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Politics, No.4  Dec. 4, 2010


INTERVIEWER What is your view of the recent flap over the Senkaku Islands from your perspective as an expert on international maritime law? A problem also emerged in 2005 involving a dispute between Japan and China over development of gas fields in the East China Sea. What sort of legal framework exists for settling disputes over territory and resources? KURIBAYASHI TADAO International law recognizes the right of each sovereign state to protect the territory to which it can assert a legitimate claim and the surrounding waters so as to assure its existence and the survival of its people. When it comes to sovereignty over the Senkakus, though there is room for dispute on a number of points under international law, I believe that most international legal scholars in Japan currently support the Japanese claim. But it’s extremely difficult to rely on judicial procedures for ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.3  Nov. 30, 2010


On September 17 Prime Minister Kan Naoto, having fended off a challenge to his leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, announced a new cabinet lineup. Two months later, we look back to analyze the DPJ election and its outcome and assess some of the policy issues confronting the prime minister and his newly reshuffled cabinet, particularly on the domestic front. Of course, the government also faces major challenges in the international arena. Relations with China have been tense ever since Japan’s detention of a Chinese fishing crew whose trawler had entered territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands. Similarly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s November 1 visit to the island of Kunashiri in the disputed Northern Territories has complicated relations with Moscow. The conflict over relocation of US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station also awaits a timely resolution. But any detailed discussion of... [Read more]

Politics, No.3  Nov. 27, 2010


One of the most striking features of Japanese politics in recent years has been the succession of short-lived governments. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō took office in September 2006 and fell from power just a year later. This was followed by two more short-lived governments, led by Fukuda Yasuo and Asō Tarō. Both collapsed after barely a year in office. The trend has continued since the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party fell from power and the Democratic Party of Japan took the reins in September 2009–the government of Hatoyama Yukio, the first DPJ prime minister, lasted just eight months, and the current administration under Kan Naoto already finds itself in a difficult position just three months after coming to office. Not too long ago, however, Japan had a government that remained in office for five years and five months, under Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō (April 2001-September ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.3  Oct. 5, 2010


“I believe that this change of power was brought about by the voices of the public urging something should be done to fix Japanese politics of today. . . . In that sense, the victors in that summertime election were each Japanese citizen.” So declared Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio in a policy speech to the National Diet last autumn. But in less than a year after “that summertime election,” large numbers of citizens lost the sense of being victors. The Democratic Party of Japan, which took power after scoring a major victory in last summer’s House of Representatives election, did dismally in this summer’s House of Councillors election. By comparison with the previous upper house election in 2007, the DPJ got 1.25 million fewer votes in the prefectural district races and 4.80 million fewer in the proportional-representation balloting, winning only 28 district seats and... [Read more]

Politics, No.3  Oct. 1, 2010


The economic development that China has achieved over the past 30 years is a historic phenomenon. The key event that set it off was the reform and open-door policy that Deng Xiaoping, an extraordinary leader, launched in 1979. With this revolutionary move Deng stripped the Communist Party of China of its erstwhile moral mission. He conceived the brilliant strategy of opening the gates to the material desires of the masses while preserving the hold of the state over the political system. Over the subsequent three decades this approach achieved great results. We can cite a number of factors that helped make this possible. First, Deng’s capable successors continued his policy line. Second, the economy started from a low level, and so it was possible for it to grow at a rapid pace over an extended period–and to do so without running into constraints on ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.2  Sept. 27, 2010


Looking at the Democratic Party of Japan these days, I cannot help feeling that it has headed out to sea on a journey without a chart. When the DPJ took over the reins of government from the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party last autumn, it had a chart of sorts, namely, the manifesto it set forth as the basis for its campaign for the August 2009 House of Representatives election, from which it emerged victorious. But once the administration of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio came into power, it discarded the planks of this platform one after another, deciding, for example, not to pay the promised “child allowance” in full and modifying its pledge to eliminate expressway tolls. In June this year Hatoyama resigned and Kan Naoto took the helm as the new captain of the ship of state, but the crew of the ship are ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.2  Aug. 7, 2010


HANDŌ KAZUTOSHI In the first sixty-five years following World War II, Japan had thirty prime ministers, if you begin with Higashikuni Naruhiko and count up to Asō Tarō. I made the interesting discovery that looking at them in three equal groups, divided chronologically, is an excellent way to go about understanding postwar Japan. The first group of ten begins with Higashikuni Naruhiko [prime minister Aug.-Oct. 1945] and ends with Satō Eisaku [1964-72]. The members of this group were mostly seasoned former bureaucrats, including veterans of Japan’s prewar bureaucracy. The next group extends from Tanaka Kakuei [1972-74] through Miyazawa Kiichi [1991-93]. In contrast to the first group, which was dominated by people who rose up through the bureaucracy, six out of ten in this group began their careers as party politicians. As a group, they were tempered by the heat of factional... [Read more]

Politics, No.1  Jul. 29, 2010


It would be impossible to overstate the momentous nature of the September 2009 change of government as a milestone in Japan’s political history. The advent of an administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan made possible the disclosure of previously hidden information and a number of changes in existing policies. Some of the new developments would have been inconceivable under the Liberal Democratic Party, including the expansion of social welfare and the budget-screening review of existing programs, which cut into bureaucrats’ established interests. I would reiterate that these policy changes are of tremendous significance. Needless to say, there is also disappointment in the lost opportunities resulting from the weakness in leadership of the administration of Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio, including frailty among the politicians making it up and the lack of strategy in its actions. What is required now,... [Read more]

Politics, No.1  Jun. 6, 2010


On July 11, the Japanese people went to the polls to elect their representatives to the House of Councillors. The result was a severe setback for Japan’s new ruling party, the Democratic Party of Japan. After breaking the Liberal Democratic Party’s decades-long lock on power in a historic House of Representatives election less than a year earlier, the DPJ won only 44 of the 121 seats up for grabs in the House of Councillors, while the LDP secured 51, more than any other party. As a result, although the DPJ continues to control the powerful House of Representatives and therefore the cabinet, it now lacks an upper house majority even with the help of its coalition partner, the People’s New Party. The people have voiced their dissatisfaction with the government by opting for a “hung” Diet. The upper house election was a critical test ... ... [Read more]

Politics, No.1  Jun. 5, 2010


On June 8, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Kan Naoto assumed the office of prime minister and appointed a cabinet, becoming Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. In the following, we will explore some of the reasons for this extraordinary rate of turnover, review Kan’s career and qualifications, and discuss the policy and political challenges that confront the new prime minister. The Roots of Failure A look back over the brief tenures of Japan’s four previous prime ministers–Abe Shinzō, Fukuda Yasuo, Asō Tarō, and Hatoyama Yukio–reveals a fairly consistent pattern. In each case the cabinet started out with high approval ratings but very soon fell from public favor, and in each case this loss of public support made it difficult or impossible for the prime minister to stay in office. Abe made the decision to resign, partly for health reasons, when ... ... [Read more]