Tokyo Notes

Revolution in Danger?

Is the DPJ’s revolution being derailed? A veteran Japan watcher worries it might be.

How significant is the reformist agenda of the Democratic Party of Japan as the party tries to take power away from the bureaucracy? Can the DPJ really redefine Japan’s relationship with the United States? How important is Ichiro Ozawa to the DPJ and should he step down over the funding scandal linked to him?

These are some of the issues addressed in ‘Japan’s Stumbling Revolution,’ an interesting piece by veteran Japan-watcher Karel van Wolferen posted on the Asia-Pacific Journal Web site. Van Wolferen is known for his must-read analysis of Japanese politics, ‘The Enigma of Japanese Power,’ in which he depicts a Japan without a clear centre of power, but with plenty of people interested in keeping things that way.

In this latest piece, van Wolferen essentially says that the DPJ’s attempts to ‘realize a genuine Japanese democracy’ are hugely significant and that if successful they warrant world attention as an example of change. But, he warns, Japan’s political system has an ‘immune system’ that could put an end to all this apparent good work.

Ultimately, while I think van Wolferen’s right to be critical of the role played by the media in Japan, I think he overstates the case for a media-public prosecutor team intent on defending the system as it exists. He doesn’t seem to mention the role the bureaucrats themselves might be playing (or anyone else for that matter) in attempts to block the shift of power away from them. Too much praise also for Ozawa, whom van Wolferen lauds in comparison to US President Barack Obama, describing him as ‘one of the most formidable political figures in the world today.’

But, overstated or not, the points van Wolferen makes are thought provoking and merit a read by anyone interested in contemporary Japanese politics. Read it and judge for yourself.