Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm attending the STS Forum in Kyoto again this year and it turns out that the election date for the Japanese parliament ended up on the same day as the first day of the event. Prime Minister Koizumi was still able to make it to the meeting which is the brainchild of Koji Omi. I'm a great fan of Koji Omi. He's one of the only politicians I know who studies and actually reads everything people send him to read. He's a former bureaucrat who became powerful for his intelligence and analysis among other things. Last night, we were having a nightcap in the hotel as the results of the election were coming in and Mr. Omi was understandably happy as each of the over 40 candidates that he had visited and endorsed came in winning.

Later, I received a distressed email from Karel van Wolferen, with whom I had just had dinner. Karel is very worried about the LDP and Koizumi's ability to reform Japan. He has given me permission to post some material he has written in the past (With Koizumi at the Theatre - September 5, 2005) and is going to be writing a piece for the Asahi about the election which I will post when he sends it to me. I am putting the material on the wiki. I urge you to read it and comment on the wiki. Karel is the most lucid critic of Japanese policy and politics that I know and his book, the Enigma of Japanese Power was the beginning of my increased understanding about Japan. I think he has an important role in helping people understand Japan moving forward and am glad he has come back to Japan (temporarily) to participate in the process. Thanks Karel.


Well I was glad that he managed to get back and will be able to win with a majority. I do agree that the Postal Reform is one of his main agenda's but I will be looking forward to see what he does with the Japanese Insurance System. If he manages to reform the whole Shakai Hoken will be a big bonus. Going forward to be able to have your own private Health and Retirement fund without relying on the government would be a boon to everyone.

Interesting. I look forward to van Wolferen's article, since all I hear is that this election victory of Koizumi is a good thing. People claim the reforms are needed, but van Wolferen claims otherwise.

I disagree with Karl, which takes some courage since he knows a lot more about Japan than I do. I realize that Koizumi's "reforms" are not as substantive as he claims. I also don't like his obsessive insistence in going to Yasukuni Shrine. (If you want to be really depressed, visit the Shrine and the museum next door. . .)

But I think it's hard to argue with the following things Koizumi has done:

1) Dismantled the LDP power structure. Would Karl really prefer the party the way it was?

2) Removed "public works" as the mantra for economic recovery.

3) Made "small government", "reduced bureaucracy", "get the public sector out of the private sector" fashionable phrases, at least.

I think these are big accomplishments. I do not think Japan would have been the same if Hashimoto had become Prime Minister again.

My wife, who voted for the LDP candidate, explained that there were no good candidates, just bad candidates and slightly less bad candidates. I suspect many people felt that way, that the LDP candidates were on balance, slightly less bad.

although i though, regardless who wins in the this election, japaan is set for a win-win, however i do think a DPJ win is as bigger win for japan.

i think it would be interesting to see how LDP react to the shifts (or th elack of it) in the composition of LDP’s constituency with the rebels replaced.

Even more interesting would be the who will replace Koizumi when he retire from PMship and how will the money from the privatization be used

I will be greatfull if Koizumi can build a society, where no one will be murdered because he/or she speakes-up against right winges and the major Japanerse madiae will not pick-up as a news.

So now the election is done and the LDP won big time. How ironic it is that the appearance of opposition has to come from the leadership of the ruling party. The DPJ got their behinds served to them on the proverbial platter and in a way thats a shame. Okada-san seemed to present an interesting manifesto (although the details seemed unworkable or pure fantasy) but they presented it without any appeal. Considering the leadership vacuum created by his resignation, I doubt we'll see much coming from the DPJ for a while.

van Wolfren raises some very valid points about how can privatization work when there is no real public finance sector to begin with and Koizumi-san's lack of detail as to how how postal privatization will be implimented. However this being Japan the complete lack of detail is business as usual and we must assume that the details will be sorted out in last minute back room deals which will not geninely upset the status quo. None of us know how this will play out but we can only hope for the best. Any "reform" has to start somewhere.

Two words: Cool Biz!

So koizumi won. And what was this a victory for ? As van Wolferen points out, essentially it was a victory for the kind of "narrative politics" that the US has come to love. Rather than those who actually have relevant policies, it showed clearly that if you have a better election story (fighting against the machine! for the future of the country! with female assassins!) you are going to win.

Not massively surprising when you consider that japanese politics has for so long been ugly old bald men in white-walled, flat fluoro-lit featureless rooms bowing to apologise for the latest sex / yakuza / finance scandal.

So what can the DPJ learn ? Field a telegenic, charismatic leader who can push for real reform against an LDP that will become increasingly autocratic, right-wing and out of touch with the rest of asia. There is a real chance for them if they can only put aside infighting and seize the moment..

I too read and enjoyed The Enigma of Japanese Power, many years ago.

One of the lines in it that stuck with me was Karel's contention that Japanese government forms a trapezoid, not a pyramid. In other words, there's no one person at the top who could say "The buck (or yen) stops here" — or who could be voted out of office.

I think the biggest change from Koizumi's LDP victory, in which he staked his political career on a particular program, may be the transformation of Japanese politics to a system in which someone at the top is seen as (and may in fact actually be!) responsible and accountable.

I blogged a bit about this here.

Karel's comments are help my understanding. Although clearly the voters are interested in reform, it's depressing and rather puzzling that Japanese voters were so entranced by Koizumi's style and too distracted his dramatic move to purge "anti-reformers" within the LDP that they did not care to really pay attention to the DPJ as the true reformers. Substance loses out to style big time!

Curious that Karel did not devote any time to discussing how Koizumi managed to use the election and reform card to bring a huge defeat to his rivals in the Hashimoto faction. How many others see the election as just a continuation of the "Kaku-Fuku war"?

However, it will be interesting to see if voters will continue to be patient with the LDP if Koizumi's new LDP fails to deliver any meaningful reform after capturing a two-thirds majoty large enough to override any dissent from the Upper House. Can we expect to see true reform from the LDP, now that Koizumi was able so brilliantly to steal the reform show from the DPJ? Or will the LDP find itself too torn between its strong rural base and its new urban support?

Mr. Karel van Wolferen:
Mr. Joi Ito
From: Akira Kubota, 2005/11/13

I wonder why Mr. van Wolferen generally finds little merit in the last September 11 general election. The outcome of this election has massively damaged Japan’s traditional intra-party faction system, thus largely reducing Japan into a singularly-structured power system as opposed the dual-power system under the old factional configuration. Mr. Tamisuke Watanuki and Mr. Shizuka Kamei were not only trying to preserve the old public postal system but were also trying to crush the power foundation of the Koizumi cabinet. Although they were re-re-elected as Representatives, they are now expelled from the ruling party and have lost most of the power previously held on a factional basis. They now can no longer veto what the Premier does as they once did. I thought that Mr. van Wolferen detested Japan’s dual power structure. Now it is largely gone. We now have an entirely different power political power structure in Japan. I find it hard to be told that Mr. van Wolferen does not focus on this point.

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