Friday, January 11, 2008

Have Japanese politics really changed?

When I was in college, the details of Japanese politics were a lot more interesting to me than they are now. One of the surprises for most of us at that time was when one of our professors---Dr. Tsuritani,---who was head of the Political Science Dept., told us that Diet debates were all scripted; the outcome was decided in behind the scenes negations between the parties prior to the public debates. Of course back then, it was also acknowledged that factions within the LDP made all sorts of obscure deals and power-sharing decisions.

I don't read or hear much about that anymore. Factions, we were led to believe were weakened or destroyed by Koizumi. Well, now we are hearing more about them, so maybe not. The scripted, arranged "debates? I have no way of knowing as the Japanese press surely isn't going to investigate that. Non-Japanese commentators don't mention it either. It seems that most have decided that Japan is now following a different path in politics. Japan, after being "at a crossroads" at some time in the past dropped all of former PM Tanaka's "reforms" and has become something more familiar and easily recognizable.

Strangely enough, I rarely meet a Japanese citizen who believes any such thing. Many even considered Koizumi just another version of the same old LDP fixer. Although it seems that a lot of folks have very little interest in, or faith in, politics and politicians here, I do occasionally speak to people who are interested and who appear to be quite knowledgeable. They read about what going on, both at present and what went on in the past and seem quite well-informed.

Even among those few people, I have yet to hear any of them swallow the belief that things have changed significantly if at all. Tanaka's old ideas are still here, but perhaps more in the background than even before, or exist only to a slightly lesser degree than before. The outside has changed, but like so many things in Japan, the substance; the reality has remained the same.

R. Taggart Murphy, who wrote at least two of the better books on the Japanese economy (Japan's Policy Trap and The Weight of the Yen) observed that many in the US made the mistake of looking at a Japanese bank as being the same as an American bank when it was not at all. The whole philosophy and purpose was different. I suspect the same thing continues to go on concerning Japanese politics.

No comments:

Post a Comment