April 28, 2008; Volume 04, Number 15

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

The Japan Leg of the Olympic Torch’s Global Tour
Another Cross-Factional Association: The Potent Combination of Yuriko Koike, Hidenao Nakagawa, and Junichiro Koizumi
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From the beautiful Corps of Engineers Campground in Modoc, South Carolina. Right on the shore of Lake Thurmond again. Today is Friday … – Hang on! It’s not Friday. It’s Monday! April 28th, 2008. But, you’re still listening to Volume 04, Number 15, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


It’s raining here this morning. With a serious wind blowing from the south. All of which creates beautiful changes in the surface of the lake. But makes kayak paddling impossible. Well, impossible for me, anyway. At this level of experience. I’ll try to post a couple of photos of this magical area in the podcast transcript. Have a look!

A combination of travel and end-of-semester obligations for the day job has jumbled our program schedule. It took forever, it seemed, to get the last program up and running on the Web. So it seems sensible to add an extra program today. In compensation, so to speak. Also, it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to do a program on Friday. So, this is the compromise. Thanks to all of you who wrote in asking what happened! It’s good to know that folks keep track. And also, thanks for the program suggestions. They’re very helpful. I can’t incorporate all of them you suggest. Just don’t know enough about Japan’s politics and international relations! But some of them do fit into my area of expertise. Or presumed expertise, anyway. And they improve the program. So keep ‘em coming!

Also, lots has been going on in domestic and international politics. As Japan prepares for “Golden Week.” That annual “vacation” period. During which Japanese around the country exert super-human efforts to cram as much leisure activity into those few days as they possibly can. It’s really exhausting! Japanese-style vacation. Get Ready! Then, relax like a son-of-a-gun! Much of what’s happening in Japan concerns the very topics we’ve been discussing here for the past few programs. So, really, with no program today, we’d be way behind by May 2nd. When I hope we can return to a more normal schedule.

So, we’ll begin with events surrounding the long-anticipated – should I say dreaded? –arrival and departure of the Olympic Flame on Saturday. And its significance for Japan’s relations with China. Really a bizarre exercise in sports diplomacy. This heavily shielded celebration of international cooperation should rank right up there with Nixon and Mao playing ping pong some decades back! But it matters. As did the ping-pong, I guess.

Then we’ll continue our consideration of the bumper crop of cross-factional associations we began on the last program. With focus on one that I suspect may prove the most influential. At least in the medium-term. At least in the contest to replace Yasuo Fukuda with someone more competent to lead the LDP. And serve as Japan’s prime minister within the contemporary political environment. Perhaps longer-term, even influential in the battle between the LDP’s Traditionalists and Reformists.

And speaking of the LDP’s Traditionalists and Reformists. Several of you have asked for clarification – or re-clarification – of my distinction between them. So, if time permits, I’ll cover that again briefly, and try to clear up any confusion my use of those terms may have created.

So, lots to consider today. Even if it is Monday! We’d better get right to it.

The Japan Leg of the Olympic Torch’s Global Tour

Modern revival of Greece’s Olympic games. What a wonderful idea! An opportunity for the members of today’s nation-state system to be represented in their interaction by athletes rather than soldiers. To compete in an atmosphere of peace, friendship, and international good feeling. Tests of the strengths and skills of amateur athletes from around the world. Rising above the economic, political, and military rivalries that characterize so much of international relations today. What a wonderful idea!

But a notion that, sadly, seems to have lost much of its original idealism. Representatives of governments and economic interests around the world, in fact, compete fiercely for the honor of hosting the games. With all-too-frequent revelations of corruption and bribery. Incidents that would make a K Street lobbyist blush. Once right to serve as host has been captured, successful conduct of the Olympic games becomes an important political objective for the victorious government. And failure too serious even to consider. Especially for governments hoping to bolster their fragile domestic legitimacy, and/or rickety international reputations as Olympic Games hosts.

This year, Mainland China’s government prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games. They’ve invested billions of dollars in improvement of infrastructure. And equal amounts of political capital in a successful outcome. We can only hope that in the end all of this investment will improve the lives of China’s general population. As it did, for example, for Japan in the mid-1960s.

However, China’s optimistic Olympic organizers have encountered one challenge after another. As they’ve made their preparations. Both in Japan, and around the world. International reports of pollution problems. Suspicions of food poisoning. Eruption of a globally publicized political protest in Tibet. And Beijing’s sharp response. And now, political demonstrations against China’s policies are being directed against the Olympic Flame itself. As it travels from country to country. Providing the international news media with hours of dramatic video tape. It’s enough to provoke a saint. And saints are as rare, I hear, in China’s Forbidden City, as they are in Washington, D.C.

After turbulent passage through a number of important countries, the Olympic Flame arrived in Tokyo early Saturday morning, Tokyo Time. On an Air China plane chartered especially to carry the torch. From there it went by train to Nagano, site of the 1998 winter Olympic games.

Olympic organizers, government representatives, and police officials, have been planning for the Flame’s arrival for months. Sadly, with greatest emphasis on guaranteeing the security of those carrying the torch. What a shame the whole thing has become. Rather than a joyful ceremony celebrating the supra-national spirit of the Olympic Games. This event in Nagano became a four-hour four-way confrontation among representatives of Japan’s National Police Agency riot squad. Supporters of China’s government. Security forces dispatched by China. And “protestors” of various kinds. Protestors united in their desire to leverage international media coverage of the Olympic Torch ceremony to achievement of their political objectives.

Well, the Japan leg of the Olympic Torch tour proved a “success” on Saturday. That is, the four-hour relay was completed without losing control of the flame to protestors.  Without anyone getting killed. Or even seriously injured. And with only minor changes in the originally planned route. So, it was a “success.”

But a success achieved at considerable cost. They didn’t have to resort on the Japan leg of the torch tour to running the flame around a heavily fortified race track. But the result, really, was much the same. Spectators and protestors lined the 19-kilometer route of the flame, it’s true. But the runners holding the flame were well protected by a few walls of riot-trained police officers, the celebrated Chinese “flame attendants,” attendants equally effective at coping with unruly crowds, and regular Japanese policemen lining the route. Wall-to-wall security. I mean!

It would be nice to be able to blame this bizarre situation on a single party. Preferably a government. Either directly. Or with snide commentary. Place black hats and white hats on all the participants. But that’s just not possible.

Who’s to blame? Beijing for hosting the Olympics? Anti-Chinese protestors for taking advantage of the Flame ceremony to publicize their causes? Including those opposing China’s Tibet policies and actions? Japan’s government for not refusing to host the ceremony? Chinese citizens and supporters in Japan mobilized to defend the course of the torch? The international communications media for publicizing the events?

Assigning blame to any of them makes little sense. The Olympic Torch ceremony this year became the latest victim of circumstances. Circumstances impossible to avoid, really. Sure, Japan could have withdrawn from participation. Expressing moral indignation at Beijing’s callous treatment of demonstrating Tibetans. Or poisoned gyoza. Or a dozen other things. Not “outrage,” now, which isn’t allowed for Japan. Just “moral indignation.” But even that would have created other problems. For both Beijing and for Tokyo.

China would have had to become “outraged.” With another round of anti-Japan, public, “spontaneous” demonstrations. Of the sort we’ve seen in recent years on and off. Neither Beijing nor Tokyo wants to go through that again at the moment. Prospects now are high for real improvement in bilateral relations. Tokyo wants that. Beijing wants that.

Further, China’s public “spontaneous” demonstrations seem to be becoming increasingly difficult to control. Even unpredictable. China’s central government has enough to worry about without another excuse for parts of its enormous population to venture out in the streets. Perhaps to stay in the streets. After quitting time. Perhaps, to redefine the objects of their frustrations and resentments in ways the central government would find undesirable. So, “outrage” against Japan would just be inconvenient for Beijing at this time. And Japan, of course, agrees.

So, what’s the longer-term significance of the passage of the Olympic Flame through Japan on Saturday? It’s found, I think, in what didn’t happen. China certainly now has no reason to resent the Government of Japan’s participation. Clearly, they did everything they could to avoid further confrontation and embarrassment for China. Beijing can focus its Olympic-related “outrage” on France, or some other country less cooperative. And, of course, Japan’s negotiators have every reason to expect commensurate cooperation from China. Especially in negotiations on-going over announcements to be made during President Hu Jintao’s early May visit to Japan. We’ll just have to wait to see if those expectations are realized.

Another Cross-Factional Association: The Potent Combination of Yuriko Koike, Hidenao Nakagawa, and Junichiro Koizumi

Now we’ll look at yet another cross-factional association. One that brings together the potent combination of Yuriko Koike, Hidenao Nakagawa, and Junichiro Koizumi. Among others. This is a complex topic. We’ll only be able to skim the surface on this program. But we’re certain to discuss it in more detail in the weeks and months to come.

Their association is called “Mokusatsu Giren” in Japanese, for short. I’ve yet to see an official English language title issued by the association. But the English language media from Japan are calling it “The Parliamentary League to Achieve the Kyoto Protocol Goal.” Which appears to be a direct translation of its formal Japanese title. Hmmm. An environmental policy group.

Formation of this group was announced officially, according to Japanese media reports, on the first day of the fiscal year. April 1st. Incidentally, the day that the price of gasoline in Japan dropped by 25 yen or so per liter. Around 30 Diet members gathered in the big conference room at LDP Headquarters to make the announcement. With what appeared to be good attendance of the LDP Press Club.

LDP heavy-hitter, and former secretary-general, Hidenao Nakagawa, led things off as Chairman of the new group. Announcing the group’s objectives and its executive line-up. Nakagawa said that around 60 Diet members had agreed to join. Including, significantly, former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi. Who serves as the group’s “supreme adviser.” Koizumi wasn’t in attendance at that Tuesday meeting. But Nakagawa assured the press corps he would attend the next meeting. And that he fully supports the group’s objectives. More on those objectives in a moment!

Most interesting about this association – judging from the many articles this founding meeting generated in the Japanese mainstream media and weekly magazines – is the presence of former defense and environmental minister, Yuriko Koike, as “kanjicho.” Or “secretary general.” As one English language publication translated it. The person, anyway, really responsible for running it. We’ve talked about Yuriko Koike for some time on this program. Virtually from the beginning. As a politician with a very good chance of becoming Japan’s first female prime minister. Well, there’s now more reason than ever before to speculate on that possibility. I recall hearing experienced observers of Japanese politics actually giggle when I suggested it in the past. No longer!

Nobody doubts the potential influence of Junichiro Koizumi or Hidenao Nakagawa. Koizumi certainly has his detractors. “Koizumi theater,” “irresponsible populism,” and all that. But he remains very popular with Japan’s attentive public. Attracting media attention whenever he speaks publicly – or privately, sometimes! – about the future course of Japan’s national politics. Most national opinion polls in Japan still find him leading the list of the public’s choices for Japan’s next prime minister.

Koizumi’s well-known in the West. Shaggy hair; loves Elvis; air guitar at Graceland. And so on. Though I suspect that many Western observers under-estimate his real political significance in Japan. And his deadly serious commitment to achieving genuine reform in Japan’s national politics. Hidenao Nakagawa isn’t as well known in the West. Yes, some Western reporters may remember details of his resignation as chief cabinet secretary. When media reports linked him to a nightclub hostess who didn’t happen to be his wife. And so on. Others confuse him with Shoichi Nakagawa. From Hokkaido. Two quite different people!

And they may forget that Hidenao Nakagawa remains one of the LDP’s most successful fundraisers. Last year reporting the LDP’s second-largest haul of financial donations. Largely from fundraising parties. Meaning he certainly appeals to somebody, anyway. Folks of the sort whose financial contributions can be recorded publicly. They also may not recall that for years he’s been a consistent supporter of “political reform” within the LDP. Urging the Party to run its election campaigns on the basis of issue positions. Rather than on the enormously expensive friends-and-neighbors electoral strategies beloved of so many of the older senior LDP members.

And they may not immediately link him with active support of small-government policies. Promoting more rapid economic growth through lower tax burden, and so on. Willing to take on proponents of tax increases, such as Kaoru Yosano, in public, and hold his own. So, Nagagawa’s a hard-charging – even driven – senior LDP figure. Willing to play bare-knuckle politics with the best of ‘em. Some would say, too willing. He’s made scores of enemies. Some bitter, and very powerful. Left-leaning LDP members and journalists certainly don’t approve of him. But he remains a person to watch closely. As we try to figure out where Japan’s national politics in headed during the next few years.

I don’t know Hidenao Nakagawa. Never even met him. And have to assess his potential for influence only from years of print and electronic coverage of his activities. Based on that, however, Nakagawa seems to realize – and accept – that he himself won’t serve as Japan’s prime minister. But that he remains exceptionally interested in who does serve.

This, if true, is very important. So many capable politicians in Japan dissipate their political capital by coyly presenting themselves as a prime ministerial candidate. Year after year. When they have no better chance than you or I have of ever getting the job. Such behavior seriously weakens their real influence over events. And makes them more vulnerable to the manipulation efforts of their political adversaries. Nakagawa seems during the past few years to have overcome that weakness.

Hidenao Nakagawa may not be everybody’s cup of tea. But nobody who knows anything at all about Japan’s domestic politics ignores his potential influence.

Having said that, the real focus of attention during the Mokusatsu Giren press conference in the LDP’s big conference room on April 1st was former defense and environmental minister, Yuriko Koike. Everyone present assumed the association had been created to promote her candidacy to succeed Yasuo Fukuda as LDP president and prime minister. She denied it, of course. Called it a joke. But her very denials lent more credibility to her candidacy.

Of course, the association’s formal objective remains encouraging Japan to cooperate in realization of the Kyoto Protocol’s environmental objectives. By promoting environment-improving aid to developing countries. By possibly even encouraging implementation of an “environmental tax.” Though that seems “iffy” to me, given the association’s leadership. And, during the April 1st press conference, criticizing the drop in gasoline prices in Japan when everyone else is raising them!

But I’m persuaded by a strain of analysis by Japan’s political journalists in the ubiquitous weekly magazines. Nearly all of them I’ve seen speculate that Hidenao Nakagawa and Koike have teamed up to promote Koike as Japan’s next prime minister. Once Yasuo Fukuda fades from the scene. They note that Nakagawa took Koike with him on his Beijing visit last month. Introducing her as an up-and-coming political leader. They further speculate that Nakagawa has decided to use Koike to counter Taro Aso’s drive to succeed Fukuda. Aso, as we’ve mentioned before, is considered the front-runner now in the race to succeed Fukuda. Nakagawa and Aso have a history – some of it quite recent and probably still pretty raw – that I won’t go into now. But it certainly is possible.

Other political analysts in Japan are less generous in their assessment of the Koike-Nakagawa relationship. They see Koike as the instigator. And Nakagawa as just the latest in a line of powerful male Japanese politicians that Koike has manipulated. Since her arrival on the national political scene in 1992. From Hosokawa to Koizumi.

Well, that’s to be expected. Koike remains an attractive woman. Both in appearance and intellectually. Giving her both the advantages and disadvantages as a public figure of that combination of personal characteristics. She’s incredibly good at presenting herself to Japan’s attentive public through television. We’ve talked about all this before on this program. She’s a former television news anchor person, after all. She’s quick on her feet. And able to communicate her positions on complex ideas in less than 20 seconds. What’s not to envy?

But her detractors appear to under-estimate her potential and accomplishments as a political leader, I think. She’s smart as a whip. Well educated. Speaks Arabic, for heavens sake! Experienced in international affairs and domestic economic issues. And has an ideological consistency that’s remarkable for an LDP politician. Like Nakagawa, she’s no stranger to bare-knuckle politics. As her adversaries during the short-lived Abe Cabinet learned. Both administrative and political!

Concluding Comments

Sooo, “Mokusatsu Giren” is another cross-factional association we should keep an eye on during the coming weeks and months. With its formation, Yuriko Koike’s credibility as successor to the sincere but ineffective Yasuo Fukuda strengthened considerably. Koike certainly has powerful enemies. Both in politics and in the media. Those who find her ideological conservative policy positions objectionable, of course. But also those within the ranks of the LDP’s Reformists. Especially those who’d hoped to destroy her chances of becoming prime minister during past Cabinets. We’ll just have to watch and see how Nakagawa’s overt support affects Koike’s chances. I’ll try to keep you posted.

The Old Clock on the Screen is blinking red again. We’d better call it a day. Without trying to further clarify the difference between Traditionalists and Reformists. Plenty of time for that on an upcoming program, when there’s not so many other items to cover. Hopefully, Golden Week will calm things down a bit.

So, goodbye all. Until next time.