November 2, 2007; Volume 03, Number 39

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Click Links Below for Today's Topics

The "Oops Corner"
Former MOD Administrative Vice Minister Moriya Testifies Before Diet Committee
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda Meets With DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa
A Preliminary Profile of Yasuo Fukuda, Japan's New Prime Minister: Part I
Some Impressionistic Comments
Early Weeks in Office
Relations with Japan's Political Press
Is Fukuda a Traditional "Traditionalist"?
Fukuda's Early Life
Concluding Comments

Good Morning from Beautiful Hunting Island State Park. One of South Carolina's most popular parks. Right on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Wrong ocean for a Japan-related program, I suppose. But it certainly is beautiful here. You may be able to hear the waves in the background. As well as the occasional plane from the Beaufort Naval Air Station, which is just up the road. I'll try to add a couple of photos to the program transcript. This beautiful location comes at a cost, however. The closest WiFi is in the town of Beaufort, about a half hour away. So, today's program has to be done without the benefit of Friday's news from Japan. That's unusual. Hopefully nothing too dramatic has happened in the interim.

The "Oops Corner"

Let's go straight to the "Oops Corner." Last week, Dr. James Auer joined us as a guest commentator. Helping us to straighten out some of the complex diplo-military aspects of the U.S.-Japan relationship. As usual, Jim's comments elicited plenty of e-mailed response. This time, his description of DPJ president, Ichiro Ozawa, as "opportunistic," added to the usual take. When I called Jim to report the listener comments, he immediately realized that he'd misspoken in one part of his commentary. And later e-mailed me an explanation. Jim wrote, after reading the transcript:

"I correctly stated in the second paragraph that "There was a man by the name of Ichiro Ozawa, who was the chief cabinet secretary at the time (1990-91) who argued that Japan should do something tangible."

But in the sixth paragraph I said "But suddenly, with the Democratic Party of Japan getting a majority in the Upper House on July 29th, the same Mr. Ozawa who wanted Japan to do more in 2001 has suddenly stepped forward to say it is not authorized." This was a misstatement on my part; I meant to say "the same Mr. Ozawa (the LDP Kambo Chokan Ozawa of 1991) who wanted Japan to do more in 1991"

Thanks, Jim, for the clarification. That helps. Sorry I didn't catch the obvious inconsistency as I transcribed the comments.


What a week we've had in Japan's domestic politics. In international relations as well. But today we'll have to focus on domestic developments. Since considerably more of longer-term significance has happened there. Developments that may influence the course of parliamentary politics for some time to come.

First, we'll consider the sworn testimony of former Ministry of Defense vice minister, Takemasa Moriya, before the Lower House Committee on Monday. And the subsequent media reaction to that testimony.

Then we'll consider the meeting between Prime Minister and LDP President, Yasuo Fukuda, with DPJ President, Ichiro Ozawa, on Tuesday. And the flood of media speculation that meeting has engendered. Plus the cancellation of the formal parliamentary debate between the two, which for some time had been scheduled for Wednesday. Quite a bit going on there that we should know about.

And finally, we'll consider "Fukuda the Man." A brief personal profile of Shinzo Abe's replacement as LDP president and Japan's prime minister. Japanese political media coverage of Fukuda is slowly recovering from the image of Fukuda they presented while trying to promote his victory over Taro Aso. In the contest to succeed Shinzo Abe as LDP president. But I think there's considerably more to say that will help us understand Japan's new prime minister, and how he's conducting himself in office. I'll try, anyway.

So, lots to cover again. Let's get right to it.

Former MOD Administrative Vice Minister Moriya Testifies Before Diet Committee

First, Moriya's testimony. All eyes in Japan's political world were turned this Monday to the televised testimony of Takemasa Moriya. Former Ministry of Defense administrative vice minister. He appeared, as a sworn witness, before the Lower House special committee considering Japan's role in the prevention of international terror. The hearing began at 1:00 p.m., and lasted for about two and a half hours. And it was quite a performance. Video of the whole show is available on the Lower House streaming video website for those interested in seeing how these things are conducted.

I've been able to watch most of it, thanks to a good internet connection in the home studio. Moriya throughout maintained his usual self-confident demeanor. He responded to all questions politely. He readily admitted that he had played golf frequently with his long-time friend, Motonobu Miyazaki, an executive then of the Yamada corporation. Paying each time only 10,000 yen of the total cost. He added that he'd even received several sets of golf clubs from Miyazaki. And had visited night spots with his golfing friend. Who also happened to be an executive of the Yamada Corporation.

Moriya apologized for having inconvenienced the government as it tried to pass the anti-terror bill. And said he hoped his testimony would facilitate the work of the committee. But at no time during his testimony did he appear flustered, shaken, or even upset. Quite a performance, indeed. Given the gravity of the charges he may face before this whole business is over.

I wasn't surprised by Moriya's presentation. He's an experienced professional. Whose confidence in his own abilities was demonstrated even more clearly earlier this year during his confrontation with his Minister, Yuriko Koike. Rather, I found the performance of those members of the special committee questioning Moriya more surprising. It was as if everyone was working from a carefully written script. A script designed to get everybody through this unpleasant business with the least difficulty possible. With each "interrogator" frequently consulting notes to make sure they followed along as they were intended to do.

Some questions were posed less politely than others. But no new evidence designed to embarrass or rattle Moriya was introduced by the Committee members. Moriya was asked repeatedly if he'd made any effort to benefit his golfing friends during military procurement negotiations. He repeatedly denied it. And that was that.

One illustration of the tone of the Hearings. I had asked students in my Japan politics undergraduate class to take a look at the streaming video of the Hearing. At least one did, and reported on the experience in class yesterday. He said he was puzzled at the beginning, since his current level of his Japanese language didn't allow him to understand the proceedings. Most confusing, he said, was that there appeared to be several witnesses and only one person asking the questions. It was only after he checked photographs on other websites that he realized the person he thought was doing the interrogating was actually Moriya himself. The witness! An interesting observation by a disinterested party, I thought.

Well, Moriya did provide some new information during the Hearing. In addition to receiving several sets of golf clubs and visiting "Korean-style" night clubs. He told the committee members that certain Diet members had joined his meetings with Miyazaki from time to time. But he declined to provide their names. For fear of causing them inconvenience. Hmmm.

Was this a "confession"? Perhaps I'm just too cynical. But it appeared to me to be more of a warning to his Diet member interrogators that things could become difficult for them too should their questions become too difficult. Now, it's possible that Mr. Moriya was simply trying to be as sincere and forthcoming as possible. Given the circumstances, and all. But it's also possible that it was a gentle reminder that he possessed information about the involvement of elected officials that those elected officials would rather not have made public. Under these conditions. Who knows?

An Upper House DPJ spokesman during a press conference last week said that if the LDP-dominated Lower House Committee didn't do a good enough job interrogating Mr. Moriya, the DPJ intended to have him called before an Upper House Committee. Where they had a clear majority, control of the Chair, and would be able to do a proper job. Now, we'll have to see if this actually happens. I'm skeptical. Since some of the more senior members of the DPJ are no more eager than their LDP counterparts to have this influence peddling investigation spread into the ranks of members of Parliament.

Since Moriya's confident appearance before the Lower House special committee, Japan's political press has focused on speculation about the names of the Diet Members he wouldn't name. And at least three senior LDP Diet members have volunteered the information that they weren't the ones Moriya had in mind. That they'd never met with Moriya and his defense contractor friend, Miyazaki! Well, we're bound to hear more about this in the weeks and months to come.

Indeed, it seems likely that the whole issue of relationships between MOD officials and LDP Defense-Zoku members will endure for some time. If only because the Yamada Corporation is in the midst of a nasty lawsuit with their former managing director, Motonobu Miyazaki. Who happens to be Moriya's golfing friend. Pursuit of the lawsuit has made public Yamada corporate files that include expenditures on "entertainment" of government officials, and so on. Really a source of information that Japan's political reporters cannot afford to ignore.

One thing that might suppress the investigation would be efforts of the Opposition to combine this influence-peddling investigation with other issues, such as the misdirection of fuel oil we discussed last week. It would be unfortunate to see this investigation quashed as part of a larger political agreement to pass the bill to define Japan's contribution to the war on global terror. That's unlikely, given the amount of information already available to the public. But not impossible. As always, I'll try to keep you posted.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda Meets With DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa

Now for the meeting between Fukuda and Ozawa. On Tuesday of this week Prime Minister Fukuda was finally able to persuade DPJ president, Ichiro Ozawa, to meet for one-on-one talks about the future of the current Diet session. Japan's political press describes LDP control of the Lower House and DPJ control of the Upper House as a "twisted Diet." Or, "abnormal Diet," as it's often translated into English.

This seems odd somehow to me. Certainly Japan's post-WWII Constitution anticipated the possibility that a single party or coalition might not have majority control of both Houses of the Diet. The Constitution, in fact, includes elaborate procedures for handling the disagreements over legislation that would result. Perhaps not the ideal political situation, from the perspective of efficiency. But then, "efficiency" has never been the strong suit of genuinely democratic political regimes. There seems to me no justification for condemning the DPJ for gaining a majority in the Upper House during the last election. Which, in essence, description of the current situation as "abnormal" appears to do.

So, the question becomes one of how the current situation is to be managed. In a way that allows essential legislation to pass. One approach is reliance on agreements achieved through closed door consultation between or among party leaders. That's the "consensus" approach. Another is reliance on the constitutionally mandated procedures that emphasize the importance of parliamentary votes as decision legitimators. With the Lower House able to over-ride Upper House objections with a two-thirds majority vote. For most legislation. Or, failing that, admitting to Japan's attentive public that their elected representatives are unable to pass a particular piece of legislation. And allow the public to determine whether or not they consider the legislation "essential." And factor that important information into their overall evaluation of their elected representatives.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Fukuda and DPJ president, Ichiro Ozawa tried the leadership consultation approach. They were scheduled to meet for up to two hours. But observers reported that, in the event, their meeting lasted only around an hour. As important, most of that hour was taken up with discussions between the two party leaders themselves, with no one else present. Hmmm.

After the meeting, Fukuda announced that he and Ozawa had failed to agree on a compromise that would pass legislation allowing Japan to continue contributing to the global anti-terror campaign with their Indian Ocean refueling operations. However, Fukuda concluded, the discussions were useful.

Further top-level discussions have been planned for later in the week, probably for today, Friday. [Sorry not to have been able to check today's news out here in the hinterlands. So I don't know if the meeting took place as planned or not.] At least as significant, was the announcement later in the day that the LDP and DPJ had agreed to cancel the Diet Debate between Fukuda and Ozawa scheduled for Wednesday. In light of their failure to achieve agreement on the future of the anti-terror legislation during their private talks.

It seems to me that the Asahi Shimbun English language editorial published on Wednesday, the 31st, was right on target. It criticized the LDP's and DPJ's decision to cancel the Wednesday public Diet debate between their two leaders. Apparently, in favor of another closed-door meeting between the two. Asahi's English edition opined, "…they have an obligation to engage in lively debate before the public on important national policies. Even if there is a possibility they can reach an agreement in the next meeting, surely they can aim for it while debating in the Diet, too." Hmmm. Makes sense to me. It's good to see Asahi expressing concern about genuine democratic principles.

With most of the Fukuda-Ozawa meeting held in secret, there's been plenty of room for speculation about what was discussed during their conference. Japan's political press has been full of it. Prominent within that speculation has been discussion of the "Grand Coalition" proposal. A "Grand Coalition" that would include both the LDP and the DPJ. Possibly other smaller parties if they were interested and would agree to abide by the terms of the coalition.

This solution to the "abnormal Diet" has been proposed for some time now by former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. And promoted by Tsuneo Watanabe and the Yomiuri Shimbun. Apparently motivated by their concern over revision of Japan's constitution. However, there's also sympathy for the idea within the LDP. Especially among senior Traditionalists and Zokuists. Who, presumably, expect their particular interests to be advantaged by the arrangement.

Certainly such an arrangement would make mutually advantageous compromises among senior politicians easier. Freeing them from concern over public scrutiny and criticism. As they worked out compromises that protected each other's special interests. Certainly it would create a more "efficient" legislative process. More predictable. Consider Japan's experience during the Great Pacific War with Konoye Fumimaro's Imperial Rule Assistance Association! But it would be hard to justify such a resolution of the "abnormal Diet" problem on the grounds of progress toward genuine political reform. Or as greater democratization of Japan's national political processes.

Both Fukuda and Ozawa have denied discussing a "grand coalition" of their parties, let alone agreeing to one. But speculation persists. And is likely to persist, promoted by those sympathetic to such an arrangement. On the grounds that political stability and predictability is more important than broader public involvement. A position usually favored by incumbents. It's another thing we need to keep an eye on. I'll try to keep you posted.

A Preliminary Profile of Yasuo Fukuda, Japan's New Prime Minister: Part I

Now, let's turn to the profile of Yasuo Fukuda. On September 25th, Yasuo Fukuda was elected to succeed the hapless Shinzo Abe as Japan's prime minister. Throughout the short contest between Fukuda and Taro Aso to become LDP president and prime minister, much of Japan's political press took pains to describe Fukuda as a non-ideological pragmatist. In sharp contrast to the ideological, conservative, hard-liner Taro Aso.

Fukuda's media supporters consistently described him as "cooperative," as an effective policy coordinator, as a close friend of Mainland China, and as a "moderate." Who, if selected as prime minister, could be expected to emphasize cooperation over confrontation in the formulation and implementation of his foreign policies. And to pursue "non-ideological" domestic economic policies. Toning down the emphasis on marketization and privatization that characterized the administrations of Koizumi and Abe. And likely would be continued under an Ideological Aso regime.

Not that this is totally false. Certainly Fukuda has proven himself during his short few weeks in office willing to reach out to other political parties, members of his own LDP, and to other countries, for discussion of differences. However, it's also possible that the resulting overall "image" of Yasuo Fukuda presented by Japan's political press during the contest with Taro Aso was somewhat exaggerated. Even inaccurate and misleading. Creating misunderstanding and false expectations among many observers. Especially, perhaps, foreign observers.

So, let's make a quick assessment of what we actually know about Yasuo Fukuda, the man. To see if indeed Japan now is led by another of those colorless facilitators, or balancers, of the sort the LDP used to produce.

Some Impressionistic Comments

First, some impressionistic comments from individuals who've known, or at least met, Yasuo Fukuda over the years. I met his father a number of times over the years. But have never met the son. So I talked with several people who have, asking for their impressions. None of them would agree to describe Fukuda as drab or "colorless." Rather, they described him as an accomplished conversationalist, witty, and in one case, even impatient and a little short-tempered.

Another long-time observer of Fukuda emphasized his unusual ability to understand and remember details of complex public issues. And yet another described him as "a serious policy wonk." I'm not sure whether that phrase is praise or criticism. But it certainly suggests that Fukuda for many years has taken an interest in national policies well beyond political horse-trading for fundraising purposes.

Early Weeks in Office

Fukuda's behavior during his first few weeks in office suggests a refreshing competence and maturity. True to expectations, from his first meeting with the Kantei Press Corps on September 25th, he's called for discussion and cooperation with his various political adversaries. And has projected the spirit of cooperation rather than competition in his comments related to foreign affairs.

However, judging from results to date, it would be a serious mistake to confuse willingness to cooperate with willingness to offer major concessions just to achieve agreements. I raised this point a couple of weeks ago when discussing the outcome of the latest round of negotiations with Mainland China over gas exploration in the East China Sea. Fukuda's comments on North Korea provide another example. He urges a more cooperative relationship. But he has yet to abandon demands that North Korea be more forthcoming on the fate of Japanese citizens their government has kidnapped and taken to North Korea over the years. "Cooperation"? Yes. But willingness to concede important Japanese interests sufficient to warm the hearts of other countries diplomats? Perhaps not.

Relations with Japan's Political Press

Now let's consider Fukuda's relationship with Japan's political press. One point that has received little attention in either Japanese or English language political coverage of Japan is Fukuda's cooperative attitude toward members of the Kantei Press Corps. During his long tenure as chief cabinet secretary Fukuda was known, I think it fair to say, as a tough interview subject. Now, however, he has resumed the practice of meeting the press corps twice a day. And also has resumed answering questions asked by reporters as they follow him from one appointment to another. He's careful and prudent in his responses to the press's questions. But if you watch the video clips of his performances, he's far from "drab" or "colorless." As he's still often described in the foreign press. He's also making a largely successful effort to keep his temper. To avoid letting his irritation with questions, or the questioner, show. Another important change from his days as chief cabinet secretary.

For me, this change in Fukuda's behavior toward the media suggests that Fukuda understands the importance of communicating effectively with Japan's attentive public through the media. In sharp contrast to the behavior of his immediate predecessor. Who seemed to think a record of good works, in time, would automatically be rewarded by public approval. A big mistake!

Is Fukuda a Traditional "Traditionalist"?

So, is Fukuda really a "Traditionalist"? The way Fukuda has been handling his relations with Japan's political press may have larger significance. Fukuda, as we've discussed on past programs, usually is described as a "traditional" LDP prime minister. With some justification, given the nature of the Factionist/Zokuist support that boosted him into office.

Now, it's too early to make a definitive judgment, of course. But it now appears to me that Fukuda may be as much of a Popularist as Koizumi. That is, a leader whose political strategy depends on achieving and maintaining broad approval of Japan's attentive public. Rather than upon the support of LDP faction leaders, and Zokuist representatives of special interests, to remain in office. Koizumi created the model. From the beginning of his campaign for the LDP presidency. Under the energetic tutelage of Makiko Tanaka. Koizumi relied upon dramatic, unexpected personal behavior to thrust his policy messages through the folds of the communications media curtain to reach Japan's attentive public. "Koizumi Theater," it was called by his critics. But, in fact, it worked!

It's just possible that Fukuda has decided to do the same thing. But with an approach more appropriate to his own character. He may be consciously projecting the image of a responsible, stable, reliable, competent leader. In an effort to accomplish precisely the same thing Koizumi accomplished so ably with his wild haircut and erratic personal behavior. All of this is preliminary, to be sure. But if true - even partially true - it has profound implications for the future of national politics in Japan. So we'd better keep an eye on it.

Fukuda's Early Life

Let's look now at Fukuda's early life. Fukuda, like the rest of us, is both the beneficiary, and the victim, of his past. That's been obvious in his performance on the national political stage. First as chief cabinet secretary for prime ministers Mori and Koizumi, and then as prime minister himself.

Key here to understanding Fukuda, I believe, is recollection that he did not become an elected member of the Lower House until he was 53 years old. Yes, he is a second-generation member of the Diet. Like so many of his LDP colleagues. With all the benefits that accrue from having a famous father or mother. In his case, a father who served quite successfully as prime minister before him. Name recognition. personal contacts throughout Japan's government and business elite. And all the rest of it.

But, unlike so many of his second and third-generation Diet member colleagues, he became an established adult, and pursued his own career, before entering the hot-house political world of Nagata-cho. As the privileged child of an established politician. That, I believe, helped Fukuda avoid the selfish, self-satisfied "spoiled brat" syndrome so common among such second and third-generation politicians. Yasuo Fukuda simply wasn't around to be spoiled during his formative years as a young adult.

Born in 1936 Gumma Prefecture as the first son of Takeo and Mie Fukuda, young Yasuo spent nearly all of his formative years in Tokyo. Graduating from the prestigious Azabu High School. Followed by an undergraduate degree in economics from Waseda University. Where he graduated in 1959.

As eldest son, Takeo Fukuda was said to have hoped Yasuo would follow his example. Take an interest in a political career. That didn't happen, however. I have been unable to confirm this. But conventional wisdom is that Yasuo avoided, even disliked, political life. And therefore was pleased to join Maruzen Oil upon graduation from Waseda in 1957.

Fukuda stayed with Maruzen, one of Japan's great oil companies, for seventeen years. Pursuing a standard, elite course business career. He was a well respected division director when he resigned in 1976. With service that included two years in the United States.

Fukuda's business career ended in November 1976. When his father became prime minister. Takeo urged his son to join him as private secretary then and he accepted. Replacing his younger brother, Masao, who suffered serious health problems. Problems that would end his life at 55 in 1994. By then, Fukuda was a fully matured adult. With a personality formed by seventeen years of business experience. Competent, intelligent, and cautious. Fully able to fend for himself as he promoted the political interests of his prime minister father. And well insulated from the more corrosive aspects of the political world for a second-generation politician.

Concluding Comments

There's considerably more we must cover in our consideration of "Fukuda the Man." I'm not even half way through my notes for this topic! But it all will have to wait until next week. We're way over time again. Slipping back into old bad habits. Not even time for the traditional cleansing clip of bluegrass music today! But I'll try to make up for it next time. Until then, Goodbye all. Until next week.