Should Japan Give Permanent Residents Suffrage?

From today’s Japan Times, an update on an ongoing debate about giving Permanent Resident Status holders the right to vote in elections:

A former member of the Lower House from the Democratic Party of Japan, Ueda said he doesn’t understand why third-, fourth- or even fifth-generation foreign residents don’t just seek Japanese nationality. He was apparently referring to Korean residents.

Ueda said national security can be the focal point of a local election, citing this Sunday’s mayoral race in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, where the long-delayed relocation of a U.S. military base is the crux of the campaign.

Residents of Korean descent comprise most of the permanent foreign residents in Japan. The government grants special permanent resident status to people from the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan who have lived in the country since the time of Japan’s colonial rule over those areas, and to their descendants.

Opinion is split among the foreign community, as best represented by an earlier post by Adamu over at Mutantfrog Travelogue:

In addition to expected support from zainichi Korean groups, we have some uncharacteristically half-baked support from Debito, the well-known human rights agitator: “Debito.org is in support, given how difficult it can be to get PR in Japan, not to mention how arbitrary the naturalization procedures are.” But just because it’s tough to get the status, that doesn’t mean one should get the right to vote and be elected. I am not accusing foreigners in Japan of being spies or degenerates, but a basic tenet of a country and the Japanese constitution is that it is to be governed by its citizens. That requirement helps assure those who will be involved in politics are committed citizens of the country. Permanent residents are already protected under the law and do not need to renew their visa to stay in the country. I think if they want more than that they should be ready to give up their original passport and become citizens.

He concludes:

There are more important issues in my opinion (allowing dual citizenship, establishing an immigration policy) that should be given more priority.

Putting aside giving suffrage to Special Permanent Residents, i.e. zainichi Koreans, what would it mean to give Permanent Residents the right to vote?

I’m not a Permanent Resident, at least not yet. I have to wait at least another 3 years, and probably longer, until I can even apply for it. However, assuming that I would still be living in Japan, I would probably also be the parent of a transnational child. As a parent, I would be concerned with providing my child and family with the best that they can get, and while Keiko could do that on my behalf, it doesn’t seem too unfair to ask that I might have a say too: as a resident of my local community, a tax payer, and a contributor to the pensions of the rapidly ageing society (a pension I would never receive myself). What I would like for my future-self is the ability to vote in city-wide elections, such as for the mayor so I too can attempt to improve my family’s lot in my local area.

We can put aside the issue of national elections, they might affect me, but those are the province of citizens given that they can affect constitutional and national security issues. While Ueda might have a point in saying that national security and local elections can intersect, I think this is unlikely even in Okinawa. It’s the power of the national government that will bring about change.

You might be asking why I don’t consider naturalising, i.e. becoming a Japanese citizen. As a British citizen with family in Britain, it’s important for me to be able to visit or move back to live in the UK should something terrible happen. If I became a Japanese citizen I would have to give up my British nationality (Japan does not allow dual-citizenship) and that would mean travelling on a visa (and if you’ve seen the current visa system in Britain, you’d realise that it would be a fate worse than death).

As for voting back home, I am only really concerned with the General Election, i.e. elections to change the national government who make foreign and nationwide domestic policy, the only areas of British policy that really affect me these days. I have no interest in voting in local elections back home. I don’t live there and I have no stake in what happens.

I understand the point that Adamu made in the quote above. Why take suffrage for permanent residents when we should be calling for immigration reform? After all, it’s not like the Permanent Residents themselves are clamouring for this right. The problem is that PR suffrage is being offered now, and who knows when or even if the Diet will contemplate dual-nationality? I hope that Japan becomes immigrant-friends as the country increasingly relies on foreign labour, but I’m not holding my breath. If the DPJ push through voting rights for zainichi Koreans and other Special Permanent Residents: excellent. If they tag on some benefits for PRs, I’d use them. After that, if they still don’t contemplate immigration reform, then what have we lost?

Top 10 Posts of 2009

It’s the time of year when our minds turn to the passage of time: as the clock counts down to the end of the first decade of the second millennium, I have become increasingly mindful of all that happened this year. Here are the most popular posts of the year, as based on page-views:

10. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (13th February 2009)

The remastering of Ghost in the Shell left me a with a bad taste in my mouth. With its drab colours, the removal of its iconic features and a particularly bad dose of CGI, it all came across as a waste of time and money. I hope 2009 is the last time we’ll see such terrible CG, but I doubt we’ll be so lucky!

9. Milo and Project Natal – The Future of Gaming? (5th June 2009)

Microsoft showed off its new toy at the the video game exhibition, E3. The project, known as Natal, allows users to interact naturally with the software by way of a camera, scanner and microphone. Peter Molyneux of Lionheart showed us a video of the future of character interaction as a woman chatted with a boy in a game. Where this is going and when we can see it is still unclear, but I really can’t wait to get my hands on this piece of kit.

8. How Did Ichihashi Evade Capture for 2 Years? (15th November 2009)

After his arrest in Osaka, I raised a number of questions as to Tatsuya Ichihashi’s life on the run. He has now  been charged with the murder of Lindsey Ann Hawker, and hopefully the trial will bring to light the issues I highlighted. In the meantime, the news continues to pour in.

7. Losing Your Phone in Japan (2nd October 2009)

After dropping my Nokia mobile phone somewhere between work and home, I signed up with Softbank for my iPhone and gave some tips for any others who want to follow in my footsteps. Yes, compared to back home it’s a bit pricey and they contract is pretty long, but I love my iPhone: it’s revolutionised the way I spend my time, although perhaps not for the better.

6. Okuribito (22nd February 2009)

Yojiro Takita’s Okuribito was the best film I saw in 2009 (it originally came out in 2008). The beautiful cinematography, tearjerking story and excellent acting really sold it for me. I haven’t seen any other film draw so many tears since Titanic was released.

5. Geotagging Your DSLR Photos Using an iPhone (24th September 2009)

After getting my iPhone, I spent a lot of time trying to work out how to geo-tag photographs. Why? I think it’s nice to know exactly where you took your photos for reference’s sake. Maybe you have taken a photo that might have been excellent in a different season or time of day, geo-tagging allows you to find that place. The only problem is that the iPhone’s GPS resolution (on the move) is rather weak at times – plus the connection cuts when your phone idles. Still, it’s not a terrible way to get it done.

4. iPhone App Review: Championship Manager Express 2010 (30th November 2009)

Championship Manager stole away huge portions of my life. I’ve gone cold turkey now and it’s working out, but its power never ceases to amaze me. The iPhone version is poorly organised and unrealistic, but is still like crack to anyone who loves management sims. This was my first iPhone app review, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process. Maybe I’ll do a few more in the future.

3. Bathing in Japan (14th May 2009)

Bathing is a way of life. How you conduct yourself in a bathhouse or hot spring will reflect on you: do it wrong and you’ll make a lot of enemies fast. As a public service, I discussed the various kinds of baths and the general protocol when enjoying them. Oh, but keep away if you’re inked up…

2. How I Got My Spouse Visa… (26th April 2009)

Unless you’ve lived abroad, you probably cannot imagine how time-consuming and laborious visa applications are. Worse still, one tiny mistake can send you right back to the start. After an hour long wait in the immigration office, I wrote up a guide to help others in my situation, along with supporting documentation. I hope that it makes it easier for anyone else in my shoes.

1. Google Earth vs the Burakumin (5th May 2009)

2008 and 2009 were tough years for Google in Japan. People were up in arms over their roaming streetview cameras, and the internet giant put all its energy into breaking the Yahoo-dependent market. However, Google Earth’s listing of old city maps which made it easy to determine the location of former undercaste enclaves was perhaps Google’s most controversial, if unheard of, incident. Google removed all references to the Burakumin, but I was left wondering whether it was a good thing to censor rather than promote such history.
Thank you to everyone who linked to me in the past year, and thank you to everyone who visited and read my blog. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you all.

Aftermath of the Japanese 2009 General Election

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama

This week, Yukio Hatoyama became Japan’s Prime Minister. The government has changed hands, as was widely predicted, in a landslide. The Democratic Party, Minshuto, received 308 votes to the Liberal Democratic Party’s, Jiminto’s, 119. On the day of the election, I wrote that the election was to be a landmark For democracy in Japan, and sure enough with Jiminto out of power, the election was historic. However, the reasons for Jiminto’s catastrophic defeat demonstrate mundane causes.

Working in a job that allows me to probe other people’s lives for the sake of their studies, I have been able to gauge how and why my students votes. That insight gave me only one solid reason for Jiminto’s defeat: dissatisfaction.

Many of my students voted Minshuto, a few voted Jiminto, but a noticeable number voted for the Communist Party, Kyosanto, or the independent Minnanoto, ‘Your Party’. These are representatives of the urban middle classes, and no one was ‘happy’ with Minshuto’s victory. Only a handful would admit to being ‘satisfied’.

Many voted not for a party, but instead simply voted against Jiminto. After governments derailed by scandals, it is no surprise that many were dissatisfied with their leadership, and for many people punishing this long-ruling party was a top priority. Most students complained that Minshuto did not offer a viable alternative, hence their rather pessimistic unease over the results: they lacked concrete details over the changes they seek, and seemed to be offering unbalanced accounts of how they would supply all the cash handouts they have planned. Indeed, even with the recent important announcement regarding curbing climate change, Hatoyama’s nascent cabinet have few concrete details. Theirs was a hollow victory, but Jiminto’s defeat was total.

As a gauge of how the people voted, it is interesting to look at how some of Jiminto’s recent cabinet ministers fared, particularly those embroiled in scandals. On election night, a few names stood out for me.

The Gaffe-Makers

  1. Fumio Kyuma
  2. Hakuo Yanagisawa
  3. Bunmei Ibuki
  4. Shoichi Nakagawa
The Potential Leaders

  1. Kaoru Yosano
  2. Yuriko Koike
  3. Seiko Noda
Komeito’s Leadership

Postscript: Jiminto’s Winners


The Gaffe-Makers

Since Jun’ichiro Koizumi‘s exit from the Kantei, Japanese politics has become, more so than ever, a catalogue of people who should think before they speak. Insulting their constituents, whole swathes of the population, or the international community, they stand out for seeming amateurish and incompetent.

Jiminto Candidate Minshuto Candidate
Name Number of Votes Number of Votes Name
Fumio Kyuma 106,206 120,672 Eriko Fukuda
Hakuo Yanagisawa 109,120 154,035 Nobuhiro Koyama
Bunmei Ibuki 81,913 105,818 Tomoyuki Taira
Shoichi Nakagawa 89,818 118,655 Tomohiro Ishikawa

Fumio Kyuma

Fumio Kyuma

Fumio Kyuma

Fumio Kyuma, 68, of Nagasaki Prefecture’s 2nd District, was Director-General and Minister of Defence under Shinzo Abe. He was outspoken with regards to the US-Japan alliance, the bedrock of Japanese security, and that made him prone to ‘Foot-in-Mouth Disease’, as I discussed back in 2007.

  • “The United States doesn’t understand [the importance of] spadework.”
  • “I think President Bush launched the war in the belief there were nuclear weapons, but I think that decision was wrong.”
  • “I now have come to accept in my mind that in order to end the war, it could not be helped that an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and that countless numbers of people suffered great tragedy.”
Eriko Fukuda

Eriko Fukuda

While Kyuma may not have been wrong in saying these things, it showed great insensitivity to the victims of Nagasaki (which in many ways could have been avoided), the Japanese people, and Japan’s ally.

However this was aeons ago in political time, while I have no definite idea as to why Nagasaki voters ousted Kyuma in the 2009 election, I would like to think that it had something to do with an ‘assassin’ sent by Ichiro Ozawa’s (Minshuto’s political mastermind): Eriko Fukuda, 28.

Fukuda was the public face of lawsuits by about 170 people against the government in a major health scandal in 2002 and 2003. When she was 20, she discovered she had contracted Hepatitis C through a blood transfusion as a baby. One of the few to publicise her name during the suit, Fukuda wrote a book and blogged about the victims’ struggle for the truth, and when the Health Ministry admitted in October 2007 that it had had a list of victims but had sat on it, ostensibly to protect the companies involved, she was at the forefront of the public response.

She represents the youth of Minshuto’s ranks, and she is by all means a heroine in her role in publicising the scandal. Hand-picked by Ozawa to stand against Kyuma, after proving that she was about more than just her disease through a series of weekly public meetings, Kyuma didn’t stand a chance. However, the polls bear out a close fight.

[Top]

Hakuo Yanagisawa

Hakuo Yanagisawa

Hakuo Yanagisawa

Nobuhiro Koyama

Nobuhiro Koyama

Next on the list is another gaffe-maker. Hakuo Yanagisawa, 74, of Shizuoka Prefecture’s 3rd District, famously insulted the women of Japan with this comment in 2007:

“The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can do is ask them to do their best per head … although it may not be so appropriate to call them machines.”

He was right about that last part. While I believe he was simply trying to explain a complex issue using the language of economics and production, he nevertheless did so in such an insensitive way that he was forced to resign.

Yanagisawa, in what was described by Tobias Harris of Observing Japan as “the LDP’s most secure seat”, lost to Nobuhiro Koyama, 33, who previously worked for the central bank of agricultural, forestry and fishery cooperatives, Norinchukin. A newcomer and unknown quantity, it is surprising that he secured his victory by 45,000 votes and thus managed to thrash Yanagisawa.

[Top]

Bunmei Ibuki

Bunmei Ibuki

Bunmei Ibuki

The last of the Abe cabinet gaffe-makers to be ousted from his seat, Bunmei Ibuki, 71, served as Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology during the Abe administration, and briefly as Yasuo Fukuda‘s Minister of Finance, and is a previous holder of the prized Secretary-General position within Jiminto. His two most memorable gaffes occurred during his time as Abe’s Education Minister.

Tomoyuki Taira

Tomoyuki Taira

Many inferred that the latter statement’s use of butter as a metaphor for human rights was calculated to highlight their foreign origins. Dairy products did not figure into the Japanese diet prior to Japan’s opening by Commodore Perry. Once, if something was said to ‘reek of butter’, that meant that it had a foreign feel to it, in a derogatory sense.

These statements hint at underlying culturalist values that leech from those studies of Japanese uniqueness – Nihonjinron. This is not particularly strange, many Japanese hold themselves and their country to be unique. In an afternoon class of ladies, I asked what they thought was special about Japan, several mentioned its having four seasons… Such ideas of uniqueness is prevalent not just on the international level, but casting down into prefectural and urban differences too.

While these statements have been long since forgotten, and have very little bearing on the election results, they do highlight the relative lack of media savvy these Jiminto candidates have displayed. In Kyoto, Minshuto recruited minor radio personality, Tomoyuki Taira, 50, a head of a policy think-tank, to face off against Ibuki. He seemed to have done the trick.

[Top]

Shoichi Nakagawa

Shoichi Nakagawa

Shoichi Nakagawa

Tomohiro Ishikawa

Tomohiro Ishikawa

Shoichi Nakagawa, 56, will forever be remembered as an example of politics at their most embarrassing. Nakagawa was a important thinker among Jiminto’s forward-thinking defence-policy nationalists and he held some important positions within the party, including Chairman of the Policy Research Council. He offered true potential for leadership, but squandered it at a G7 meeting in Rome in February 2009. There, whether under the influence of alcohol or just cold medicine, he slurred and napped his way through a press conference before being the worst possible visitor to the Vatican Museums as he tripped alarms and touched exhibits. This incident led him to be immortalised in a mobile phone game.

At the start of his campaign in Hokkaido’s 11th district, he renounced alcohol, but the image of him drifting off in Rome is just too fresh to save him. After inheriting his district from his father, Ichiro Nakagawa, Shoichi Nakagawa would lose it to Tomohiro Ishikawa, 36, a former aide to Ichiro Ozawa and PR representative.

Ishikawa was questioned during the scandal that erupted over Ozawa’s fundraising which resulted in the arrest of his chief secretary earlier in the year. He had run in the 2003 and 2005 elections, but was beaten by Nakagawa albeit narrowly in 2005. He faced having to prove himself against Nakagawa’s proven pork-barrel projects, but in the end, he was clearly successful.

[Top]


The Potential Leaders

Three Jiminto candidates stood out for their potential to rise to the top of the party. They represent some of the best and brightest of the party, and luckily for them, all three have been thrown a lifeline: they will remain in the Diet through the proportional representation system, through which voters vote twice: once for a local candidate and once for a party. However, none have formally entered the race to replace Taro Aso as leader of Jiminto.

Jiminto Candidate Minshuto Candidate
Name Number of Votes Number of Votes Name
Kaoru Yosano 130,030 141,742 Banri Kaieda
Yuriko Koike 96,739 105,512 Takako Ebata
Seiko Noda 99,500 111,987 Masanao Shibahashi

Kaoru Yosano

Kaoru Yosano

Kaoru Yosano

Banri Kaieda

Banri Kaieda

Kaoru Yosano, 71, was Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary for one month and Aso’s second Minister of Finance since February 2009. Following Fukuda’s resignation in 2008, Yosano ran in the leadership contest to become President of Jiminto, but lost to Aso who received a staggering 351 of the 527 votes available.

Yosano is a fiscal conservative who has put his expert knowledge of taxes to good use by arguing for the need to increase consumption tax to recover the government debt and the take the strain of Japan’s ageing society.

He is an avid and gifted Go player, and claims to have taught the game to Ichiro Ozawa, the mastermind of Minshuto’s election strategy and its former leader (although some claim he is still pulling the strings). Running in the political heart of Tokyo, its 1st district, Yosano faced Banri Kaieda, 68, and would put his former Go student to the test.

The two men share a history. Yosano had lost to Kaieda in 2000 and 2003, reclaiming his seat in 2005 during Koizumi’s landslide victory. A survivor of cancer of the pharynx, on the first day of the official campaign, on August 18th, Yosano collapsed at a rally in Shinjuku, which saw him sitting out of a later G7 meeting. Regardless of this, and no doubt wanting to prove himself to be a strong campaigner against the odds, Yosano fought on and became a loud, if not ironic, advocate of a need for Jiminto to survive as a strong opposition party.

Kaieda, for his part, has been the key economic policy-maker within Minshuto despite having no seat in the Lower House. Prior to finding his home in Minshuto, he was a member of Nihon Shinto (New Japan Party) before joining the ultra-local Tokyo Shimin 21 (Tokyo Citizens 21).

They campaigned on similar grounds, but Kaieda had the advantage of a population that was looking to shed Jiminto’s blood.

[Top]

Yuriko Koike

Yuriko Koike

Yuriko Koike

Takako Ebata

Takako Ebata

Yuriko Koike, 57,replaced Fumio Kyuma as Minister of Defence under Abe but remained in the job for only a month before she resigned. She also ran for Jiminto top spot, but came third behind Aso and Yosano.

Koike, originally from Hyogo Prefecture but running in Tokyo’s 10th District, had a successful TV career before entering politics. Somewhat of a free agent, Koike has been a member of several small parties (mostly because they were coalescing into the big parties we seen now, but what is clear is that in 2000 Koike switched from the moderately liberal Jiyuuto (Liberal Party) to the firmly rightist Hoshu Shinto (New Conservative Party). When that party was absorbed by Jiminto, she simply stuck around.

A successful woman who knows how to play up to a feminist audience (coining the term ‘iron ceiling’ in contrast to the ‘glass ceiling’ preventing women from reaching top positions in other countries), she has also addressed environmental issues (she was instrumental in two famous Koizumi campaigns: Cool Biz and Mottainai), as well as a worshipper at the controversial Japanese shrine and a constitutional revisionist. An Arabist by trade, due to the influence of her father who saw potential energy security in good relations with the Arab states, she has something a little different to most Jiminto politicians… so what went wrong?

The Minshuto candidate was also a woman, Takako Ebata. Successful and very well educated, she holds an MBA from MIT, she was an associate professor at the University of Tokyo, considered Japan’s best, and yet she seemed more down-to-earth as ran with the clear support of her family. This is in contrast to the divorced and childless Koike, who seems to epitomise less desirable traits for career women. Couple this with the dissatisfaction of the public with Jiminto, and Ebata’s victory looked promising. Even though Koike brought out her popular former colleague, former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi to lend some support, she couldn’t hold off the swell for change.

[Top]

Seiko Noda

Seiko Noda

Seiko Noda

Masanao Shibahashi

Masanao Shibahashi

In 1998, Seiko Noda, then 37, set the record as she became Obuchi’s Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, the youngest post-war cabinet minister. She was the first woman to become Programme Director of Jiminto’s House Steering Committee and served as State Minister for Consumer Affairs under Fukuda and Aso.

Noda, now 49, is an active feminist within the Diet, advocating women’s rights to keep their maiden name after marriage (which is not currently an available option for Japanese women), as well as helping bring about much needed legislation to curb child pornography, and video games that promote sexual violence. She has also been a powerful voice for the creation of equal opportunities for disabled people too.

Noda is also a politician who seems to stand by her convictions, not only on equal rights, but also more generally. After opposing Koizumi’s postal  privatisation bill, she lost recognition from Jiminto in the 2005 election. With no small amount of guts she continued into the election as an independent (albeit with Komeito’s backing), and faced off against Yukari Sato, the ‘assassin’ appointed to stop Noda from winning her seat in Gifu Prefecture’s 1st District. Noda won the seat by about 10,000 votes, a figure quite common in the elections results above too. Sato won a seat through the proportional representation system (the same system that would bring Yosano, Koike and Noda herself back this year). Sato also lost her seat in the 2009 election.

Minshuto’s man in 2005, Masanao Shibahashi, now 30, faced Noda in the 2009 election. A former bank clerk, Shibahashi is young and ultimately benefited from dissatisfaction with Jiminto, just like his colleagues.

[Top]


Komeito’s Leadership

While Jiminto were certainly had more seats than any other party after the 2005 election, they did not govern alone. Jiminto had a coalition partner, Komeito, which suffered heavily at the hands of the voters this year. It is a political front for Soka Gakkai, the international Buddhist new religion, and some might say cult.

Komeito Candidate Minshuto Candidate
Name Number of Votes Number of Votes Name
Akihiro Ota 108,679 118,753 Ai Aoki
Kazuo Kitagawa 84,883 100,548 Hiroyuki Moriyama
Akihiro Ota

Akihiro Ota

Ai Aoki

Ai Aoki

Akihiro Ota, 63, became Komeito’s Chief Representative in 2006, succeeding Takenori Kanzaki. He has been with Komeito since 1971, starting first as a reporter for the party’s newspaper. A former university sumo wrestler, he has primarily concerned himself with issues of the constitution and structural reform making him the ideal partner for the 2005-2009 string of Jiminto leaders.

Early in the run-up to the election, it appeared that Ichiro Ozawa himself would go head to head with Ota in Tokyo’s 12th District, but Ozawa apparently had a change of heart and instead registered in Iwate, where he was born. His proxy was Ai Aoki, 44, a former singer and TV reporter who had won a seat in Chiba in the 2007 Upper House Election by proportional representation. Aoki’s victory decapitated Komeito until they elected Natsuo Yamaguchi to replace him on 8th September.

Ota wasn’t the only Komeito honcho to suffer. Most notably Kazuo Kitagawa, the party’s 56-year old Secretary-General, lost in Osaka’s 16th District. His opponent, Hiroyuki Moriyama, a 38-year old former Osaka assemblyman had a strong victory when viewed in relation to the more closely contested seats in the other sections above.

[Top]

Postscript – Jiminto’s Winners

Jiminto suffered a heavy blow at the hands of the electorate, and perhaps as a result of the canny election strategy put forward by Minshuto’s Ichiro Ozawa, who put younger and often female candidates against the stuffy Jiminto politicians of old. This energy added to the calls for change that was the rallying cry of the Minshuto candidates. At the same time, Komeito suffered a massive blow, unable to secure any single seat constituencies. However, it was not all tears and gloom for Jiminto, there were a number of notable successes too.

Jiminto Candidate Minshuto Candidate
Name Number of Votes Number of Votes Name
Shinjiro Koizumi 150,893 96,631 Katsuhito Yokokume
Kunio Hatoyama 138,327 119,481 Issei Koga
Taro Aso 165,327 96,327 Kousei Yamamoto
Yasuo Fukuda 103,852 91,904 Yukiko Miyake
Shinzo Abe 121,365 58,795 Takako Tokura
Kunio Hatoyama

Kunio Hatoyama

Shinjiro Koizumi

Shinjiro Koizumi

Shinjiro Koizumi, former Prime Minister Koizumi’s 28-year old son, took over his father’s seat in Kanagawa Prefecture’s 11th District. He scored a stunning victory against Minshuto’s Katsuhito Yokokume, 27. A fourth-generation politician, he seems, like his father, destined to being against the grain of traditional Jiminto. He researched the US-Japan relationship at the renowned Center for Strategic and International Studies in America in 2006-07. Some of his work from his time at CSIS can be accessed [here].

There was good news too for 60-year old Kunio Hatoyama, Jiminto candidate for Fukuoka Prefecture’s 6th District, and brother of the new Prime Minister. He beat his Minshuto opponent, Issei Koga, 62, by a significant margin. Hatoyama was dubbed ‘the Grim Reaper’ for the speed with which he signed off on death penalties as Abe and Fukuda’s Justice Minister. In June 2009, he resigned as Aso’s Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications over a disagreement regarding replacing Japan Post Agency head, Yoshifumi Nishikawa. This incident reflected poorly on Aso’s leadership and only contributed to his rapid decline.

Finally, it should be noted that all three post-Koizumi Prime Ministers kept their seats. Outgoing Prime Minister Taro Aso, 68, kept his seat in Fukuoka’s 8th District against Kousei Yamamoto, 37. Yasuo Fukuda, 73, held his seat in Gunma’s 4th District against Yukiko Miyake, 44. Lastly, Shinzo Abe, 54, held his seat in Yamaguchi’s 4th District against Takako Tokura, 50.

[Top]

The Start of a Historic Day?

Today Japan will vote for the future of its democracy. That may sound lofty, but the story of Japanese history has been one of conservative unity versus weak opposition parties in which the Liberal Democratic Party, Jiminto, held over the reins of power.

With America’s urging, Jiminto was forged in 1955 from two conservative parties: the Liberal Party, Jiyuuto, and the Democratic Party, Minshuto. The Japanese conservatives and the United States were concerned about the influence of socialism in Japan, given the country’s strategically important position which blocks access to the Pacific Ocean from the Russian Far East and China. The Communist Party, Kyosanto, remains a continual presence even today. It is more vocal here than in other countries; just the other day Keiko’s company’s health insurance urged her to vote for Kyosanto this weekend.

At the time of the conservative merger, Jiyuuto was led by the father of Japanese postwar political, economic and defence strategy, Shigeru Yoshida, current Prime Minister Taro Aso’s grandfather. Minshuto, on the other hand, was led by then Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama. Minshuto split from Jiyuuto in 1954, and Hatoyama was behind Yoshida’s loss of power in the party. The merger of the two parties, instigated by Hatoyama, began what has since been called the 1955 System: a monopoly over the controls to Japan’s democracy, most notably in the relationship with its bureaucrats.

In his seminal book, The Enigma of Japanese Power, Karel van Wolferen described the complex and reliant system by which the civil servants of the central government maintained social cohesion, disrupted opposition, and generally maintained the conditions which kept Jiminto in power. By the regulation of unions and its wooing of the agriculture and construction industries, Jiminto was given an unrivalled power-base. As the only credible governing party, Jiminto had a secure place at the head of the government, but it was by no means monolithic. Indeed, it is a meta-party comprised of numerous fluid factions and groupings, zoku, which fight for power in the party and thus for the use of the voter’s mandate.

However, this stable and rather depressing system has been corroding for years. In 1993, after a series of scandals, the LDP lost power to an unlikely coalition led by the Renewal Party, Shinseito. The coalition quickly fell apart with the defection of the Socialist Party, Shakai Minshuto, and Shinto Sakigake. The LDP came back as strong as ever, but has been growingly challenged in the Diet and on the streets by the new Minshuto, which was formed in 1998. That party has grown in strength thanks to politically savvy leaders, Jiminto’s scandals, and Jun’nichiro Koizumi’s blow to Jiminto from within.

Japan has had three Jiminto prime ministers in three years, and no election since 2005. The rapid turnover in leaders has been caused by poor leadership and further scandals, and certainly, Taro Aso’s decision to delay the general election, if the polls hold true, has seriously damaged Jiminto’s strength. As a more activist and credible opposition which has survived a serious scandal of its own (involving then party leader, Ichiro Ozawa), Minshuto is more ready than ever to step into the Kantei.

So today the Japanese electorate are being given the chance to change their political lot. They can continue to support Jiminto, with its tried and tested control over the bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki, or they can give real pluralism a chance and embrace the challenge presented by Minshuto as led by Yukio Hatoyama (Ichiro Hatoyama’s grandson). It is by no means a simple choice: Minshuto has been criticised for its idealistic manifesto, which is lacking in the details (primarily as a result of Jiminto’s control over the organs of governance). However, the time is ripe for change… When the votes are in, we could be looking at a new mandate for Jiminto, or more likely, the first opposition party in power since 1955 without the formation of a coalition.

Google Earth vs the Burakumin

The Japan Times today published an AP report on Google’s most recent clash with a civil rights group:

When Google Earth added historical maps of Japan to its online collection last year, the search giant didn’t expect a backlash. [...] But Google failed to judge how its offering would be received, as it has often done in Japan. The company is now facing inquiries from the Justice Ministry and angry accusations of prejudice because its maps detailed the locations of former low-caste communities.

[...]

Lists of “dirty” addresses circulate on Internet bulletin boards. Some surveys have shown that such neighborhoods have lower property values and residents have been the target of racial taunts and graffiti. But the modern locations of the old villages are largely unknown to the public, and many burakumin prefer it that way.

Google Earth’s maps pinpointed several such areas. One village in Tokyo was clearly labeled “eta,” a now strongly derogatory word for burakumin that literally means “filthy mass.” A single click showed the streets and buildings that are currently in the same area.

Google posted the maps as one of many “layers” available via its mapping software, each of which can be easily matched up with modern satellite imagery. The company provided no explanation or historical context, as is common practice in Japan. Its basic stance is that its actions are acceptable because they are legal, one that has angered burakumin leaders.

“If there is an incident because of these maps, and Google is just going to say ‘It’s not our fault’ or ‘It’s down to the user,’ then we have no choice but to conclude that Google’s system itself is a form of prejudice,” said Toru Matsuoka, an Upper House Diet member. [...]

[For more information on the Burakumin's history, take a look at my previous post on the issue: Burakumin]

Of course, Google has recently been under fire (in Japan and the UK especially) for invading people’s privacy with Google Streetview. Personally, I have no problem with that. It is a highly useful tool, and it’s not really an invasion of privacy… it’s not real time, it’s just a snapshot of the street and its houses that is far less intrusive than actually  standing outside someone’s house. I can’t go through the bins, I can’t look inside the windows, and what I see could be months or years old.

Of course, this new issue is different. It’s about publishing the historical locations of areas whose populations are still subject to discrimination, including discrimination due to where they live and/or were born. The Buraku Liberation League need no urging to jump onto this kind of issue. They actively seek out anything that can be construed as discrimination, as you might imagine, and are persistent in stamping it out. Google has already censored the maps, removing the references to Etamura (Filth Villages).

The situation raises a major issue: is Google wrong to publish historical maps in their entirety? Should it be censoring historical documents? Many of the locations of Buraku are widely known in their locales, and such historical maps are clearly accessible to employers who still discriminate against Burakumin. Google made the information easily accessible, just like so much of the internet.

Is fostering ignorance the best solution to the Burakumin discrimination problem? I’m no so certain. Ignorance would certainly work to stop pervasive discrimination, but the information still exists in oral history, archives, and employment agencies. By hiding their history, the Burakumin can never make the rest of the country come to terms with it. They are hobbling their own efforts while neglecting the long-term battle that still awaits.

Meanwhile, it is rather telling that this is being picked up by the foreign press while the Japanese press seemingly remains silent. A Google search revealed no articles covering this in the Japanese press, although perhaps it was picked up earlier on (foreign reporting of Japanese news is usually a month or so behind!).  The closest I could find is this article quoting the American Yahoo! News. If this is truly the case, then it acts as a reminder of just how much the BLL has to fight for.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.