Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Morning in Japan

In my Cambridge M.Phil dissertation, I wrote the following:
Koizumi, a self-described ‘henjin’ (literally ‘odd person’), was elected on a platform calling for extensive political and economic reforms, in a sense similar to Ronald Reagan’s conservative, reform-minded campaign in 1980. Like Reagan, Koizumi was elected as Japan confronted debilitating economic turmoil and a profound crisis of confidence, and like Reagan, his reputation as a maverick cemented his reformist credentials in the public eye. In short, he constituted a decisive break from politicians who had preceded him, who had been less decisive, less willing to take risks and less keen to push a comprehensive agenda for reform.
I'm not posting this just to cite myself approvingly; I'm citing it because it seems that "Morning in Japan" thinking is all the rage in Japanese politics -- the spirit of Reagan was hardly the unique property of Mr. Koizumi, as it is also lodged in the DPJ.

I was prompted to write this post because I've noticed that the posters with which Mr. Asao's prefectural office is festooned include the exhortation "ニッポンに、あさを," which roughly translates to "make it morning in Japan."* Posters for LDP candidates include similar phrases declaring the candidate's commitment to continuing reforms undertaken under Prime Minister Koizumi. If Koizumi has one legacy, it's changing the terms of Japanese political debate, perhaps for good. Both the LDP and the DPJ are trying to show that they are more dedicated to reform and more capable of executing reforms than the other party. While implementation has been piecemeal, and the LDP has yet to enunciate a grand vision of what a reformed Japan will look like -- Abe's "beautiful country" remarks notwithstanding -- it is an extraordinary thing that "reform" is the undisputed goal of Japanese politics, with politicians hastening to declare to voters that they are fully committed to remaking Japan.

At the same time, this puts the DPJ in a difficult position. Now that it has to share the "reformist" mantle with the post-Koizumi LDP, the DPJ will have to convince voters that it is more capable of implementing reforms, which may be true, but fifty years of nearly uninterrupted LDP rule tell me that the voters may stick with the known quantity.

In any case, I've continued my work on the municipal campaign in Zushi. The candidates are all on the younger side (mid- to late thirties) and are all appear to be proteges in some form of Mr. Asao. I was right in my hunch that Mr. Asao -- who is the prefectural party chief -- is trying to turn Kanagawa Prefecture into a DPJ stronghold, except that it turns out that he has already done so. Hence the attention from the national party leadership: municipal election it may be, but a win further solidifies Kanagawa Prefecture and places DPJ politicians in positions of authority. On Wednesday Mr. Asao himself came to Zushi Station at 6:30am to hand out pamphlets to commuters and make a speech on behalf of the candidates.

To make Morning in Japan, I guess you have to be up mornings in Japan.

* - Nippon ni, asa o: This is somewhat difficult to translate, because there's no verb in this statement, but the particles "に" and "を" indicate that Nippon (Japan) is the indirect object and "asa" (morning) is the direction objection. If this phrase included a verb it would be something along the lines of "to make," meaning that this phrase roughly translates to "(I aim to make it) morning in Japan."

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