Discontent in the air

There is no shortage of discontent in Japanese politics today.

The HANA right (that’s Hiranuma-Abe-Nakagawa-Aso), including their sympathizers in the media, are finding their voice again, and as always, it’s a belligerent, combative voice — as described by MTC in this post about the contents of Voice‘s latest issue. The November issue too was full of discontent, with the cover prominently calling for a “conservative reconstruction,” and an article inside by Nakanishi Teramasa calling for a new conservative party. (Looking at the contents of the latest Voice compared to the November issue, I wonder if they just keep the same articles month to month and change the bylines.) Anyway, Sasayama Tatsuo, former LDP member of the House of Representatives, concurs with Nakanishi at his blog, calling for a shift from “skillful politics” to “righteous [or just or correct] politics,” while criticizing Mr. Fukuda for his “self-destructive” actions as prime minister.

Readers of Tetsuo Najita’s The Intellectual Foundations of Modern Japanese Politics will find this dichotomy familiar: dissatisfied idealists interested in a “truer” politics squaring off against “bureaucrats” and politicians with a bureaucratic mindset. The LDP was in a similar place some forty years ago, after another crisis that resulted in the resignation of a prime minister. I was recently at the US National Archives — not the antechamber downtown, but the actual archives in College Park — looking through documents from the US Embassy in Tokyo in the early 1960s and it found it fascinating to read the embassy’s reports about the ferment in the LDP under Prime Minister Ikeda Hayato. The embassy noted mounting dissatisfaction with Mr. Ikeda’s “low posture,” yielding politics from conservatives in the LDP, including a younger Nakasone Yasuhiro. Like today, the right had one of its own champions forced out of office “prematurely,” and after licking its wounds, was ready to fight. The vitriol directed by the HANA right (thanks guys, for this term) towards not just Mr. Fukuda (the usurper) but to Mr. Ozawa (he who is responsible for a series of crimes against the cause, the latest being his hounding of Mr. Abe) drips off the page. It is still unclear whether their rage will translate into action. Rage is cheap. Does anyone really think that these conservatives are going to abandon the LDP — the party of their fathers and grandfathers — to form their own party when all they have to do is wait for Mr. Fukuda to falter, giving them an opportunity to reclaim leadership of the party? In the meantime, expect more angry articles by the usual suspects in the usual places.

The LDP’s right does not, however, have a monopoly on discontent. The latest issue of Chuo Koron has an interview with Maehara Seiji, onetime DPJ leader and top on the list of potential DPJ splitists (to use that delightful Maoist term). In it, Mr. Maehara expresses his dissatisfaction with DPJ politicking in the aftermath of Mr. Ozawa’s aborted resignation as party chief. Looking at the national agenda and seeking a solution to gridlock, Mr. Maehara argues, “I think the LDP and the DPJ should establish a conference group that avoids sneaky discusions. I think that to the last, debates should happen in committees and the like in the Diet.” He lays into Mr. Ozawa’s choices on foreign policy — Mr. Ozawa “has made bills to which the governing coalition cannot possibly agree” — and domestic politics — he lambastes Mr. Ozawa’s plans to transfer savings from administrative reform to farmers, which “by no means will rejuvenate agriculture.” He also stakes out a clear position on Mr. Fukuda’s recent statement on the refueling bill: “…Since I think the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean is necessary, I think it’s good if Prime Minister Fukuda plays the two-thirds card without apology.” And on top of that, he states his discomfort with Mr. Ozawa’s admissions about the DPJ’s weakness, seeing as how “that should be his responsibility to consider.”

In short, many of Mr. Maehara’s complaints are just slightly removed from those of his fellow conservatives in the LDP dissatisfied with tactical maneuvers of the party leader. The question applies to Mr. Maehara, however. It’s easy to complain about just about everything Mr. Ozawa has done since taking office — I certainly know how easy it is — but it seems considerably harder for anyone in the DPJ to do anything about it. Mr. Maehara, one of the party’s deputy heads, is an unlikely splitist. What would he do, form his own splinter party? Unless his split was matched by the secession of the ANA conservatives from the LDP, thereby triggering the much-discussed political realignment, a Maehara splinter group would meet the same fate as the Conservative Party that splintered from Mr. Ozawa’s Liberal Party. Namely, it would be absorbed into the LDP. (The Maehara interview is available in two parts.)

Moving from partisan discontents, we come to a fascinating blog post from Ikeda Nobuo translated by W. David Marx and published at Néojaponisme. Ikeda writes about the use of blogs as an outlet for the discontent that resulted in street demonstrations in the early postwar period: “Young people’s means of lodging a formal objection have therefore shifted from violence in the streets to debate on the internet; and the target of their protest has moved from the government to the media. In most cases, this kind of rebellion is simply young people venting their excess energy, but there is a possibility that youth can create something new if they can skillfully channel that energy.”

I think that Ikeda might be on to something, in that even as politicians debate the merits of grand coalitions, the perils of the divided Diet, and solutions to “National Problems” (given the way publications like Yomiuri talk about it, the capitals are merited), there is real discontent manifesting itself in different, seemingly trivial ways among the Japanese people, especially among members of the younger generation who have watched their parents completely squander their inheritance. It may take some time before their discontent translates into action, but I suspect that the trends in the political use of the Internet maturing in the US will find their way to Japan before too long — and the blogging malcontents may yet make Nagata-cho tremble.

I have long suspected that what Japan needs is not another Meiji Restoration — the much-anticipated third opening, following the restoration and the occupation will not be the product of an electoral manifesto or even the activities of the Diet. The next opening, if it is to truly merit the name, will be at the individual level, as citizens learn to be citizens.

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