Chapter 74 – Some Japanese Politicians
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES
1. Political People
2. Prime Ministers – Miyazawa, Hosokawa, Obuchi, Mori,
3. The Koizumi Disaster
A historian friend once told me how important it was that people like myself who have lived through what he called ‘slabs of history’ should leave notes about personalities.
The lecture circuit inevitably brought me into contact with a wide range of political people.
I once got to debate Northern Territory(Hokkaido) issues with the LDP politician, Nakagawa Shoichi, and discovered how hard-nosed rightwing he could be, and also how he liked his alcohol.
The Peru Embassy once got me somewhat involved in their efforts to chase down their ex-president Alberto Fujimori while he was on the run in Japan.
There I rediscovered how devious Japan’s foreign ministry could be (they were determined to protect him, despite his various crimes).
Yokomichi Takahiro, then of the Socialist Party, once sought me out in his efforts to track down Australia’s role in the US global submarine detection Omega network.
A mid-level Komeito Diet member in 2001 arranged for me to make a formal presentation on education reform to the Upper House finance committee.
And there were the usual invitations to attend the lectures or join the support groups organized by
On her route to the top Tokyo governor Koike Yuriko used to make occasional contact. She seemed keen to revive our friendship when she was a humble TV announcer for the NTV Sesso Kodan program where I often appeared back in the seventies/eighties.
Then she had seemed politically neutral, as far as I could make out.
Later, as she began her political career, she turned out to be strongly rightwing and nationalistic, which no doubt helped her career in Japan’s increasingly rightwing and nationalistic political circles.
Her coquettish charm, and her politician’s ability to focus on individuals, also must have helped.
As Koike gained political clout I regretted not taking up her offer to have me join her support group. It would have been a good chance to see politics from the inside, where she very definitely has been in recent years (factions were competing for her attention, and some were even predicting she could be the next prime minister).
I should also have followed up on the strange call I had from her when minister of environment. She asked me over to her office. She said she wanted someone to talk to. She implied that LDP factionalism prevented her from having many close friends.
I discovered later she really did speak the good Arabic she claimed as a result of 5 years education in Cairo at the American School there. I could have related to her on that basis. But how would I have got round the rightwing bias?
I had known well the younger version of Sakurai Yoshiko when she had worked out of the Foreign Correspondents Club, reporting progressive news for a very progressive Asian news agency.
There she had met and married an Australian journalist acquaintance of mine, Rodney O’Brien (they later separated/divorced, he has gone back to Australia, and today she seems to make little mention of him).
But as she gradually established herself as a writer and speaker I could see her move firmly to the right. I could also see her becoming much wealthier, with her rightwing speech circuit and with her own cult club.
She became a significant leader of rightwing public opinion, bitterly anti-China
How she could move from fairly left to extreme far right so easily was amazing.
She had an office close to my Kioicho office and we would exchange pleasantries when passing, but nothing more.
2. Prime Ministers
I got to know Miyazawa in the Bubble economy years when he was finance minister, before becoming prime minister.
As I mentioned earlier, in the war years when he was recruited to the ministry it was the practice to have new entrants spend their first years studying some aspect of economics.
Miyazawa had chosen the works of my father which, for reasons I also mentioned earlier, were well known in progressive circles.
Years later one of his proteges had shown me the neat essay report he had prepared.
When Miyazawa was Finance Minister, one of his supporters – an over-cashed Shizuoka paper company – used to run dinner parties for him at a top Tokyo restaurant, Kitcho. I was often invited to join.
Since his economics were from my fathers’ books he was a Keynesian.
But he faced a dilemma – the need for restrictive policies to cool the Bubble versus the need for polices to expand domestic demand in order to meet US demands for a reduction in Japan’s trade surplus with the US.
In the end he tried both.
I thought he would be progressive in foreign policies. But I found him quite rigid on the Northern Territories dispute, which surprised me, given his intellectual flexibility.
I never got to talk policy after he became prime minister, unfortunately.
My involvement with Hosokawa began on a flight from Kumamoto.
Next to me was the young Kumamoto prefecture governor, then making waves nationally with his calls for greater regional autonomy.
With his boyish charm, and strong pedigree, he was already on the escalator to national politics.
His regional autonomy pitch gained fame when he revealed that Tokyo approval was needed not just for changes in the bus timetables but even for shifting a bus stop several meters on a remote country road.
Hosokawa was from Sophia University, which gave us something in common. He was also a Christian, possibly because of his Kumamoto origins.
(That was the area in Kyushu where the “hidden Christians” had survived for centuries, avoiding Tokugawa repression.)
On my next lecture visit to Kumamoto he invited me to his tasteful ancestral home for dinner with his wife, whom I got to know later when she became a key organiser for the Paraolympics.
We saw more of each other after his successful launch into national politics. Following the 1993 political shakeups, he eventually became prime minister and he made me a member of something he called his Action Committee.
But apart from the occasional drinks party, we never got to see much action.
He seemed to want to be generally progressive in his fiscal and foreign policies. But we never got round to discussing details, and his weakness in economics left him vulnerable to the fiscal conservatives around him on every side.
The conservative Bungei Shunju magazine – that devious and diligent destroyer of liberal, mid-road politicians with enough popularity to threaten continued conservative/rightwing rule – ran an ugly piece aimed at destroying his reputation.
(Bungei ignores left-wingers and communists, no doubt regarding them as non-threatening to the conservative mainstream. But progressive moderates are dangerous.)
Chastened, Hosokawa resigned rather than fight, and headed for his Shizuoka-prefecture Yugawara hideout to practice pottery.
Many regretted his fall. But from the beginning it was clear he was not suited to the rough and tumble of national politics.
Some years later we used to meet for golf occasionally, where he told me with some pride that he was the only ex-prime minister who had renounced special police protection.
He had given up politics so completely, including even political commentary, that he was sure no one would want violently to attack him.
(He was also a rather neat golfer, and a potter of quality. But I could not draw him much on politics during our rounds of golf, other than an admission there was little future for progressive politicians in Japan.)
Bungei did a similar knife job on Kato Koichi – another progressive on the conservative side of politics.
He spoke good Chinese and we had had very similar diplomatic careers, with him being trained in Taiwan and myself in Hongkong at roughly the same time.
We got on well together and he was Chairman of Japan-China Friendship Association.
But Kato knew little economics. And in his seeming desire to show he could be as pro-American as he was pro-China, he seems to have decided to embrace US supply-sider economists and their doctrines.
The result was great damage to the economy during the Hashimoto period where he had much policy power as party general secretary.
Sadly his pro-China background left him vulnerable to vicious rightwing attacks, including an arson attack on his Yamagata rural family home which was burned to the ground by a rightist in 2006 after he argued forcefully for an end to Yasukuni Shrine visits by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
His early death seemed not greatly to be noticed, which was a pity since he had a good understanding of China – something usually lacking in Japanese conservative politics
I think he must have known something about me because he went out of his way to appoint me to his 1999-2000 National Peoples Education Reform Commission.
I liked what I saw of his rather gentle and intelligent moderation of the commission. He was also a progressive and his premature death in 1999 marked the end of sensible politics in Japan, at least for me.
I got to see and deal with some LDP and Komeito politicians while serving on the Education Reform commission.
As mentioned earlier, I was impressed by Machimura Nobutaka’s sharpness and intelligence.
I was also impressed by the commonsense and balance of Ota Akihiro from the Komeito (soon to be their leader).
Prime minister after Obuchi’s sudden death, I got to see him in action as the Education Reform Commission continued its work.
He was a rock-bottom conservative, but I came to respect him for his blunt and intelligent directness.
But that eventually was to cause his demise at the hands of Japan’s ever light-headed, scandal-hungry media. He was attacked for refusing to abandon a golf game the weekend that a boat carrying some trainees was sunk off Hawaii by contact with a submerged US submarine.
No one suggested what he could have done about that. But even so, they said, he should have headed for the bunker set up in ’Terrorist’ days to handle national emergencies.
Few ever came to realise that if the working group he appointed to consider a policy solution for the Northern Territories problem had been allowed to continue its work, the problem of Japan’s relations with Moscow would now probably be far behind us.
3. The Koizumi Disaster
With Koizumi replacing Mori in 2001, my largely peripheral involvements with political insiders came to an abrupt end.
The Mori initiatives to Moscow were rapidly killed. MOFA conservatives were back in control.A new crowd, mainly rightwing conservative, were running the show and, apart from Takenaka Heizo, I did not know them very well.
I had seen Koizumi distantly at various gatherings, and disliked what I saw.
In the first place, how can anyone respect a man who on the advice of his elder sister walks away from his intelligent wife pregnant with his third child and refuse to see either her or the child ever after?
(She went on to develop her own successful career in real estate.)
Koizumi, I decided, was a flaky ignoramus with an unbalanced personality, from a family and district with strong gangster connections.
It is to the eternal discredit of the ignorant Western media that he was somehow seen as Japan’s savour simply because of his ‘structural reform’ mantra repeated at every corner and juncture of the political scene.
The mantra was to cause much damage to Japan’s economy. The damage added an extra ten years to Japan’s already ten years of stagnation.
That he and George Bush admired each other says much.
That he was also able to mesmerise the Japanese public with his flinty gaze, thick mane of hair, reform mantra, and ‘theatre politics’ also said much about Japan.
His knowledge of, and interest in, foreign affairs was minimal. In economics he was also ignorant.
The damage he did to Japan was great, and not just because he antagonised China and much of the rest of Asia by his visits to the militaristic Yasukuni Shrine.
He promised to clean up the bureaucracy.
And some of the reforms made sense – putting the knife into the corrupt and wasteful HIghways Corporation, for example.
But the Corporation successor was only slightly better.
Japan’s worst bureaucratic scandal – the pensions affair – occurred when he was minister in charge of the Health and Welfare ministry.
His efforts to centralise policy decisions, away from Japan’s tribalistic, ever-competing ministries, also made sense.
But centralisation does not help much if the decisions, mainly on the economy, are wrong.
He claimed to want to reform the LDP old-boy faction system. But he seemed mainly concerned with settling old LDP and bureaucratic scores.
That major bureaucratic evil – the amakudari system – remained fairly intact during his long regime, as did quite a few tokushu hojin – wasteful special bureaucratic agencies.
His disastrous policy of cutting public works into a severe economic recession seemed aimed mainly at castrating the powerful Tanaka Kakuei faction in the LDP.
That faction probably needed to be cut down to size, but not at the expense of an entire economy, and society.
His push for post-office privatisation was a meaningless, but very successful attempt to expand further his ‘theatre politics’ for electoral and personal gains.
Some have suggested that some powerful US financial firms, including Lehman, were very happy to show him, and his acolyte, Takenaka Heizo, gratitude for allowing them to get their grubby claws into the 340 trillion yen’s worth of privatised post office savings and pensions.
Be that as it may, it is a fact that the semi-privatised post office system ended up with heavy Lehman losses.
Later also we discovered that the revamped post office corporation was paying Morgan Stanley 10 million yen a month to advise it to sell off assets at rock-bottom prices.
True, many in the LDP and media were eventually to react against Koizumi’s phoney postoffice drama.
But the fact they went along with it at the beginning said much about the mood-dominated giddiness and lack of consistency in Japanese politics.
During Koizumi’s period in office Japan slumped from being a forward-looking, still fairly vibrant society into something that, in parts of central Tokyo, reminded me of dirty, depressed London during bad periods of the sixties and seventies.
It also saw the beginnings of the homelessness in the streets and parks of Tokyo.
I had known Hatoyama in his younger days when he was secretary to Tanaka Kakuei and had married the daughter of my acquaintance, the Australian ex-sergeant, Jimmy Beard. He was not a very attractive person.
Some suspicious Koizumi-related activities emerged when as Somu (General Affairs) minister he tried to dismiss Nishikawa Yoshifumi, the head of the semi-privatised postoffice corporation.
I had also known Kunio’s older brother, Yukio – later to be Japan’s prime minister – through occasional meetings at the Russian Embassy receptions where he went out his way to tell me how angry he was over some evidence shown him in Moscow proving that the Maidan 2014 revolution in Kiev had been staged by the US.
But he lacked prime ministerial stature.
The US soon arranged for his early removal from office.
During the recession induced by Koizumi policies I got to see and advise some of the LDP people opposed to him.
As mentioned earlier Hiranuma had me talk to several LDP policy committees. His views on the need for expansionist fiscal policies matched mine, and for the same reasons.
He did not seem to mind that I was not greatly in tune with his strongly rightwing and nationalistic attitudes.
And he was at least logical with his rightwing views. For example, he said that if Japan wanted to answer criticisms over Yasukuni, it should first renounce the San Francisco Peace treaty clause obliging it to accept the Tokyo war crimes tribunal verdicts.
(Visiting the LDP headquarters in Nagata-cho to give these talks to the Hiranuma groupings was an experience. Only about a half the audience would manage to sit still from beginning to end. The rest would be constantly moving in and out as they answered various calls.)
His loss to Koike Yuriko sent to ‘assassinate’ him in the 2005 Lower House election based almost entirely on Koizumi’s post office privatisation issue was part of the Koizumi disaster fallout.
Knowing I too had criticised the Koizumi disaster he once went out of his way to invite me for a talk.
He struck me as just the kind of solid, sincere politician (as sincere as any politician can be) that Japan needed.
Like several of the more intelligent LDP politicians, he had opposed the postoffice privatisation issue, partly because of its suspicious origins and partly because it simply did not make much sense.
Apart from anything else, the post offices operated a range of financial services far more efficiently, and cheaply, than Japan’s stuffy, bureaucratic banks (one reason was they employed intelligent high school graduates rather than the pumped up products of low grade universities found in the banks).
No wonder the banks wanted to get rid of that competition.
And with post office savings and pensions funds usually committed to construction projects of national interest, no wonder quite a few sticky fingers wanted to get involved with that commitment.
Critics said construction projects were a source of corruption and waste – true to some extent. But what happened when the funds were freed up to seek higher returns abroad and ended up in the Lehman and the US sub-prime disasters?
For the ‘crime’ of opposing this dubious deal, with its devastating implications for rural areas where post offices, even if small and unprofitable, had served as crucial community centers, Kobayashi and others were to be expelled from Koizumi’s LDP and subjected to ‘assassination’ attack in their electorates.
Quite a few other worthwhile politicians were to lose their seats in the same election, and for the same reasons.
(One of the ‘assassins’ the Koizumi people tried to install was the young, media-worshipped stock-market manipulator and general fraudster, Horie Takafumi.
(Fortunately that stunt was stopped by his arrest, and later conviction.
(And this was supposed to be the election to reform Japan!
(But that did not stop anyone who opposed this postoffice fraud, or the many other Koizumi eccentricities, from being labeled by both domestic and foreign media as ‘old-guard reactionaries’ – teiko seiryoku.)
That Japan’s emotional electorate could so easily be won over by Koizumi’s grand-standing appeals on an issue of such marginal importance or even of harm to Japan was an eye-opener, even for this jaded observer.
That the foreigners went along with was even more of a surprise, and a disappointment… though I could see that some of the bankers among them stood to gain much..