Judgement day

Tomorrow is a big day for Japan.
The elections for the Diet, Japan's legislative body, will be held around the country, and the Japanese Democratic Party (DPJ) is poised to win by a landslide. This will spell defeat for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which has ruled almost uninterrupted for 54 odd years, i.e. since the end of WWII.

As an American who blindly embraces all change as inherently good (lol), it is exciting to see the whole country electrified with anticipation of reform. Perhaps Japan is partly fired-up by the recent Obama frenzy of the US election, which was heavily covered and glorified by the Japanese media. During the campaign, this kind of programming was on TV almost 24/7 and children I didn't even know yelled "YES WE CAN" at me from their passing bicycles. Drive-by English.

But it would not be fair to give credit for the current fanfare to America. It is genuinely exciting to see so many Japanese people in my own community and all across the country coming together in droves to give a damn about their own political grievances. With little control over the political process, and therefore lacking a sense of responsibility, my Japanese counterparts have been shockingly ambivalent up until now towards all things political. On the other hand, perhaps this is simply a derivative of Japanese reservedness, for even now, amidst the great energy in the air, people are still reluctant to share which party they support.

Indeed, my girlfriend, whose parents are both local politicians, joined the DPJ effort by volunteering to canvass; talking to her friends and neighbors door-to-door and and asking for support for our local DPJ representative amidst local malls. Determined to make a difference in our fairly rural, conservative community, she donned a mic in one of the infamously boisterous announcement-vans: huge RVs which drive around in the evening dispensing political messages from giant loudspeakers which can be heard for miles.

This kind of campaigning may seem dated old-fashioned because direct internet campaigning and news coverage of campaign events has been barred in an effort to control media bias. This gives the whole election a wholesome grass-roots consistency.
The stars seem to be aligned
...for the DPJ to overtake the long-obsolete LDP. Things are slow to change in Japan and this has been long in coming; the LDP has shuffled in and out three prime ministers since 2007--which would be like having the Republicans switch the president without an election every year for 3 years. And now it has all come to a head: people are fed up with corrupt autocrats and mismanaged resources, and the resulting economic stagnation. The last thing Japan needs is another Lost Generation.

Indeed, the DPJs message "change," hoping to replicate Obama's success. The system certainly needs an overhaul; the DPJ has pledged to phase out corrupt local officials and crack down on backroom dealing, promoting an unheard-of brand of transparent politics.
But all is not perfect in the world of Japanese politics.
While they are slated for an historic victory, the DPJ hardly appears prepared to take the reigns of the world's second-largest economy. A series of bribery scandals does not further their case against corruption, and the current head of the DPJ, Yukio Hatoyama, who will likely become the new Prime Ministerm, has managed to bungle issues as sensative as the role of the passive Japanese Self-Defense force. He has also been looking a little less than professional lately:

...Then again, who doesn't have a bad hair day every once in a while?

Another problem is The DPJ has recently been targeting capitalist free-markets as a source of economic downturn, and plans to promote more over-regulation in a market already strangled by government policy. At the same time, they have already agreed to protect many markets from Free Trade. What Japanese businesses need is more freedom to fire and hire, to grow and to die if need be. Ever increasing are zombie companies barred from firing employees and staying afloat only through aide from the federal government. Sound familiar? This will do little to reverse the tides of a culture that was once reknowned for it's innovative businesses, now more famous for it's droning, drunken bureaucrats . Unfortunately this may continue to be the shape of things to come. Nevertheless, the normally passive and indifferent general population seems desperately hungry for reform, and that is as promising a sign as any.

Judgement Day
And so today marks the closing of the campaign season, and the openning of the ballots, news coverage has reached peak melodrama, and has resorted to sweet CG graphics:

Yes, they actually used the theme from Terminator 2: Judgement Day
I'm calling it... somewhere in tomorrow's headlines: CHANGE HAS COME TO JAPAN!


Robyn said...

Very interesting post Mike. I've taken the liberty of cutting and pasting much of it to my favorite discussion site, of course Straight Dope, here: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?p=11501287#post11501287 and hope you do not mind. I have not linked to your blog as I felt that was inappropriate without your okay. Maybe though you can join the discussion there if it gets any traction? Always an if at that place.

Dad who doesn't have a google account of his own.

Ryan said...

Nice post!

While it doesn't make up for being away during the 2008 US election, getting to say I experienced Japan's seminal break away from the LDP is something. :)