Sunday, March 10, 2013

A return to where it began: an anomaly structure

On the way to Philosophers' Road, in Kyoto

Some reflections of the Japanese year ahead

There's been a little bit of loving neglect at this little place. There's been a lot of work going on in other places while my ideas on Japan's politics and the year ahead have chugged away in the background. Classes have started again too so I really do want to start putting down some thoughts again, here where it all began. 

I thought I might begin with reviewing some of the notes I made on the Japanese election back in December, having arrived just a couple of days afterwards.

I arrived on Wednesday and had a good conversation with our taxi driver on the way home. He was disappointed with the result overall and surprised by the extent of the DPJ loss, He was also very cynical about of role of religious parties in this case the Komei and held quite a strong view that there is no place for mixing religion and politics. 

The driver opened up about Makiko TANAKA, daughter of a former prime minister (Kakuei TANAKA), and who lost her seat in this election. If you 'forget your supporters, they'll forget you' he said. She just became aloof from the people who supported her. 

He was also concerned about the downturn in the economy. 'Tobikomi' incidents have increased (people throwing themselves in front of trains) and he spoke at some length about the depressed state of the economy: people aren't using taxis anywhere near the extent they have previously especially at this time of year with end of year parties and the like; people are just going to the first round of drinks and not going on for further rounds, something as a student I recall, the 'hashigo' ...what we might call a bit of a pub crawl. It was a good long chat and 3500 yen later we parted our ways. 

LDP seeks to reclaim the party rooms in the parliament
Before the week was out, there was some strong resonance with the actions of the Liberal Democrats and Queensland's Newman Government when the leaders of the LDP made quite a fuss about regaining 'their' rooms in Parliament House...right down to analysts commentating on the interior of the building, showing the 'real estate' and how it was configured across the parties and with the new seats. Remember the LNP Government in Queensland palming the opposition to rooms in another building? That sort of thing. 

Some interesting signals were being sent in this post-election week as satisfaction that the Nikkei index was back into the 10000 mark was attributed to Abe's reelection and yet, the 'feeling on the ground' was that the average person was feeling less than optimistic. A neologism was coined: 'Abenomics'

Thee was a minor tremor Thursday morning to remind me where I am because a visit to Tokyo is never complete without an small earthquake

But perhaps it was just a sign of the nepotism as PM Abe offers a significant position in his office to the nephew of a former business leader, Keidanren's Imai san.

Final numbers declared: LDP 294, DPJ 57, Ishin 54, Komei 31, Minna 18, mirai 9, JCP 8, Shamin 2, Taichi 1, Kokumin 1, Non-aligned 5; a big recovery in seats for the LDP. Already there is discussion about the next election, an upper house election due in July 2013. 

A sign I came across in Kyoto.
No, I don't know what it means either but it managed to capture
 a certain 'something' about the zeitgeist. 
In a newspaper poll taken 17-18 Dec, 57% thought the change was good; 51% have some expectation of Abe, though 42% don't. The same poll suggests it wasn't so much a win for the LDP (only 7% support their policies) but 81% were disappointed in the DPJ's policies.

Some letters to the editor in the Asahi Shimbun could be written by Australians: a 22 yo student wrote that of four friends sitting and chatting, two voted and two didn't. One said he voted the way his mother did, the other disappointed that no party opposed the consumption tax (a kind of GST). Noted that social media was the way to speak to young people since they don't read newspapers. Would like to be able to vote via the Internet. Finished saying that rather than say young people aren't interested in politics, perhaps it is politics that isn't making the effort to reach young people?

The AERA newsmagazine special issue this week contains a couple of interesting articles. One in particular looks at the promise of politics of the future with the election of a number of politicians under 40. Journalists and a commentators Keats like to focus on a particular group, previously it's been women candidates. This time however, it is this group. Of 271 candidates, 48 (17.7%) were elected in the single member electorates and 78 (28.8%) were elected in the PR electorate. There's also something interesting about the 'third wave' discussions, particularly with the Ishin no Kai party and what's to come of it. There will be some interesting material to follow up with here. 

Two weeks later, the first week of the new year, there is something of a forced optimism...a new government so great expectations on the one hand but at the same time a sense of frustration that it is Abe Mark II; so while the yen is up and the Nikkei is sitting in the 10,000 area, there are nonetheless doubts about change really happening.

We also seem to be upping the ante over the disputed islets between China and Japan, Abe might force a change in the Constitution to manage this. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail. 

In other news this new year's week, we mark the demise after one month of the Kada/Ozawa party 'Mirai no To', literally translated as the 'Future Party'; instead, they called it the 'Tomorrow Party', I guess there wasn't a future in it after all.

To the next few months
PM Abe has made his initial visit to the United States. The Senkaku/ Daiyou dispute continues to play out. (I think about the paper I presented last year at a conference on this very issue, before it escalated...I must get it published.) There is a new president of the Bank of Japan...someone more compliant to the Abe Government agenda? Let's see.

And this week of course, sees the second anniversary of the Tohoku tsunami/earthquake and radiation fallout. It will be a sombre week for Japan and a test I think for the Abe Government as it feels, I suspect, the great expectations that people will put on this government to finally do something. It was this immobilism which contributed to the DPJ loss; the LDP, as opposition parties are wont to do, made great political mileage out of this. Now, it will be their turn...this week will tell us much about that I think.