First published in Japan Forum, Vol. 3, No. 2, October 1991
AT ITS ANNUAL CONGRESS held at the end of January 1991, the Japan Socialist Party resolved to change its official name in English to 'Social Democratic Party of Japan'. Since, however, the name in Japanese remained 'Nihon Shakaitō', an accurate and literal translation into English was turned into an inaccurate one, which incorporated an adjective ('democratic') lacking in the original. 1 Curiously, this change was a reversion to the English title which the Nihon Shakaitō used during the Allied Occupation. The 'democratic' element was deliberately excluded from the English name of the party once the Americans had left.
Its reinsertion, therefore, some four decades later ought not to be without significance. It represents some progress, however small, towards a party which might aspire to govern Japan, rather than merely to oppose ritualistically those that govern it. Unfortunately, however, for the SDPJ, the Congress occurred at the height of the Gulf war. This meant not only that a small symbolic change in the party's English name was lost in the noises of battle coming from the Middle East, but also that far more important changes of substance in party policy on a range of issues failed to emerge because both the leadership and much of the rank and file were absorbed by the issues raised by the war. Indeed, the spectacular 'following wind' that filled the party's sails to such good effect in 1989 and the early part of 1990 died away, leaving it utterly becalmed, once Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait. On 7 April 1991 the SDPJ suffered an extraordinary humiliation in seeing its tardily selected candidate for the Tokyo governorship, Professor Okawa Mitsunori, forced into fourth place, with little more than six per cent of the vote, behind even the candidate backed by the Communists.
If the sudden failure of the 'following wind' in 1990-1991 was remarkable, it is now easy to forget that the way in which it blew up out of nowhere between late 1988 and early 1990 was one of the most extraordinary and unpredicted