August 22, 2008; Volume 04, Number 25

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

Introduction
Professor Daniel Metraux Sheds Light on the Current Significance of New Komeito and Soka Gakkai
Why a Coalition With the LDP?
Is Komeito’s Constituency Critical of the Party’s Coalition With the LDP?
What About a Coalition With the DPJ?
Komeito’s Relationship With Soka Gakkai
Studying Komeito and Soka Gakkai for Nearly Four Decades
Non-Soka Gakkai Member Support for Komeito?
Komeito as a Genuine Mass Party
Policy Differences With the LDP
Economic Policy Considerations
Komeito Becoming More Mainstream
Some Suggested Readings
Soka Gakkai as a Social and Socio-Political Movement, As Well as Religious Movement
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From beautiful Spring Valley. In the Midlands of South Carolina. Today is Friday, August 22nd, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 25, of the Japan Considered Podcast.

Introduction

It’s a beautiful morning here in South Carolina. Overcast skies. Some modest wind. Temperatures unlikely to go much above 75. And a good chance of rain in the afternoon. What more could a person ask for? Well, maybe this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea weather-wise. But it seems nice to me. I hope conditions in your part of the world are at least as comfortable.

Life has been interesting here in the Japan Considered Studio for the past couple of weeks. I may have mentioned on the last program that the microphone attached to the desktop computer stopped working for some mysterious reason.

Well! My amateurish efforts to resuscitate that mike led eventually to total destruction of all the data on a 350-gig hard disk. And worse, corruption of the latest full backup of that disk. That meant loss of everything saved to the disk from early July onward! Including all of the photos and notes from the Great Northern Expedition. Ouch! Only those already up on the website survived. Oh well … Live and learn …

On a positive note, fall semester classes at USC began yesterday. That’s always a treat. The students are back in force. Nothing quite as forlorn as a university campus with no students. My comparative politics and Japanese foreign policy classes both look promising. Should be another interesting semester!

And speaking of interesting. Interesting political news continues to stream in quantity from Tokyo. Even in the middle of August. Lots for us to examine. Both domestically and internationally. Lots of it puzzling. Especially on the domestic political side. What in the world is the LDP leadership trying to do?

Last week Dr. Ed Lincoln of New York University assessed the reshuffled cabinet’s economic policies for us. Though he too was hard put for explanations that made sense. Beyond avoiding intra-LDP efforts to force Fukuda’s resignation. And beyond trying to survive the next election, of course.

So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, I guess. While learning all we can about those variables likely to influence events when they happen. In that spirit, today I have another interview treat for you. One that helps us to better understand the dynamics of the incumbent ruling coalition. From the perspective of the junior coalition partner, New Komeito. With the LDP hobbling along as it is, Komeito has become increasingly important. Sooo …..

Professor Daniel Metraux Sheds Light on the Current Significance of New Komeito and Soka Gakkai

Professor Daniel Métraux, from Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, has agreed to join us this morning to discuss one of his specialties: the New Komeito. Those of you familiar long-time with the program will realize that I know next to nothing about that subject. And I’m not unusual in that regard. There are very few people in this country, or even in Japan, who have made a study of Soka Gakkai and New Komeito. Professor Métraux is one such person. I dare say, the leading such person.

[ring]

RCA: Good Morning Daniel.

DM: Good morning, Bob.

RCA: Thank you for agreeing to join us this morning on the Japan Considered Podcast. I wonder if I could ask you to help us better understand the New Komeito Party.

Why a Coalition With the LDP?

Specifically, why is New Komeito in coalition with the LDP? Why did they decide to do that, given the differences in the parties?

DM: In talking to Party leaders over the last eight years since the coalition began in 1999, Komeito leaders havestressed the fact that the purpose of a political party is to achieve power, and to achieve realization of at least part of their program. Komeito was perennially an opposition party. And therefore very few of their programs were being enacted, and they had very little influence over the affairs of state.

They kept using the words, “We are gaijin. We are people not in power.” This coalitiongave them access to power, which allows them to report back to their own people that they have influence. Even though it is partnered with a conservative party, that relationship has allowed it to put forth several of its programs in the areas of education.

Even more important, they say, however, they’ve been able to be a check on the conservatives. Forcing the conservativesin the LDP to modify some of their more patriotic or extreme programs or goals. For example, on Article Nine. Komeito says that Komeito and Soka Gakkai are adamantly opposed to changing Article Nine. They feel they have saved Japan and saved the Peace Constitution through their work, telling the LDP they will vote against it. And they will leave the coalition if they try to push this through. So they feel that they’ve managed to maintain some of the progressive elementsof the Constitution, such as Article Nine.

RCA: So, they see this in practical politics terms ….

DM: Right. One is that they can get some of their programs. For example, one thing is to give mothers money to have babies, and things like that. They saw that as being one important idea. They’re encouraging limited immigration from China for short-term workers as a way of beginning to bring in immigration to deal with the population crisis. Things like that.

Is Komeito’s Constituency Critical of the Party’s Coalition With the LDP?

RCA: You mentioned that the coalition had endured for eight years. I hadn’t thought of that. That’s incredible. Isn’t it possible, though, that New Komeito’s leaders will take some flak from their constituency for being involved with the LDP?

DM: Yes, they have. Especially over the issue of Iraq a few years ago. When Japan sent some forces there, not for fighting, but for reconstruction purposes. Komeito supported it. Soka Gakkai has had a very strong peace movement. There is a genuinely strong pacifist group in Soka Gakkai that was very opposed to sending troops – even for peaceful purposes to the war front. That created tremendous divisions and tremendous debate two years ago and three years ago in Komeito, and in Soka Gakkai.

Yes, there was a lot of flak. But ultimately Soka Gakkai was able to convince their people that sending troops to Iraq to rebuild the country was actually a peaceful thing. And not a warlike act. And the membership sort of quieted down.

What About a Coalition With the DPJ?

RCA: Do you believe that there’s any possibility that the New Komeito might break the coalition? And, for example, join with the DPJ in another coalition?

DM: Talking to Soka Gakkai leaders, they are emphatic … Talking to Komeito leaders, of course, they are very diplomatic and just say, “We’ll see.” But when talking to higher-ups in Soka Gakkai, I put that question very bluntly to them last March. They were just horrified at the idea of a coalition [with DPJ]. Absolutely not! They said that the Democratic Party is a Party without a true program, without a true ideology. Just opportunistic people who would change with the wind, that didn’t stand for anything. They were very, very emphatic that there was no chance that Soka Gakkai would support a Komeito relationship with that party. No way.

I think Komeito is thinking about after the next election of perhaps breaking away and joining the opposition party ranks again. They see themselves as a progressive party that is doing a stalwart job of maintaining progressive ideas in this coalition and preventing the LDP from going over the deep end.

Komeito’s Relationship With Soka Gakkai

RCA: Let’s talk more specifically, then. You’ve raised a couple of interesting, provocative points here. Let’s talk more specifically about New Komeito itself as a political party. How do you compare New Komeito with the LDP, for example, in terms of organization. Organization and campaigning. This kind of thing. Not policy. That’s separate.

DM: Komeito in itself in its practical every day work in the Diet is very separate from Soka Gakkai. They’ve very proud of the fact that they run their own day-to-day thinking. But the attachment to Soka Gakkai remains very real. The ideology of Soka Gakkai still is very, very strong. When you talk with Komeito leaders, they’re very proud of their Soka Gakkai membership. They’re very proud of the fact that they are Buddhists. And they are bringing Buddhist ideas into politics.

But in terms of organization, an election campaign is very much a prostelization campaign. It’s one way of energizing the membership.

RCA: Membership of Soka Gakkai?

DM:  Yes exactly. When an election campaign is called all the local chapters of Soka Gakkai get involved in very heavy meetings. Talking about issues, going out into the streets and campaigning door-to-door. It’s one way of rallying and energizing the faithful. 

So each major election is an incredible prostelization campaign. Because when you go campaign for Komeito, you’re also indirectly proselytizing for the Gakkai as well. It’s never said thatwe’re here for Soka Gakkai. But when you’re from Komeito it’s understood that when you’re out there you’re oftentalking to voters who are not members, who might become interested in becoming members. So, indirectly, it’s a very strong prostelization process for Soka Gakkai.

So elections are one way of really energizing the faithful, getting out and talking to people. Maybe even getting new members. It’s a very strong effort. It’s huge!

RCA: Is there any New Komeito campaigning effort that is exclusive of Soka Gakkai?

DM: Officially, of course, the Komeitocandidates don’t even mention Soka Gakkai. Soka Gakkai itself is never mentioned. And the Komeito members and the organization itself, on paper, is very separate. The reality, of course, is that they’re not. They campaign on specific issues. They talk politics. There’s no mention of religion. So it’s not a religious effort openly. The religious connection is only indirect. But very real.

RCA: Does the political party, New Komeito, have separate offices in each prefecture ….

DM: Oh, yes, definitely. It’s entirely separate. Soka Gakkai sponsors many organizations that are legalkly separate from the parent religious organization.  Take, for example, Soka University which is itself a licensed independent university…. On paper, it’s very different from Soka Gakkai. It has its own people. And it’s very proud of its independence.

I remember one time that Soka Gakkai wanted to help me get a brief appointment there as a researcher. Because our school didn’t have any relationship with Soka University, it took a lot of hard persuasion for them to let me come in. They were very proud of their independence, and resented the idea that Soka Gakkai would tell them what to do.

RCA: Even as well known as you were for publishing on the subject.

DM: Right. The folks at Soka University welcomed me very much. And were wonderful with me. But they resented the idea that Soka Gakkai could come in and tell them what to do. Even though they’re very closely affiliated with Soka Gakkai.

And Komeito’s the same way. They’re very proud of their independence. They have separate offices. They’re pretty close to each other. If you go to ShinanomachiStation, on one side of the tracks you have all of the Soka Gakkai stuff. And when you go to the other side of the tracks in the Olympic Park, you have all of the Komeito stuff. But they’re very close. You could throw a stone and hit one from the other. But still they’re separate. Very, very separate.

Studying Komeito and Soka Gakkai for Nearly Four Decades

RCA: Parenthetically, how long have you been studying Soka Gakkai and New Komeito.

DM: Since 1969.

RCA: Virtually since the formation of Komeito.

DM: Yes. Their first election was 1967. The first national election. They were formed in 1964. But their first national election for the Lower House was in 1967.

RCA: How, specifically, do you study it?

DM: I have strong contacts who are members of the Diet. There are two members of the Diet whom I visit with regularly. I have a close friend who’s a member from the LDP, and in the past I’ve talked with him. And then I have a lot of contacts in Soka Gakkai who know me and trust me, and are very frank with their opinions.

RCA: Actually, I’ve heard that from some New Komeito Diet members, years back. That you were a reliable fellow but that you couldn’t be controlled. And that upset them a little bit.

Non-Soka Gakkai Member Support for Komeito?

Here’s a strange question, Dan. Are there any members of New Komeito who are not Gakkai members?

DM: Yes, I have heard of some New Komeito members, candidates and Diet members who are not active Soka Gakkai members, but their numbers are low.  It depends on the election, but I have met quite a few voters who vote for Komeito candidates even if they are not Soka Gakkai members.  In some elections the number of non-Soka Gakkai voters supporting Komeito can be as high as 15-20 percent. Sometimes as low as 10 percent. Of voters who are not Soka Gakkai. Komeito can reach out and get people, for example, who support Article Nine and who might vote for Komeito as an alternative. Komeito leaders always run a few candidates themselves who themselves who are Komeito supporters, but not necessarily Soka Gakkai members.

Several years ago when they had 54 of the Upper and Lower House Diet members, 52 were Soka Gakkai members; two were independents. And real independents.

RCA: I should know that. But I didn’t. You’ve heard them too. But for years I’ve heard rumors that this LDP Diet member, or that Socialist Diet member, was a secret member of Soka Gakkai. Does that happen? Are there people in the Diet who aren’t publicly known as Gakkai members, but who actually are?

DM: I’ve heard of one or two cases, but it’s extremely rare.

RCA: It’s rare. Okay.

DM: Extremely rare.

Komeito as a Genuine Mass Party

RCA: Well, let’s shift from campaigning for a minute to the organizational structure of the Party. You’re a historian, not a political scientist, but you know about these things, since you’ve written so much about it. Do you see any big differences between the Komeito and LDP in terms of organization? The way they structure the Party? The way they put together the management of the Party?

DM: I can’t do the nitty-gritty. But Komeito is very much of a mass party because it has a strong local organization tied to local Soka Gakkai chapters… There are traditionally two mass parties in Japan, I think. The Communist Party  and Komeito traditionally, because of Soka Gakkai. Soka Gakkai has provided Komeito with a well organized and defined base of voters and organization.   I’m talking interchangeably “Soka Gakkai; Komeito,” which they would be furious to hear. But in reality it’s there.

The reality is that Soka Gakkai forms a neighborhood base for Komeito. In the LDP, the farther you go down the levels the weaker they get, I think. They’re sort of a reversed pyramid. Whereas Komeito has a very strong bottom base. So it’s a huge mass party, with small chapters which are very closely linked to all of the local Soka Gakkai chapters. So it’s huge!

RCA: Would you describe New Komeito within – as a political party, I’m talking about; not policies yet – as more democratic than the LDP or other political parties in Japan?

DM: I think it’s as democratic as any party in Japan in terms of selection of candidates, and things like that. I think there’s a lot of input from members. Members go to meetings where they nominate candidates. This is from the members themselves. They have large meetings in some areas where they select candidates. And that’s a very important role of Soka Gakkai members.

RCA: Well, everybody has such meetings. But you’re saying, I guess, that in New Komeito those meetings actually matter.

DM: Sometimes, yes, definitely. Not always, of course. But sometimes.

Policy Differences With the LDP

RCA: Well, could we shift to policy a minute. You’ve said several interesting things about Komeito policy. It seems to me, listening to what you say, that there are almost no parallels between Komeito’s policies and the LDP’s policies.

DM: No. it’s a marriage of convenience. Komeito sees this as a temporary relationship.  They’re not committed to the LDP over the long run, even though I know of several strong friendships between LDP members and Komeito members. Just as we have Democrats and Republicans who are close friends. But in terms of what each party stands for, there are real differences, especially between more conservative members of the LDP and Komeito.

Well, there are general areas of differences. For example, Komeito leaders support the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty because as a qualified pacifist movement, Soka Gakkai sees the relationship with the United States as a stabilizing factor. The LDP will agree with that.

Where it’s different, of course, is the LDP wants to have the whole idea of collective defense. So if the United States were attacked Japan would have the right to go help the United States. The LDP therefore wants to revise Article Nine to allow collective defense. Komeito is adamantly opposed. Komeito wants to re-write Article Nine to allow Japanese forces to go abroad only on U.N.-sponsored peace missions. Period. They want to re-write to reinforce the pacifist idea. Whereas the LDP wants to revise it toward collective defense. So that’s a huge area of difference.

RCA: That issue alone might be a coalition breaker, you seem to be suggesting.

DM: Right. And the LDP is smart enough to back away from that. Because without Komeito there they lose crucial support in the Diet.  Look at the last Upper House election. Without Komeito votes, they’ve become a very real minority.

And there’s a lot of cooperation in election districts. In some areas where Komeito can’t win but has a lot of voters, they won’t run a candidate. And, of course, the LDP will collect it. And the LDP has been pretty good about getting its people voting for Komeito candidates in a few other districts. So, it’s a marriage of convenience, right down the line. They like each other. They’ve worked together for eight years now. But it’s not a love affair.

Economic Policy Considerations

RCA: How about economic policies? You mentioned one social welfare policy, which was maternity leave, and conditions of maternity. How about other economic policies?

DM: One of the big issues this past spring was the special tax on gasoline. The time ran out on it. Komeito supported bringing back the tax because Japan is very much in debt. Compared to the United States, per-capita, the government is much deeper in debt and they need the revenue for their programs. So that’s one issue where they worked together. Because government costs money. And, of course, the Democratic Party was opposed to it, trying to get votes from people by saying, “We lowered the taxes.” But being realists, Komeito said “you can’t do that.”

The whole idea of global warming is very, very important for Soka Gakkai. And Komeito was very critical of the United States – especially the Bush Administration – for not supporting the Kyoto Accords. And was critical of the LDP for not being more vociferous about it.

Komeito Becoming More Mainstream

RCA: How is the relationship of Komeito over the last few years with Japan’s national bureaucracies developing? Like the Ministry of Finance, METI, Gaimusho … This kind of thing. Any thoughts on that?

DM: I know that they’ve only claimed one or two cabinet posts. But a lot of Komeito people have been vice ministers, and things like that. And they worked very well. The caliber of Komeito members of the Diet has increased dramatically over the years to the extent that today they’re very well educated. There was a time forty years ago when the average Komeito member of the Diet was a high school graduate. Today, they’ve come up the system. And most of the Diet members are graduates of Waseda, Todai, and the like-- very well educated, very well trained, and very capable people. And many have functioned very within the bureaucracy, and within the cabinet, and sub-cabinet, and places like that.

RCA: I can remember that as late as the 1980s that the career bureaucrats in Finance, the Foreign Ministry, and others, were very dismissive of Komeito Diet members.

DM: Yes. But not anymore. I’ve done a survey of Komeito members and their college backgrounds. They’re elite down the line. Very well educated and well trained. And some of them actually have served as  bureaucrats…. A good number of Komeito members of the Diet come from the bureaucracy.

Komeito and Soka Gakkai are becoming very mainstream now which is a huge change. One of the reasons Soka Gakkai and Komeito did the coalition was to win the sense of public trust and the sense they’re not the extreme element any more. And that’s worked very well for them.

RCA: They’re no longer kooks.

DM: In the eyes of most people, No, not at all. They’re still unpopular. But they’re not viewed as crazies anymore.

RCA: That puts it well.

Some Suggested Readings

Let me ask two more questions of you. I promised this wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes. And, of course, it has. But nobody, including me, is going to read all that you have written over the past 30 or 35 years about this subject. But, if you were to tell a student, or a government official, or whoever, to read a particular thing that you have written, or two or three, what would suggest?

DM: In 1994 I did a book called The Soka Gakkai Revolution. [http://tinyurl.com/5eb5ml] Which, actually Soka Gakkai hates, because it’s rather critical of Soka Gakkai. It looks at their ideology, and the ways they’ve been trying to change society. And also looks at their international movement. So, I think that 1994 book is my best. Even though. Soka Gakkai hates it.

RCA: Anything else? Especially something more recent?

DM: The 2007 issue of the Southeast Review of Asian Studies has an article called, “Religion, Politics, and Constitutional Reform in Japan: How the Soka Gakkai and Komeito have Thwarted Conservative Efforts to Revise the 1947 Constitution.” It’s on line at [http://www.uky.edu/Centers/Asia/SECAAS/Seras/2007/10_Metraux_2007.pdf]

RCA: Good. It’s on line. So we can link to it in the transcript.

Soka Gakkai as a Social and Socio-Political Movement, As Well as Religious Movement

What that I haven’t had the sense to ask you do you think we should add to this for the listeners and readers of the Podcast on this particular subject?

DM: I think looking at Soka Gakkai not only as a religious movement, but also as a social and socio-political movement is very, very important. And I wish that more people would look at the connection between the Buddhist ideas of Soka Gakkai. Which, I think, are quite sincere. And their attempts to reform Japanese society through their version of Nichiren Buddhism. There’s a lot more work that needs to be done there.

And the Soka Gakkai of the 1960s that I began studying is not the Soka Gakkai of the 21st century. Their leader, Ikeda Daisaku, is now 81 years. Or soon will be. And when he goes, there will be tremendous change. In fact, one of the reasons that Komeito joined the coalition was that during the 1990s, Soka Gakkai was being heavily criticized day by day by the LDP. One way to stop this criticism – to shut them up – was to join the coalition.

There’s going to be a tremendous time of transition after Ikeda dies. By joining the LDP it will give Soka Gakkai time to find a new leader. They don’t have a new leader now. And there’s no obvious leader coming up. They’re going to have to go for five or ten years looking for a new generation of senior leaders. It will be a time of transition. And Soka Gakkai needs the time to redefine itself.

Soka Gakkai growth in Japan has moderated. Even Soka Gakkai leaders say they aren’t growing, just replacing their own members. The real growth, of course, is abroad. They have between two and three million members abroad. And it’s really growing in places like Korea, Taiwan, and even in the United States. Even in Australia. It’s becoming quite large. It’s becoming a more global movement as opposed to just a Japanese movement.

RCA: That’s another thing we should watch, I guess.

DM: Oh yes. It’s amazing to watch Soka Gakkai grow in places like Malaysia, Singapore or even Australia.  In Southeast Asia a great many members are ethnic Chinese. Very few Japanese members down there. They’re very popular among the Chinese young yuppies of Southeast Asia. And they appeal to educated wealthy Chinese down there. Because they talk a lot about self-empowerment which is very appealing to young ethnic Chinese.

RCA: I have imposed upon you far longer than is fair. Especially given the kindness you’ve shown me over the years. Professor Metraux, I want to thank you again for joining us and helping us to understand this important aspect of domestic politics in Japan. 

DM: Thank you very much, Bob, and I wish you well.

Concluding Comments

Well, there you have it. We’re a bit over time again this week. But I’m sure you all will agree it was time well spent. Professor Metraux has forgotten more about Komeito and the political significance of Soka Gakkai than most of us will ever learn. He’s published hundreds of pages on the subject. And knows a lot more than he’s published! You can learn more about him and his interesting background at his personal website. I’ll try to put a link to it in transcript. So, go have a look. Thanks again, Daniel, for your help.

That will have to do it for this week. As always, continue to send your comments and suggestions to me at RobertCAngel@gmail.com. I read them all with interest. So …

Goodbye all. Until next week.