Nobody Can in Japan If Kan Can't

By Cooper, Cameron | Business Asia, October 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

Nobody Can in Japan If Kan Can't


Cooper, Cameron, Business Asia


Japan's lumbering political network is in urgent need of fresh blood. Opposition leader Naoto Kan may be just the injection needed to kickstart reforms.

It's simple: Japan's economy needs structural reforms.

American economists agree. European economists agree. Asia-Pacific economists agree. Even the Japanese agree.

Given such consensus, why have the wheels of change moved so slowly within Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party?

A less-than-flattering theory --offered by a Japanese no less --is that the muddled political scene can be attributed to Japan's peasant origins.

Mr Naoyuki Hashimoto, general manager of information analysis at Sumitomo Corporation, says that in Japan's peasant villages of yesteryear all decisions were made after extensive discussions. Consensus had to be reached, regardless of time.

"This is the basic thinking of Japanese culture," he says. "The way to get (a decision) is through voting. That doesn't fit the Japanese culture. When you try to do that everybody complains that it is a violent action by the majority. We believe that the majority cannot force their ideas on others simply because they are the majority."

This notion extends to the current political climate.

"That's why the socialist party or communist party, even though they are very small in terms of Congress seat numbers, have a certain influence because as soon as they are forced to accept others' opinions they say that the majority cannot force (its way)."

The result: lots of discussion --and wasted time.

Only 10 weeks into his Prime Ministership, Keizo Obuchi is fighting for his political survival as his attempts to conjure up a credible bank restructuring policy continue to fail. With an approval rating--if that is the correct term--of less than 25 per cent, Obuchi's chances of leadership longevity are minimal.

Hope may be emerging in the form of Opposition leader Naoto Kan, a charismatic 51-year-old who leads Minshuto (the Democrat Party of Japan).

Kan is threatening to push wide-ranging reforms through the Diet. A former health minister in the Hashimoto Government, he teamed up with another minority party (New Party Sakigake) to form Minshuto and is seen as a future Prime Minister. …

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