November 14, 2008; Volume 04, Number 31

of the

Japan Considered Podcast

[Listen to the audio file by clicking here]

Clink Links Below for Today's Topics

This Week’s Topics
Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Toshio Tamogami, Testifies Before Diet
General Tamogami's Diet Appearance
So What?
More on Japan's Political Reform, or “Seiji Kaikaku.”
The Meaning of “Political Corruption” in Traditional Japanese Politics
Change in Public Perceptions of Japan's National Bureaucracies
Reforming the Foxes, Or “Seiji Kaikaku”
Concluding Comments

Good Morning! From Iron Station. In the beautiful Central Piedmont Region of North Carolina. Our Neighbor to the North. Today is Friday, November 14th, 2008. And you are listening to Volume 04, Number 31, of the Japan Considered Podcast.


Thanks for dropping in again. For this session, produced from Japan Considered’s Mobile Studio. Parked today in the suburbs of Metropolitan Iron Station, North Carolina. A beautiful spot. Made more beautiful now by the trees in their fall colors. I’ll try to remember to include a photo in the podcast transcript.

I’m Robert Angel. Creator and maintainer of the Japan Considered Project. And creator and host of this podcast. Each week at this time, or most weeks, anyway, we consider events in the news from Japan. Events that hopefully will help us to better understand Japan’s domestic politics, Japan’s formulation of foreign policies, and conduct of foreign relations. Not a comprehensive news program, in other words. Nothing all that grand. Just another perspective – hopefully a useful perspective – on selected topics of interest. Intended to help us better understand this increasingly important American ally.

This week again we have a full-to-overflowing plate. Though I promise not to keep you as long as I did last time. Lots of e-mails arrived about the length of that program. Well justified. Most urging me to try to stick to the established twenty-to-twenty-five minute length. Very good advice. And I’ll try. This project has been a learning process. From its beginnings in early 2005. With the podcasts the most demanding part. So, bear with me, and before too many more decades, I'll have it running like clockworks! Or that's the hope, anyway.

This Week’s Topics

This week we'll continue consideration of the Tamogami Essay Incident. Thanks to all of you who wrote in about last week’s discussion of that difficult topic. Agree or disagree, your comments all were useful. And thought-provoking. General Tamogami testified before the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. So we have some more information about what happened. And about the reaction within Japan to publication of his essay.

Following the Tamogami Essay Incident, I'll try to complete our consideration of political reform, or “seiji kaikaku.” We began that topic a couple of programs ago. And there are a few more things that need to be said before we leave it, I think.

And, if time permits, I'll briefly mention a few points on Japan's reaction so far to Senator Barak Obama's victory in the recent U.S. presidential election. A topic of considerable significance. At least for the near-term future of U.S.-Japan relations. Though it may be a little early to begin considering that topic yet.

Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Toshio Tamogami, Testifies Before Diet

Well, as most everyone anticipated since its eruption late last month, the Tamogami Essay Incident continues to attract public attention in Japan. And to a lesser extent, even abroad. Individuals and organizations with diverse, often conflicting, objectives continue to provide Japan's communications media with interpretations and opinions. Material of the sort that makes excellent political news articles. Giving us plenty to consider again this week.

So let's begin with a quick review of what's actually happened so far. And then, to the extent time permits, consider the diverse opinions and interpretations that have been reported prominently in Japan's political press. Including the objectives of those offering opinions and interpretations.

As we noted last week, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Toshio Tamogami, penned an essay on the history of Japan's international relations. Then submitted it, under his own name and Defense Ministry title, to a public essay competition. A competition sponsored by a long-time personal acquaintance, Toshio Motoya. Head of the APA condo and hotel development company.

Tamogami in his essay presented an interpretation of Japan's participation in the Great Pacific War, or World War Two, that ran directly counter to an important principle of Japan's foreign relations. He argued that Japan wasn't really an “aggressor nation.” But was the victim of circumstances that forced Japan to behave as it did. Tamogami further argued that Japan's self defense forces have been damaged by Japan being forced to accept conventional interpretation of its wartime role as aggressor. Requiring him to present the correct version of Japan's involvement on the Asian continent and in World War Two.

General Tamogami submitted his essay to the contest knowing full well it would be published, should it win. Whether or not he expected to win, we have no way of knowing. Immediately after publication of the essay, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada removed Tamogami from his Air Self Defense Forces chief of staff position and forced him to retire from the Air Force. With one less star. With the approval, it was said, or even under the direct orders, of Prime Minister Taro Aso.

But not long after news of Tamogami's essay and its content reached the front pages of Japan's newspapers, we learned that Tamogami was not the only ASDF officer to submit an essay to the contest. Indeed, some 95 of the 235 essays the APA Group received were written by currently serving ASDF personnel!

Given the theme of the contest, that too was shocking news! The rules of the contest required participants to explain the “true” history of Japan's foreign relations. Implying, as I mentioned last week, that current interpretations were false. Or at least, inaccurate. This inevitably included the current interpretation of Japan's history of foreign relations accepted by Japan's national government. The interpretation upon which Japan's official positions on issues critical to the conduct of foreign relations was based! Something any responsible government official sworn to uphold the policies of the government that employed him or her should recognize as inappropriate.

So, how in the world did so many Air Self Defense officers ended up contributing essays to this contest? Well, it seems General Tamogami himself introduced the “opportunity” to submit the essays to the ASDF office responsible for continuing education. They, in turn, notified all ASDF installations nationwide.

General Tamogami insists that he only notified the education office about the contest. But didn't order anyone else to submit an essay. Well. That's pretty thin! Anyone who's served in a large bureaucracy – even a civilian bureaucracy – knows how the Bureaucratic Strivers would behave under such conditions. And the effect in a military organization would be even more intense. So, how such a thing could happen without senior officials, military or civilian, exercising adult supervision certainly deserves closer examination. Japan's public deserves a better explanation. No question about that.

General Tamogami's Diet Appearance

The day after General Tamogami's essay appeared on the APA Group website, Democratic Party of Japan members threatened to summon Tamogami to testify in the Upper House's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Tamogami was said to welcome the opportunity! He was reported to be eager to testify in open Diet session. Hmmm.

The Ruling Coalition parties, naturally, were opposed to Tamogami's appearance in the Diet. First, undoubtedly, because they hoped to avoid further public discussion of this embarrassing incident. And second, because they feared Tamogami would be able to use his appearance to make further arguments for his position. Even some DPJ members were said to be reluctant to allow this to happen.

But on November 5th the DPJ officially decided to demand Tamogami's presence as a witness at the Committee. And added that they would delay the vote on amending the new Anti-terrorism Law should the LDP refuse to join the Committee majority in that decision. A law the LDP considers essential to pass. So, the LDP agreed.

Well, this Tuesday, the 11th, the DPJ – and, apparently, Tamogami himself – got their wish. General Tamogami, with television lights blazing, appeared for nearly three hours as an unsworn witness before the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Committee Chairman Toshimi Kitazawa did an excellent job of warning Tamogami at the beginning of the Hearing not to express his personal opinions. And even cut the general off in mid-sentence several times when Tamogami tried to editorialize.

However, Tamogami, as he expected, still was able to get his main points across during the testimony. And even more specifically, during press conferences he held after his testimony. Tamogami categorically rejected the notion that he had done anything wrong by publishing the essay. He complained again of government violation of his freedom of speech. He even denied responsibility for notifying Ministry of Defense officials before publishing his essay. Since it resulted from his personal study of history. Again, pretty thin stuff. Hardly the sort of thing that would change public opinions about this sensitive issue.

So What?

Well, what's the significance of all this? Does the Tamogami essay incident represent something close to a coup against the Japanese government? As one mildly hysterical commentator has charged? Does it illustrate a failure of civilian control over Japan's post-World War Two uniformed services? Or does it reflect a “militaristic” proclivity within the whole Japanese population? A proclivity that decades of effort following World War Two has failed to eradicate?

All of these charges, and more, have been made in Japan's communications media. Over and over and over again. In Op Ed pieces. In editorials. And even in regular news articles. They've even been picked up in official and private commentary by some of Japan's Asian neighbors. Though not nearly at the level of intensity it's been discussed in Japan.

Or, as some Ruling Coalition supporters have argued, is this whole business just a tempest in a teapot? An unfortunate incident that's already been handled properly within the Ministry of Defense. That shouldn't have caused concern beyond that?

Of course, it's neither of these extremes. The notion that an incumbent Air Self Defense Forces Chief of Staff could get away with making such outrageous statements for such a long time illustrates a serious failure in discipline within Japan's  military chain of command. And it doesn't take much thought to recognize that failures in their chains of command are intolerable in those sectors of society allowed to bear arms. And exercise coercive force. Internationally or domestically. Military or police!

It further illustrates a failure of Japan's Ministry of Defense to properly supervise its in-house military education. The curricula of its various schools, colleges, and training programs. An issue of  longer-term significance. That everyone in Japan who reads history should recognize as important!

But having said all that. It's also true this particular incident was handled in a way that's illustrated beyond doubt the effectiveness of civilian control of Japan's military! The Minister of Defense fired his popular Air Force chief of staff. Demoted him. And forced him to retire. Period! A more rigorous test of civilian control in peacetime would be hard to devise. The notion this incident represents a failure of civilian control simply lacks credibility.

Therefore, I'm forced to suspect that those who continue to charge the Tamogami Essay Incident illustrates a failure of civilian control, do so with other motives entirely. Either to prolong the political discomfort for the incumbent Aso cabinet. Or as yet another expression of their long-held opposition to, and suspicion of, military forces in any form. Especially Japanese military force. Which is unfortunate. Since the opportunistic behavior of these critics risks misleading poorly informed observers in other countries about actual conditions in Japan.

So, this is an issue we'll hear about for some time to come. Both for good reasons and for bad. I'll try to keep you posted on future developments. Especially on efforts to more effectively oversee Japan's extensive military training programs. Including the content of their curricula.

More on Japan's Political Reform, or “Seiji Kaikaku.”

On the program before last, for October 31, 2008, I presented the first installment of  a discussion of political reform in Japan. Or “seiji kaikaku.” We didn't have time to finish it then. And other issues crowded it out of the schedule of last week's program. So let's continue that discussion now, and see if we can finish up before the Old Clock on the Screen begins blinking its red warning.

Last time we began with understanding that the “reform” we're talking about here is overall “political reform.” Not policy area-specific reforms. And described its main objective as strengthening the influence of Japan's elected officials over the national bureaucracies and bureaucrats they are charged with supervising. Making them assume their responsibilities as defined under Japan's “We the People,” post-World War Two, constitution, in other words.

We then went on to describe how Japan's appointed bureaucrats have for decades resisted obedience to those politicians. Resisted what they described as “political interference” in their work. How Japan's elected politicians have been willing to go along with this arrangement. And the importance of the old multi-member, single-vote, medium-sized Lower House electoral system in perpetuating this arrangement.

One important effect of all this was widespread political corruption. And more important, widespread public recognition of that political corruption. And how public recognition of that political corruption weakened the credibility – even legitimacy – of Japan's elected representatives. Which further weakened their ability to assume their constitutionally defined responsibilities. Even when they cared to do so. Leaving Japan's appointed career bureaucrats with reputations as the honest, reliable, and capable defenders of Japan's national interests.

The Meaning of “Political Corruption” in Traditional Japanese Politics

Responsible interpretation of all this requires us to understand what we mean by “political corruption” here. Many observers of Japanese politics would bridle at use of the term to describe how traditional Japanese politics worked. They would explain that the flow of funds between special interests and elected politicians in Japan didn't represent anything as odious as “corruption.” At least as the term is used by Western, or American political commentators. Even when the flow of funds from special interests to politicians was many times larger than the level legally allowed. Even when the special interests supplying those funds obviously benefited directly from the actions of the politicians they funded! Even when elaborate efforts were made to conceal the payments made.

Indeed, I myself, in decades past, gave many lectures explaining why such “corruption” in traditional Japanese politics wasn't really corruption, as we understood it in the United States. How, rather, it was the inevitable and unavoidable result of “the way things worked” in Japanese politics. How the elected members of Japan’s Diet I knew personally weren’t “crooks.” How it was part of Japan's uniqueness. An unfortunate state of affairs forced on Japan's elected representatives that nobody approved. But that most everyone understood and tolerated.

Well, all of that was true. As far as it went. Many, if not most, of Japan's Diet members under the traditional system were forced to choose between breaking the unrealistically strict election campaign finance laws, on the one hand. Or electoral defeat, on the other. Most everyone realized that maintenance of electoral support groups under the traditional system required much more money than the law allowed. And therefore, even Japan's crack journalists were willing to “look the other way,” so to speak. When they learned of illegal transfers of funds to the politicians they covered. A willingness reinforced by the discipline of Japan's “press club system.” Lots of material is available on that subject. Even in English. But we may still have to return to it on later programs. Even Japan's prosecutors appear to have been constrained in their ability to pursue the information they received about thinly disguised illegal political payments.

Which meant that many, if not most, of Japan's elected politicians at the national level under the traditional system were vulnerable to threats of public disclosure of their illegal funding arrangements at any time. By disgruntled political adversaries, by over-zealous journalists – especially foreign journalists – or by government officials.

That was especially true for the most senior members of the LDP. Those who had been in the game for a long time. Who were senior members, or leaders, of LDP factions and special-interest “zoku.” Those who'd served long enough to qualify for appointment to cabinet positions. Where they were constitutionally responsible for oversight of Japan's national bureaucracies. Best to go along quietly with “the system,” and avoid trouble. Reaping the benefits of cooperation with the bureaucracy. Rather than challenge the decisions of the bureaucrats and bureaucracies one was charged with supervising! Let alone interfere directly with personnel decisions!

Who knew what might happen? What information might leak out to the notorious “weekly magazines.” Most of which were outside what we might call the “circle of understanding” that facilitated the traditional system. Whose reporters were excluded from the “press clubs.” And whose editors were sometimes willing to accept anonymous investigative articles of journalists employed by the major media companies. Articles those journalists' own editors wouldn't publish.

Change in Public Perceptions of Japan's National Bureaucracies

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, though, Japan's domestic political environment had changed. We considered this on the program before last. Changes that affected the attentive public's expectations of their elected representatives.

I believe Japan's major national bureaucracies also changed in important ways. Gradually shifting their energies from pursuit of near-universally accepted national goals to defense of their individual bureaucratic interests. This too is a complex topic we'll have to tackle on some later program. But the inevitable trend toward greater bureaucratic sectionalism, or “nawabari,” in Japanese, weakened the credibility, or legitimacy of Japan's important national bureaucracies as well. Just as intensified careerism had a similar effect at the individual level.

These shouldn't be seen as sudden, dramatic changes. Japan's public didn't awaken one morning to the realization their national bureaucracies were more self-interested than they’d thought! They were gradual changes. Incremental. Parallel to Japan's economic recovery and growing confidence. With passage of post-World War Two years and decades. But they did gradually erode the credibility of Japan's national bureaucracies. Gradually erode the unquestioned legitimacy of Japan's major national bureaucracies in the eyes of Japan's attentive public. As the ultimate defenders of Japan's national interests. Meaning, of course, that even the national bureaucracies, and their senior “career” bureaucrats, required effective supervision.

One indication of this is the vivid memory of revising lecture notes for my Japanese domestic politics classes over the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Removing assurances that “corruption” might be a problem in the elected political sector. But that it was virtually unknown among Japan's senior career bureaucrats. Adding examples of failures, along with the well-known successes, of the economic planning efforts of Japan's national bureaucracies. Recognizing the upward shift in the socio-economic backgrounds of Tokyo University Law Faculty graduates. And of the successive classes of entering career bureaucrats in the major ministries. Recognizing the importance of personalistic factions within the major national bureaucracies, as well as within the major political parties. Bureaucratic factions that were more interested in their members' personal promotions and assignments than in pursuit of particular policies. Not unlike their political party counterparts! And a number of other indications that Japan's celebrated national bureaucracies, and the bureaucrats who ran them, also were inclined to pursue their own interests, rather than “national” interests, if not adequately supervised.

Add to this, achievement of the near-universal national goal we discussed program before last: economic recovery, and global-class economic prosperity. Once that had been achieved – and publicly recognized – consensus over national goals eroded. Policy formulation became a more contentious process. Simply put, most everyone can agree on efforts to expand the size of a pie. But unanimous agreement disintegrates once it comes time to measure out the slices cut from that expanded pie!

So. Who should supervise the bureaucracies and the bureaucrats? Why, their political superiors, of course. As defined under Japan’s “We The People” Constitution. But those politicians under the traditional system were hardly up to the task. Talk about putting foxes in charge of hen-houses!

Which led naturally to efforts to turn political foxes into more reliable hen-house supervisors. “Seiji Kaikaku,” in other words!

Reforming the Foxes, Or “Seiji Kaikaku”

The first order of business for Japan's political reformers, then was to eliminate, or at least reduce, political corruption. To reduce the flow of thinly disguised illegal funding to Japan's elected representatives. And to promptly and reliably punish violations thereafter. No easy task!

For decades – indeed, since the beginning of representative democracy – Japan's public had been treated to revelation after revelation of political corruption. Each revelation followed a predictable pattern. Termination of the political careers of one or more politicians. Further tightening of Japan's already unrealistic political campaign finance laws and regulations. And, at times, even changes in the methods of disguising transfers of illegal funding. Though such funding continued to flow from special interests to politicians. And the basic problem persisted. And everyone who cared to look, knew it continued.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japan's political reformers were demanding more fundamental changes. Changes that would, in fact, reduce corruption. Changes that would raise the credibility and legitimacy of elected representatives. Changes that would force aspiring representatives to fight their campaign battles on the basis of policy proposals, rather than traditional personalistic “friends-and-neighbors” campaigning.

As we discussed last time, the most ambitious reform effort was abolition of the traditional multi-member, single-vote Lower House election system. And replacement with a single-member system. Passage of this dramatic reform inevitably required important compromise. Most significant was addition of proportional representation seats. Added to allow Japan's smaller parties to survive after the reform. Not ideal, in the eyes of the reformers. But a step forward.

The second most ambitious reform was implementation of a system of public financing for election campaigns. We discussed this too in some detail on the program before last. Together with its significance for the timing of the next general election. The important point for us here, though, is the reformers’ primary objective. They hoped to make political parties and the candidates they endorsed less dependent upon the Diet’s traditional financial brokers. To eventually make Japan’s parliamentary elections contests over policies and ideas. Rather than contests determined by the amount of money raised.

These changes, the reformers hoped, would lead to fundamental changes in the nature of Japan’s electoral competition. And, eventually, changes in the sorts of political candidates selected. Leveling the playing field, to coin a phrase, for candidates who appealed to the electorate on the basis of their policy positions. Rather than on their promise to guarantee the district it’s fair share of Tokyo’s trickle-down largess. And the dubious benefits of Koenkai membership. Candidates who, if successful, would be held accountable for implementation of their policy proposals, or “manifestos.” As they are called in Japanese.  

Finally, the reformers of the late eighties and early nineties, hoped to create a political environment within which prosecutors would feel free to pursue violations of political campaign finance laws and regulations. Further encouraging Japan’s politicians and aspiring politicians to avoid under-the-table funds. And to compete on the basis of their positions on important policies rather than the size of their campaign war chests. Communicating with their constituents and potential voters through the media rather than through the membership lists of their enormously expensive Koenkai.

All of which was designed to create political representatives able and willing to perform their constitutionally defined responsibilities for policy formulation. And oversight of the bureaucracy’s implementation of the policies so formulated. Hen house supervisors who were genuinely accountable to their constituents.

Concluding Comments

There’s still much more we need to consider about this “Seiji Kaikaku,” or political reform. We’ve barely scratched the surface. But it will just have to wait. The old clock on the screen has been blinking red for a while now. So we have to wrap this week’s program up. Next week, if time permits, I’ll add some concluding comments on the Reformists that have made it into the Diet under the new system. And contrast them with their Traditionalist colleagues. As well as consider Japan’s response to the election of Senator Obama as the next U.S. president. Oh, and next week marks the third anniversary of this podcast, by the way. For now, though,

Goodbye all. Until next week.