Economist London column on DPJ woes, passim on how senile Tokyo Gov Ishihara seems to be getting


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Hi Blog.  Here’s a thought-provoking essay on Japanese politics from The Economist (London).  Within it is a vignette on Tokyo Governor Ishihara getting all pissy about how Japanese men are being emasculated, based upon the way they are allegedly being forced to urinate.  The other points within the essay are more important, but I find it singularly impressive how a leader of one of the world’s cities could go off on such an irrelevant and unprofessional tangent before a member of the international press (who, charitably, passes it off as the rantings of a grumpy old man).  That’s just one more signal to me, however, of how senile Ishihara has become.  Only one more year of the man left in office, fortunately.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Things fall apart in Japan
The opposition is a shambles; but since the government is its own worst enemy, who needs one?
Apr 29th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

FOR half a century Japan, dominated by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was a one-party state in multiparty clothes. Last August came a seismic shift, when the general election swept away the once-mighty LDP and installed the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in office. Anyone rooting for an overdue revamp of Japan’s political apparatus hailed the advent of a two-party state. Competition might even produce good policy.

They were too optimistic. A black dog of a depression has settled back over the country’s politics, affecting both main parties. In opposition the LDP has unravelled with impressive speed. In late April the country’s favourite politician, Yoichi Masuzoe, a rare combination in the LDP of ambition and ideas, joined a stream of high-profile defectors forming new parties. He calls for refreshing change: deregulation, decentralisation and—crucially for a country with too many paws on the levers of power—a halving of the number in the Diet (parliament).

For the moment, such groupings have not captured the public imagination. They contain too many lone wolves and grumpy old men, such as the governor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, who is responsible for the naming of one notable new party, Tachiagare Nippon!—literally, Stand Up, Japan! When Banyan once called on him, he launched into a tirade about Japanese men cowed by their womenfolk into sitting down when they pee.

If the LDP seems at the end of the line, the bigger surprise is that it lasted so long. It was born of the cold war, free of any ideology save anti-communism. Its business was winning elections and dividing the spoils—and for decades it did that very efficiently. But once the communist threat had gone and economic growth had slowed, the LDP had lost its purpose. Younger reformists lost seats at the last election or are now walking out. The grizzled old guard are at a loss.

For the DPJ government the opposition’s ineptitude has not mattered, so capable has it proved at self-destruction. For a start, both Yukio Hatoyama, prime minister since September, and the DPJ’s secretary-general, Ichiro Ozawa, are under a cloud over the misuse of political funds. On April 27th a judicial panel ordered a review of a February decision not to prosecute Mr Ozawa.

Worse, the prime minister’s early promise to concentrate decision-making powers in the cabinet has come to nought. Along with a flair for airy-fairy waffle, Mr Hatoyama has exhibited breathtaking indecision.

This is most visible over a 2006 plan to move Futenma, the air base on Okinawa for America’s marine expeditionary force. Mr Hatoyama insisted on reopening the agreement—locals objected to building a new heliport on an unspoilt shore—while offering no reasonable alternative. Japan’s relations with its American ally sank to new lows. Expectations among Okinawans (90,000 demonstrated against the move on April 25th) cannot be met. At the end of May Mr Hatoyama may propose a modified version of the original plan. But when Barack Obama in April bluntly asked him whether he had it in him to get a deal, Japanese officials were too shocked to record the question, let alone the answer.

At home a spat about roads undermines all the assurances about cabinet authority. Mr Ozawa wants both to have low tolls and taxpayer funds to go on building unnecessary roads. The transport minister, Seiji Maehara, rightly objects. The cabinet should have ruled. Instead, Mr Hatoyama has passed the matter to the Diet, where members will look out for their own districts. This recalls how the LDP used to act. It bodes ill for a country that needs to tackle rapidly worsening finances and sluggish growth.

The tensions between the DPJ’s modernisers and Mr Ozawa, who undermines the cabinet from outside it, have the potential to tear the party apart. Mr Hatoyama’s popularity, which once soared, plumbs abysmal depths. Japan has gone from a one- to a two-party state, and now to what? A no-party state? A splinter-party state? Is Japan cursed by being terminally ungovernable?

Let’s twist again like we did last summer
The question will be easier to answer, first once it is known how Mr Hatoyama and Mr Ozawa weather the immediate political squalls, and then with the results of elections to be held in July for half of the seats in the Diet’s upper house. In private, the prime minister, for all his indecision, is stubborn on one point. All he wants is to stay in office for longer than another recent prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Like Mr Hatoyama, Mr Abe is the grandson of a notable LDP prime minister and, like him, was put up for the top job by a rich and domineering mother (it is not known what posture the two men adopt for urination). Mr Abe lasted all of a year. This is how low the prime minister has set the bar for himself. But Futenma may bring him down before the election.

Many DPJ reformers want Mr Ozawa to go before then too—the party’s election prospects would be better. This week Mr Hatoyama backed Mr Ozawa, the real power in the DPJ, after the ruling by the prosecutors’ panel. Certainly, Mr Ozawa’s potential to damage the DPJ is immense. For instance, Takao Toshikawa, a political insider, suggests that Mr Ozawa could challenge and replace Mr Hatoyama, call a snap election and then step down as prime minister to run from behind the scenes the kind of “grand coalition”, including with disaffected ex-LDPers, that he attempted once before, in effect creating a new LDP in his own mould.

More likely, the election will force the DPJ to seek the support of smaller groups to form a governing majority. Some of the reformist groups that have splintered from the LDP might spot a chance to wield influence. But continued alliances with anti-reform groups are also possible. Either way, the horse-trading will serve only to alienate voters further from a system that is more responsive to back-room deals than to the national need.


8 comments on “Economist London column on DPJ woes, passim on how senile Tokyo Gov Ishihara seems to be getting

  • I agree with this author completely. I had hoped for change, but now I am so fearful that if change comes we will get someone even more indecisive and ineffective than Hatoyama.

  • “He launched into a tirade about Japanese men cowed by their womenfolk into sitting down when they pee.”

    I guess that Blinky was p*ssed off!

    But, I thought, at least in any school I’ve ever visited that the little sign-drawings in the boys’/men’s rooms showed how to use the Japanese-style facilities, that squatting was the way to do business? What’s Blinky’s problem?

    It’s the androgenous individuals I remember seeing in the trains, faces all made up, in slinky pastels and nail polish that I would have commented on. Never could tell their gender. Maybe they wanted it that way? A sort of free country, I guess?

  • Can we get a countdown to the end of Ishibaka?
    How about a party on that day as well?
    Or maybe just try applying for a permit for a public demoonstration
    of happiness on that day in Tokyo, just to see of it gets denied.

    — I dare ya!

  • I don’t know, the older guys I worked with (and now being one of those older guys) had a lot of different theorys on why the birth rate was so low ranging from more women in the workplace to the younger generation just not being aggressive enough (mostly that the younger generation is not aggressive enough, is too afraid of failure/rejection).

    And considering the number of the old men in the office who were having affairs with women significantly younger than they were and the number of younger men in the office who lamented that it’s difficult to meet women I’d tend to agree with the older guys. (interesting side note, of my wife’s high school friends 1 is married [naturally the least attractive of the bunch] and she pursued the fellow she was interested in, the other 2 complain that the only men they meet who are interested in them are older married men)

    — Whatever. Back on topic.

  • Everyone seems to be looking forward to Ishihara’s departure but you must be either naive or foolish to think that you won’t hear the last of him. In fact, with him out of office and no longer a ‘public servant’, look for even more racist, hate-fueled commentary from this increasingly senile, graying fossil. And Japan’s simultaneously graying oyaji’s will eat it up.

  • jjobseeker says:

    Both Hatoyama and Ozawa are originally LDP members, and if I’m not mistaken–at least in Hatoyama’s case–are of LDP pedigrees either by blood or career. So it doesn’t surprise me that the DPJ’s keystone cops routines smell of guys trying to effect change but without stepping on the toes of their former cronies and/or mentors. I always thought that Hatoyama was only paving the way for Ozawa to eventually take the PM’s chair, but we’ll have to see how the misappropriation investigations go before we find out the chances of that.
    The DPJ probably won’t get its act together until someone wholly and originally DPJ fills in the top spot. My only worry is that the Japanese voters who are prone to distraction and “panic button” issues like Futenma will turn to the smaller, new parties and fulfill the above articles supposition that Japan’s government may turn even more fractured thus more ineffective in years to come.

    — Then again, perhaps it is a process Japan must go through to graduate from one-party democracy to multiparty.

  • `he launched into a tirade about Japanese men cowed by their womenfolk into sitting down when they pee.` I honestly have never heard of this before. So, Japan is weak because men pee sitting down? The `womenfolk` MAKE them do it? Har har har. So Ishihara is an equal -oppourtunist discriminator. He not only hates foreigners, but women too. Oh wait, I forgot about the `baby-making machines` and `sterile women should die` claptrap.

    Has he ever been tested for dementia? Hopefully he fades into the background and just rambles on at the local izakaya.

  • I think most of his racist crap is a media smokescreen covering for his wholesale theft from Tokyo taxpayers (Shin ginko, failed olympic bid, etc…)


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