Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 5: Proportional representation candidates

Now that I’ve covered my local race, now it’s time to take a brief look at some of the more notable candidates for Tokyo’s 17 proportional representation seats. I am limiting myself to candidates who are only running for PR seats, not those who have doubled up with a simultaneous candidacy in a single member district (With two exceptions: The DPJ’s Tairo Hirayama and LDP’s Ichiro Kamoshita are both running as PR candidates in the first spot in addition to Tokyo’s 13th). This means we are scraping the bottom of the barrel – candidates included just in case the party does well. We can’t be sure any party really believes in these people, but they are trustworthy enough to gain party backing.

Keiichiro Nakayama, political commentator (People’s New Party, never before elected)  – A former Yomiuri reporter turned independent commentator who served as a member of Yoshiro Mori’s PR team when he was prime minister (not exactly a stellar record…) He ran for the upper house in 2007 under the PNP ticket but lost. He has penned several  books, apparently getting his big break covering the short-lived Takeo Miki administration (Miki took over from Kakuei Tanaka following the Lockheed bribery scandal and overreached in his efforts to achieve political reform), and seems to have made his career as one of those political reporters who becomes a mouthpiece and fixer for the politicians he’s supposed to be covering as a journalist.

Keiichiro Nakayama K-1791

Kazuo Ishida, LDP Tokyo Prefecture staffer (LDP, age 65, never before elected) – Ishida is the 28th and final candidate on the LDP’s PR roster. In 2005, their last choice for PR candidates was Taizo Sugimura, who got in and has come to be widely considered a disaster. It’s possible they decided to go with the safest possible candidate (a lifelong party man who has no delusions of grandeur or, from the looks of it, any real ambition).

Kazuo Ishida 8365639

Junichiro Yasui, lower house member (LDP, never before elected) – Yasui is one of the Koizumi children who won his diet seat in 2005 on the wave of LDP support for Koizumi’s postal privatization plan. He’s a dropout of Waseda University but was known as the head of the Waseda retail district (one of the familiar-looking shotengai that you see around Japan). Once again he is low on the PR list and will probably not make it in this time.

Junichiro Yasui d5fda6d37bb0046cbea42da5a275f16b

Masaaki Kuniyasu, former ambassador to Venezuela, former ambassador to Portugal (LDP, age 71, never before elected) – This guy doesn’t look happy to be running for election with such slim hopes of victory. He’s also toward the bottom of the LDP’s Tokyo PR list. According to his Asahi questionnaire, he’d like to see Japan known as a “an environmentally advanced nation.” It appears that he (or someone with the same name) wrote a book in 1996 titled The Truth Behind The Philippines’ People Power Revolution.

Masaaki Kuniyasu YRYC84001034K_1

– The New Komeito are running two people named Takagi next to each other in the Tokyo PR block, but they appear to be unrelated. One, Yosuke Takagi, is a former Mainichi Shimbun reporter.

Eiko Ishige, NPO board member, author (DPJ, age 71, reelected three times) – Thanks to Jiji I know she her sign is a Leo. Her field of specialty is elderly benefits, and she has written several books on the topic, including The Elderly and Welfare (A Book to Understand the Elderly). Judging from the title of one of her books, she considers herself a citizen activist. Her name has a difficult kanji for Ei that won’t show up when you try to search for it.

Eiko Ishige 8365643

– The Happiness Realization Party has adopted a strategy of placing recognizable names in their PR spots. The bassist from the Blue Hearts, a manga artist, and shady inventor Doctor Nakamats are all there in the Tokyo block. The former two are apparently believers, but Nakamats is just looking for cheap promotion just as he was when he ran to be Tokyo governor in 2007. He charges exorbitant amounts for dubious-looking inventions such as the Love Jet 69 sex toy available for 30,000 yen plus shipping.

OK, that’s it for now! You can see me tomorrow night with the live coverage of the election results with the good people at Transpacific Radio.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 4: Kazumasa Fujiyama (Happiness Realization Party

The final candidate in Tokyo’s 13th district is Kazumasa Fujiyama, running under the Happiness Realization Party ticket.

Before I get to this guy’s profile, I want to quote from an excellent piece on the party from the Irish Times:

Founded earlier this year to offer voters a “third choice”, the HRP has an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan’s population by 2.5 to 300 million, overtake the US to become the world’s premier power, and rapidly rearm for conflict with North Korea and China.

If elected, its lawmakers will inject religion into all areas of life and fight to overcome Japan’s “colonial” mentality, which has “fettered” the nation’s true claim to global leadership.

A new book, The Guardian Spirit of Kim Jong-Il Speaks , by party founder Ryuho Okawa explains that earlier this month at a session in the party’s Tokyo headquarters, the voice of Kim’s guardian angel warned of his plans. But at least Kim is alive – Okawa also claims to be able to receive the thoughts of Japan’s notorious wartime monarch, emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), and his deceased predecessors.

Being able to commune with the dead is but one string to Okawa’s bow. A reincarnation of Buddha, he achieved great enlightenment in 1981, according to the party’s website, “and awakened to the hidden part of his consciousness, El Cantare, whose mission is to bring happiness to all humanity”.

Before he founded the Happy Science religion in 1986, Okawa wrote books under the names of Muhammad, Christ, Buddha and Confucius. Conveniently, if improbably, speaking in Japanese, some of the prophets had much the same message: Japan is the world’s greatest power and should ditch its constitution, rearm and take over Asia.

The Happies boast that they have sold 11 million copies of their bible, Shoshin Hogo (The Dharma of the Right Mind), in Japan since 1986, and opened 200 temples.

Okawa’s books, mixing new-age philosophy with self-improvement tips and political views, have sold millions more, apparently providing the funding for the campaign. Translating those beliefs into political power, however, has proved easier said than done. Tokyo voters shunned the Happies’ candidates in this month’s municipal election, which ended LDP rule in the city and set the DPJ up for a historic national win next month.

Also, you might be interested to see the Happy party’s new manifesto video. It’s very similar to the one they produced for the Tokyo assembly elections (that animated treasure was unfortunately taken down), only this time slightly more professional:

Now, to the candidate:

Fujiyama happy party SN390094

Profile: An architect by trade, Fujiyama became a full-time Happy Science member in 1995 and has since risen to become a leader in Tokyo – he previously served as the head of the Science’s Nippori Branch and Adachi Branch before being named deputy leader of the Tokyo Branch in 2009.

Before becoming a full-time Happie, Fujiyama was an employee of Haseko Corporation, a construction/engineering firm that’s listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It’s unclear whether he was a member of Happy Science before 1995 or if he

One of Fujiyama’s bases of operations is the Science’s Nippori branch (seen here on Google Street View), which I happened to spot during a walk the other day:

Policy: As all Happiness Realization Party candidates appear to be carbon copies of one another, it’s no surprise that Fujiyama supports all the planks mentioned in the above video – slash taxes, smash North Korea, and somehow make Japan the world’s biggest economy by 2030 (I suspect they’d have to destroy all other countries to do this).

When asked in an Asahi questionnaire about how he would like the world to see Japan, he answered as “a great economy.” (経済大国)

Fujiyama claims in a blog post that the owner of a building near Kameari Station said she’ll support him because she hates paying consumption taxes.

Something interesting: Fujiyama bears an eerie resemblance to party founder and leader Ryuho Okawa:


Fujiyama asahi P_20090626SNSA0030S



OK, I’ll admit that their parts are on opposite sides, but don’t you think they both have a sort of “divine salaryman” look going on?


My next and final profile post will look at a few of the Tokyo proportional representation candidates.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 1 – Ichiro Kamoshita (LDP)

The August 30 general election will select all 480 members of Japan’s lower house of parliament. 300 of those seats are apportioned to 300 single-member districts, elected in first-past-the-post contests similar to the US House of Representatives. The other 180 are chosen by proportional representation among 11 regions, which means that in each region parties will receive seats in the proportion that their party receives votes.

My job for the next few days is to profile the candidates in my local district, Tokyo’s 13th.


First up is the incumbent LDP dietman and licensed psychiatrist Ichiro Kamoshita. He’s been re-elected five times and served as environment minister in the Yasuo Fukuda cabinet.

A native of Adachi-ku, Kamoshita spent his entire education in the district before entering the Nihon University’s medical school. He then worked as a psychiatrist until 1993, when he ran and won his first election under the ticket of the Japan New Party, a party that was formed during Japan’s period of political instability and now no longer exists.

Since joining the LDP in 1997, he has risen quickly, scoring a position in the second Abe cabinet in 2007 as environment minister.

Unfortunately for Kamoshita, his rise came at a time of turmoil for LDP governments. Abe’s cabinet reshuffle came soon after the LDP’s punishing defeat in upper house elections that resulted in the ruling coalition losing control of that house. Simultaneously, the media was unearthing scandal after scandal on cabinet ministers, which just months before resulted in the suicide of then-agriculture minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka. During his tenure as environment minister, Kamoshita became best known for becoming the focus of his own funding scandal as discrepancies were found in various official financial disclosures.

When Abe suddenly resigned in September and handed the prime ministership to Yasuo Fukuda, Kamoshita was kept on along with most of the rest of Abe’s second cabinet. He was spared further scrutiny of his political funding as similar discrepancies were found in the disclosures of high-level DPJ officials.

Kamoshita is a member of the LDP’s Tsushima faction, a group that traces its roots to the Takeshita faction of the 1980s. Known as “mainstream conservative,” the Tsushima-ha is led by former health and welfare minister Yuji Tsushima and has 68 members, notably current agriculture minister Shigeru Ishiba, gaffe-prone ex-defense minister Fumio Kyuma, and last but not least the flamboyant Japan Post-bashing Kunio Hatoyama, who was justice minister and then internal affairs and communication minister under Aso.

Policy: Aside from the official LDP platform of emphasizing economic recovery first and the LDP’s “power of responsibility” (責任力), Kamoshita has his own set of labor-related proposals that he’s outlined in the form of a Scientology-style stress test. They include encouraging telecommuting and helping people to have two homes (a small apt. near the office and a weekend home on the beach).

Kamoshita’s literature and website will not let you forget that this man is a real live doctor. It’s this personality-driven appeal that shines through more than his policies.

Here‘s his answer to a Mainichi questionnaire on his policies, though I doubt you’ll find much that’s surprising. He supports the Koizumi reforms “to a point,” supports a missile defense system, wouldn’t ban corporate political donations, supports temporary employment, opposes the recording of police interrogations, etc. etc.

Chances of winning: He might not make it. The Nikkei-Yomiuri poll gives the edge to his rival from the DPJ Tairo Hirayama, and he’s lost to the DPJ before in 2003 (but won election as a proportional representation candidate). A news report on one of his campaign speeches indicates a lack of enthusiasm. About 100 people watched him speak in front of Kitasenju Station, but apparently no one applauded or cheered. One observer noted, “I’ve never seen such a quiet campaign speech.”

Tell me something interesting: Ichiro Kamoshita is one of those rare Japanese politicians who actually has a life outside of politics. Soon after he was first elected in 1993, he began to write prolifically in the self-help genre, and to date has authored more than 90 books mostly on mental health, including such titles as Read This Book if You No Longer Feel Like Meeting People, A Book to Cure “Not Being a Morning Person,” Subtle Habits of “Women who Are Chosen [by Men]”, and Mother, Don’t “Love Your Kids Too Much.” Many of his books seem to apply the same basic approach to various problems. So if he loses this one, you can bet he can keep working as a writer.

He has also released three music-therapy CDs – one each for dieting, skin conditions, and constipation.

Kamoshita visited the potentially sinking nation of Tuvalu in his capacity as Minister of Environment to initiate an effort by JICA, Japan’s aid implementation agency, to assess local conditions for future support from the Japanese government to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Take the LDP stress test, courtesy Ichiro Kamoshita

My current lower house representative in Tokyo’s 13th district is Ichiro Kamoshita, an LDP man who is now seeking his sixth term in office in the August 30 general election. He’s also a licensed psychiatrist who’s written more than 90 self-help books.

Early polls show him facing an uphill battle against DPJ challenger as anger at LDP rule rises, but that doesn’t mean he’ll go down without a fight.

To help promote some of his policy ideas as he seeks re-election, Kamoshita has borrowed a fun idea from the Scientologist playbook: stress tests! Those who visit his website or receive one of his pamphlets can take a test entitled “Working 2.0” (働き方 2.0).

The test asks, “Is your mind stressed out?” (心のストレス、たまってませんか?). To answer, the reader must go through a list of symptoms and check all that apply. Here is the full list:

  • I feel like meetings and discussions are actually meaningless
  • I keep working hard but I remain poor as ever
  • I have at some point felt like throwing it all away
  • I sometimes feel like I want a life where I can spend all day looking at the ocean
  • I sometimes feel like I want to liquidate the past and start over from scratch
  • I can more or less predict what my life will be like in 20 years
  • I have been doing the same exact job ever since joining my company
  • I have recently stopped chatting with family and coworkers
  • I have at times felt suddenly lonely in closed-in spaces such as the subway or elevators
  • I have called someone just to hear their voice, only to hang up after the second or third ring
  • It has become painful to go back and forth between home and work
  • It makes me jealous to see the empty trains heading the opposite way during rush hour.


Here is my paraphrase translation of the results

If you checked 0-3 items: You’re the type who is good at dealing with stress. As someone with the capacity to process pent-up emotions, you realize it’s not worth it to get mad at your idiot boss. You know you can either take action or ignore it.

4-7: You need a mental detox. Just as removing toxins makes your skin look healthier, removing stress will make each day brighter and help you become better at many things. Why don’t you try and talk with friends or those around you about the things that worry you? Talking to someone will help you sort out the things that have been going back and forth in your head when you were thinking about them all by yourself.

8-10: Try and improve your lifestyle. Stress is the worst when you cannot escape it. You might need to switch jobs, take a vacation, or do something to get out of the group of people you are having problems with and break with the status quo. You might benefit from vegging out in the bathroom for 30 minutes or skipping a day of work sometime.

How did you do on the test? You can take it in Japanese here. I think I got around 4, but then the test seems designed to put everyone in that range. Who hasn’t thought about living at the beach?

Kamoshita’s plans for you

After the results, the next page is a list of labor-related policy proposals (note that at this point the reader still doesn’t know this is a political pamphlet, let alone from LDP man Kamoshita). They are:

Telecommuting – With almost 70% of workers in the services sector, it is possible for more and more people to work using technology instead of commuting to an office.

Working closer to home – Under this proposal, people would have two homes – a small room in the city close enough to their office to let them get their by bicycle, and a larger weekend house in the country where they’d rest on holidays and retire in old age. This would eliminate the issue of packed commuter trains.

More flexible working hours – By allowing flextime and diverse employment schemes such as temp work, people would be able to choose their working style while being eligible for the same social programs.

Kamoshita understands

In the final two pages Kamoshita reveals himself, tells of his own experience, and pledges to fight for the hard-working salarypersons of Japan.

You see, until age 44 Kamoshita also had to ride crowded trains to work. He even occasionally had to get off midway due to the stress (thankfully he got elected in 1993 and has probably never ridden a commuter train since).


According to the Yomiuri, Kamoshita wrote this pamphlet himself and is immensely proud of it, noting that this original pamphlet might be the first of its kind in Japan.

For a politician, maybe. But unfortunately the Japanese Scientologists have beat him to it!

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0.2 – Scenarios of potential results

Who is likely to win?

No one can say for sure, but so far polls consistently favor the DPJ to pick up a large number of seats. Tobias Harris at the Observing Japan blog sees DPJ advantage wherever he looks, and so do the major weekly magazines. As I see it, there are three realistic scenarios, in order of likelihood:

1) The DPJ picks up a large number of seats but not enough to form a government alone or with its current opposition partners.

For the DPJ to win 241 seats, the number required to form a government without any help from coalition partners, it will have to expand its current standings from 112 seats by 129. Alternately, to form a coalition government with current opposition forces, the DPJ would need to pick up 98 seats (assuming all other parties stay the same).

Either result would be a true blowout. I haven’t checked, but one expert on the subject has told me that a gain of 129 seats would be the biggest win under the current constitution. However, that’s the result that most in-depth analysis is predicting.

But what if it doesn’t happen? It’s entirely possible that the DPJ could pick up just 90 seats, eight seats short of a clear win. In that case, as yesterday’s Nikkei notes, immediately after the election the parties would have 30 days to negotiate a government coalition before the extraordinary Diet session must be held to choose a prime minister. In that case, minority parties such as Your Party could end up being the deciding factor – they could go either way. The Nikkei predicts this could lead to some party defections as various groups jockey for position.

A DPJ loss would be an enormous shock considering the momentum and expectations for a DPJ win. For some it would be a relief, while others (including many in the foreign press, apparently) would be sorely disappointed.

2) The DPJ picks up a historically unprecedented number of seats and can form a government either on its own or in a coalition with the current opposition.

This is the easiest scenario to envision and it’s the one most widely reported. If the DPJ can pick up at least 98 seats, assuming other opposition parties stay the same, it wins. It can form a government headed by DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama.

3) The LDP pulls off an upset and manages to stay in power somehow.

Expectations for the LDP seem next to non-existent. While the mainstream domestic media are maintaining a more or less neutral tone, polls consistent show a clear advantage to the DPJ. The foreign media seems to discount the possibility of an LDP win (in at least one case conducting a pre-emptive post-mortem), opting instead to play up the historic nature of the election. But it’s not at all an impossible scenario. If all of Aso’s political gambles, his smears of the DPJ, and his insistence that the LDP is the most responsible party to lead Japan end up paying off somehow, he will have pulled off a major achievement that could lead to his own long term in office.

This scenario does seem unlikely, however. As Hiroshi Yamaguchi and Tobias Harris have been showing, election predictions by people who have analyzed each district are all showing major DPJ gains.


And so ends my introduction to the lower house election. From here on in, I’ll be focusing on my local race in Tokyo’s 13th district.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0.1 – Issues and parties

Moving forward with my series on this upcoming election, today I would like to talk about the main issues at stake and outline the main parties in the race.

What are some of the issues in this election, and where do the main parties stand?

Bureaucratic control – As I mentioned in the last post, Japan’s bureaucracy has maintained control of the ship of state for most of the postwar period. The DPJ wants to fix that and create a system more like the British executive branch, while the LDP pledges to do some trimming around the edges.

Pensions – With the aging of Japan’s population, there is a widespread concern that the country’s pension system won’t be able to keep up. These concerns are no doubt bolstered when the government acts to limit benefits, as it has several times in recent history, or is caught losing records and misappropriating large chunks of the pension fund. As a result, the pensions issue turns up as the top priority for voters in most polls. A general consensus seems to have formed that the only way to fund the pension liabilities is to raise consumption taxes, but that remains a political third rail.

Depopulation – As mentioned above, the issue of population decline is a major source for concern, as the entire model for economic growth more or less hinges on a growing population. The prospect of relative economic decline has many Japanese putting off childbirth until later in life and settling in for a long-term period of mediocre lifestyles. To help assuage these concerns all parties have pledged one form or another of childcare support – The LDP pledges to make school affordable, while the DPJ has promised to give cash handouts to couples with children while levying tax penalties on single-income families with no children.No party is talking about expanding immigration as a way to stem depopulation, a move that would be controversial but has been widely argued for.

Economic turmoil/unemployment – The LDP has made the current economic downturn its top priority. Aso has repeated that it will take three years for Japan’s economy to fully recover (though it’s odd that he started saying that more than six months ago and he’s still saying “three years” in TV ads. Shouldn’t it be 2.5 years by now?) and will continue efforts to combat the short-term deficit.

Structural reform – Though the 2005 election was fought on the merits of privatizing the postal service, both parties appear set to revise the terms of privatization if they win this time around. Aso’s LDP pledges to “say goodbye to excessive market fundamentalism” while the DPJ has pledged to freeze the planned stock offerings of Japan Post’s banking and insurance arms. On other fronts, however, the DPJ seems to be more active in pursuing some structural reforms – namely, eliminating “special accounts” that are managed by various ministries, and taking on bureaucratic rule as a whole.

One area of policy where the DPJ and LDP differ very little is support of less central government control over Japan’s local administration (which is incidentally a long-term goal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication).

Both the LDP and DPJ have also proposed reforming the legislative branch of government. The LDP wants to reduce the size of both houses by 30%, while the DPJ has only proposed eliminating 80 of the 180 lower house proportional representation seats.

Foreign policy – Though it might not decide the election, the parties have real differences when it comes to foreign policy. The LDP is seen as willing to maintain the status quo of the US-Japan alliance, while the DPJ has made it clear they would seek some more fundamental renegotiation. Meanwhile, the DPJ is viewed as more willing to build close relations with China, as evidenced by DPJ president Yukio Hatoyama’s pledge not to visit Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister. The prevailing view of US Japan-watchers seems to be that if the DPJ takes power, these differences would mean real but manageable change, as outlined in this WSJ op-ed by Dan Blumenthal and Gary Schmitt.

What are the main parties and what are their platforms?

Liberal Democratic Party – This is the party that’s been in power for almost all of Japan’s post-war history. There’s some truth to the cliche that the LDP is “neither liberal nor democratic… nor a party” – the members tend to be more right-wing (closer to the European definition of “liberal”) though the internal factions have widely disparate policy objectives. Their campaign centers on positioning themselves as the more responsible party versus a spendthrift DPJ that can’t be trusted with power.

(You can take a look at an English-language policy brochure here (PDF))

Democratic Party of Japan – The current main opposition party was formed in 1998 and took its current form in 2003 from an merger of several smaller parties that had either formed or evolved from the messy political reorganization of the 1990s. The LDP was removed from power in 1993 only to take back the premiership in various convoluted coalition governments until things stabilized in 1998, when the New Komeito and the LDP solidified an alliance that continues to this day. The DPJ, therefore, is a wide mix of former socialists, moderates, and conservatives united principally in their desire to gain power (this is very similar to the LDP’s uniting factor).

People’s New Party (Kokumin Shinto in Japanese) – A breakoff of the LDP, Kokumin Shinto is the party I like to call the anti-postal privatization party. This party was formed in 2005 when Koizumi ousted dozens of his own party for voting against his bill to privatize Japan Post, an effort aimed at helping restore Japan’s financial soundness while cutting off the political base of some of his political rivals. These included some long-time political heavyweights such as Tamisuke Watanuki of Toyama and Shizuka Kamei of Hiroshima, who now lead Kokumin Shinto. Their entire platform boils down to opposition to postal privatization, as the postal interests have long been the members’ source of support and funding. They are allied with the DPJ on the condition that the DPJ support the bill to freeze the impending IPOs of the Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance.

While Kokumin Shinto is somewhat single-minded, they have at times proven an adept opposition party, thanks to Shizuka Kamei, who is a foremost Soka Gakkai hater and opposition researcher.

New Party Nippon – This is another party formed in the wake of the LDP’s “postal rebellion” in 2005. It’s led by Yasuo Tanaka an author-turned-politician who led the fight against wasteful spending during his term as Nagano governor. This party remains tiny and in this election they are only fielding a few candidates.

Your Party – This is yet another party formed due a split in the LDP split, only this time the defectors are pro-structural reform elements. This party is led by Yoshimi Watanabe, a Tochigi Prefecture politician and former administrative reform minister who left the LDP after the party refused to implement his policy initiatives. His small party is also not expected to make much of an impact in this election, though if the results are close all small parties could become critical to forming a government.

New Komeito – This is the populist/pacifist party that serves as the political arm of lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai. With the third largest number of seats in the lower house, they are the LDP’s coalition partner and have pledged to stick with the LDP win or lose (yeah, right). They have a fairly stable voter base of Soka Gakkai believers, and so are expected to keep their current standing. They are campaigning on promises of administrative reform and enhanced social spending.

Japan Communist Party – The communist party in Japan has essentially renounced revolution as a means to achieve socialism and instead campaigns on labor and other populist issues. This election, as in 2005, they are emphasizing their role as a check on the conservative tendencies of the other parties. For instance, they devote the back page of their manifesto to criticizing some of the DPJ’s policies, though they are expected to enter into a coalition with them should the DPJ win. The DPJ’s success is likely to come at the expense of some of the JCP’s seats, especially in the proportional representation voting. Though the revival of 1920s communist propaganda The Crab Canning Ship has renewed interest in the JCP, it’s unclear whether that will help the party in this election. In last month’s Tokyo assembly election, the JCP actually lost seats. In my district the JCP is fielding a candidate against the LDP and DPJ.

Social Democratic Party – This center-left party is what remains of the Japan Socialist Party, the longtime permanent opposition under the 1955 system of semi-permanent LDP control. Since the 1990s their numbers have dwindled and they are struggling to remain relevant. They are also considered likely to coalition with the DPJ if they take the reins of government.

Happiness Realization Party – The sudden decision of new religion Happy Science, a personality cult of guru Ryuho Okawa, to form the Happiness Realization Party and run in the general election has raised eyebrows in Japan but not garnered much local press coverage. As I noted in my posts on the Tokyo assembly election, their campaign pledges make promises that don’t even seem physically possible – they want to eliminate most taxes, invade North Korea, and build a massive bullet train system all over the world. What does this have to do with reality? Not a whole lot, but the party seems to be betting that people are stupid enough to vote for “no consumption taxes.”

There are a couple other parties running, including Muneo Suzuki’s Shinto Daichi, a Hokkaido-specific party designed primarily to keep Suzuki in office. But they are too minor for me to bother with at this point.


In my next post, I will discuss the three likely post-election scenarios: Will the LDP stay on top, will the DPJ score a landslide and take over, or will the DPJ gains not be enough to form a government with the current opposition parties?

How to outwit a police investigation, Kyoto-style

I am currently reading Discrimination and Power (差別と権力), Akira Uozumi’s fascinating biography of Hiromu Nonaka, a former LDP heavyweight and cabinet minister known as a member of the burakumin, a minority outcast group who have suffered discrimination due to their historical role in feudal Japan as leather tanners and undertakers, vocations considered unclean. MFT readers will remember him as the man a New York Times article characterized as Japan’s version of Obama, as he too was a minority politician who rose to become a powerful politician.

I will post more on the book later, but for now I just want to share the following episode:

Just four months after Nonaka’s first successful bid* for the Diet’s lower house in 1983, the Kyoto Prefectural Police arrested the head of his koenkai (support association, kind of like a political action committee) for violating election laws. But Nonaka and associates were mostly able to beat the charges. Here is why:

You see, when Nonaka was first elected to the lower house he was already 57, a very late start for an LDP politician. But before that he had already made a very large name for himself in Kyoto prefectural politics as an anti-Communist conservative at a time when Kyoto had a Communist governor for more than two decades.

Part of the secret of Nonaka’s success was a questionable election tactic – when election season came around, construction executives friendly with Nonaka would mobilize housewives associations and other support groups to visit houses and run “get out the vote” campaigns in Nonaka’s home district of Sonobe and surrounding areas of Kyoto. Under Japanese election laws it was (and remains) illegal for politicians or their staff to visit people’s homes to ask for support, as it’s (correctly) assumed bribes will be forthcoming during such visits. However, Nonaka was able to get away with this for years as the construction executives ostensibly acted independently.

Eventually, police found evidence that during Nonaka’s first bid for the Diet, the voter mobilization efforts were in fact illegally run directly by the campaign. That’s when they moved to raid Nonaka’s offices, arrest the head of the koenkai, and question two leaders of the koenkai‘s youth bureau.

However, the charges never stuck due to a lack of evidence or confessions (subordinates were prosecuted for minor offenses but the investigation never spread) thanks to a flurry of expert moves by Nonaka’s people to undermine the investigation before, during, and after the fact. They included:

  • Keep the top guy out of the loop. The ostensible head of the koenkai was in fact a figurehead who was never fully informed of the details.
  • When all else fails, act like you’re too sick/crazy to answer questions. The two leaders of the koenkai‘s youth section (青年部) questioned on suspicion of deep involvement proved uncooperative in answering police questions. They would refuse to attend interrogation sessions by claiming to have diarrhea. If they did attend a session and the cops started to get the upper hand, they would go wild and start banging their heads against the wall to disrupt the proceedings.
  • Destroy evidence. Koenkai membership lists and other relevant documents somehow got destroyed.
  • Stay informed. Nonaka used his contacts inside the police force to get daily updates on the status of the investigation. A closely allied prefectural assemblyman actually stationed himself inside the office of the Kyoto police force’s second in command to hear reports from detectives. Uozumi’s source described the process as “just as if [the police] were teaching [Nonaka] how to respond as they investigated.”
  • Keep them on their toes. At one point, Nonaka himself showed up at the Sonobe precinct and shouted at the lead investigator to release his koenkai youth section chief if he was not yet formally charged.
  • Don’t forget to use some carrots along with your sticks. By keeping careful records of police administrators’ promotion status, Nonaka was able to bribe police bigwigs with cushy post-retirement positions at railroad companies and elsewhere (early in his career Nonaka worked for the national railway in Osaka). According to Uozumi, far from weakening Nonaka, the investigation ended up actually strengthening Nonaka’s political ties to the police.

From the beginning, the top brass in the police were hesitant to rock the boat since the politicians have a hand in deciding the police force’s budget. I can’t help but think they were a little prescient.

*from Kyoto’s 2nd district; he ran with (or more appropriately, against) Sadakazu Tanigaki and they each won a seat in the two-member district.

In America, try not to kancho your friends


A few weeks ago NYT ran this great article about the difficulties of raising a son in both Japanese and American cultures:

My Un-American Son


Getting Yataro ready for his first sleep-away camp overseas is turning out to be much more than counting T-shirts and towels. I’m having to review the way children interact here to see which behaviors would go against American codes of conduct. American parents have higher standards than Japanese when it comes to acceptable behavior among children.

Take “kancho” for instance, a popular prank where kids creep up on and poke each other with pointed finger in the behind, shouting “kancho!” or enema. That would likely have the camp counselors in America alleging sexual abuse.

Kancho certainly isn’t encouraged in Japan — a friend of mine is convinced her daughter failed a preschool entrance exam because she playfully jabbed her mother in the rear during the interview. But Japanese parents usually bestow only a mild rebuke.

Please head on over to NYT to read the original article!

Other differences mentioned:

  • In Japan, racial epithets directed at her half-white son tend to be tolerated (and he is apparently not fazed by them), but in America they would be a cause for great concern.
  • In sports, coaches and other players tend to use positive reinforcement, while in Japan when her son makes a mistake he is told to “stop screwing up.” This might mean her son could take praise far too seriously and not understand where he needs to improve (his English language skills, in this case).
  • As someone from a country where communal bathing is common, her son might not understand the more chaste attitudes toward nudity and privacy in America.
  • Her son has never been given truly “free” time or open-ended choices, while the summer camp he is to attend consists of almost nothing but free time and freedom to choose.
  • In Japan she wouldn’t think twice about scolding using insults to scold her children, but American parents who see that behavior might think it’s abusive.

All these observations ring very true, though obviously your mileage may vary. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve never been kancho’d.

What I like best about this piece is that she resists the temptation to theorize or lecture about which society has the better practices. That’s the right approach because proclaiming one country’s education/child-rearing regime to be superior to the other’s does nothing to help Yataro navigate his new summer camp. By talking from her own experiences as someone who has had to navigate both societies (and offering some speculation about how Americans at the summer camp will react), she is able to shed light on cultural differences without getting into ultimately unhelpful broad conclusions. And in the process she has given us an entertaining and enlightening case study in the form of her own son. I look forward to the follow up article to hear how Yataro fared.

(A Google search for “Maki Katahira” “Kumiko Makihara” reveals several other articles about her son and life in Japan, along with this right-wing conspiracy theorist who implies she must be a CIA agent and part of the Trilateral Commission‘s plot to control Japan because she was married to former Newsweek Japan bureau chief William Powell (though apparently they divorced) and once worked as an executive assistant for a firm partially owned by private equity group Ripplewood. I don’t want to lend any credibility to this crackpot, but even if she is working for the man, this is still a pretty great article)

The history of Japanese text direction

Most of our readers are aware that, when written horizontally, Japanese is generally read left to right. When written vertically, as was the traditional method, paragraphs start on the right and each line is read down the page in order from right to left. Traditionally, though, Japanese and Chinese were both read right to left at all times, even when written horizontally.

The history behind this is kind of interesting. Here’s a timeline culled from the Japanese Wikipedia article on the subject.

* Traditionally, Japanese was written vertically, and lines were read from right to left. Horizontal writing only appeared on signs, and in those cases it was also read from right to left.
* Horizontal writing first appeared in print in the late 1700s as Dutch books were reprinted. (Dutch traders in Nagasaki were the only Europeans allowed in Japan at that time.) In 1806, a Japanese book was published in Japanese hiragana characters skewed to look like Latin characters and printed from left to right.
* In the first foreign language dictionaries printed in Japan, foreign words were written horizontally from left to right, while the Japanese words were written vertically from top to bottom. The first dictionary to have both foreign and Japanese words written horizontally came out in 1885, and both were written left to right.
* Japan’s first printed newspapers and advertisements had headlines and call-outs written horizontally from right to left.
* In July 1942, at the height of World War II, the Education Ministry proposed that horizontal writing be from left to right rather than from right to left. Although the left-to-right standard was showing up in some publications at the time, switching over entirely was a controversial idea which didn’t make it past Cabinet approval.
* The military also tried adopting left-to-right as an official standard during the war, but many people viewed this as too Anglo-American and refused to switch.
* Because of the patriotic zeal surrounding text direction during the war, there were cases of stores being pressed to switch text direction on their signage, and cases of newspapers refusing to print advertising with left-to-right text.
* After the war, Douglas MacArthur’s occupation team pushed for left-to-right text as an education modernization reform measure, along with the abolition of Chinese characters and other more extreme ideas.
* Yomiuri Shimbun was the first newspaper to switch text direction in its headlines, making the changeover on January 1, 1946. The Nikkei switched over by 1948.
* Japanese currency was first printed with left-to-right text in March 1948; before that, it had been printed right-to-left.
* Asahi Shimbun conducted some internal design experiments around 1950 to switch its front page to an all-horizontal, left-to-right format, but this never made it past the drawing board.
* In April 1952, the Chief Cabinet Secretary adopted a guideline that all ministry documents be written from left to right using horizontal text. Despite this, the courts kept vertical writing until January 1, 2001–the bar exam was also written vertically until that time–and the Diet itself continues to use vertical writing when publishing draft bills.

Right-to-left writing is still found in certain contexts. Sometimes it is used simply to appear more “traditional”: Wikipedia cites soba shops as a common culprit in this category. Another common context is vehicles such as trucks and ships; there, Japanese is often written from front to back, so on the right side of the vehicle it is written from right to left. Here’s an example which I spotted on a right-wing sound truck outside Odakyu in Shinjuku during my first trip to Tokyo, way back in 2000. Note that the text 愛国党, or “Patriot Party,” is written right-to-left on the side of the truck, but left-to-right on the back.

"Kick some Communist ass!"

(Thanks to our commenter Peter for suggesting this topic.)

Liveblogging Tokyo prefectural election results

(Scroll to the bottom for updates)

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Join me as I watch the results pour in from NHK and the Adachi-ku government site!

10:10pm – DPJ set to become top party in the assembly, with LDP and Komeito 2nd and 3rd. Not sure if this means the Komeito will defect and actually govern with DPJ.

10:11pm – As of 9:45pm with 7% of the votes tallied, it looks like my picks for Adachi-ku are on target so far

10:13pm – DPJ has so far picked up 8 seats from previous election. Things will get messy if the LDP/Komeito coalition cannot hold a majority together.

10:25pm – The secretary general (幹事長) of the LDP’s prefectural chapter loses his assembly seat! Shigeru Uchida of Chiyoda-ku. First time LDP has lost a seat there since 1959. Tokyo Shimbun blames higher turnout for his demise. Also it’s easier to kick him out since Chiyoda is a single member district.

10:29 – Final turnout 54%, 10 points higher than last election. Adachi-ku turnout 55.76%.

10:32 – While we are waiting you can check out these pics of the Adachi-ku polling station (I took them before a dude told me to stop – apparently that is not allowed)

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

10:34 – Things are not looking good for former porn star “gravure idol” (read: soft-core porn star) Mai Goto who was running from Shinjuku. Here’s her campaign poster courtesy Ken Worsley:

10:40 – New preliminary results for Adachi-ku – DPJ’s Satoru Onishi in the lead with other credible candidates holding steady. Still a nailbiter to see if DPJ or LDP will come out with two seats.

10:42 – There was another election today, for mayor of Nara city. And the DPJ candidate won there too! Check Tokyo Shimbun for a gleeful Gen Nakagawa.

10:49 – Sankei is reporting that DPJ won six of the seven single member districts.

10:51 – Adachi-ku is way behind schedule. But it’s kind of understandable. While it’s clear DPJ’s Onishi won a seat, there are six other candidates who appear about even. Since there are only six seats total, one of those six will have to lose. My bet is it’ll be Asako the “samurai conservative” independent

10:55 – NHK is calling another winner in Adachi-ku: DPJ’s Katsuhiro Suzuki! That means both DPJ candidates nabbed seats from Adachi.

10:57 – Current standings: LDP – 25
DPJ – 50
Komeito – 17
JCP – 4

Too bad the DPJ didn’t run more candidates – they might have been able to win an outright majority by themselves!

11:00 – NHK is reporting more Adachi-ku results: LDP’s Masatsugu Mihara won a seat. He was someone I predicted would lose. Oops!

11:02 – Tokyo Shimbun has great pic of the local LDP leader who lost his seat in Chiyoda-ku:

11:07 – According to NHK, ex-porn star Mai Goto is officially a loser in Shinjuku-ku.

11:10 – On the national scene, DPJ is gearing up to file a no-confidence motion against Aso, and LDP members are leaning toward kicking Aso out rather than an early election. Aso is sticking to the line that this election does not matter and that the party should keep him on through the election, whenever it might be.

11:15 – DPJ now 5 seats away from an outright majority. (Correction – that’s DPJ plus other opposition parties)

In Adachi-ku, Nobuyuki Nakayama of Komeito won a seat.

11:19 – Final two Adachi-ku seats announced: Yoshie Oshima from the commies and Haruhisa Tomotoshi from Komeito. My predictions were 5 for 6 – not too shabby!

11:30 – I am very saddened to hear that the anko factory owner Naoki Takashima lost his seat! Maybe he can dedicate his free time to perfecting his bean paste recipe and finally mastering how to type Japanese using romaji.

11:33 – Final vote tallies for Adachi-ku (in order of vote totals):

  1. Suzuki Katsuhiro (DPJ) – 47,245
  2. Satoru Onishi (DPJ) – 45,208
  3. Masatsugu Mihara (LDP) – 37,612
  4. Nobuyuki Nakayama (Komeito) – 34,200
  5. Haruhisa Tomotoshi (Komeito) – 34,159
  6. Yoshie Oshima (JCP) – 34,130
  7. Naoki Takashima (LDP) – 32,895
  8. Osato Ichikawa (Independent) – 12,579
  9. Mitsuhisa Asako – 9,213
  10. Sachiko Miyamoto – 2,115

Only the top six won seats. The rest will have to find real jobs.

PS: over 2000 people voted for the Happy party! I’ll have to watch my back in Adachi-ku from now on…

11:40 – NHK is calling it – the DPJ and other opposition parties will end the night with a majority in the assembly.

Impressions: The people in Tokyo have just about had it with the LDP name. Not only has the LDP-Komeito coalition’s performance in national policymaking done little to inspire confidence, in Tokyo they’ve become synonymous with wanting to destroy Tsukiji Market, a world-famous landmark, and move it to a potentially unsafe location. They’re also the ones behind the bailout of the disastrous Singinko Tokyo, a bank that was set up using mostly taxpayer money and became a haven for bad loans. Those factors combined with heightened interest in this election thanks to the media’s description of the  race as a major political landmark leading into the general election. As DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama took pleasure in repeating, this was the perfect chance for Tokyo voters to cast a vote against the status quo.

I am going to bed now, but I will leave you with the music that was playing when Mrs. Adamu cast her ballot.

(for some reason they were playing music box オルゴール music at the polling station)