Do you expect any shifts in direction under Kan?
Kan is very aware of what it means to have a cabinet-centred government. And one of the most interesting things when the DPJ took over is that the meetings of administrative vice ministers that had been held were stopped—a tradition of more than 100 years down the drain. But what you see is that these structural issues are discussed in a very oblique way in the Japanese media. The centre of discussion is policies and how different are they going to be from the LDP. So what you see now is that Kan, who has spent several months in the Finance Ministry, appears to be adopting what these ministerial officials wanted when Junichiro Koizumi was prime minister. And he’ll probably be swept along to some extent by the policy dynamic that comes in part from inside the ministries, from the bureaucrats. But what’s most important in his mind is this structural ideal that Japan must have a cabinet-centred government. It’s revolutionary for Japan.
One persistent question is how much influence Ichiro Ozawa will have over the Kan government. What do you expect?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Ozawa is tired. There’s been speculation about the state of his health for some time. He seemed to have recovered from this, but he still can’t attend a heavy meeting for more than 20 or 30 minutes, which is why if he’d become prime minister, which of course is what the original plan was, he would have transferred power to Kan or Hatoyama after half a year to 9 months or so. Those were the plans before he was forced to give up the presidency of the party (over a funding scandal). So he is old, and probably very fed up. But at the same time it’s his baby. Without him you wouldn’t have had a reformist party in Japan. Without him you wouldn’t have had the whole political upheaval in 1993. Without him you wouldn’t have had a DPJ. So I hope he’s working behind the scenes for the upper house elections.
Any other thoughts on the recent developments?
Twenty or 30 years ago there were quite a few American correspondents in Tokyo who had a pretty good historical background on the relationship, and they’d have put all this in perspective. But today, the American media gets what they write about this from informants in Washington. There are a couple of people in Tokyo, but they don’t bring the same kind of depth and understanding to it. Which means the story becomes the story that Washington wants people to see and read. And if you were the government in Washington, you’d want it to be like that. So in other words, there’s no countervailing interpretation of what’s going in Japan to what is coming out of Washington.
Karel van Wolferen is a Dutch writer and professor and author of ‘The Enigma of Japanese Power’.