted to him. His dilletantish approach to leadership is beyond me.

Original image credit: Reuters


Paul J. Scalise said...

Dear Michael:

I enjoyed your post. At the risk of stating the obvious, the real question no longer seems to be what Prime Minister Hatoyama intends to do for the country, but rather how long he and others expect him to survive in office.

I suspect -- though perhaps I am in the minority -- that he will last until the upper house elections in July. After that, the premier will go the way of Hosokawa Morihiro -- an affable, well-meaning idealist who was forced to resign because he was simply incapable of leading a nation and giving the middle-class what it increasingly needed: concrete blueprints to jump-start the economy, forestall personal bankruptcies, and lower the unemployment rate. On the scale of importance, everything else seems secondary. (C.f. "When 'Revolution' Turns to Despair," Newsweek, 25 January 2010, p. 7).

Also, it's gratifying to read that analysts are slowly coming around to the point Devin Stewart and I made in our Foreign Policy article in October 2009. The words "radical," "change," and "Japan" should never be used in the same sentence. It usually leads to nothing but disappointment, not to mention lots of angry foreign investors.

Best regards,
Paul J. Scalise

PaxAmericana said...


But do Hatoyama and the DPJ actually have any ideas for dealing with those economic problems? I don't really consider pushing some eco scheme as being very practical or quick.

Can you name a couple of economic ideas that the DPJ are debating that go beyond changing tax deductions or child allowances?

MTC said...

Dr. Scalise -

Thank you for enjoying my post. However, my current fury at Hatoyama Yukio should not be construed as implying I agree with the assertions you make in your Newsweek article. That the DPJ holds 300+ seats in the House of Representatives, with no elections necessary for three and a half years, and are still projected to control a solid majority of seats in the House of Councillors after this summer’s election thanks to the feeble appeal of the LDP, would seem to render moot attempts to draw parallels between the Hosokawa and Hatoyama Administrations. Hosokawa fell from power because of his fragile, effete idealistic ethos but also because the anti-LDP coalition he led was an ungainly, brittle, by-skin-of-the-teeth Hydra held together by candy floss.

As for the article you and Devin Stewart wrote for Foreign Policy, I have rechecked the six quoted assertions you and Mr. Stewart sought to disparage ( see: ). In every instance, the actions of the DPJ-led coalition government seem to be running counter to your predictions. Even in areas where one could ostensibly argue that the Hatoyama government has failed to perform according to the hype, it seems that the fault lies in narrow definitions of success (e.g. "economic reform" = reforms sought by non-Japanese multinationals and foreign governments based pre-2008 globalization norms) rather than in the government's reversal of course.

You and Mr. Stewart still may be correct in the long run. However, at this juncture, you should probably consider yourselves stuck at 0 for 6.

MTC said...

PaxAmericana -

You hit the nail on the head. Stripped of the throat-clearing and continuo, Hatoyama's policy address could have been wrapped up a spiffy 10 minutes, max.

Durf said...

As one of the translators who worked on this English version of the speech, thanks first of all for the praise. :-) Lord knows Hatoyama's stuff isn't much fun to work on (especially since most of us write in American English and the official who signs off on the translations is a speaker of amazing--but very British--English who insists we write in the same). Chokuyaku is the order of the day; in the cases where we try to make the point clearer we're generally told to stick more closely to the original.

The speech was fairly wince-inducing. "Let's care for life in the twenty-first century" sounds like the sort of pabulum you'd expect from a manufacturer's CEO address at the front of the sustainability report, not from the nation's premier's policy speech.

And yes, it was far too long. Especially when we get the Japanese early on Thursday afternoon and are asked to deliver the English by midnight, or the next morning at the latest. Whew!

Paul J. Scalise said...

Dear Michael:

Hosokawa fell from power for a variety of reasons outlined in my Newsweek article: plummeting cabinet approval ratings, a financial-campaign scandal, a souring economy, lack of concrete blueprints to match his lofty rhetoric, a hostile media, an impatient public, and a complete inability to accomplish much of anything on his legislative agenda.

Gerald Curtis, retired Burgess Professor of Political Science at Columbia University and author of The Logic of Japanese Politics, agrees: "The Hosokawa government made virtually no progress with its program of deregulation and administrative reform, and its attempt to revise the tax system was a disaster. To say its policy accomplishments were modest would be to give it excessive praise." (pg. 134).

The parallels with Hatoyama Cabinet using the above criteria are striking. Will Hatoyama eventually fall? Yes, I think so.

It is also true that the coalition structure is different under the Hatoyama Cabinet than under the Hosoakawa Cabinet, but please keep in mind that has little relevance to the electoral successes (or failures) of the upper house election in July, or (more importantly) the survival of the Hatoyama Cabinet. According to the latest Nikkei Telephone Survey, independent voters continue to move away from the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). DPJ support peaked in September 2009 with a 54 percent favorable rating. The latest polls indicate DPJ support levels at 39 percent and falling. Cabinet approval ratings are more pronounced. Voters are moving once again away from party affiliated-support to the "independent" category.

Rather than defend the DPJ or the Hatoyama Cabinet, one should find this puzzling and start to ask why. I see little evidence that Hatoyama has accomplished much of any long-term substance, so I will respectfully disagree.

That said, let me be clear. My Newsweek article was specifically discussing the fate of Hatoyama, not the DPJ. It could be that Hatoyama falls only to be replaced by another coalition apparatchik. That was certainly the case with Hosokawa's replacement by Hata. Either way, Hatoyama appears to be operating on borrowed time.

Paul J. Scalise

Climate Morio said...


i have been following the DPJ as closely as i could while not living in the country for as long as it has been in power, and the tone that they adopt seems to me a bit wishy-washy.

Do not get me wrong, i can see that they are making brave inroads against the traditional, Kasumigaseki-heavy Japanese style of governance, but your plea for brevity and specificity struck a chord with me, too.

I recall reading two years ago the Ministry of Environment's Plan for Achieving the Targets under the Kyoto Protocol - and it had the same kind of wishy-washy, pie-in-the-sky feel to it. Ostensibly this was because MOE had been chafing since its inception as the Environment Agency under the pressure from more established ministries, and when it comes to climate change METI has always tried to assert its supremacy.

Nevertheless, that was a situation pitting two terribly unequal ministries against each other. Now, however, we have a party winning a Lower House election at a margin unlike any other in recent memory and also set to trounce the opposition in a couple of months once more. Where has all the steam gone to?

PaxAmericana said...

One thing Dr. Scalise doesn't seem to take into account is that there was a functioning LDP in Hosokawa's day. The LDP of those days has been dismantled or discredited in the last 10 years.

Also, having lived in Japan then and now, I would say the view of a large percentage of the Japanese has changed dramatically. It is now the conventional view that the system has run into a wall, and voting in the LDP or another Koizumi type is not the solution. It took the challengers of the LDP many years to put together a functioning new party, and it might take the challengers to the DPJ years to create a functioning alternative. Not that this is a good thing.

Bryce said...

"Will Hatoyama eventually fall? Yes, I think so. "

Yes, and to quote one of my favourite works of philosophy, "On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

Look, I'm as sceptical about Hatoyama's leadership as anybody, but there are actions that we can point to, more in terms of process rather than policy substance, that potentially have long-term significance for Japan. The decision to eliminate vice-ministers' meetings, the publicising of the gyousei shiwake process, the way in which Ozawa, despite the accusations against him, has been quietly reforming the way businesses donate to the DPJ--something that has not made it to the English language press yet, as far as I can tell. One could argue that increased bureaucratic accountability and transparency, as well a centralised party donation system are an inevitable feature of two-party politics and would occur at some stage anyway. But you can't really deny that they are happening now.

Paul J. Scalise said...

The Japanese have an old saying, "The frog in the well knows not the ocean." I always understood this saying to mean, "The more you know, the less you know." That if decision-makers were inundated by information, they would freeze like deer facing the headlights of an oncoming car and not be able to move out of sheer panic.

Watching how the policy making process worked up close in several ministerial advisory committees (shingikai), I appreciated the simile. I was surprised to discover how hard-working and earnest the representative elites were in the decision-making process. They look abroad constantly -- at the economic data, the polling data, the expert testimonies, the institutional structures, etc. They pondered the evidence, and thoughtfully answered it with....silence.

I know. That may not sound entirely fair to them, but think about it. The power to change a multi-billion dollar economy rests in their hands. If you were in their shoes, what do you do? What would you change? How would you know that it would not make matters worse?

I am not sure why any of us would be surprised by their reaction when the rest of the world is not quite sure either what generates lasting economic growth, increases investment opportunities, and protects personal income growth. There is no genuine consensus and, let's face it, a nominal consensus (at least in the media) is what usually drives the agenda-setting and decision-making process. Everyone has different opinions about what is "wrong" with Japan and how to fix it. But that actually -- in my opinion -- is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The greatest analytical conceit is to claim that one understands what Japanese voters *really* want, when I think it is safe to say that the voters themselves are not quite sure yet.

Starting from the 1980s, there was a clear move away from traditional partisan politics towards the rise of the "non party supporting strata" (mutouhasou). The LDP benefited from this arrangement by default, not because they captured the voters imaginations. Now, I keep my eyes faithfully trained on the Nikkei Shimbun's Telephone Surveys in a time-series. I am waiting to see that things have really changed; that voters clearly know what they want; and that politicians and bureaucrats have some sense of what to do. That hasn't happened yet.

In the meantime, some analysts might point to the "potential" for change. Sure. Then again, I agree: anything is theoretically possible.

Anonymous said...

In a Mainichi Jan 30th article that they bothered to translate, it is reported that

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama had Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koji Matsui and playwright Oriza Hirata help him write his policy speech to the Diet on Friday, departing from a tradition of bureaucratic involvement in the speechmaking process.

The article concluded:

Yoshimi Watanabe, head of the opposition Your Party, praised the presentation of the speech, saying, "It was very easy to listen to. It was ornate." However, he added a barb: "Behind the good-sounding rhetoric, there were hardly any concrete measures."

John Mock said...

Dear Michael and Paul,

At the risk of jumping out of the shadows and into the fire, I think the assertion that Michael is accepting the 6 points raised the Stewart/Scalise article doesn't hold water. In fact, as Michael asserts, quite the opposite.

My own thinking is that Michael is probably right in his 0-6 assessment primarily because the very election of a non-LDP government has already had a massive impact on Japan, particularly the Japan outside the Tokyo metropolitan center, whether or not it is "revolutionary" or "radical" doesn't seem really very important. To my eyes, the sight of high ranking ministry officials publicly being stripped of money and power is, all by itself, something I never thought I would see in Japan.

From what I can see, far from the centers of power, the defeat of the LDP has meant the creation of what might be called a "state of ambiguity". Obviously, the DPJ has not consolidated power and moved with the kinds of effectiveness that one might want but, on the other hand, the loss of LDP power, particularly in the hinterland, has created (or allowed) ripples of "something" ("change"?) to spread widely through the society.

Aside from whether or not this is "radical" is, to my mind, less important than where it will go...if anywhere.

For both of you, good article and interesting, if not completely correct, response.


John Mock