Seen and heard at the Diet

I was in attendance at today’s session of the Upper House’s Budget Committee, where it was my boss’s turn to question the government.

I managed to see a line of questioning derived entirely from my own research posed to Prime Minister Abe and Defense Minister Kyuma, which was satisfying — although the acoustics of the chamber (and lousy mics) made it difficult to hear the replies.

Meanwhile, having sat in that room, I can understand why one often sees members in attendance asleep in the background; between the marathon length of the meetings and the excessive heating in the committee room, it’s amazing that anyone can stay awake. (And let’s not forget the prime minister’s anti-charisma.)

One thing I’ve noted in watching Diet deliberations is how sensitive the Japanese political establishment is to (critical) commentary on Japan from abroad. In a short span of time today, both the recent NY Times editorial on the comfort women resolution, discussed in this post, and the recent Newsweek cover article on Abe’s unpopularity were cited by questioners. This was not the first time that I’ve heard Diet members draw on Western coverage of Japan. (If anyone knows of a “political psychologist” who has studied Japan’s national “neuroses” — surely a rich topic — please let me know.)

International criticism shows no sign of letting up. The latest publication is The Economist, which in the current issue has both a leader and an article about Abe’s problems in the wake of his comments on the comfort women resolution. (Adamu beat me to writing about this article.) Abe remains in trouble, but he’s also been fortunate in his enemies; despite weeks of opposition questioning in the budget committees of the Lower and Upper House, the opposition parties seem to have done little to hasten the pace of the decline in Abe’s popularity . The Abe Cabinet has remained particularly defiant on the issue of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (AFF) Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu’s unusually large budget projections for “light, heat, and water” for an office at the Diet which had no utilities costs, with Minister Matsuoka still refusing to account for the irregularity (with no apparent pressure from the prime minister or other senior officials).

Matsuoka, for his part, is the subject of a recent book by Australian scholar Aurelia George Mulgan, called Power and Pork, which I am in the process of reading — and which I plan to review.

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