Being Japanese means always having to say you’re sorryhttp://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2009/02/17/52534/being-japanese-means-always-having-to-say-youre-sorry/
Posted by Gwen Robinson on Feb 17 08:31.
Shoichi never had any intention of quitting his job. He liked being finance minister. And actually, he really was very good at it - at least on the days he could remember. He was definitely one of the more intelligent members of the Cabinet, he’d heard foreign reporters say that. Oh, except for that infernal reporter from The Economist, who had the nerve to write that he had found him in “erratic form” in his office, with his shirt unbuttoned to the waist - perhaps the man had meant “erotic?”
And anyway, what was wrong with saying that women have their “proper place” and their “own abilities” in, for example, “flower arranging, sewing, or cooking”?
Shoichi had worked long and hard to get to the position of finance minister, sitting through countless election rallies, making boring speeches, shaking hands along the way - and he only ever really fluffed his lines and fell about a few times. When he’d hit the - err, cough medicine ― a bit too hard. Well, maybe more than a few times. He couldn’t remember really.
But this time was different. It was that long flight to Rome, and of course that slug of cough medicine - on top of that glass, or was it a bottle? Or two?, of nice Italian wine, and those pain killers - that really did it.
Damn those cameras. Unfair of them really to expect him to perform at a press conference. He’d genuinely thought the central bank governor was wrong and was only trying to correct him; and remind all those idiots about the level of Japanese interest rates. What’s a digit or two’s difference?
Anyway. It all ended badly - though not for his reported successor, Kaoru Yosano - who is known to be a moderate drinker. As Bloomberg reports on Tuesday:
Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said he will resign amid accusations he was drunk at a Group of Seven press conference, dealing a fresh blow to Prime Minister Taro Aso’s teetering government.
“I deeply apologize to the prime minister, the people and members of parliament for the significant trouble I caused,” Nakagawa, 55, told reporters in Tokyo today. Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Kaoru Yosano will replace him when he steps down, Kyodo News said, without citing where it got the information.
Aso’s popularity has plunged as lawmakers from both sides of parliament criticized his handling of the economic crisis and a series of scandals and misstatements drew public ire. Nakagawa’s departure comes as companies from Toyota Motor Corp. to Sony Corp. fire thousands of workers and the nation heads for its deepest recession since World War II.
“I would not be surprised if this folly signals the death- knell” for Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party, Kirby Daley, senior strategist and head of capital introductions at Newedge Group in Hong Kong. Nakagawa’s “unthinkable behavior, and the fact that the prime minister did not immediately call for his job, reduces his own fledgling credibility.”
Japan’s politicians lose their way at a bad timehttp://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/579dffea-fc44-11dd-aed8-000077b07658.html?nclick_check=1
By Gerald Curtis
Published: February 16 2009 20:10 | Last updated: February 16 2009 20:10
Not only is Japan’s economy contracting at least twice as fast as its peers, with data on Monday showing the worst quarterly performance for a third of a century, but Japanese politics also seem about to implode.
The standing of Taro Aso, prime minister, in the opinion polls is in free fall. His statement last week that he had opposed privatising the country’s huge postal savings system when he served in the government of Junichiro Koizumi – a comment that, like so many others he has made, he subsequently backed away from – appeared to be more than his predecessor but two could take.
Declaring that he was too flabbergasted by Mr Aso’s ineptitude even to be angered, Mr Koizumi all but said the current leader should resign or the Liberal Democratic party should get rid of him. The LDP could not fight a general election, Mr Koizumi made clear, with Mr Aso at the helm.
An election has to be held by September and the opposition Democratic party of Japan has an excellent chance of winning. The LDP knows it faces disaster unless it turns public opinion round but, like the proverbial deer staring into the headlights, it is paralysed by fear rather than energised by it. As one senior LDP politician said to me: “Being in the LDP is like being on the deck of the Titanic but with one important difference. We know that the ship is going to sink. Now all we can do is wait for it to happen and then see who can swim.”
The possibility of taking over the reins of government is, however, showing little sign of energising the DPJ. When one cuts through the clichés of a “green new deal” and other verbiage, the stark reality is that the party has no clue about what to do either in its first 100 days or thereafter.
The DPJ talks about replacing bureaucrats with politicians in key ministerial positions but says virtually nothing about what policies these newly empowered politicians would implement. Ichiro Ozawa, its leader, is a survivor from the old school of Japanese politics too busy micromanaging the election – he is his own Karl Rove – and too unwilling to share decision-making with others in the party, especially those whom he suspects are not entirely loyal to him, to be spending time preparing a transition.
The other day I asked an MP who is one of the party’s economic policy specialists what fiscal policies the DPJ would employ to deal with what is shaping up to be Japan’s worst postwar recession. His answer: “We haven’t thought much about that yet.”
He went on to give a long laundry list of the risks posed by the US stimulus package and banking bail-out, enumerating all the things the DPJ should not do with the power that seems to be within its reach and saying nothing about what it should do to deal with Japan’s economic crisis.
In the 1980s Japan accomplished its century-long goal of “catching up with the west”. It has groped unsuccessfully ever since for what to do for an encore. It sent the economy into overdrive to accomplish the other part of that Meiji-era slogan, which was not only to catch up with but to “overtake the west”. That produced an economic bubble and subsequent “lost decade”, a period that came to an end after Mr Koizumi became prime minister in 2001.
But his success in pursuing a reform agenda came in the face of intense resistance from within his own party and was more a consequence of his personal popularity than a result of any public enthusiasm for a more liberal economy. Once he left office, traditional forces that had been knocked down but not knocked out recovered a lot of ground. The result has been a succession of inept leaders and the absence of a coherent policy agenda.
It would be comforting to think that this is all part of a Schumpeterian process of creative destruction. But since Mr Koizumi’s 2006 departure, it has been a process without creativity. There will be more destruction, perhaps including the demise of both the LDP and DPJ and the formation of new parties. Whatever the political goings-on, there is no optimistic short-term scenario for Japan.
At some point the public will grasp the seriousness of the economic troubles and demand change. But that crisis mentality does not exist today. Therefore things will not only get worse before they get better. They will get worse before the political system comes up with policies that even stand a chance of making them better.
The writer is Burgess professor of political science at Columbia University and former director of its Weatherhead East Asian Institute