Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Of Empresses, Shrines, Marines, and Universities: Japanese Politics

There has been a bunch of news lately, so I feel compelled to stick in just a short summary. Not a lot of commentary...

The U.S. and Japan are in the midst of reworking much of the bilateral security agreement. This may not make news in the U.S., but it's front page of the papers here every day for the last week or so. A few marines will move to Guam, one major Okinawa base will expand, and a lot of bases around Japan will shuffle. Okinawa is poor and very dependent on the U.S. armed forces for its economy, but friction over aircraft noise, accidents, barfights and rapes are constant. If memory serves, we have 40,000 armed forces personnel stationed here. America basically never withdraws from a country once we've settled in; we have bases in more than 100 countries around the world. In conjunction with the shuffle, Japan has agreed that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can be stationed at Yokosuka (south of Tokyo). Although a significant fraction of Japan's electricity is nuclear-generated, they have long objected to a nuclear-powered American ship here, but the Kitty Hawk, America's last non-nuclear aircraft carrier, is due to be retired soon. I think this is a proxy fight for whether or not the U.S. armed forces are allowed to have nuclear weapons on Japanese soil, which, as far as I can tell, is handled on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis.

Speaking of things war, the Yomiuri Shimbun recently commissioned a poll on responsibility for WWII. 67 percent said leaders of the Imperial Japanese Army or Navy followed by prime ministers (33), politicians (27), and Emperor Hirohito (19) (respondents were allowed to pick more than one answer). More interestingly, only 34 percent said that the wars against China and the U.S. were wars of aggression. The English-language Daily Yomiuri doesn't give the exact question or what the rest of the respondents thought, but that's an uncomfortably low number. Only 25 percent said their primary knowledge of WWII is through school; 34 percent said relatives (and the number of people with direct experience of the war is naturally declining rapidly). It's often said that the victors write the history, but in Japan, the losers got to write (or, in the case of schoolbooks, ignore) a big chunk of it, and nationalist politicians and right-wing organizations are still common.

The courts have issued a mixed bag of rulings recently on whether or not Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni Jinja, where 14 class-A war criminals and numerous minor ones are enshrined, violate the constitution's separation of church and state. At first glance, it seems odd; Bush led a prayer service after 9/11, after all. But this is really another proxy fight over opinions, contrition and responsibility for the war. China and South Korea get offended every time he goes, but in China's case, at least, it seems to be at least partially a calculated political attempt to keep their own people annoyed at the Japanese. Shinzo Abe, one of the candidates to succeed Koizumi next year when he steps down, has said he would continue the practice.

Koizumi shuffled his cabinet yesterday. Some of the current cabinet members have shifted political parties as many as five times in the last fifteen years; here parties seem to be much more about political fortunes and factions than about actual policy differences, with the exceptions of the minor communist and socialist parties. There are eighteen cabinet ministers, counting Koizumi, two of whom are women. There are profiles in today's paper, not complete but a few interesting facts. At least three seem to be sons or grandsons of former ministers, and two are former university professors. A breakdown of universities:


  • Keio U.: 4 (Koizumi himself, Takenaka, Kosaka, Kawasaki)
  • Tokyo U.: 3 (Chuma, Kutsukake, Yosano)
  • Gakushuin U., "studied at Stanford and London School of Economics": 1 (Aso)
  • Chuo U.: 1 (Nikai)
  • Cairo U. (Egypt): 1 (Koike)
  • Yale U. Ph.D. (U.S.) (undergrad unstated): 1 (Inoguchi)
  • unstated: 7


The cabinet includes a "state minister in charge of measures for declining birthrate and gender equality" (Inoguchi); I think the last two holders of this post have been women, though I'm unclear on how long it has been a cabinet post and whether it's a "woman's seat". There are two posts that seem to have some science and technology responsibility, "state minister for science, technology and IT policy" (Matsuda), and "education, science and technology minister" (Kosaka); I'm unclear on how responsibilities are divided up.

Speaking of women, the government is considering rewriting the laws governing imperial succession. At the moment, only a man can be emperor, but the current crown prince has only a daughter (Aiko, who is two). There is practically an Aiko cult here; the imperial family's privacy is guarded jealously, and when a short video of Aiko playing was released last winter, there were TV shows devoted to finding the manufacturers of the toys she was seen playing with. The debate is over whether succession should be oldest child, or whether a younger brother should take precedence over an older sister, or even if the emperor's younger brother should take precedence over the emperor's daughters. Japan has had women emperors, but not in many centuries.

Finally, the constitution here is being rewritten. The Liberal Democratic Party is trying to clarify the language around Japan's Self Defense Forces, allowing them to use force in international peacekeeping operations and even in defense of an ally (if you don't know, Japan's constitution currently renounces war as a right of the state in its famous "Article 9", which has always made the existence of the JSDF political ambiguous). The LDP will likely slip in some language designed to make Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni acceptable, too.

Anyway, interesting goings on here that can impact the entire international scene, but since many of them are policy wonk-ish issues, they probably aren't getting a lot of press elsewhere.

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