Japanese politics explained

Why is moving taxation to local government important?

Why did the Japanese left wing movement die out after the sixties?

The most common explanation for this was that people focused their energy on becoming well off instead during the period of maximum economic growth, and there is some truth in this. What is more important though is that the Japanese pragmatically abandoned the protests etc. when they realised they weren’t going to work and to continue to be associated with them was to be on the losing side. As the Japanese had been on the losing side in the 40’s, most people understandably wanted to pick a winner this time round.

Why is Japanese electoral politics based so little on policy?/ How did anyone know who to vote before the (very recent) advent of party election manifestoes?

An electoral system that pitted several candidates of the same party against each other didn’t help take the emphasis away from personality and personal favours

Why do the political mavericks usually run for Governor rather than independant MP?

Backbencher MPs and less senior commitee members, even from inside the large parties, have little influence, however intelligent and charasmatic they are. In fact, being intelligent and charasmatic can even be a disadvantage if you don’t have a power base to stop you being flattened by the jealousy of the less able.

Why have Japanese women made so little progress in the Diet and in big business since the war?

My guess is that those worlds as so crap that the women don’t want any part of them.

Why does no one use the public nuisance laws to make the loudspeakers on the uyoku far right black vans shut up?

Why are daruma dolls so popular with politicians?

Why is the quality of life for the average salaried worker so low in the world’s second largest economy?

No political party represents the urban salaryman, and certainly not the LDP, whose power bases are industrialists and the rural voters they subsidize with high agricultural prices and unnecessary construction work. Unfortunately, Minshuto doesn’t represent Mr White Collared worker either, as most of its support is in the public sector unions.

With the public in favour of reform, why does so little reform happen?

How did Koizumi manage to survive for so long as head of the LDP when most of his policies went against the main factions in his party?

Lucky timing. Public support for Koizumi gave the LDP exactly the votes they needed to stay in power, as seen by them losing control of the Upper House as soon as Abe took over. They were therefore more likely to lose their seats by changing leader than they were by losing a couple of local pork barrel projects- an unusual situation in Japan, where votes are usually as much for local reasons as for national politics.

How has the opposition stayed out of power for so long in Japan?

Cooperating with LDP,so not seen as real alternative, and not wanting to lose the little support they do have, e.g. unions, and so not changing to more generally popular policies

Why was Koizumi so obsessed with privatizing the Japanese Post Office?

It was more important than it sounds, because post office often chose to invest their funds purely by which pork barrel scheme would win another vote for the local LDP MPs. It must be said, though, that the LDP and bureaucrats’ influence of privatized companies like JAL and JR are hardly decreased. The conspiracy theory version has it that he was doing it at the bidding of the finance ministry (to increase its power against the other ministries) and/ or the banks (he got some of his funding from the Yokohama Bank). 

Why is the Japanese government so slow to reform?

Frog in boiling water The official second in charge of every ministry is a bureaucrat, above all the elected politicians in the ministry except the Minister. Even the Minister cannot usually use his theoretical top position either due to a short tenure before he is moved or quits due to a scandal, and a dependance on civil servants in the ministry due to very few independant staff who are not lifetime bureaucrats in the ministry he heads. At the cabinet level, all decisions must be approved unanimously by one or more commitees before even being discussed by the cabinet

Why did the bureaucrat-led Japanese political system work so well for so long and then stop working?

One reason it worked well is that it was full of the very cream of the Todai (Tokyo University) crop. There have been changes, such as a trend for top graduates to be more tempted by private sector jobs as the wages at foreign financial companies have outstripped those of public servants and corruption scandals have taken the shine off working for an industry. More importantly,though, the bureaucrats have floundered as the single task of increasing national properity has lost it’s power- or they’ve just stuck to that task and carried on covering everything with concrete anyway. You could also argue that if you look at factors such as environmental protection, tackling corruption, poverty eradication or quality of life they were never doing such a good job.

Why does politics (and sometimes even the same cabinet position) run in the family in Japan?

Unlike the civil service, becoming a politician is not a job most mothers want for their children.That and the fact that those who rely on charisma soon get squashed by jealous colleagues and/ or the system, leaves those whose families do have such an aspiration a free path. The fact that most factions (and even some parties) are divided more by clannish personal loyalty more than policy or ideology means that the children can often rely on the same power base as the parents to reach the same position, even if their political positions vary. And as little debating skills, personality, looks or leadership skills are historically needed for the job, there is no reason why they shouldn’t make it all the way with that support and a bit of luck.

Why do most Japanese prime ministers last such a short time? 

Just like in Italy when the same was true there, the fact that the same party is always in power means that the PM has little to lose by quitting when he can move into a quango, run things from the background, or even just wait their time and take a cabinet job again. Rapid rotation of the PM and other cabinet jobs is also more likely to keep all the factions happy. 

Why are Japanese Prime Ministers so hopeless?

First, the most skilled and charismatic politicians are soon weeded out with the “if a nail sticks out hammer it down” system. Secondly, being a characterless “robot” (Japanese for figurehead) who spends most of their time soothing the egos of the real bigwigs in the party is seen as “traditional Japanese leadership style”, despite the fact that most successful Japanese companies have had charismatic founders. Thirdly, the job is handed out depending on support from factions that are like clans. As the factions are not allied much by political position, the PM does not need to make any new policies at all in order to make them happy- and so often doesn’t!

1 Comment

  1. January 21, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    [...] the Japanese Politics Explained page on the right for more of the [...]


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