Japan Against Itself

Blueprint for a New Japan

by Ichiro Ozawa, translated by Louisa Rubinfein
Kodansha International, 200 pp., 2,900¥
Ichiro Ozawa
Ichiro Ozawa; drawing by David Levine


Writing about the current state of Japanese politics is a bit like grabbing interviews with soldiers in the midst of battle. Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro resigned on April 8 after admitting that he had used a loan of almost one million dollars from a trucking company with gangster connections for political purposes. The situation is so fluid that we do not know which of the present political parties will survive the next general election, to be held some time later this year. Nor is it absolutely certain as I write who the next prime minister will be, though it is likely to be the foreign minister, Hata Tsutomu. There will be splits, new alliances, new parties, and some old parties might disappear altogether. The divisions in today’s coalition government run so deep that the different parties in government can really agree on one thing only: that the ancien régime, monopolized by a congeries of conservative factions called the Liberal Democratic Party, had to go.

It is to Hosokawa’s credit that his demise has not prompted any nostalgia for the former government. The next prime minister will not be chosen by factions of one party, but by several parties with distinct politics. This new pluralism, however fragile and contentious, was unthinkable before Hosokawa came to power.

LDP factions were not so much based on political differences, which were marginal at best, as on the political power of the faction bosses. The role of a faction boss was to rake in enough corporate money, in exchange for favors, to ensure that his faction’s members could spend lavishly enough to get re-elected and eventually rise to the top jobs in the party and Parliament. In other words, to be a successful LDP politician you had to be corrupt. You also had to be good at forming alliances with other faction bosses in the backrooms of Tokyo’s best geisha houses. To be a good LDP boss, in short, was like being a good Mafia don. And as a rule the most successful faction bosses would become prime minister.

The reformation of Japanese politics began with a rebellion inside the LDP, which had governed the country since 1955. This rebellion, in the summer of 1993, was led by a number of youngish politicians (fifty being considered almost pubescent in the LDP), led by Hata Tsutomu and Ozawa Ichiro. Both had been cabinet ministers. Like almost all successful LDP politicians, including the former Prime Minister Hosokawa Morihiro, who left the LDP to form his own party in 1992, they are tainted by the kind of corruption that LDP politicians have usually engaged in to advance their careers. Ozawa is accused of accepting a great deal of money from a construction firm. Hosokawa received his loan from the Tokyo Sagawa Kyubin transport company when he ran for provincial governor in 1982. He was also accused of profiting from…

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