Categories
Government

Who Is the Prime Minister of Japan, Again?

Naoto Kan is still Prime Minister of Japan. Image: WEF/Wikimedia Commons

Naoto Kan passed a vote of no confidence last week after he had promised to step down soon. (Let’s keep aside the discussion of what he meant by “soon”.) His problem was not so much the opposition, who initiated the vote but only holds a minority of seats in the Lower House. Kan’s authority is challenged from within his own Democratic Party. Already the second prime minister since the party finally managed to take power in 2009, Kan is criticized for his handling of the triple catastrophe that hit Japan in March. (Again, let’s not argue whether the criticism is justified; after all, I want to make a more general argument.)

The Democratic Party holds a solid majority in the crucial Lower House and the next general elections are two years away. Then why is the ruling party so obsessed with changing its leadership? (A bad habit the DPJ seems to have inherited from its predecessor, the LDP.) One answer might be that Japanese politicians care much, probably too much, about opinion polls. Another possible answer is that there is a culture of demission: ministers are expected to step down in order to show responsibility for something that has happened or something they have done. While accountability is a necessary feature of a democratic political system, the threshold for demission seems far too low in Japan*.

Let’s have a look at one consequence of this culture of demission.

Categories
Culture Foreign policy

Japanese Manga Diplomacy

"My name's Doraemon. I'm Japan's Anime Ambassador". / Photo: gutninja, flickr

I didn’t take it seriously when in 2007 foreign minister Taro Aso launched the International Manga Award. The media ridiculed Aso for not being able to read Japanese properly, which some said was due to him preferring cartoons to books. And indeed Aso liked to portray himself as a manga otaku, a freak.

I thus saw nothing else in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ initiative to actively use pop culture in public diplomacy than the minister’s personal obsession.

Even though it had never interested me much, I knew that many young people were attracted to Japan because of its manga and anime culture. But creating the post of an Anime Ambassador and filling it with Doraemon, the popular comic cat, didn’t seem like serious foreign policy to me.

However, recently, a couple of impressions have changed my mind. First, there was the article in Le monde diplomatique‘s Atlas. In “Japan’s innocent faces” Namihei Odaira argues that the  government’s efforts in promoting anime and manga abroad have contributed to Japan being perceived favorably in the yearly BBC global attitudes survey.

He also mentions how the trucks of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in Iraq were painted with the image of Captain Tsubasa, another popular anime figure. The trucks were never attacked, which is attributed to Captain Tsubasas positive influence.

Categories
International Relations Environment

Melting Expectations

Iceberg, Alaska, photo: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton/flickr
Iceberg, Alaska, photo: Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton/flickr

With the Copenhagen conference on climate change only two weeks away, it remains doubtful whether a legally binding agreement on climate change will emerge.  Here a run-down of the (mostly vague) pledges made by key greenhouse gas emitters in the wake of the conference:

Categories
Government

ISN Weekly Theme: Japan Changes

Street scene in Tokyo/Photo: James D Law
Street scene in Tokyo/Photo: James D Law, flickr

As Europeans celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in Japan, the Cold War political system has just been overthrown. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which together with the bureaucracy and big business formed the clichéd ‘iron triangle,’ has been defeated. The victorious Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which will take over the government, has promised to loosen the grip of the bureaucracy. However, in taking power from the bureaucrats, DPJ politicians face a dilemma, according to Dan Harada in our latest edition of ISN Podcasts.

At this historic moment in the country’s political history, we present to you some of our resources on Japan:

  • In the Policy Briefs section, Alexandru Luta explains what ‘Climate Sudoku’ means, as Japanese interest groups, ministries and NGOs argue over greenhouse gas reduction targets
  • We present to you Japan’s post-war constitution, with the legendary Article 9, “Reunciation of War,” as well as the DPJ’s platform for government in the Primary Resources section
  • In the Publications section, Axel Berkofsky examines the past, present and future of bilateral relations between North Korea and Japan
  • We introduce you to the Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR), as well as the the National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS) in the IR Directory
Categories
Government Elections

Japan: Balancing Bureaucracy with Change

DPJ Poster "Government Change", www.dpj.or.jp
DPJ Poster "Government Change", www.dpj.or.jp

Change had been predicted, change occurred. Parliamentary elections in Japan brought two victors: First, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which won almost two thirds of the seats in the House of Representatives. Second, opinion pollsters, who predicted the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would be defeated. My skepticism towards the opinion polls proved unjustified.

In the latest edition of ISN Podcasts, I talked to Dan Harada, an insider to Japanese politics, about the elections and their implications. According to him, the DPJ now faces a dilemma: On the one hand, the new government needs to fulfill its election pledge and strengthen the role of politicians in lawmaking at the cost of bureaucrats. On the other hand, the DPJ needs to cooperate with the bureacracy in order to realize their policies.