July 6, 2007; Volume 03, Number 24

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
The Kyuma Resignation Flap
The Background
Even Calls from Within the LDP
Kyuma’s Resignation
Effect of Kyuma’s Resignation on the Abe Cabinet
The Most Significant Aspect of the Kyuma “Shoganai” Affair
Concluding Comments

Good Morning from Beautiful Modoc Campground. On the South Carolina shore of Lake Thurmond. It’s Friday, July 6th, 2007. And you are listening to Volume 03, Number 24, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

I’m speaking to you from the Japan Considered Project Mobile Studio again. Parked this week right on the shore of Lake Thurmond. The same Corps of Engineers Campground as week before last. But a different campsite. This one is at the very tip of the peninsula jutting out into the Lake. Our Little Tin House is turned around, pointed straight out into the lake. Giving a beautiful view of the water from three sides as I sit here in air-conditioned splendor preparing this week’s program.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of the place. Without being suspected of exaggeration. So I’ll add a photo or two in the transcript. The only drawback of this campsite is its almost complete lack of shade. And Lake Thurmond has been sunny and hot this week! Thank heaven for the mobile studio’s air conditioner and fan. You probably can hear both in the background.

This week I’ve been able to tour the Old Ninety Six area of our State. Including a memorable trip to the Ninety Six Historical Site maintained by the National Park Service. It’s the site of one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. Star Fort, and all of that. Beautifully excavated, recreated, and maintained. They have something for the serious scholar, as well as for the casual tourist. So take the time for a tour if you’re in the area. And then be sure to visit Judy’s Home Cookin’ restaurant in downtown Ninety Six. There you’ll learn what real South Carolina cooking is all about. Their fried chicken has been known to make honest men long to leave home! Check the transcript for a photo of Miss Judy and The Mister at work in this wonderful South Carolina culinary institution.

I’m Robert Angel, creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this Podcast. Each week at this time, or most weeks, anyway, I take twenty minutes or so to consider the longer-term significance of events in the political and international news from Japan. I try to provide something half-way between a university class lecture and a news article. Interpretation and analysis that I hope will help you make better sense of the English language news pouring out of Japan. From a perspective slightly different than you usually hear.

To learn more about my background, and about the origins and purpose of the Japan Considered Project, point your browser to www.JapanConsidered.com. All one word, “Japan Considered.” There you’ll find audio files and transcripts for all of these podcasts. Back to mid-November 2005. That’s an eternity in the world of podcasting, I’m told! Well, the transcripts didn’t start until the beginning of January, 2006. In response to listeners suggestions. But there are plenty of them to keep you busy. Hundreds of pages, in fact. An average of around 3,000 words a week!

We don’t yet have an index of them on the site. That would be a nice addition. If I had the time. But Google, and the other web-based search services, have been very kind to the transcripts. This means you can search them quite reliably via the Google, Yahoo, or whatever, web search services. Even without a hyperlinked index on the site.

While you’re there, have a look at the other pages on the site. You’ll find annotated lists of English language information on a wide variety of topics related to Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. Just a few links on each page. But each one is annotated with a paragraph or so of description and assessment. Not just another link farm, in other words. Suggestions of new sites and corrections are always appreciated. You can send them to me directly at RobertCAngel@gmail.com.

In addition, the “Interviews” page has proven very popular. There you’ll find transcripts of interviews I’ve done with individuals who’ve made important contributions to the English language study of Japan’s domestic politics and conduct of international relations. Each interview includes related photographs, and a few sound clips, to provide a better portrait of the person interviewed. So have a look. And check back frequently, since this is an on-going project. With new interviews as I find time to produce them.

The Kyuma Resignation Flap

Last program I was hopeful we’d have a quiet news period this week. Hot and sleepy mid-summer. End of the Diet session, and all that. So that we’d have enough time this program to discuss the Abe Cabinet’s handling – or mishandling – of the lost pension records fiasco. And the more complex topic of public attitudes toward political corruption.

Well, that was just too good to be true. The communications wires hummed for a few days with news that Fumio Kyuma was about to resign his position as defense minister. By Monday, his resignation was “inevitable,” according to most of Japan’s political pundits. But, in spite of its “inevitability,” it came as quite a surprise when it happened.

First, some background. Then we’ll consider the longer-term significance of this emotion-charged issue for Japan’s domestic politics.

The Background

Japan’s often controversial Defense Minister, Fumio Kyuma, was invited to participate in a symposium at Reitaku University on Saturday, June 30th. There he was asked to comment on Japan’s decision to side with the United States and other anti-communist nations during the early years of the Cold War. In his response to the question, Kyuma said the United States had dropped atomic bombs on Japan’s cities in part to prevent the Soviet Union from seizing part of Japan. So, the bombings couldn’t be helped. He used a term he’s said to use frequently:  “sho ga nai.” Which usually is translated into English as “it can’t be helped.”

Kyuma’s comments to the Reitaku University audience were noted by accompanying journalists and flashed immediately throughout Japan. Kyuma is well known for his inclination to “speak frankly.” As his friends might put it. Or, to “shoot from the lip.” As most everyone else would put it. So, whenever he’s scheduled to make any sort of public presentation beyond the most tightly scripted formal speech, accompanying journalists pay close attention. In the hope he’ll say something they can send to make their editors happy.

Many commentators informed of the gist of his comments concluded – reasonably – that Kyuma, to some degree, was justifying the U.S. decision to deploy nuclear weapons against Japan at the end of World War Two. Well, within hours, the fat was in the fire.

Seeing the press reports of his comments, Kyuma immediately recognized the problem. He realized right away he’d just become the Cabinet’s new Hakuo Yanagisawa. He called a press conference on Sunday to offer explanations and apologies. The press conference, ironically, was held in Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture. In the district he represents in the Lower House.

Kyuma told the assembled press corps that he recognized that his comments were inappropriate. That he had no intention of trying to justify the use of atomic weaponry. He said he has supported, and continues t o support, nuclear disarmament! He made similar comments during live hook-ups to widely viewed national television news programs the same day. But his efforts only intensified public interest in the issue. He’d touched another Third Rail of Japan’s politics. Touched? He’d grabbed on with both hands, and shook it!

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was asked on Sunday, the 1st, for his reaction to Kyuma’s latest public comments. Abe hedged, naturally. He denied plans to dismiss Kyuma from the Cabinet. Probably recalling the loss during the early months of his premiership of the amorous Professor Homma and Genichiro Sata, the minister he’d selected to oversee administrative reform. But, of course, demands for Kyuma’s dismissal, or resignation, continued to accumulate from all directions. Abe, it appeared, had decided to retain control over Cabinet personnel within the Kantei. Rather than ceding it to the communications media.  

Even Calls from Within the LDP

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made comments in support of Kyuma on Sunday, the 1st, and denied any plans to dismiss him from the Cabinet, demands for Kyuma’s resignation naturally increased. This was, after all, as much about the public image of the Abe Cabinet as it was about Kyuma’s comment. Or about nuclear weaponry.

Calls from the Opposition parties for Kyuma’s dismissal were immediate. They were intense. But hardly unexpected.

Senior members of Kyuma’s own LDP, however, were a different matter. Many were anonymous. But others were openly expressed. Understandable, really. The LDP already had enough to worry about in the upcoming Upper House election. They didn’t need another problem like this to cloud their political futures. “Kyuma has gone and done it again! With friends like these ….” And so on.

Of course, LDP demands for Kyuma’s scalp had as much to do with support for, or opposition to, the Abe Cabinet as they had with Kyuma himself. Abe, since becoming prime minister, has faced sharp opposition from within his own Party from two, perhaps three, overlapping groups. The first opposition group is policy-driven. They oppose the “conservative” nature of Abe’s policies. Or, at least the speed and intensity with which Abe is pursuing those policies. Constitutional reform; normalization of Japan’s military forces; disinclination to mollify Mainland China; insensitivity to issues left over from World War Two. This group might be best symbolized by the late Kiichi Miyazawa. And often is labeled the “Liberal” wing of the LDP.

This policy-motivated wing of the LDP shouldn’t be confused with the second group. The blatantly opportunistic sorts who take up such policies simply to further their own political careers. Many motivated by their desire to occupy the premiership themselves, or at least a cabinet position. This is typical of the traditional, musical chairs, “just-wait-your-turn,” sort of cabinet and party personnel politics we identified with the LDP in decades past. When the most important qualification by far for cabinet appointment was the number of times one had been elected. And years of Diet service. Well, that, and membership in the proper faction.

But there’s a third group of Abe detractors within the current LDP. This group overlaps broadly with the second group just described. Members of this group are driven less by issues of policy than they are by concerns about more mundane aspects of practical politics. These are the LDP members I’ve described as traditional factionists and zokuists. Members who still rely on the traditional methods of political campaigning. And traditional methods of collecting the enormous amounts of money required to maintain those traditional methods of campaigning. Life for these senior, often elderly, politicians in recent years has become difficult indeed.

For decades Japan’s political journalists, as well as police and prosecutor investigators, have been willing to overlook all but the most blatant of the financial indiscretions required to keep the LDP-dominated political system going. All the “sloppy bookkeeping,” as it recently was described. Maybe because everyone recognized that Japan’s draconian election campaign laws place unrealistic limitations on the amounts of money that can be donated and spent for political purposes. As long as everyone plays along discreetly, and doesn’t “frighten the horses” in the street, as Mrs. Campbell is said to have remarked, such indiscretions could be overlooked. With a good righteous public cleansing every decade or so. Black Mist, Lockheed, Sagawa Kyubin,

We’ll talk more about all this next week when – absent new startling developments – we’ll explore the significance of this difficult and confusing issue of political corruption in Japan. And what’s being done about it.

Kyuma’s Resignation

By late Sunday night in Tokyo – that’s Sunday morning here on the East Coast of the United States – it began to appear that Defense Minister Kyuma might ride out the storm. That he wouldn’t resign. And that Prime Minister Abe had decided not to dismiss him.

Excellent news for those observers of Japan’s domestic politics who hoped to see the ruling coalition lose its majority in the late July Upper House election. Since Kyuma’s continued membership in the Cabinet would provide yet another issue for the Opposition parties, and the anti-Abe Cabinet elements of Japan’s communications media, to highlight throughout the campaign. Also, under such pressure, Kyuma’s natural inclination to – ah … speak frankly – would be likely to provide at least a few more front-page story opportunities.

The editorial and commentary pages of Japan’s major newspapers on Monday were predictable. Demands for Kyuma’s dismissal continued. With the most blatantly anti-Abe Cabinet outlets brimming with righteous indignation over Kyuma’s comments. And even the relatively neutral, even pro-Abe Cabinet, outlets critical of Kyuma’s lack of political common sense. Why stir up such an issue, they asked? By Monday evening, Tokyo time, it was clear that Kyuma had dug himself into a hole. That something had to be done.

Prime Minister Abe summoned Kyuma to the Kantei on Monday, July 2nd. And warned him to be more careful in his public statements. Not the first time such a warning was necessary, by the way. Kyuma again apologized, and tried to explain his remarks.

Kyuma was particularly concerned with the effect of his injudicious comment on the New Komeito Party. Given the growing importance of New Komeito seats in the Upper House for the ruling coalition’s majority. The issue was a point of genuine concern for many Soka Gakkai members and Komeito voters.

Kyuma had made arrangements to meet New Komeito leaders on Tuesday morning, the 3rd, to explain what he actually meant to say during his Saturday comments. And to apologize for any inconvenience he’d caused the New Komeito. However, Komeito officials unexpectedly cancelled that meeting, and renewed public calls for Kyuma’s resignation or dismissal. According to Japan’s political tabloid press, news of New Komeito’s posture on Tuesday morning persuaded Kyuma to resign. He returned to the Kantei that afternoon, the 3rd, and submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Abe.

Immediately following his resignation, Kyuma called another press conference and tried to explain his true intentions. He added that he decided to resign to save the LDP further anguish just before the election.

Effect of Kyuma’s Resignation on the Abe Cabinet

Kyuma’s indiscretion last Saturday was far too attractive to Japan’s political media and punditocracy to be abandoned simply because he had resigned his position. Most of the news media outlets that had been demanding Kyuma’s removal from the Cabinet carried articles and editorials the following few days that described Kyuma’s departure as yet another severe blow to the Abe Cabinet. A few concluded that Kyuma’s resignation demonstrated that Prime Minister Abe was ineffective in his handling of crises. And therefore, of course, unfit to be prime minister. Though they were insisting that before Kyuma decided to comment on U.S. atomic bombing of Japanese cities.

Well, maybe so. But a severe blow compared with what? Certainly the Abe Cabinet would have been better off had Kyuma been more prudent in his use of terms and arguments during his Reitaku University seminar appearance. So, Kyuma’s choice of terms and argument was a blow to the cabinet. No doubt about that. But once the comment was made and widely published by the political media, I believe Prime Minister Abe showed good sense in the way he handled the issue.

First, he didn’t panic on Saturday night, or Sunday, and either dismiss Kyuma, or send a Kantei official to demand that he resign. That would have been a mistake. Kyuma’s departure from the Cabinet may well have been inevitable by late Saturday night. But Abe would have looked something less than prime ministerial had he panicked and demanded Kyuma’s resignation just because the news media and his other political adversaries demanded he do so. Abe even defended Kyuma judiciously during his one-on-one nationally televised debate with Ichiro Ozawa on Sunday. When Ozawa demanded Kyuma’s dismissal. No, had Abe acted on Sunday, or even Monday, to remove Kyuma, Kantei observers would have concluded that Abe had ceded control of Cabinet personnel to Japan’s newspaper editorial boards. Not good.

On Monday, Abe publicly demonstrated his vexation with Kyuma by summoning him to the Kantei for a dressing-down. Or a “warning,” as he put it. About the language he used as a Cabinet minister. But he didn’t dismiss him. Or demand that he resign. That was clear. And made as clear as possible by the Kantei itself.

Kyuma’s decision on Tuesday, the 3rd, to resign was his own. Made with what appeared to be genuine remorse. And Abe immediately accepted it. Whether with genuine remorse or not we have yet to know. And immediately appointed a successor. More about her in a moment.

Therefore, I don’t agree with what appears to be near-consensus within Japan’s political press that Abe handled the issue badly. I think he did what he had to do, faced with the political challenge he faced. This is significant if we are genuinely interested in understanding what this issue tells us about Shinzo Abe as prime minister. Beyond the political cheerleading, and so on, we’ve discussed on this program before.  

The Most Significant Aspect of the Kyuma “Shoganai” Affair

Once the dust settles, and we have time to look back on all of this, I believe we will conclude that the selection of Fumio Kyuma’s successor was by far the most important aspect of this whole affair. Yes, the publicity given to Kyuma’s statement at Reitaku University last Saturday has further damaged the public approval rating of the Abe Cabinet. And that not long before an important Upper House election.

But the Abe Cabinet was already in trouble. As we’re reminded daily by Japan’s political press. Public approval of the Abe Cabinet has reached new lows. The ruling coalition already was predicted to lose – and lose big – in that Upper House election. By virtually every journalistic and academic observer I have read or seen. So, one more problem, if they’re correct, should hardly be significant.

Speaking of predictions, the near-universal predictions of election handicappers in Japan that the LDP will lose – and lose big – in the next election, is worthy of our attention. Worth remembering, at least. If that happens, they deserve praise for their perceptiveness. But if that doesn’t happen … That is, should the ruling coalition manage to maintain its majority. Or should they lose it by only a small margin. Then, we’ll be justified in questioning either the perspicacity – or the motives – of journalistic and academic observers of Japan’s national politics.

I’m not in the prediction business. I don’t have editors who demand that I offer predictions. Don’t have any editors, in fact. So I’m not predicting either way. I just don’t know. But I do wonder if in Japan’s election commentary world the heart hasn’t overtaken the mind – and data – on this particular issue. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll keep you posted.

Now, back to the most significant aspect of the Kyuma “shoganai” affair. I believe that is Prime Minister Abe’s decision to appoint Yuriko Koike as Kyuma’s successor. We’ve talked at some length on this program about Yuriko Koike. She’s a savvy political actor of the new sort. Hardly a “traditionalist” within the LDP environment. She has a strong background in international affairs. Especially when it comes to Japan’s relations with the Middle East, where her father was in the oil business. She is said to speak fluent Arabic, as well as English.

Perhaps even more significant, she began her public career in Japan as a successful television news personality. She understands television. How to present her ideas persuasively through that increasingly important medium. She’s smart and politically ambitious. She also tends to be quite conservative in her foreign policy orientation. Which, as U.S. Secretary of State Rice has discovered, limits the positive coverage she receives in the mainstream press. Koike recognizes that problem, however. And is able to shape her television presentations to counter it. Something Prime Minister Abe might study to his advantage.

So, Koike is one of the new generation of LDP politicians who appeals to voters by presentation of her policy positions through television coverage. Instead of having to maintain an enormously expensive personal election support group. Or koenkai. She doesn’t need to raise huge amounts of questionable money to succeed. In the traditional LDP Factionist/Zokuist pattern. That makes her less vulnerable to threats to reveal her “sloppy bookkeeping” problems. Threats from either the communications media or from the government bureaucrats she has been appointed to supervise.

It’s obvious that Defense Minister Koike considers herself a realistic candidate for Japan’s premiership. A few of Japan’s political commentators even now are mentioning that. She could well be.

Her position within the Kantei as Prime Minister Abe’s National Security Adviser didn’t give her the public exposure I thought it would when she was appointed. Perhaps she wasn’t the only person in the Kantei who considered themselves an appropriate prime ministerial candidate! But the appointment there did assure her assumption of the Defense portfolio once the position became vacant.

Few could argue she wasn’t qualified. Well, there was some initial grumbling from a few elderly LDP members who resented being passed over for the younger Koike. All predictable. But that seems to have quieted down. Koike is likely to do well as Defense Minister. And that experience – if she does do well – will make it all the more likely that she will become Japan’s first female prime minister. When the time comes. Now, that’s significant. I think.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re out of time again. Discussion of the Abe Cabinet’s handling of the pension record fiasco, and of the significance of political corruption, will just have to wait until next week.   

Thanks for listening – or reading. And as always, continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. I read them all, and reply directly to as many as possible. All are useful when planning future programs.

This week, let’s go out with something inspiring from North Carolina’s Wind Riders. We’ve featured them before on this program. Yes, they’re from the Other Carolina. But nonetheless … With a sound like this. They’re welcome. Enjoy a short clip from “Cloudy Days” on their latest album. I’ll put a link in the transcript in case some of you don’t yet have your own copy. Enjoy.

[bluegrass clip]

Goodbye all. Until next week.