Monday, April 19, 2010

The Japanese Tea Parties

Not another political party!

Well, not exactly a party. Unlike the old boys club"Sunrise Party" (that's the new English name of Tachiagare Nippon! - why is it that this new translation set visions of the last scenes of Paul Schrader's Mishima dancing in my head? ) the Nippon Soshinto (the "Japan Regeneration Party"?) lacks the requisite five sitting members of the Diet to win official approval as a political party. Until such time as it does (it is not likely to) it will carry out its activities as a political organization (seiji dantai), meaning it will be campaigning without public funding.

Trying to campaign without a dollop of money from the public coffers fits in rather well with the basic ideological stance of this new autonomous conservative political organization. Founded by Suginami Ward mayor Yamada Hiroshi, former Yokohama mayor Nakada Hiroshi and Yamagata Governor Saito Hiroshi (in the abscence of an official name, Ethan Chua referred to the incipient party as "the Hiroshis") the Nippon Soshinto is dedicated to fighting the Democratic Party of Japan, which, in emulation of its predecessor the Liberal Democratic Party, is blowing out Japan's national budget though baramaki ("rose strewing") public works projects and indiscriminate social welfare spending. From the past utterances of its founders, the party will have a strong nationalist aroma (check out the photo of the press conference) -- Suginami Ward, for example, is one of the very few municipalities whose public schools make use of the controversial Fusosha New History textbooks.

In its combination of attacks on fiscal stimulus spending and a strong conservative nationalist cant, the Nippon Soshinto shares elements of the Tea Party movement in the United States. Both are growing out of a climate of fear, responding to the uncertainty after the election of a more liberal party to power, a shift in government spending priorities as a result of that election and an increase in fiscal deficits as governments try to counteract the depressive effects of the Great Crash of 2008.

However, the voters being targeted by the Nippon Soshinto are not the defiantly ignorant rural astroturf rubes of the U.S. Tea Party movement. Indeed, the projected Nippon Soshinto voter is very nearly the social opposite of the Tea Partier: he/she is an urban or near-urban, upper middle class, highly educated individual. Indeed its policy mix seems directed at managerial, Nihon Keizai Shinbun reading commuter with few emotional ties to the countryside. Its macroeconomic stance is typically corporate - what can save Japan is unemotional, strictly-by-the-numbers government belt-tightening - or more colloquially, the "I got mine Jack, you have to fend for yourself" view.

Rolling into the House of Councillors election this summer, the voters now have the opportunity to choose from amongst three different flavors of non-LDP micro-party conservatism. The DPJ-led ruling coalition member People's New Party will appeal to social conservatives in the rural areas, the party offering wistful, even maudlin, depictions of a traditional Japan of several decades ago combined with trans-Keynesian levels of public borrowing and fiscal profligacy. The Sunrise Party will appeal to the somewhat paranoid nationalist voter, with party ideologues Hiranuma Takeo and Ishihara Shintaro banging on about how the DPJ is handing control of Japan to the South Koreans and the Chinese. In terms of economic policy, Yosano Kaoru will continue his Ahab-like pursuit of a solution to the burgeoning of the national debt, meaning the Sunrise Party will be running on the electorally poisonous promises of cuts in government spending and higher taxes.

[This, by the way, explains the reason why the mild and reasonable Yosano has joined forces with Hiranuma: it is not Hiranuma trying appear more reasonable by hanging out with Yosano, it is Yosano searching for voters whose fanaticism is intense enough to makes them willing to swallow the harsh medicine of higher taxes.]

Finally there is the Nippon Soshinto offering a "liquidate the farmers, liquidate labor, love the nation" plan for the nation's reconstruction in the hopes of captureing the attention of the members of middle-aged urban/suburban managerial class and their spouses (cue the devilishly handsome new party secretary-general Nakada Hiroshi).

In short, in the House of Councillors election, conservative voters have a choice between Shabby Socialist (PNP), Bad Tasting (Sunrise) and Organization Man (Nippon Soshinto) flavors of ex-LDP Japanese conservatism.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Vultures Surround Dove Mountain

The support numbers in April 9-12 Jiji Press poll tells the tale: Cabinet support has sunk to 23.7% of those polled, a 2 point drop since last month. The percentage of those declaring they do not support (fushiji) the Cabinet rose 8 points from a month ago, to 56.5%.

When asked the reason why they do not support the Hatoyama-led Cabinet, the fushiji voters split into three big, nearly equal and predictable chunks.

35% - "Because we cannot expect anything from it/him"

32% - "Because Hatoyama/it displays no leadership"

21% - "Because his/its policies are pointless"

This is the price of promising change one is not willing to make an effort to deliver(the Futenma imbroglio -- if Hatoyama had really staked his political life on it, working tirelessly for some small measure of justice for the people of Okinawa, he would be enjoying significant popular support, since most of the public hate the 2006 Agreement moving the base to Henoko). This is the price of chasing after pennies (the 300,000 votes nationwide of the hereditary post office operators and the postal worker's union, for example) whilst allowing the dollars (the 40% to 50% of the electorate that is not affiliated with any party) to fly away in the wind.

Messrs. Hatoyama and Ozawa Ichiro, you do have to put together coalitions of interests and make all kinds promises you can only partly keep in order to win election. However, after the election, you have to keep your eye on the prize: keeping the average, unaffiliated voter confident in your leadership and content with the direction of the country.

It was the switch from election mode to ruling mode that you have blown here. The people really, really liked you (well, Hatoyama-san at least). They knew you would not be able to accomplish even a fraction of what your Manifesto said you would do -- so there was not going to be a reckoning for being only partially successful in implementing your plans. Sure the Prosecutors Office, egged on by shadowy figures, have made your lives hard. But at a time when the scandals are losing their grip on the public's imagination -- in the Jiji poll, the percentage of persons saying that Ozawa must either resign his Diet seat entirely (29%) or just from his post as DPJ Secretary-General (46%) both declined from their levels of last month -- it is your too-clever-by-half political pandering in preparation for the July House of Councillors election that is driving a wooden stake through your rule.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Paradox of the LDP in Opposition

The founding of the Stand Up, Japan! Party (a name that has engendered no end of sarcastic comment in the political realm) the defections of a total of nine sitting Diet members from the Liberal Democratic Party since the August election and the dispeptic vocalizations of Masuzoe Yo'ichi as regards the LDP's present leadership -- despite the absorption of Koike Yuriko and Kono Taro into the party leadership ranks -- all highlight the paradox the LDP faces as it tries to rev up its engines for the July House of Councillors elections. To whit:
The greater the decline in the support ratings for the leadership of the DPJ duarchy of Hatoyama Yukio and Ozawa Ichiro, the more fragile becomes the unity of the LDP.
That the unpopularity of the leaders of the ruling party ends up destabilizing the main opposition party is decidedly peculiar. One could almost believe a conspiracy was somehow subverting the natural order -- that Yosano Kaoru, Ozawa's counterpart in an ongoing friendly rivalry over who is the best Go player in the Diet, was conspiring with his board game buddy in a end-around play extracting from the LDP its heretofore most reliable pillars of support: fiscal conservatives and historical revisionists.

However, one need not appeal to a conspiracy to make sense of these seemingly contradictory results. The fissioning of even a rump LDP is entirely congruent with the Rule.

Mail Call - In my mailbox

I suppose one might call this the "Japan-U.S. News Report."

- Tobias Harris has a pair of highly readable posts, one on the Democratic Party of Japan's possibly pointless attempts to wrestle the bureaucracy to the ground through control of the recruitment and placement of personnel and the other on the increasingly weird union of fiscal restraint and unbridled nationalism that is "Stand Up, Japan!"

- David Fedman offers a first glance at the executive summary of this year's Diplomatic Blue Book.

- Political campaign strategist Doug Turner, the 2005-06 Hitachi Fellow who spent a year inside DPJ headquarters being largely ignored by the folks there* has switched roles and is running for the Republican nomination for Governor of New Mexico.

When one looks at the historical list of Hitachi's International Affairs Fellowships recipients, the program seems to have a pretty significant hit rate. Michael Schiffer is now Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia & Pacific Security Affairs. Robert Dujarric is the head of the Center for Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan. Frank Januzzi is the principal staff member for East Asian affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said to be on the short list for a number of U.S. Administration posts...and that is just the folks I know.


* Doug Turner's spouse, Dr. Mala Htun, was a 2006-2007 Hitachi Fellow, studying the Government of Japan's changing approaches to the needs of women.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Imperative Case in Japanese Party Names

"Stand Up Japan!" (Tachiagare Nippon). That is the proposed name of the new Yosano-Hiranuma party.

"Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro thought of the name," Hiranuma says.

Why am I not the least bit surprised by this revelation?

Today, the nascent conservative-conservative party lured House of Councillors member Nakagawa Yoshio, the uncle of the late Nakagawa Sho'ichi, into submitting his resignation from the LDP. Together with former Minister of Transportation Fujii Takao, who is widely expected to be announcing his departure from the LDP soon, the new party will be starting out with the statutory minimum of 5 sitting Diet members necessary to be eligible for public elections funds.

The recruitment drive seems far from over. House of Councillors member, former Finance Ministry bureaucrat and former State Minister for Abductee Issues Nakayama Kyoko (a triple play!) is reportedly being courted, as is her currently out-of-office and notorious spouse Nakayama Nariaki.

From the looks of it, the Hiranuma-led party will be packed with hardliners.

Why does that not surprise me?

Meanwhile, sitting LDP House of Councillors member and potential recruit to the Hiranuma cause Konoike Yoshitada, whose homepage absolutely has to be seen to be believed, has seemingly gotten a sudden case of cold feet.

The new party is scheduled to open for business starting on April 10.

I cannot wait.

Later - The Mainichi Online has just put up an English language write-up of the story.

Pondering Yosano's Moves

"Rely on your own powers. If you can't see the point of your opponent's move, assume there isn't any."

From the time I first read this rule of playing chess, one of 64 basic rules proposed by the American chess master Bruce Pandolfini , I have always thought it the one least applicable to daily life. It seems reasonable to assume you can see everything there is to see on an 8X8 board. However, hacking through the thickets of quotidian mendacity and obfuscation with the razor of "if I cannot make sense of it, it must not make sense" seems a direct path to a misapprehended reality.

The phrase --"If you can't see the point of your opponent's move, assume there isn't any" -- has been echoing in my head these past few days. I have been trying to make sense of Yosano Kaoru's declaration of his intent to leave the Liberal Democratic Party in order to co-found a new party with Hiranuma Takeo. What could be the point of this spontaneous vernal defection? Yosano previously turned down an opportunity to leave the party at the invitation of Hatoyama Kunio, who has more than enough money in his pockets to bankroll anything the pair might want to achieve. There is already a micro-party in the Diet (the Your Party) devoted to fighting for of government fiscal discipline -- so a Yosano liberated from the LDP has nothing to offer the public on that score. On the other side of the ledger sidling up to Hiranuma, one of the giants of historical revisionist camp (a not surprising stance, considering he is the adopted son of this guy), means that from the git-go, the new party has to give up any hope of pretending to be the torch bearer of prudent, business-centric conservatism. Yosano did not even have five Diet members lined up and ready to go, the bare minimum one needs to receive state election campaign funding.

So, no identifiable ideological stance, no money and an insufficient handful of uninspiring old faces. Over at Twisting Flowers, the erudite Ethan Chua has been similarly flummoxed.

After several days of staring, the best explanation I can come up with is that Yosano wants to close out his career as his own man. Sick of being beholden to the LDP, he will present himself as a candidate for one of the ten Tokyo Metropolitan House of Councillors district seats, five of which are up for election in July. Too physically weak to run as an independent, he is drafting a sympathetic bunch of ageing LDP war horses (or former LDP war horses) in order to

1) get the public to pay for his last campaign and

2) have a backstop of winning a seat through the proportional party list, if his attempt to win a district seat fails.

I am just guessing here; I have no proof that this whole brouhaha is meant only to win good old Kaoru a seat from which he can rail at the various mediocrities one sees occupying otherwise valuable space in the political realm. I refuse, however, to believe Yosano Kaoru would ever make a pointless move. Improbable, yes, but not pointless.

Later - Sigma1 has made an excellent point in a comments: having Hiranuma as the co-leader will likely entice right wing voters into supporting the new micro-party, with a consequent further erosion of the support base of the LDP.

Later still - This post has been edited for greater clarity and diction.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Why the Lines of Support Do Not Cross

Liberal Democratic Party President Tanigaki Sadakazu, making an unusual and possibly desperate appearance on the main NHK 9 p.m. news broadcast tonight, triggers the Thought For The Day:
The support levels for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan move in an inverse corrolation with the increase in perceptions of a ressemblance between it and the LDP.
Which goes a long way toward an explaination as to why the LDP is failing at the main role of an opposition party: to present an alternative to which the people can turn to when they get tired of the other party.

A paradoxical corollary: the man most the voters want as their prime minister, Masuzoe Yoichi, an LDP member, is popular precisely because he of all the main candidates is the one who is most clearly defining himself as being against an LDP style of leadership.

Advance Warning

I will be offering my outlook on this year's House of Councillors election and the current political environment at a British Chamber of Commerce in Japan luncheon on June 16. My co-panelist at the event will be Alison Ayres, a veteran of MFAT and the author of the whippet-smart reviews of Japanese politics one finds in the BCCJ's bi-monthly house magazine Acumen.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Three Views of the Empire, Faded

Three recently published views of Japan's security situation that together make a passably good read.

From Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation , an outline of the exasperated, post-Alliance Manager era view of Japan which is probably shared by quite a number of important folks in Washington these days.

From Doug Bandow of the ideologically anti-imperialist conservative Cato Institute, a most antiseptic and honest solution to the Futenma crisis: "eliminate the unrealistic expectations engendered by the alliance on both sides" (Gosh, I wish had thought of that line).

Finally, from Terashima Jitsuro, until last year the man widely seen as the leader of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio's security policy brain trust, a call for a complete rethink of basis of the Japan-U.S. security alliance. Terashima takes an advocacy stance, not a scholarly one, that is to say his assertions do not stand up to scrutiny. His claim that that U.S. bases cover an area 1.6 times the size of Tokyo City, for example, is at once meaningless and wrong. However, knowing Terashima's views one can get a sense of how some in this blessed land are fumbling (and I mean fumbling) toward a new, more autonomous, yet non-militarized national security policy.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hatoyama, Moose & Squirrel

In my intemperate youth, I wasted many an hour I should have been spending in more elevated pursuits viewing the animated adventures of Bullwinkle, a moose (North American variety) and his pal Rocky, a flying squirrel. Interspersed between the chapters of the adventures in each episode would be little bits of repeated business between the two protagonists, the most famous of which was Bullwinkle's attempts (inevitably unsuccessful) to perform a magic trick.

"Hey Rocky," Bullwinkle would begin, "Watch me pull a rabbit of my hat."

To which an exasperated Rocky would chirp, "BUT THAT TRICK NEVER WORKS!"

Sadly, yesterday, we did not have the services of Rocky Squirrel during Party Leader Question Time in the Diet. We had only Liberal Democratic Party Tanigaki Sadakazu, who, while indeed lightweight and begoggled, lacks Rocky's ability to focus on the germane and the ability (I assume) to chirp.

Nevertheless, when the prime minister of your country, at the moment he is pressed for having missed his self-imposed deadline on coming up with a unified government plan for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, tries to buy himself yet more time by saying that, don't worry, he has a secret plan for solving the impasse which he is keeping hidden under his hat until he is ready to whip it out to save the day, the only possible response is:


As for Hatoyama, his solitary success over the 34 minutes that Tanigaki peppered him with only the very simplest questions regarding the plans for the relocation of Futenma, questions to which Hatoyama offered spluttered, stuttered responses, was in making Tanigaki seem competent, coherent and in control.

And that indeed, requires more than a pinch of magic.