June 20, 2008; Volume 04, Number 20

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Effect of the DPJ’s Censure Resolution
Japan and China Announce a “Breakthrough Agreement” on East China Sea Gas Exploitation
Takeo Hiranuma’s Conservative Challenge to the Current Political Party System
A Political “Conservative” or a “Traditionalist”?
Current Significance of a Japanese Traditionalist Political Movement
Concluding Comments

Good Morning. From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, June 20th, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 20, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for tuning in again. Back in the home studio again this week. With all the facilities. No excuse for poor production on this program! And inside today is better than outside! It’s still darn hot here. A little better than last week. But still unusual for June. Can’t imagine what July will be like!

Lots going on in Japan during the past week. Both in domestic politics and in the conduct of international relations. We’ll begin by looking again at the impact the DPJ’s prime ministerial censure resolution has had on domestic politics. In short, Not Much! But there’s more we have to consider than that.

Then we’ll shift to international relations. And have a look at the “Breakthrough Agreement” announced Wednesday between Japan and China. On the East China Sea issue. Hmmm. This one is tough to discuss.

And, we’ll end with the current efforts of Okayama’s Lower House Member, Takeo Hiranuma, to create what he thinks of as a genuinely conservative political movement. Or even political party!

Three big issues. So let’s jump right in.

Effect of the DPJ’s Censure Resolution

First, the censure resolution. We’ve spent a lot of time on this already. In numerous past programs. More than it’s been worth, it seems. Yet, it was hard not to. Given the page-one, above-the-fold treatment Japan’s political media has lavished on the threat of an Upper House censure resolution for nearly a year. In anticipation. So it was hard to ignore.

Well, it’s finally happened. As we discussed last week, the DPJ and two minor parties submitted the resolution to the Upper House. Where, to no one’s surprise, it passed easily. Along party lines, of course. Then, as we anticipated earlier on, the ruling coalition submitted a confidence motion in the Lower House. Which also passed easily. To no one’s surprise. Again, along party lines. Though the DPJ and their two co-sponsors of the Upper House resolution didn’t feel it appropriate for them to participate in that vote. So they boycotted!

Last Friday we’d had only two days to view the effects of that long-anticipated censure resolution. Or two-and-a-half days, really, considering the time difference. Not really enough time. But now it’s been over a week. Quite a few media-sponsored opinion polls have been taken. And their findings published. Resolution supporters, and resolution opponents have had their say. Government and opposition. Sooo, what have we learned?

First, and perhaps most important, Japan’s general public doesn’t appear to be impressed. In fact, in all but one opinion survey I’ve seen, public approval of the Fukuda Cabinet has risen following the censure vote! Not held steady, as I expected. Or declined. But actually increased! In a few polls, by as much as 5 percent. That’s a big difference when we’re considering approval ratings in the high teens and low twenties! And significant.

I’m sure it’s been a big disappointment for the promoters of the censure resolution tactic. Political operations take-home lesson? Don’t under-estimate the perceptivity of your audience! Expensive mistake. Ask most any political consultant in Washington, who’s been making a living in the business for more than ten years.

Second, since the resolution’s passage, Prime Minister Fukuda has rigidly maintained his opposition to a snap election. [begin clip] That voice you hear in the background is Prime Minister Fukuda responding today to questions from a reporter. Then the reporter asks, “What about a Lower House election?” Fukuda feigns surprise, and responds, “Huh? An election?” The reporter says, “Yes.” Fukuda then says, “I have no idea today. We’ll deal with elections when the time comes.”

Having seen that news clip on NHK’s website today, I just couldn’t resist including it for you. The video was even better. But that’s beyond our capabilities at the moment. Fukuda certainly made the point that he’s unmoved. Not only is Fukuda unmoved, there’s no indication that he’s under pressure of any kind at the moment to call a general election. Or to resign, for that matter. Censure resolution, or no censure resolution. Those who opposed the Fukuda Administration before the resolution continue to call for his resignation and/or a general election. Those who supported the Fukuda Administration. Or, at least didn’t oppose it, for lack of a better alternative, have continued to insist the censure resolution was unimportant.

This, however, isn’t the end of the story. The timing of this resolution may have gotten DPJ Leader Ichiro Ozawa out of the Party Leaders’ Debate last Wednesday. But it’s become an expensive alternative.  Since it’s intensified existing tensions within the DPJ. One example. Legendary DPJ member and “Supreme Adviser,” Kozo Watanabe, was widely quoted in the press today as critical of the censure resolution tactic. He called it meaningless, since it was submitted at the wrong time. Now, Watanabe isn’t Ozawa’s most trusted supporter within the DPJ. To be sure. He’s recently openly encouraged younger DPJ members to contest the party leadership in the fall election, for example. But his public comments, at a time so critical for the Party’s solidarity, really surprised me.

The most difficult problem for the DPJ in the longer term will likely turn out to be the issue of Diet debate boycott. We considered the sensitivity of this issue a couple of weeks ago. Diet boycott following the censure vote was the reason given when the DPJ cancelled last Wednesday’s Party Leaders’ Debate. But more than a few DPJ members been uncomfortable with the notion of boycotting Diet debate. And said so publicly! Their concerns were confirmed by post-censure vote opinion polls that showed the public disapproval of the DPJ boycotting Diet debate.

Then on Tuesday night, the 17th, Party Leaders Ozawa and Hatoyama agreed that the DPJ would make some exceptions to their boycott decision. To participate in the Special Committee on Abductions discussions later in the week. And in the Anti-Disaster Special Committee discussion of earthquake relief for Northeastern Japan. The decision was announced on Wednesday, day before yesterday. Hmmm. This doesn’t look good for the Party. It’s become sort of a “We’ll come around and debate things we want to talk about. But we won’t debate if it’s something you want to talk about. This is unlikely to raise the Party’s public approval ratings!

All of this is unfortunate for the DPJ. Just when Party Leader Ozawa’s electoral strategy appeared to be making some progress. With the DPJ’s decisive victory in the April 27th Lower House by-election in Yamaguchi Prefecture. And the ruling coalition’s loss of majority in the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election on June 8th. And now this! The DPJ seems intent upon snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

We’ll have to watch this Diet boycott issue carefully. I’ve argued for a year or so on this program that it’s outdated. A parliamentary strategy of the past. That conditions have changed following the collapse of the “1955 System.” That refusal to participate in Diet debate no longer makes sense. Japan’s attentive public is no longer willing to accept the media’s assertion that the Diet is “empty” when only one or two Opposition parties decide to vacate the premises.

Now the DPJ leadership will have to decide whether they’ll continue their parliamentary boycott – partial or full – through the next extraordinary Diet session. That’s likely to be convened in late August this year, according to comments Prime Minister Fukuda made today in Tokyo. This will be a difficult decision for the DPJ. And potentially divisive. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Japan and China Announce a “Breakthrough Agreement” on East China Sea Gas Exploitation

Now, let’s turn our attention to international affairs. Specifically to the announcement Wednesday, day before yesterday, that Japan and China had reached agreement on the East China Sea gas exploitation issue. Japan’s domestic politics are complex, murky. Even secretive sometimes. But they don’t hold a candle to Japan’s international relations. Especially when it comes to negotiations with Mainland China over issues as sensitive as definition of national territory. Talk about murky! And the situation’s worse for someone like me who can’t read Chinese. But this announcement appears to be important. So we’d better consider it.

First, what we actually know. Day before yesterday, Tokyo and Beijing announced they’d recently negotiated an agreement that will allow joint exploration and exploitation of natural gas reserves in the East China Sea. In what China calls Chunxiao, and Longjing. And Japan calls Shirakaba and Asunaro. The official announcement was made in Tokyo Wednesday night by Foreign Minister Komura and METI Minister Amari. The announcement was made in Beijing by the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s official spokesperson, Jiang Yu. Notice that neither Prime Minister Fukuda nor Chinese President Hu were on the platform when this announcement was made.

Both sides claim to have made significant concessions to achieve this agreement. In the spirit of the “mutually beneficial strategic relationship” agreed upon by Prime Minister Fukuda and Chinese President Hu during their recent summit in Tokyo.

Specifically, China agreed that Japan could invest in China’s on-going exploitation project. And that the two countries would jointly explore for gas in other areas. Although the specifics of the level of investment, and the distribution of profits, are yet to be determined.

According to explanations given yesterday in Beijing by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, Japan agreed that development would proceed “in accordance with Chinese law.” He went on to say that Japan’s acceptance of Chinese legal jurisdiction means Japan agrees that “sovereign rights of the Chunxiao oil and gas field belong to China.” Well! That does sound like a concession!

All of this matters little in economic terms, however. Since the Shirakaba Field’s projected reserves only amount to about 64 million barrels of oil. That’s only a bit over 10 percent of Japan’s total oil consumption for 2006! Not a lot. But, symbolically, it’s said to be important. And may set precedent for other bilateral agreements that will have more economic significance. That’s the hope, anyway.

According to domestic and international press reports from Beijing, not everyone in China is pleased with the agreement. On Wednesday, even before the announcement was made, a small group of protesters appeared in front of Japan’s embassy in Beijing. They carried signs protesting Beijing’s decision to make any sort of East China Sea agreement with Japan. And shouted demands that Japan stay out of the East China Sea.

This was a highly controlled “public” demonstration, according to all press reports. Only 15 or so people were involved. They were supervised by a fair number of Chinese police. Allowed to “demonstrate” for less than half an hour. And then driven away in a bus before on-looking reporters could interview them. They were neither discouraged nor beaten by the on-looking Chinese police. In sharp contrast to the treatment given parents in Sichuan Province protesting the recent earthquake deaths of their children in rickety school buildings. Suggesting the Chinese government didn’t feel threatened by the actions of these protestors. Maybe even encouraged them! As part of the bilateral negotiating process. Stranger things have happened.

We’ve long recognized on this program that the East China Sea gas exploitation issue is more important politically than economically. For both countries. That is, the real point of tension between the two countries isn’t as much access to energy supplies as it is definition of national territory. That’s the real point of concern. And both sides clearly stated in their announcements that this agreement has nothing to do with territorial delineation. That’s a task for future negotiations, I guess.

Well, does all this really matter? Hard to say. I’ve read carefully through Japan’s official government websites. At the Kantei, the Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. None of these sites are featuring the agreement. In Japanese or in English. Indeed, it’s hard to find anything at all about the agreement on them. Suggesting that the Fukuda Administration isn’t eager to stir up more publicity for the agreement than necessary. Hmmm.

Well, I guess agreement – even flimsy agreement – is better than outrage! Perhaps this is one initial step in a long process. And, it now appears that Prime Minister Fukuda will be attending the August 8th opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing after all. One of President Hu Jintao’s objectives during the recent summit meeting. Though Chief Cabinet Secretary Machimura yesterday assured the Kantei Press Corps that Fukuda’s decision to attend had nothing to do with the recent East China Sea agreement. Just coincidence, I guess.

Still, I suspect we’ll be discussing this East China Sea issue for some time to come. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Takeo Hiranuma’s Conservative Challenge to the Current Political Party System

Now let’s return to consideration of Takeo Hiranuma’s challenge to Japan’s political party system. And the possible longer-term significance of that challenge. Last week we began this topic. But got side-tracked by considering Japan’s current domestic political environment. I mentioned briefly that Takeo Hiranuma’s challenge should be taken seriously, if only because he is a “formidable figure.” Let’s begin today with that point. And then consider what it is that he’s trying to do.

So, who is Takeo Hiranuma. We don’t hear a lot about him in the international press. Or even in the English language press produced in Japan. Now that he’s not serving in the cabinet. Or even a member of the LDP. But his activities are regularly covered in the Japanese language political news. And have been for some time. Sixty-eight years old now, he’s the adopted son of wartime prime minister, Kiichiro Hiranuma.

After a brief tenure as prime minister, Kiichiro Hiranuma served as head of the Privy Council and as a close adviser to the emperor during the war. He was arrested by the Occupation and sentenced to life in prison by the War Crimes Tribunal. A sentence commuted at the end of the Occupation in 1952. Soon before his death.

Hiranuma’s wife, Masako, by the way, is the great-grand-daughter of the last Tokugawa Shogun, Yoshinobu. I mention all of this background to help explain that Takeo Hiranuma is the real thing, as a Japanese Traditionalist. Born and bred. Not one of the opportunistic types one often runs across in this group.

Hiranuma’s office maintains a fairly comprehensive website in Japanese. This site gives a good sense of Hiranuma the person and the politician. I’ll put a link to it in the podcast transcript for those of you interested. [http://www.hiranuma.org/]. There he lists his political principles and objectives. And an ad for “Seiji Bushido,” or “Political Bushido,” a book he published last year. Hmmm. “Seiji Bushido.” Quite a title for a book.

Hiranuma’s website includes two other especially interesting features. On the Japanese language side a series of short videotaped talks by Hiranuma himself. Taped every couple of weeks. In which he explains his views on various political topics. On the English language pages, he’s included an essay that describes his experience as a ten-year-old boy on the day the war ended for Japan. August 15th, 1945. When Japanese rebel soldiers stormed into the house to assassinate his adopted father, Kiichiro Hiranuma. Kiichiro, as head of the Privy Council, had urged the emperor to accept the Potsdam Declaration. In the essay, Hiranuma describes his memory of the rebel soldiers’ weapons and threats. And then his narrow escape from the house. Just before the soldiers torched it, having failed to find Kiichiro and assassinate him. It’s a moving story. And, like the website overall, provides insight into Hiranuma the person. Into his political objectives. And into others who share his views. Worth taking a look, I think.

Hiranuma began his political career after graduation from Keio University as an aide to former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato. From Sato he moved to the office of Hokkaido’s Ichiro Nakagawa. The legendary father of the LDP’s volatile Soichi Nakagawa. With whom Hiranuma maintains a close relationship today. Hiranuma was elected from his current Shizuoka constituency in 1980. On his third try. And has been there since! Through nine elections. 

A Political “Conservative” or a “Traditionalist”?

Hiranuma describes himself as a genuine conservative. This suggests he believes that others who call themselves conservatives aren’t really conservatives at all. I think, though, he’s more of a Japanese “Traditionalist” than a political conservative. For me, Hiranuma, in fact, represents the Weberian ideal type of the Japanese political “traditionalist.”

The distinction’s important, I think. Japanese traditionalists may or may not be politically conservative. In the way we’d normally use that term in western political analysis. And Japanese conservatives may or may not be traditionalists. This distinction between the two could well affect the socio-political cleavages that will determine Japan’s next political party system.

Hiranuma, for example, opposes the marketization measures associated with former Prime Minister Koizumi’s reforms. Arguing they amount to “Americanization” of the Japanese system. Well, that’s hardly a “conservative” position! In the traditional understanding of that term. But no wonder! It was Koizumi’s postal reform that ended Hiranuma’s promising career in the LDP. Hiranuma opposed the postal privatization measures. Said so. Voted against them. And found himself outside the Party as a result. He did maintain his Okayama Lower House seat in the September 2005 election, however. And has been an independent Lower House member since.

Rather than marketization, localization, reduction of the central government’s role in the national economy, and other policies usually associated with political conservatism, Hiranuma places great emphasis on return to traditional Japanese values. He supports revision of Japan’s post-World War Two constitution, for example. Arguing that Japan’s constitution should be written by the Japanese themselves, not by lawyers working for an occupying military force. His constitutional revision proposals also emphasize Japan’s responsibility for its own defense. And the role of the emperor as head of state, not just a symbol of the state. He’s supported revision of Japan’s basic education law. With greater emphasis on “moral education,” and inculcation of patriotism. And so on.

Hiranuma believes Japan’s conduct of foreign relations should be more assertive. “Saying what we really mean” to other countries. Such as China. And North Korea. And, the United States! Hiranuma, for example, helped organize a new Diet members’ league earlier this month. One that demands China remove offensive and misleading photographs of Japan’s Pacific War conduct in China from its museums. And he’s been a consistent and active supporter of the families of Japanese individuals kidnapped by North Korean agents. Demanding that Tokyo maintain economic sanctions and a tough negotiating line until Pyongyang really comes clean on what happened to the kidnap victims.

So, judging from media reports of Hiranuma’s activities over the past four or so years, and from the abundance of material on his official website, I conclude that Hiranuma is more of a Japanese traditionalist than a political conservative. In any sense of the latter term that’s analytically useful.

Current Significance of a Japanese Traditionalist Political Movement

Again, it’s reasonable to ask, “So What?” Is any of this really significant for the future of Japan’s political party system? I think it may well be. Well, obviously I do, or I wouldn’t be spending all this time talking about it!

Takeo Hiranuma for many years has been an enormously effective political fundraiser. Every year he vies with the LDP’s Hidenao Nakagawa to be the top political fundraiser in the country. And we’re talking here about reported political contributions. The sort that are collected by the sale of fundraiser tickets, or direct above-the-table contributions.

So, Hiranuma’s able to put serious money behind his organizing efforts. For example, since soon after the 2005 general election, he’s been financially supporting other opponents of postal privatization who lost out in 2005. as well as other national and even local politicians he describes as “promising” and “reliable.” So, it’s a safe bet to assume Hiranuma’s political organization efforts won’t wither for lack of money.

Second, Hiranuma is an extremely determined individual. Early last December he suffered a serious stroke. It partially paralyzed him, and left him with difficulty speaking. A stroke that would have ended the careers of most normal politicians. But after five months of rehabilitation, Hiranuma was back on the public eye. Giving lectures and making speeches. Sometimes as many as four a day! He maintains a punishing schedule. If you listen to any of the recent videos available on his website, you’ll see he has difficulty speaking. His voice now is very raspy. A disaster for a politician! Yet he continues on.

I don’t mention all of this to persuade you to admire Takeo Hiranuma. Or to agree with his political traditionalist positions. Not at all! Rather, I mention it to give you an idea of the forcefulness with which he pursues his objectives. Normally, it’s safe to ignore a traditionalist political crank in Japan. Who doesn’t belong to a major political party. Even if he is a member of the Diet. Who goes around giving speeches about how Japan today just isn’t like it used to be. Or should be. Well, I believe that would be a serious mistake in the case of Takeo Hiranuma. He really shouldn’t be ignored.

We’ll have to wait to see whether he creates a formal political party or not. Judging from recent media reports, he seems to be moving in that direction. But he could decide instead to support the efforts of other parties, or politicians, with whom he agrees. That difference too will matter.

All of this boils down to the effect Hiranuma’s appeal for Japanese Traditionalist support will have on the organizing efforts of Japan’s Reformists. The Reformists we’d discussed so often on this program. Will Hiranuma’s organizational efforts lure like-minded individuals away from any new Reformist undertaking? Will Hiranuma’s postal privatization-based feud with former prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, make it impossible for Hiranuma to support any reformist party with which Koizumi is associated? Will Hiranuma’s efforts attract traditionalists away from the LDP? That, at least, seems unlikely. But who knows?

I don’t have answers for any of these questions. I do know, though, that the Hiranuma phenomenon is something we all should be watching. What direction will he eventually decide to take? And how far will he be able to go? I’ll try to keep you posted.

Concluding Comments

Well, we’re well over time again this week. Slipping back into our old bad habits. Easy enough to do. So much going on in Japan these days that’s just impossible to ignore. Every week I receive at least one e-mailed suggestion for yet another topic. Many of them well worth pursuing. Can’t do ‘em all. No bluegrass this week, since we’re so far over time. So,

Goodbye all. Until next week.