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Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009

COUNTERPOINT

Reading between the lines of Hatoyama's far-sighted 'vision thing'


The prime minister's keynote policy address in the Diet affords the nation's leader an opportunity to present their overall thinking to the people — as its name in Japanese, shoshin hyomei (declaration of convictions), would indeed suggest.

Shigeru Yoshida delivered the first of these "state of the nation" orations in 1953; Eisaku Sato made a whopping 13 between 1964 and 1971; while the last encumbent, Taro Aso, managed just one, in 2008.

In his first such speech, delivered before members of both houses of the Diet on Oct. 26, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama minced no words in expounding with crystal clarity, over 52 minutes (30 minutes longer than Aso), his vision of what Japanese people must do to reinvent and revitalize their country.

In examining the subtext of that far-sighted vision, however, a nagging question remains: Will the Japanese people step up to the challenges outlined in the address — or will they sit passively by, expecting the new people on top to fix up the country for them?

Let's get to some key elements of Hatoyama's remarks.

In the speech, he interpreted his election victory as an indication that voters desire an end to the motareai no kankei between politicians and bureaucrats — an expression rendered as "the cozy relationship" in the official provisional translation. However, its true nuance goes further and is more concrete than "cozy," since it actually denotes a "relationship of interdependence."

Hence the prime minister was declaring that he is, in effect, set on attempting to overturn the very principle of Japanese governance established at the beginning of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). At that time, it was deemed vital for Japan to put public policy making in the hands of incorruptible, elite public servants to ensure it was not the dictate of powerful private or sectional interests. In the ensuing century and a half, however, the bureaucracy has become so entwined with those powerful interests that it is hard to tell the hand from the glove.

When, toward the end of his address, Hatoyama referred to the "bloodless Heisei Restoration" he aspired to effecting, he deliberately used the word ishin (restoration), a reference to the beginnings of the Meiji Era that marked the end of centuries of feudalism.

In so doing, he was clearly stating that he intends the present Heisei Era that began with the accession of Emperor Akihito in 1989 (after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito, ended the 1925-89 Showa Era) to be witness to the overturning of the Meiji order just as surely as the Meiji order toppled the Tokugawa Shogunate. (Hatoyama notably avoids the word kaikaku [reform], so callously abused by Junichiro Koizumi during his time as prime minister from 2001 to 2006.)

He went on to signal an osoji (complete cleanup) of the profligacy that characterized government policies under the 50-odd-year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party that his Democratic Party resoundingly ended in Aug. 30's Lower House elections.

But this point is not merely a negative one aimed at his opposition. Rather, the thrust here is directed at the decision-making process in the new government. The prime minister evidently intends to concentrate that role in his Cabinet. This will ensure that decisions are arrived at more quickly and are put into effect more efficiently than in the past. This being Japan, there will still be nemawashi (literally, "digging a circle around the roots," i.e. consulting a circle of interests before taking action), but the circle itself will be a tighter, more controllable one.

I come to what the prime minister has set as the key word of his administration: yuai.

The government calls yuai "fraternity" in English; and on this the prime minister sets his hopes of creating a nation that cares about people's needs and exudes friendliness toward others, both at home and overseas.

Yuai, though, is not such an easily translatable word into English, and I don't believe "fraternity," with its sense of male-oriented clubbiness, is at all ideal.

Rather, what the prime minister actually seems to be aiming for is a "friendly rapport" among people, Japanese and non-Japanese, and an acknowledgement that, wherever we live in the world, we are all in the same boat when it comes to our livelihoods, our security and our very survival. Yuai underscores Hatoyama's vision of a new Japanese globalism — a policy orientation that Japan, which has operated until now with an unspoken guilt from its 20th-century militarism, has previously avoided.

Herein lies the primary subtext of that Oct. 26 Diet address. It is that by establishing a rapport across all gender, age, economic and ethnic lines — both within Japan and worldwide — a concrete platform will be erected from which to tackle common problems.

When Hatoyama says that he wants to turn "from concrete to people," this, too, is something that can only be achieved through cooperation and rapport between the populace and private enterprise, based on a humane reckoning of public need.

Deciding at the national level that a dam is needed in some faraway place, for example, and siphoning off massive funds to build it, is the antithesis of yuai. The only rapport in that is the rapport between biased officials and the greedy construction company executives who have supported them for personal or corporate gain.

The subtext of the prime minister's statement regarding ties with the United States interestingly centers on the word taito (equal) in the phrase taitona nichibei domei (an equal Japan-U.S. alliance). This means that, while Japan will certainly retain its extremely close security links with the U.S., no longer will it be bound by the postwar policy of "wait and respond."

Hatoyama went on to announce that his government will make proposals to the U.S. in a manner he described as sekkyokutekini (officially translated as "actively"). Clearly, the implication appears to be that positive initiatives will be taken by Tokyo — which will "actively initiate proposals" — meaning the Japanese ball that has never really been hit back is finally heading for President Barack Obama's court.

The two great transformations in modern Japanese history — the 1868 Meiji Restoration and the postwar democratic reconstruction beginning in 1945 — both arose largely through gaiatsu (external pressure). Now, though, Hatoyama has emphasized in this declaration of convictions that his Heisei Restoration will comes from the inside, by virtue of the will of the people.

However challenging the subtext of his address may be, the vital question remains: Will this eloquent call to the people spur them into action?

Sovereignty is being passed down, out of the hands of elite officials and into those of 127 million citizens. Will they grasp it or let it slip through their fingers?

In its entire history, Japan has never been this close to real democracy.



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