Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Curtain Falls on the Koizumi Political Theater
HARA Yasushi  / a former professor in the Sociology Department at Toyo University

September 27, 2006
The curtain falls on the Koizumi Theater. Playing to the gallery with slogans like 'Without reform, there is no economic recovery,' Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi brought the house down when he appeared on the political stage. As his theatrical politics draws to a close, however, the script has become increasingly incoherent, and both government and opposition actors on stage are just ad-libbing to get through the scene. The audience, or the people, manipulated by Mr. Koizumi's popularity, is now leaving the theater with a bewildered look. ‘What was all that hoopla about reform?'

It is not easy to assess the merits and demerits of the Koizumi administration. For instance, Mr. Koizumi, who is also the President of the Liberal Democratic Party, or the LDP, exploded a bombshell by saying, 'I am going to demolish the LDP.' His was certainly a high-handed approach, with the Prime Minister's Official Residence taking the lead in everything. But has the LDP really been demolished? Factional dynamics still played a part in deciding his successor. So it will take some time to ascertain whether he has really delivered on his promise.

Leaving aside specific strategies and political ideologies, however, it is important to closely examine the mark left by Mr. Koizumi's ideological approach of reducing everything to 'one phrase.'

Starting with his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, Mr. Koizumi's diplomacy caused trouble both at home and abroad. His diplomacy, carried out without consulting professional diplomats, was based on an amazingly simplistic formula. Under the banner of strengthening the Japan-US alliance, Mr. Koizumi gave unconditional support to the Bush administration's Iraq policy and decided to send Japanese Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. At the same time, he agreed to completely finance the cost of moving part of the Okinawa-based U.S. military to Guam. He was also eager to lift the ban on American beef even when Japanese consumers had misgivings about its safety. When in the company of his friend President Bush, he was in such high spirits that he impersonated Elvis Presley and ended up being ridiculed by the American media. Mr. Koizumi's diplomacy vis-a-vis the United States gives us a glimpse of his depth psychology--he grew up in post-war Yokosuka, a town steeped in American influence as a US Naval Base. In fact, however, his diplomacy was nothing more than an extension of post-war Japanese diplomacy, which had been depending on the U.S. out of mere habit.

Mr. Koizumi neglected to search for a new international order for the post-Cold War world, in harmony with the EU countries. He shelved all troublesome issues such as the Northern Territories, Takeshima, and the Senkaku Islands. With his Yasukuni visits, he continued to rub his neighbors up the wrong way. Describing his Yasukuni visits as 'a matter of the heart,' he paid no heed to opposition. The superficiality of his diplomacy became apparent when he merely sent his aide to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, an occasion attended by the world leaders regardless of religion or denomination. Japan's absence was a glaring revelation that Japan does not have a heart that shares feelings with the rest of the world.

Mr. Koizumi sent in 'assassin' candidates to defeat those in his own party who opposed his policies. This principle of winning at all cost and abandoning the weak brought a sea change to Japanese society. Japan, which had become an economic power thanks to the effort of its people, was a country where children of average families can go to nurseries and kindergartens, where everyone takes it for granted that children take piano lessons or after-school lessons to supplement schoolwork if they want to. Japan had become an egalitarian society that we can be proud of to the rest of the world.

But Mr. Koizumi's half-hearted reform without thinking of the consequences only resulted in destruction. People tried to find loopholes in the system, bringing about construction standard frauds, insider trading, and other get-rich-quick schemes. Money worship became rampant. As a result, a huge gap became apparent between those who jumped on the Koizumi bandwagon and those who missed it, the winners and the losers. Our proudly egalitarian society was no more. While putting off the reduction in the number of Diet seats and the number of government employees, Mr. Koizumi went ahead and raised medical expenses, reduced pension allowances, and abolished deductions for aged persons abandoning the weak.

At the entrance to the theater after the curtain went down on the Koizumi Political Theater, the next leading actor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, is trying to call in people by barking, 'Please give us your continued patronage. But even those who stop by to listen look apathetic, and there is no guarantee that the Abe Theater will draw a full house.

The writer is a former professor in the Sociology Department at Toyo University. He is also a former writer for the Asahi Shimbun.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

原  康 / 元東洋大学社会学部教授

2006年 9月 27日
小泉劇場が閉幕する。「改革無くして景気回復なし」と大向こうをうならせ、やんやの喝采を浴びて登場した小泉首相の劇場型政治も終幕に近づくにつれ、脚本も支離滅裂になり、舞台に立つ与野党の役者たちも、勝手な思いつきの台詞でその場を繕うだけ。小泉人気に一緒に踊らされた観客(国民)も「はて、改革とは何だったのか」 と狐につまされたような表情で、劇場を出る。








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Curtain Falls on the Koizumi Political Theater