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Sunday, Sept. 28, 2008

Did Koizumi and Bush really destroy Japan?

CURING JAPAN'S AMERICA ADDICTION by Minoru Morita, Chin Music Press, Seattle, 2008, 224 pp., $15 (paper)

Minoru Morita is one of Japan's most prominent and respected political analysts. And he's mad as hell at what he believes are the social and economic crimes committed by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush against the Japanese people since 2001.

Morita's list of complaints ranges from Koizumi's economic revolution, which, he asserts, was manipulated by the Bush administration, to U.S. pressure on Japan to change it's Constitution in accordance with America's "global war strategy."

Angered by the 2005 agreement to realign U.S. bases in Japan, Morita became an activist and worked to get former Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara, who opposed the agreement, re-elected this past February. Ihara was narrowly defeated by pro-base candidate Yoshihiko Fukuda.

In a chapter entitled "The Battle for Iwakuni City," Morita recounts his experience with a mayoral campaign marked by fear. As a reporter who covered the election, I can confirm some of what Morita asserts, including his claim that Fukuda's supporters worked hard to convince voters that if Iwakuni didn't accept the base plan and the central government subsidies that came with it, the city would go bankrupt like Yubari in Hokkaido.

Morita also rails against Koizumi for pursuing a Washington-supported neoliberal economic policy that benefited wealthy urbanites and bankrupted almost everybody else. The fact that "anti-reform" Taro Aso is now highly popular in prefectures where Koizumi's reforms are not viewed positively is proof there is, indeed, a backlash of sorts going on against the policies of Koizumi.

So what's Morita's solution to the problems? In a chapter entitled "The Source of Our Suffering," he offers six remedies.

First, on a global level, the United States should admit its wars are the source of the world's current problems. Second, in Japan, politicians must free themselves from the bureaucrats who are running the country. Third, voters must demand a return to a vibrant parliamentary Cabinet system free from dominance by the bureaucrats.

Fourth, it's time to ditch the U.S.-supported economic reforms championed by Koizumi, especially his hostility to funding public works projects like water lines and gasworks. Fifth, and more than somewhat oddly, Morita calls for more investment and support for Japan's sewage treatment firms, which he says can also provide technology to developing nations and help curb their greenhouse gases. And finally, he says, the entire world needs to follow the suggestions of former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in his 2007 "An Inconvenient Truth," and reject the environmental policies and war aims of the Bush administration.

The allegation that Bush and Koizumi have destroyed Japan will come as a shock to those who have been told by media and policy wonks these past seven years that relations between Japan and the U.S. have never been better. Morita's charge that Koizumi's economic policies have destroyed Japan may also come as a surprise to those in Tokyo who are isolated from the Japan outside the Yamanote line and see only conspicuous consumption at Michelin-rated restaurants and five-star hotels.

But Morita, unlike many political analysts in Tokyo or certain foreign "experts" on Japanese politics in New York and Washington who simply parrot each other's views, has a deep understanding of the realities beyond the nation's capital. Giving nearly 300 lectures a year throughout Japan, his contacts among not only Diet members but also politicians at the prefectural and local government level are second to none.

Of course, Morita's assertions may strike many readers as overheated conspiracy theories or hyperbole, lacking the necessary proof to be taken seriously. Such charges, while not necessarily invalid, miss or purposely ignore the far more important point of the book. Anybody who lives in Japan and has spent a fair amount of time with Japanese politicians of all stripes will recognize Morita's complaints, and realize they often echo the thoughts of many Japanese in and out of politics.

In "Curing Japan's America Addiction," Morita says publicly what a lot of Japanese think and say privately, in sharp contrast to whatever pleasantries they offer at cocktail parties with foreign diplomats and policy wonks, or in speeches they give abroad. For that reason, "Curing Japan's America Addiction" deserves to be read by anybody tired of the Orwellian doublespeak coming out of Washington and Tokyo and interested in an alternative, very contrarian view on contemporary Japan, a view far more prominent among Japanese than certain policy wonks and academic specialists on Japan-U.S. relations want to admit.

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