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August 30th, 2009 - click opera — LiveJournal
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August 30th, 2009
Sun, Aug. 30th, 2009 12:00 am

1. Two minutes and forty seconds into this video interview, architect Ryue Nishizawa gives his view on politics in Japan.



"Now there is no politics in Japan," Nishizawa says. "There is no politician in Japan, I think. Everything became, really, subculture. The politician people, they don't look like politicians."

2. Perhaps the problem is that the politicians in Japan look too like politicians-in-Japan; grey, boring, ineffectual, and sometimes dozy and drunk.



3. But all that seems about to change. If polls and projections are to be believed, today's Lower House elections will see as many as 300 of the 480 seats go to the opposition party, bringing this man, Yukio Hatoyama, to power as Japan's new prime minister.

4. Of course, that still might not make a huge difference. Some say it's not politicians but bureaucrats who have ruled Japan for the last six decades; cabinet meetings are seen as a rubber-stamping ceremony for agendas decided by permanent secretaries, the mandarin-like bureaucrats. Now, the DPJ claims they'll stop that, but the LDP counters that the DPJ is supported by the bureaucrats' labour unions, and is therefore unlikely to diminish their power (see this Al Jazeera discussion).

5. The two main things the DPJ have going for them are the deep unpopularity of Aso's LDP government and a pledge to give people cash payments for having children. They also plan to make high schools and highways free, and guarantee minimum pensions. They aren't too clear on where the money will come from. The main thing Aso has going for him is that there have been slight green shoots in the economy recently; it grew at an annualized rate of 3.7% in the three months ended June 30, the first growth in five quarters.

6. My household is currently divided; Hisae is a staunch Aso supporter. She says -- echoing my "intentional fallacy" thought of the other day -- that the more the DPJ wants to change basic structural things, the more they're likely to fuck up. Other friends here -- as well as idol group SMAP -- turn out to be LDP supporters.

7. So why am I at odds with the Japanese around me about this election? What makes me welcome today's likely DPJ win? Firstly, I felt strongly that Japan shouldn't be refuelling the US fleet in the Indian Ocean. That puts me on the DPJ side. Secondly, I really like a lot of the things Hatoyama says in this editorial, originally printed in Japanese magazine Voice and re-run in The New York Times on Thursday.

8. Let's quote a few things Hatoyama says there: "The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order, and that all countries should modify the traditions and regulations governing their economies in line with global (or rather American) standards." But "the global economy has damaged traditional economic activities and destroyed local communities...we would not implement policies that leave areas relating to human lives and safety — such as agriculture, the environment and medicine — to the mercy of globalism." "Fraternity as I mean it can be described as a principle that aims to adjust to the excesses of the current globalized brand of capitalism and accommodate the local economic practices that have been fostered through our traditions."

9. Most important, though, is Hatoyama's awareness that Japan must orient itself to its neighbours in Asia now more than to the US: "The East Asian region, which is showing increasing vitality, must be recognized as Japan’s basic sphere of being."

10. And most exciting for me is Hatoyama's vision of these Asian nations developing an EU-like single currency bloc, leading to political integration. He admits it will take more than 10 years, because "unlike Europe, the countries of this region differ in size, development stage and political system, so economic integration cannot be achieved over the short term. However, we should nonetheless aspire to move toward regional currency integration as a natural extension of the rapid economic growth begun by Japan, followed by South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and then achieved by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China. We must spare no effort to build the permanent security frameworks essential to underpinning currency integration." This vision makes Hatoyama a kind of Japanese Jacques Delors.



11. At this stage, however -- like the designers of this weird Flash animation featured on the DPJ's website -- we may all be projecting our own particular hopes onto Hatoyama and his party. A recent podcast on Neojaponisme, for instance, saw two Americans (Marxy and Tobias Harris of Observing Japan) compare the DPJ to the American Democratic party and say it represents Japan's "best hope for becoming a liberal democracy". When you strain to make out what they're saying in the noisy restaurant they've seen fit to record their thoughts in, it turns out that this involves freeing up the labour market, stopping "distributing pork", fostering "reform" and "individual human rights" and "genuine equality of opportunity", and "creating Japanese who don't look to the state when things go wrong". Neither seems terribly confident that the DPJ will deliver this, though. Harris was later appalled by Hatoyama's Voice article.

12. Despite my excitement about the appearance of "a Japanese Jacques Delors", and the emergence of an actual political choice for the first time in decades in Japan, my general feeling is that almost nothing will change in Japan. Partly because Nishizawa is right; there really is no politics in Japan. And partly because, whatever they stand for, both potential PMs are scions of ancient political families, dynasties who make the Kennedys and the Bushes look like amateurs; Hatoyama's grandfather was the LDP's first premier, unseating Aso's grandfather, Shigeru Yoshida. Whichever stuffed shirt wins today, the real action will continue to be elsewhere.

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