Recipe for a New Japan? A Dash of Venus

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:09 am

The recent victory of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the Lower House, just two years after its surprise victory in the Upper House, is only slightly less exciting than the news that the new First Lady of Japan has traveled, in an out-of-body experience, to the planet Venus. This unusual turn of affairs, predicted by authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, C. S. Lewis, Frederick Pohl, Isaac Asimov, and Paul Anderson, will not, we can only hope, influence Japan’s foreign affairs in the years ahead. Critics allege that Hatoyama Miyuki’s claim is nothing more than a stunt in which she hopes to attain the high-standing of American political wives like Nancy Reagan, who of course is a devout believer in Astrology, or even former president Jimmy Carter, who saw a UFO while Governor of Georgia (pdf). At the very least she is as “interesting” a figure in politics as Carla Bruni or Sarah Palin. And we shouldn’t let her oddities distract us from the very real and significant participation of women politicians in the DPJ strategy of attacking LDP strongholds. In the end, 54 women won seats in the Lower House.

The DPJ emerged from the late-night 1998 union, no doubt fueled by many Suntory whiskies, of the Democratic Reform Party, the New Fraternity Party, the Democratic Party, and the Good Governance Party. (Why didn’t they go with the much more compelling English name “The Good Fraternity Party”? Now that’s a name American politicians could understand.)

The leader of the DPJ in its period of frenetic activity between 2006 and May of 2009  was Ozawa Ichiro. Elected to the presidency of his party as a reformer, Ozawa was in fact first elected to office as a member of the LDP in 1969. His mentor was Tanaka Kakuei, who became Prime Minister in 1972 on a wave of overwhelming popularity but then was implicated in numerous scandals within a year of taking office. Ozawa survived this crisis and became LDP Secretary General in 1989. As recently as 1999, he was still closely aligned with the leaders of the LDP. This experience proved valuable. More than any member of the DPJ, Ozawa can be credited with the party’s rise, and although he stepped down in May because of allegations of scandal (surprise!), he was a central figure in the election strategy that knocked the LDP out of power for just the second time since the 50s, and will likely assume the new post of Secretary General.

The current leader of the DPJ and the new Prime Minister of Japan (as well as the lucky husband of one of the few women to visit Venus. Venus! Imagine!) is Hatoyama Yukio. Following in the proud, reformist tradition established by Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Hatoyama has awesome hair. Like many graduates of Stanford University (Ph.D. 1976), Hatoyama comes from humble origins: his great-grandfather was Speaker of the House and President of Waseda University; his grandfather was Prime Minister; his father was Foreign Minister; and his mother is considered to be one of the most influential political donors in Japan. (The family even has an English-language scholarly monograph dedicated to them; it’s available on KINDLE!) Hatoyama was only with the LDP for seven years from 1986 to 1993, giving him slightly better credentials as a reformist than Ozawa.

The DPJ has a lot to do. Their new Prime Minister, nicknamed “the Alien” by parliamentary colleagues for his protruding eyes and Stanford-like behavior, needs to answer the question: If women are from Venus, are men in fact from Mars? Will the DPJ adopt an increasingly belligerent tone toward North Korea, Japan’s most urgent international threat? Will Hatoyama champion environmental issues despite American recalcitrance? Will the new government revisit the issue of Article 9 in the constitution or spend its valuable political capital on continuing economic recovery instead? And will Japan establish a consulate on the second planet from the sun in the near future?

People inside and outside of Japan are genuinely excited to see if the DPJ will successfully reform the nation’s political system, shaped by decades of one-party dominance and widespread corruption. Or will the rule of Hatoyama, like the brief period of coalition rule in the 1990s, be nothing but a fleeting, out-of-body experience?

(Thanks to my former student Mathew Mikuni, a Diplomacy and World Affairs and Asian Studies double major who, in a marvelous 2009 senior thesis, taught me everything I know about the DPJ. Except for the inaccurate, snarky, and hypothetical stuff.)


Soft and Fuzzy Historic Events

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:42 am

Ton-Chan DollLast time I lived in Japan, the LDP lost control of the Diet, and for a year and a half there was a Socialist Prime Minister in charge of an implausible coalition between the Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The Democratic Party of Japan, which just took control of the lower house of the Diet, was formed in the aftermath of that coalition: the more liberal elements of the LDP combined with the more moderate elements of the JSP.1 This left a more conservative LDP and a more Socialist SDP, and also, as a side effect, left the LDP again in charge of the government, in coalition with the Komeito and other conservative groups. Another side effect: the bushy eyebrows and grandfatherly face of Murayama Tomiichi were immortalized in the “Ton-chan” dolls sold by the JSP; I bought one, thinking that this might be “historic.”2

You could hardly tell from the news reports coming out of Japan at the moment.3 I suppose that I’m not surprised by the lack of respect given to the mid-90s political turmoil: it was inconclusive and sloppy, not the kind of clear-cut “historic” event that makes for banner headlines. But what came out of it was an LDP that was, honestly, destined to fail: instead of representing the middle two-thirds of the Japanese political spectrum, it represented a heavily right-oriented one-third, while the DPJ took a big chunk of what was left. Essentially, the LDP split, probably the natural end to a party that was a coalition to begin with, formed out of a Cold War fear that Japan’s leftist parties might put aside their differences long enough to win control of the Diet. While it took a few elections, and another decade of disappointing economic stagnation, the left wing of the former LDP has overtaken the right wing of the former LDP, and a former member of the LDP is going to be Prime Minister.4

Is this “historic“? Well, it depends, of course. If the DP turns out to be more or less just like the LDP, then it’s no more historic than Pepsi™ overtaking Coca-Cola™. If the DP turns out to be a genuinely center-left party which reduces international entanglements while successfully fostering economic development, it could actually be a revival of the Yoshida Doctrine. That might actually be interesting, especially since it could mean a shift away from the normalization discourses we’ve been hearing so much of. I guess it’s a bit too soon to write the new narrative.

  1. This is a rough approximation. The faction politics of the LDP did not neatly divide along ideological lines, but some sense of policy alignment was starting to become clearer when the split happened []
  2. Actually, I bought two: one for me and one for my parents. []
  3. I want to thank Adam Richards for his tireless political blogging during this election, possibly the best reportage in English this time around. []
  4. I don’t think anyone’s going to make plush toys out of Hatoyama Yukio, though he’d make a credible daruma. []


ASPAC Blogging: Japan’s Political Present and Future

Fauna of Soka - Squirrel standingMy copanelists on Saturday were political scientists, and it was a good update for me on what what’s going on with Japan in the last ten years or so. “Normalization” is the name of the game: Japan’s political spectrum and international relations are starting to look a lot less like Yoshida’s vision and a lot more like a pretty normal regional power.


The Crazy Guy for Prime Minister, Please

Filed under: — Morgan Pitelka @ 12:28 am

OK, admittedly I am supremely unqualified to write a post about the current prime ministerial vacancy in Japan. I’m a historian who works on the 16th century, not an expert in contemporary politics. And many people have their eyes fixed on the Palin-Biden-Clinton-McCain-Obama slugfest. But this story–Manga-obsessed, Stanford- and SOAS-educated, former Olympic skeetshooter, cement CEO, Catholic, and regular conservative crazy talker Aso Taro is front runner for the job of Prime Minister–is just too interesting to pass by.

Will the man who made Doraemon Japan’s cultural ambassador be king? Too may politicians have entered the race to be sure at this point, but he is at the head of the pack, having previously aimed for the office three times without success and this time apparently claiming the right mix of experience, LDP credentials, and public popularity. Tobias Harris says Aso isn’t the right man for the job, if such a figure even exists, but it seems quite likely that he will end up landing the post (in elections to be held in October or November) according to recent coverage in Japanese newspapers.

Some commentators see recent public discomfort with LDP leadership as a sign that a major political reallignment is imminent, but it just seems hard to imagine. Are the times a-changin’, or will Aso return the government to stability? More importantly, will manga become required reading on unversity entrance exams?


Useful, Inconvenient History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:43 pm

President Bush cited John Dower regarding the potential for post-war democratization. Bush was using Dower’s Embracing Defeat to ridicule those who believe the occupation of Iraq is failing to achieve a stable or democratic result by citing those who incorrectly believed that creating a liberal democratic state in Japan after WWII was impossible. This is a fairly transparent invocation of the “Galileo Gambit,” pointing out that people have, unsurprisingly, sometimes been wrong about things they felt strongly about and that the people who were right have sometimes been in the minority.

It’s interesting to see the example of Japan coming up again, as it was very commonly cited in the run-up to the Iraq war. John Dower himself, as the article points out, wrote several articles demolishing the idea that Japan was a good analogy to Iraq in this regard.1 Dower has also argued that Iraq is like Manchuria (with the US in the role of Japan) and more likely to be a quagmire than a shining example of modernity.2 The Bush Administration immediately disavowed any endorsement of Dower’s views outside of the citation made by the President, and this kind of historical cherry picking and selective ignorance is all too typical of politicians in general.

It bolsters my complaint from yesterday, though: a better understanding of Asian history generally, and of US involvement in it, would be all to the good, but so often Asia is just a foil, out of context and interesting only insofar as it affects us.

  1. November 2002 and March 2003 []
  2. I’ve also made the Manchuria analogy, and it still stands up pretty well, I’m afraid. []


Marginalizing Discourses at ASPAC

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 6:01 am

For the conclusion to my ASPAC blogging, I want to talk about the panel which invited me to serve as moderator. It was a pleasure, and not just because three of the four of us were Harvard Ph.D.s., though catching up with gossip was fun. The papers covered a solid range of early modern and modern topics — outcastes in the early 19th century, historiography of rebel domains in imperial Japan, political violence in the 1950s — and was uniformly excellent research which should soon see publication. My introduction tried to tie things together thusly

Marginalizing discourses are, of course, actually intended to normalize. These are not out-groups for the sake of individuality or obtuseness, but groups trying to function within society, negotiating from positions of weakness, but using available leverage — function, ideology, resistance — which is considered legitimate. But there is a trend away from formal stratification, through uniformity towards equality: modernity shifts from marginalizing people to marginalizing behavior.



History Carnival #38

“For both nations and inviduals have sometimes made a virtue of neglecting history; and history has taken its revenge on them.” — H. R. Trevor-Roper “The Past and the Present: History and Sociology” (1969), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 197.

Welcome to the September 1, 2006 edition of history carnival. I’m finally hosting a carnival with a number as high as my age! In honor of the quotes meme making the rounds, I’m going to use my personal quotation file as, um, decoration around the rich collection of material in this carnival. As usual, I’m making up categories as I go along: anyone who treats them as strict or comprehensive cataloging gets what they deserve!



Yasukuni: Why the Emperor Stopped Going

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:57 am

Tomita Tomohiko's MemoThere have been two relatively important Japan history-related news items in the news of late. There have been revelations about US covert funding of Japanese political parties (perhaps more on this in another posting) and separately, evidence has emerged, scooped by Nikkei, to suggest that emperor Showa (Hirohito) stopped going to Yasukuni shrine because of his displeasure at the enshrinement 分祀(ぶんし) of war criminals there in October 1978 as martyrs. There has been a lot of speculation over the years the exact reason he stopped going. I will save my own thoughts on this issue for later but in this posting I just want to assemble some of the material on this available in the news online.

Emperor Showa made his last visit to the shrine in November, 1975 after the issue had become more political with prime minister Miki’s (三木武夫) visit on August 15th of that year. A former Imperial Household Agency grand steward who served in the position for ten years beginning in 1978, the late Tomita Tomohiki (富田朝彦 d. Nov. 2003), kept a record of statements made by the emperor. (English: Asahi, Mainichi, NYT, Yomiuri I II, III, BBC Japanese: Asahi I, II, III, IV, V, VI, Mainichi: I, II Yomiuri: I, Sankei: I ) In one of Tomita’s recorded memos from April 28th, 1988, the emperor is quoted as saying, among other things, that:

“Class-A war criminals have been enshrined. Even Matsuoka and Shiratori (have been enshrined). I’ve heard that Tsukuba dealt cautiously with the matter, but …” (Mainichi trans.)

「私は 或(あ)る時に、A級(戦犯)が合祀され その上 松岡、白取(原文のまま)までもが 筑波は慎重に対処してくれたと聞いたが」

“That’s why I haven’t paid a visit to the shrine since then. That’s my belief.” (Mainichi)




Shades of Mori Arinori

Filed under: — Nick Kapur @ 2:03 am

Recently the Japanese Diet has been debating several competing bills to revise the Fundamental Education Law of 1947.  One of the most contested issues is an effort by the LDP to make instilling patriotism an explicit goal of Japan’s national education system, as it was under the education system devised by Mori Arinori in the 19th century and in force in Japan up until the US-led education reforms following World War II.  Reportedly, the original language was even stronger, but the LDP-backed bill that finally made it out of committee and onto the Diet floor still contained the relatively strong phrasing by Japanese standards, 我が国と郷土を愛する態度を養う (“to instill an feeling of loving our country and homeland”). Critics of this clause argue that it will promote militarism and inject further tension into already heated Japan-China and Japan-Korea relations, but the LDP-backed bill seems likely to pass largely as is within the next week or so.

In related news, it was reported this week that many Japanese schools are grading students on “love of country”.  A recent survey in Saitama prefecture found that at least 45 local schools evaluated “love of country” on report cards for 6th-grade students. Under current policy, individual schools are free to decide how report cards are structured and which categories are graded. Officials have argued that the practice is not objectionable because “instilling a feeling of love for one’s country” has already been one of the Ministry of Education’s stated objectives for 6th-grade social studies students for some time.



I think we need a new word for the study of colonialism, imperialism and the post-colonial discourses, pro and con. Pro? Who’s in favor of it? Well, this is what makes it interesting, these days: there are a lot of former colonial powers out there whose citizens and leaders, in their heart of hearts, still believe that they accomplished something that was ultimately positive, who still believe that their developmental initiatives and their anti-communist (or anti-capitalist) positions were justified by subsequent developments. This is usually — explicitly or implicitly — intended to mitigate or cancel out any discussions of political repression, economic exploitation, military atrocities or strategic abandonment. Sometimes it’s just good historical sense, but then it usually comes with very careful caveats about not canceling out the other stuff.


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