My, doesn’t time fly in the world of Japanese politics? It seems like only yesterday that Yukio Hatoyama and the DPJ finally managed to chuck the pork-barrellers of the LDP out of power, and yet here we are, just months later, with yet another unelected Japanese leader on our hands.
Putting questions of legitimacy to one side for the time being, it’s good to see that Naoto Kan, the new prime minister, isn’t from one of the grotesque political dynasties that dominate the Diet. The grandfathers of the last four prime ministers – Hatoyama, Aso, Fukuda and Abe – were also prime ministers themselves. Tellingly, none of these political darlings lasted longer than a year in office. It comes as no surprise that their ‘superior’ breeding and first-rate education failed to prepare them for the real world, and for the demands that come with governing the world’s second largest economy.
While Hatoyama doggedly dug his own grave over the US military base on Okinawa, Naoto Kan kept mum. By neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the idea of moving the base off the island he may very well be able to dodge the issue entirely, or at least kick it into the long grass for the time being. Hatoyama’s dithering seriously damaged the US administration’s trust in Japan. Kan needs to repair that trust, and also begin to enact the policies that the LDP fought last year’s election on, most notably reform of the institutionally corrupt bureaucracy.
The political elite have been in a malaise for so long that, like the chained prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave, they have little or no understanding of how the real world functions. Hopefully, Kan will be able to drag some of them towards the blinding reality of the outside world. Unfortunately, content with their world of shadows, most of them will probably try to get rid of him as swiftly as possible.
Posted 07 May 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
A run down of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:
Japanese visitors will be invited by tour operators to contribute £5, a charge already nicknamed the “Peter Rabbit tax”.
The tale of Peter Rabbit and a £5 ‘tax’ on his Japanese friends
The Times (Robert Jenkins)
Okinawa’s status as home to one of the highest life expectancies in the world has been tied to a combination of healthy diets, exercise and self-sufficiency.
World’s oldest woman dies in Japan aged 114
The Daily Telegraph (Danielle Demetriou)
Japan has the lowest percentage of children among 27 countries with populations of more than 40 million, trailing Germany at 13.6 percent and Italy’s 14 percent.
Japan’s children population at new record low
BusinessWeek (Mari Yamaguchi)
Along with a flair for airy-fairy waffle, Mr Hatoyama has exhibited breathtaking indecision.
Things fall apart in Japan
The Economist (Banyan’s column)
If you get groped on a train, please tell the nearest police officer.
Crackdown nets 77 gropers on Tokyo trains
The Daily Yomiuri
A run-down of some of the best Japan-related stories from this week:
After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, this once proudly egalitarian nation is belatedly waking up to the fact that it has a large and growing number of poor people.
Japan Tries to Face Up to Growing Poverty Problem
The New York Times (Martin Fackler)
I was making the same amount of money as assembly line workers at auto factories.
Charm offensive: the hostess bites back
The Independent (David McNeill and Chie Matsumoto)
Now stripped of the interest groups that supported it for so long, the LDP has failed to reinvent itself for the age of floating voters and is rapidly becoming a loose alliance of koenkai. As more politicians leave the party, it becomes harder to imagine that the LDP will ever adapt.
A New Dawn?
Observing Japan (Tobias Harris)
Posted 31 Mar 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category News, Tokyo
Korean newspapers are up in arms (again) following the Japanese government’s endorsement of several elementary school textbooks that label the islets of Dokdo – or Takeshima in Japanese – as Japanese territory.
The islets, which are located slap bang between Japan and South Korea, have been claimed by both countries for several hundred years. Japan’s Ministry of Foreign affairs remains adamant that they are “an inherent part of the territory of Japan”, though South Korea has maintained a continuous police and military presence there since 1952.
In 2008, South Korea briefly recalled its ambassador to Japan after guidelines for Japanese junior high school teachers mentioned the dispute. In 2005, Korean protesters decapitated pheasants and chopped off their own fingers outside the Japanese embassy following Shimane prefecture’s decision to label the 100th anniversary of Japan’s annexation of the islets “Takeshima Day”.
The Liancourt Rocks are inhabited by two permanent Korean residents (both fishermen), 37 Korean police officers, a small number of lighthouse keepers, and an enormous amount of birds. It is believed that reserves of natural gas lie under the surrounding sea-floor.
The ongoing sovereignty saga is likely to be a thorn in the side for any Japanese government that wishes to improve relations with Korea. While the current DPJ-led government is far less hawkish than its predecessor, it remains wary of antagonising right-wing nationalists.
Article from the Chosun Ilbo: “Korea Must Do More to Counter Japan’s Claim to Dokdo” (31st March, 2010)
As mentioned on approximately four million other websites about Japan, residents of Obama, Fukui prefecture, have been dancing naked in the streets and hula-ing their way to their local Seven Eleven for more cans of Asahi (probably) following the announcement that Barack Obama is America’s next president-elect:
(AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
Meanwhile, it is expected that John McCain is to play a key advisory role in one of Britain’s most well known food companies:
"Joe the Plumber loves 'em!"
Whenever Japan’s new prime minister, Taro Aso, is mentioned in English-language newspapers the phrases “right-winger” and “foreign policy hawk” occur with startling frequency. What has he done to deserve such infamy?
Well, Aso is a frequent visitor to Yasukuni, the shrine where many convicted Second World War war criminals are honoured, and he isn’t known for keeping his views to himself. In a formal speech in 2005 Aso described Japan as “one nation, one civilisation, one language, one culture, and one race, the like of which there is no other on this earth,” which must have come as a shock to the indigenous inhabitants of some of Japan’s more remote islands, many of whom have their own distinct languages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. And let us not forget the significant number of immigrants who live and work in Japan.
As foreign minister Aso relished antagonising the Chinese government. He once described China as “a neighbour with one billion people equipped with nuclear bombs and has expanded its military outlays by double digits for 17 years in a row, and it is unclear as to what this is being used for. It is beginning to be a considerable threat.” He has also claimed that the Japanese education system imposed upon the Taiwanese during Japan’s colonisation of the island was responsible for its current educational success: “Thanks to the significant improvement in educational standards and literacy (during colonisation), Taiwan is now a country with a very high education level and keeps up with the current era.”
Based on his current political track record Aso will find it hard to shake off the “right-wing nationalist” label, but as China becomes an increasingly important trading partner for Japan (China overtook the US to become its biggest export market earlier this year), and with the current global economic crisis, it seems likely that he will have to lay his personal convictions aside for the greater good of the country.