A New Wave of Japan’s Politics by Akihiro Ogawa, Ph.D. Stockholm University

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A New Wave of Japan’s Politics by Akihiro Ogawa, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Japanese Studies Stockholm University August 31, 2009 On August 30, Japanese citizens chose change. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) enjoyed a landslide victory, winning 308 seats, a majority of the powerful House of Representatives’ 480 seats.  The historical victory will usher in DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama as the new Japanese prime minister in the next couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, Taro Aso, the current prime minister from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), announced his retreat already on Sunday night following the election result.  This is the first time for Japan to see a truly competitive two-party system. This result was expected.  Japanese people fully realized the inability of the current politics led by Aso.  Up through last week, numerous public polls already projected that the DPJ would win the election.  Major LDP politicians lost their seats – including Toshiki Kaifu, former prime minister, and Shoichi Nakagawa, the former finance minister who was reportedly drunk at a press conference during the G7 summit in Rome. The major trigger that generated this epochal dynamism was the frustration held among the grassroots people.  It is simply represented by the Japanese word – kakusa or social and economic disparities.  Japan, which was once known as fundamentally middle class and egalitarian with the lifetime employment system, has now totally collapsed.  Due to the spree of neoliberal politics since the early 2000s, primarily led by Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of the LDP, Japanese society is devastated.  In order to compete internationally, major manufactures, including Toyota and Canon, drastically cut human resources’ costs in the domestic market, resulting in an increasing casualization of the workforce and contracting out of jobs.  The national politics has been mostly driven by the logic of business elite from Nippon Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, a strong supporter of the LDP. Some have acquired the status of the working poor, a term used to refer to people who are employed, but are unable to escape from poverty.  Households that applied to the Public Livelihood Protection Act, the core of the postwar Japanese poverty policies, reached a record high of more than 1.2 million, according to the most recent available statistics.  The changes have led to a situation where on the other hand, some have became millionaires, living at Roppongi Hills, a high-rise apartment building in one of Tokyo’s most prestigious locations. The old politics could not do something to change this divided society; people thus wanted new politics. However, in what way do the DPJ politicians envision galvanizing the society again? There are lots of issues that the new politics must address.  However, I believe one key is to look at employment.  While the jobless rate rose to an all-time high of 5.7 percent in July, one of the emergency policy measures should be to increase employment.  How will the DPJ politicians create new employment in the society?  In which areas will they promote it?  In the longer term, employment is directly related to education – not only formal school education but also informal lifelong learning.  How will the politicians encourage people to update their knowledge and skills?  How will the politics support the efforts?  Ultimately, how will they stimulate the economy again so that the majority of people feel again happiness in their lives? On Saturday, in the last address before the election, Yukio Hatoyama, the incoming prime minister, powerfully claimed to the general public, “To re-paint history, we need to be brave.”  For the DPJ, it is indeed the first time to come into power.  They do not have any actual experience in real politics. However, Japanese people chose to change history and voted for brave new leadership. —

A New Wave of Japan’s Politics by Akihiro Ogawa, Ph.D. Stockholm University
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