Thursday, 22 March 2007

Spring is here...just about...

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

From the Rabaiyat of Omar Khayyan (trans. Edward Fitzgerald)

As the cherry-blossom buds prepare to burst, bloom and die, I thought this bit of verse particularly fitting!

R J F Villar

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Kaiyo Gakuen: Breeding little leaders...

I recently visited Kaiyo Gakuen, a brave new "adventure" into the turbulent world of Japanese educational reform.

Kaiyo is an all boys, all boarding-style school. The focus is on sports, academic excellence and leadership training; as the school's blurb puts it, "Kaiyo Gakuen nurtures the personal skills and academic prowess necessary for leaders." Praised by aficionados of British boarding-school education--indeed, much of Kaiyo's influence was drawn from England's Eton College, and a member of Eton's teaching staff currently works as an 'advisor'--the school has also come under fire from the Japan Communist Party (JCP) and leftist members of the Japanese Teachers' Union, who maintain it is elitist and unrepresentative. Which of course it is. And proud of it.

The school is bursting with business donors, JR and Toyota among them, and has a campus with state-of-the-art facilities and its own special train station nearby. Students work hard by day, and return to 'Houses' (hausu) in the evening and at weekends, where they enter a whole new world of 'rounded' training to be the country's next leaders. On Sunday students are whisked off by their Housemasters and 'Floormasters' (staffed by mid-level managers from some of Kaiyo's sponsors) to do anything from planting rice in local paddies to yachting in the sea beside the school. Social-awareness projects, giving students exposure to all walks of life, are planned for the future.

Yet despite all the fanfare about leadership, there are fears that Kaiyo may have missed a trick.

Some quarters have argued that the regimentation of daily life, and the equipping of every student with a trackable PDA device, is not exactly conducive to lateral thinking and leadership. Others claim that an enclosed all-boy environment, where the only exposure to women is the kitchen staff, gives Kaiyo's students a distorted view of reality. Yet, in my view, more potentially disastrous than either of these factors are the educational limits of the Kaiyo world.

The attraction of 'Public Schools' like Eton College are the intellectual freedoms they offer their students. Science labs, soccer fields, drama theatres, or art studios; by and large students can choose what they individually excel at, and pursue their own academic (or not-so-academic)course. Kaiyo, however, does not have a theatre. The bigwigs in management seemed surprised that this was an issue at all: "...But we have science labs and sports facilities..." the Headmaster replied to my questioning, obviously oblivious that leadership could take any form other than scientific or physical excellence.

But is not an element of drama essential for leadership? To observe the Diet's poor excuses for debates, or to listen to political speeches, is a saddening experience. Performance and charisma are absent 99% of the time. A theatre, which Kaiyo students could use to perform whatever they wanted--be it drama, music, or anything else--would be an invaluable preparation for a future life of leadership.

Another mistake was the failure to inject Kaiyo with any sense of history or culture. This may perhaps be the fault of the main architects of the project, who are almost exclusively characters from business and industrial backgrounds. As Japanese parliamentarian, Motohisa Furukawa, exclaimed upon being explained the school's facilities, "What? You don't have a tea-house? But how can students learn about Japanese culture?"

A sense of history is essential for the leaders of tomorrow. Take the current US administration, for example. A brief look at the history books--at the disastrous British occupation of Iraq in the inter-war era--would have given a scarily accurate prediction of the rivers of blood that are currently soaking into the desert sands. A mere wikipedic knowledge of world civilizations might have warned leaders that a universalist, paradigm-led invasion and occupation in the Middle East, in all its ugly hubris, would ultimately end in failure.

The absence of a tea-house in Kaiyo goes beyond slimming down choices on offer to students; it is a failure to connect Kaiyo to Japanese history and culture. As a student at Eton, in the UK, you are injected straight into over 500 years of history, and it is hard to ignore the past when lists of Old Boys killed in Britain's colonial expeditions line the walls. All boys are required to play the 'Field Game', an antique predecessor to soccer and a game only played at Eton; they wander around the school in waistcoats and tailcoats; and communicate in a bizarre form of code, its words formed over hundreds of Eton years. Eton provides a set of traditions for students in their formative years, which they can ultimately learn from, kick against or ignore completely. But they are there nevertheless.
A tea-house--and a tea-ceremony teacher--would perhaps be a token gesture towards infusing Kaiyo's boys with a sense of their own tradition and heritage. "In the liquid amber within the ivory-porcelain, the initiated may touch the sweet reticence of Confucius, the piquncy of Laotse, and the ethereal aroma of Sakyamuni himself." So there!!!

R J F Villar

Keep on slowly slithering up Mt. Fuji, Mr. Snail!


soro soro nobore
fuji no yama

Keep on slowly slithering up Mt. Fuji, Mr. Snail!
Issa Kobayashi (1763-1828); trans. R J F Villar

I faltered mid-way through a recent speech supporting a candidate in the local elections, and instead of my scripted banalities decided to expound why I find the poem above to be so wonderful. I am not sure whether the politician I was supporting, Kentaro Hibi (see post here), was pleased with being associated with a slowly slithering snail--Issa's gastropod does not naturally have the energy and spice that most candidates seem to want for their personal PR--but for an opposition politician in a country where the status quo is rarely booted from power, I thought it particularly apt.

That little squishy slug-with-house is a vision of hope. The snail is dwarfed by Japan's highest peak (3,776m), yet still it battles against adversity and pushes for the summit. The going may be tough, but anything is possible; progress--change--is inevitable. For Hibi, who has the slogan "Learning every day, Striving every day", and for the Democratic Party (DPJ) which needs to topple the firmly entrenched Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in this summer's Upper House elections, perhaps Issa's snail can be an inspiration.

At the 4th anniversary of the start of the disastrous Iraq War (officially on 17th March), the little snail reminds me that there is hope for the future, no matter how morally corrupt British foreign policy appears to be at present. Governments will change and criminals will be brought to justice--but slowly, oh so slowly.

R J F Villar

Go Go Underdog! 判官びいき

In sporting events, I am always more interested in the underdog--the forlorn hope battling against the odds--than the side that has the clear advantage. Perhaps it comes from being brought up under the indoctrination of my Scottish mother, and always having backed the 'Tartan Army' in their passionate, but generally unsuccessful, soccer, rugby or (heaven forbid) cricket matches. From a young age I found the stronger opponents boring, and would will on the weaker side--cheering the Scots against the English, or the Japanese against Brazil.

In Japanese, there is a phrase for this: 判官びいき (hangan biiki). It means, literally, 'to favour the Hangan', referring to the position held by the tragic Japanese hero, Minamoto Yoshitsune (1159-1189). Yoshitsune was a military genius and reknowned hero; and his strategic intellect led to the defeat of his family's political opponents, the Heike. However, he eventually fell out with his elder brother, Yoritomo, found himself cornered in the East of Japan, and was killed in a dramatic--and especially tragic--battle, his closest retainer riddled with arrows and his wife and daughter dead beside him.

The love of tragic heroism is something the Scots feel keenly. In 1746, the last battle fought on the British mainland, an army of mainly Highland (Northern) Scots fought--and lost to--the English for the last time at the battle of Culloden.

I have walked the fields of Culloden many, many times, and there are monuments dotted over the moors commerating the slaughter that took place. On the battlefields of Culloden, near the Highland Scottish town of Nairn, an eerie mist seems to hang in the air, and you can imagine that at any moment a ghostly army of Scottish men might come marching from the shadows, perpetually charging through the Highland winds.

On April 16th 1746, an army of more than 5000 Scots--most men in their tartan kilts, armed with only swords or spears--faced an English army twice its size with far superior firepower and organisation.

The battle was a massacre. In around 60 minutes the Scottish troops, exhausted, starving and cold, were butchered. As the Scottish army lay bleeding on the heather, survivors were put to death where they lay on the orders of the Duke of Cumberland, commander of the English army. In the chaos that followed, the Scottish leader, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, only just escaped with his life to France, part of the way disguised as a woman.

Although for many Scots the Battle of Culloden symbolises the eternal oppression of Scottish culture by the English, Culloden is also a symbol of Scottish identity. In the heroism of tragic defeat--the hangan biiki--the Scots see their national courage and bravery. The English may have won on the battlefield, many say, but they can never match the Scottish spirit.

R J F Villar

New DPJ Commercial Out Now!

Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader, Ichiro Ozawa, and his PR team have come up with a new, excuciatingly low-impact commercial about the 'wealth divisions in society' (kakusa shakai), bolstering Ozawa's campaign for a 'full-scale restoration of people's lives'. The commercial, or 'CM', can be viewed here. At least it is not as crazeeee as the previous DPJ attempt to get in touch with the people (see previous posts here, here and here).

R J F Villar

Saturday, 17 March 2007

ELECTION SPECIAL (Part 4): A 'spring stream' in your step

"The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has backed Ogawa, Toshiyuki Ogawa. Spring Ogawa is recruiting supporters now!!!"

That was the 50th time and my throat was beginning to feel dry. By 100 I was the mirage side of parched. If it had been all in English it would have been fine, but wrestling with Japanese syllables over the loudspeaker for two straight hours had taken its toll.

On the spur of the moment I had volunteered to be the itinerant voice of Toshiyuki Ogawa's campaign, zipping around the backstreets of the district in the campaign minibus (gaisensha), proclaiming the good word from large speakers attached to the roof. In the background played the theme-tune for Ogawa's campaign, "Spring Stream", a popular children's' ditty which in Japanese is pronounced and written identically to "Spring Ogawa".
Ogawa (31) is a candidate in the Moriyama Ward City Council Elections, and his campaign has adopted a spring motif. His office, leaflets and PR truck are plastered with cherry-blossom; and the "Team Spring Ogawa" can be found traveling on bicycles with large flowery flags and music-players attached to them, traveling en masse (often led by Ogawa himself) around the neighbourhood.

At first I was highly sceptical of this overdose of 'cutesy', but in the first sunny birth-pangs of spring, it seems to be working incredibly well. Schoolchildren, old grannies and generally dour salarymen seem to be won over by Ogawa's enthusiasm and sprightly brand of direct, grass-roots campaigning.

And it is just as well Ogawa is putting in the man-hours because he is set upon on all sides. Three Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) men are up for election, and Ogawa has to persuade the electorate he is as good--or better--than either of the other two candidates in Moriyama Ward who have DPJ backing.

R J F Villar

Friday, 16 March 2007

ELECTION SPECIAL (Part 3): Learning every day...striving every day...cycling every day...

Kentaro Hibi (on the right of the picture) certainly gets full marks for effort. At 26, he is the youngest candidate up for election to the City Council in the area, and is determined to prove it with manic cycling, leafleting--each flyer plastered with the slogan (whipping out his slogan "learning every day, striving every day"--and overt displays of 'wakai chikara'-- the power of youth.

7.40am. Kamiyashiro Station, Meito Ward. Mornings are not my forte and I'm late for the planned 7.30 session of station-side leafleteering. I burst from the ticket-barriers in a flustered rush and search for any signs of Hibi, but I needn't have worried. His voice carries across from the far side of the station--one perky good-morning "ohayo gozaimasu" after another--and I find him easily. I could have stayed in bed; he is a one-man pamphleting machine.

Kentaro Hibi is always clean-shaven, energetic and scarily full of life. But what else would you expect from a young politician-in-the-making? Mornings--every day, early--are spent delivering news to his potential constituents outside station entrances, while evenings find him cycling through the streets cementing the personal relationships that are so essential in Japan's Local Election campaigns (see previous post here). Keen to display youth as an energetic plus, rather than an inexperienced minus, Hibi is attempting to woo the electorate with speedy pedalling and cheerful greetings, and has the backing of local Dietman, Motohisa Furukawa (centre of the picture), to supplement it.

Yet, are buckets-full of 'youth' enough? As the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) found to their peril, the public were not moved by the promise of sprightly green leaders; the "power of youth" was not quite enough to cut the cake.

Although there are five places available and only six candidates--by no means bad odds--many are asking what exactly a vote for Hibi would be for.

The current political set-up in Meito Ward followed a by-election after the resignation of a previous Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Councillor on corruption charges. That election allowed Masayuki Chikazawa (on the left of the picture) to win his first term as a City Councillor. Only 36, Chikazawa is young, capable, running on a DPJ ticket, and, most importantly, tried. In other words, a Hibi and more. Chikazawa even has the backing of the current popular Member of the House of Representatives, Motohisa Furukawa, so it is doubtful whether Hibi's own links to Furukawa will prove to be a winning element in his election campaign.

The decision to put up another DPJ-linked candidate came after Chikazawa's solid victory in local by-elections. But, this too may be a miscalculation. Although Chikazawa romped home with overwhelming support, his adversaries were from the more ideological (or religious) political parties--the Communist Party (JCP), Komeito and Social Democratic Party (SDP)--which do not tend to attract moderate voters. With a middle-aged, inoffensive LDP candidate standing in the current election, the two DPJ candidates may not only find their own supporters split, but also a large slice gobbled up by the moderate LDP man.

However, as mentioned in a previous article, political parties, at least outside the more ideologically-driven in the line-up, make little difference to voter choice when compared to individual ties and personalities. The ballot paper, after all, does not mention party affiliations. But again, with Chikazawa already ticking the 'youth' box and possessing a strong local support base, does Hibi really have anything to contribute to the debate?

The Chikazawa campaign HQ certainly seems to think so. Listening to the mumbling and grumbling, it is clear that worries of a split vote and a successful reborn LDP campaign are growing, and there are fears that both of the DPJ-sponsored candidates may ultimately be left worse off. Either way, Hibi needs to up the tempo. A mad bicycle ride may not be quite enough.

R J F Villar

Thursday, 15 March 2007

ELECTION SPECIAL (Part 2) : PR = Personal Ratings

Looking at the newspaper coverage of the local elections, with their lists of candidates followed by their party affliations, it is often tempting to assume that a certain party is putting up a particular number of candidates for a given district, and they are all running together in a big happy party family. However, within the confines of an election battle, it quickly becomes clear that 'party' loyalties mean very, very little. A 'friend' running in the same election under the same party logo, is very much an enemy.

The system employed in local (Prefectural and City) elections is an echo from a former age of Japanese politics. Before the electoral reforms that swept in during the 1990s, General Elections were held in medium-sized, multi-member districts, elected on a 'First-Past the Post' (plurality) basis. This system--called the chusenkyokusei ('Medium-Sized Electoral District System') in Japanese--which simply delivered posts to those candidates who gained the most votes, was blamed for keeping small parties alive and preventing the cohesion of a real 'opposition'. So, in November 1994, the Electoral Reform movement thrust through a bill that changed the system; Members of the Diet were now elected using a fusion of single-member, plurality constituencies and a form of Proportional Representation (PR).

But, in City and Prefectural elections, the old system lives on. And on the local political scene, the politics of individual relationships means more than anything.

The ballot paper gives the voter a list of names--without party affliations--and, as one interviewee commented in a recent edition of the chunichi shimbun (15/03/07), votes "are cast on the basis of impressions of a candidate, not a party." Regardless of their political allegiences, candidates battle it out to garner personal support groups, preaching outside stations and knocking on doors so voters will remember their names when election-day arrives.

Gone are the difficult-to-read, cumbersome kanji (Chinese characters) that make up candidates' names. Instead, pre-election posters use the simple phonetic syllabary, hiragana, to help name-recognition when the time comes. 日比 becomes ひび; 近澤 is changed to ちかざわ.

Similarly, all manner of catchy slogans are dreamt up so that names spring to mind quickly and easily. One candiate Kentaro Hibi, has the luck to have a surname that is the synonym of 'every day'. "Learning every day; Striving every day" ("hibi manabi, hibi shojin") is his mantra. Toshiyuki Ogawa (whose surname means 'stream'), has adopted a childrens' song, 'Spring Stream' ('haru ogawa'), to try and boost his personal recognition. Round and round his bus drives, blaring out the dulcet tunes of 'haru ogawa', neatly side-stepping the law against campaigning before the official election period, whilst also upping his PR.

Of course, parties do have a role. Komeito campaigns using the ties of the religous group, Soka Gakkai, and the Japan Communist Party (JCP) draws in the red-dyed faithful. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is a popular party here on a national level (represented by Motohisa Furukawa), and a DPJ affliation can make use of that momentum. Ties to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) perhaps injects a flavour of expertise, professionalism or experience into a wannabe City Councillor's campaign. Although in this area it is probably more likely to conjour up images of corruption and pork-barrel.

Ultimately, on a local level candidates are on their own. The same party logo bears little relation to the election race itself. The local elections are a race to build individual personality cults; there are no teams.

R J F Villar

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

ELECTION SPECIAL (Part 1) : Introduction


I have upped and left the neon-lit metropolis of Tokyo for the smaller (but no less neon) City of Nagoya. For the next month I will be following the fortunes of the Local Election candidates for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the 2nd Ward of Aichi Prefecture (composed of Chikusa, Moriyama and Meito wards), charting their rise or fall from the inside. [An introduction to the area can be found here--follow links to the English page] The Local Election period kicks off on March 30th, so preparations have already begun to move into overdrive.

Two votes, in multi-member districts, will be cast by the electorate--one for the City Council elections (below), and one for the Prefectural Assembly. I will be largely concentrating on the twists and turns of the City elections.

The current political layout for the City Council elections (in which the Democratic Party of Japan is currently the ruling party) is summarised below:

Orange = Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)
Blue = Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)
Red = Japan Communist Party (JCP)
Pink = Social Democratic Party (SDP)
Yellow = Komeito

All incumbents standing for reelection unless otherwise specified

Chikusa Ward:
(5 Seats)
CANDIDATES (LDP--2; DPJ--2; JCP--1; Komeito--1)
Kunihiko Igami (LDP; 60)
Haruyuki Sakurai (LDP; 62)
Kuniko Umemura (DPJ; 68)
Makoto Saito (DPJ; 47)
Jiro Kuroda (JCP; 58)
[Takako Nishio (Komeito; RETIRED)]
New face:
Yuichi Tanabe (Komeito, 37)

[] = not currently contesting

Moriyama Ward:
(6 Seats)
CANDIDATES (LDP--3; DPJ--3; Komeito--1; JCP--1)
Hitoshi Matsumura (LDP; 43)
Shingo Yoshida (DPJ; 56)
Nobuo Kamakura (DPJ; 49)
Nobuo Konba (Komeito; 46)
New faces:
Tetsuya Togo (LDP; 35)
Yoshinori Matsui (LDP; 42)
Toshiyuki Ogawa (DPJ; 31)
Junko Kurematsu (JCP; 50)

Meito Ward:
(5 Seats)
CANDIDATES (LDP--1; DPJ--2; Komeito--2; SDP--1)
Masayuki Chikazawa (DPJ; 36)
Shoko Kobayashi (Komeito; 50)
Setsuko Tanaka (Komeito; 59)
Katsuzo Tomita (SDP; 73)
New Faces:
Hiroshi Niwa (LDP; 46)
Kentaro Hibi (DPJ; 26)


The two most exciting candidates are perhaps Kentaro Hibi (Meito Ward) and Toshiyuki Ogawa (Moriyama Ward), both young proteges of the local Member of the House of Representatives, the DPJ's Motohisa Furukawa.

Both, however, face a hard struggle to get into the City Council; Hibi must share the DPJ vote with another candidate against a tough LDP opponent and strong Komeito support, and Ogawa has a mammoth battle with three candidates being offered by each of the largest parties in Japanese politics, the LDP and DPJ.

This blog will be concentrating on the Moriyama and Meito political battles, introducing the key players, discussing their campaigns and cataloguing the results of their efforts.

R J F Villar

Friday, 9 March 2007

If only the trains were 20 minutes late in England...

One of the nicest things about living in Japan is the puntuality, cleanliness and efficency of Japanese trains. I look forward to long journeys and even quite enjoy the packed Namboku-line commute to work because everything works so well. Air-conditioning, if strained a little in the height of summer, is close to spot on; nothing like the scorching or freezing extremes you find on British trains.

Today, as always, I squeezed myself into the 8.30 Metro and arrived at my target destination--Nagato-cho. But today the vibe was beyond the usual morning rush of caffeinated workaholics; there was an whiff of hysteria about the station. It seemed pandemonium had broken loose. The train I had stepped off had been running--wait for it--twenty minutes late. Panic was clearly in the air; many were looking flustered (including myself; it was infectious) because their finely tuned and precisely planned schedules had been put out. Most made a bee-line for one of the lurking station attendants, demanding a late-note to explain their tardiness to irate employers (see photo above). Responsiblity for lateness was successfully shifted to the Tokyo Metro Co., and a perfect record kept perfect, like 100% of their co-workers.

I have got used to planning my journeys to the minute. Walking, train and transfer times can all be factored into an exact morning itinerary. If only the same could be said for the UK.

Trains in Britain are a game of chance. Turn up early and the train will be late; turn up on time and the train will have left early. Planning is an entirely theoretical exercise. Prices, too, have their own peculiar brand of black magic and oscillate wildly according to no apparent pattern. If it snows, rains, or there is fog; or if it's too hot or too cold, services are frequently "temporarily suspended". An hour's delay (or more) is not at all uncommon. The British have learnt to accept that trains will be late, and most leave extra-early just in case. Late trains are no excuse for lateness because they are the norm, not the exception.

R J F Villar

Students come to Nagata-Cho

Politicians in any country can very easily lose touch with the people they claim to represent. As lawmakers try to keep one step ahead of hectic schedules brimming with local campaigns, media interviews and national debates, many forget or neglect their grassroots. If Members of the House of Representatives are to really represent the electorate, exchange--on as many levels and with as many groups as possible--is essential.

Back in his Aichi constituency, Motohisa Furukawa, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, holds regular brainstorming sessions with a wide variety of groups, including women's associations and groups from local universities. But, rather than the normal sleepy nod and token speech that most politicians whip out on such occasions, Mr. Furukawa always seems genuinely enthused.

On Wednesday 7th, a group of bright 1st and 2nd Year students from Tokyo University's AIESEC (Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales) paid Mr. Furukawa a visit in his Tokyo office. What was supposed to be a quick Q&A session quickly developed into a lively 2-hour debate, including a high-speed tour of the Diet.

You seldom see anyone wandering through the Diet corridors younger than wizened 75 year-old company executives (save, of course, for the seemingly compulsory days-out for elementary school students). If Japanese politicians want to inspire future generations of politicians, greater interaction with young people would be a good place to start.

R J F Villar

Monday, 5 March 2007

What time is Democratic Party?

I have only just stumbled across this wonderful parody of the awful DPJ 'pirate ship' commercial:

I am very surprised there haven't been more of these!

R J F Villar

Friday, 2 March 2007

牛歩 : Cow Walking through Politics

The last day of debates in the Lower House Budget Committee is a marvelous--yet incredibly surprising--thing to watch. Old politicians snort out of deep, disinterested slumber and youthful newcomers leap about excitedly. It is traditionally one of the most thrilling days in the Diet calender, and all politicians, whatever their political allegiances, seem to suddenly remember they are required to do something for their wage-packet.

February 2nd was the day the Liberal Democratic Party-led Government (LDP) decided to push through the Budget for the new financial year. After a Budget is approved by the Lower House, it is accepted within 30 days regardless of Upper House approval. If this 30 day period extends beyond the 1st April, however, the Government is required to use an emergency Budget--a potentially embarrassing eventuality. In the attempt to force just this result, countless oppositions have tried to delay Lower House approval of new budgets for as long as humanly possible.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Japan's main opposition party, had called (somewhat vocally) for an extension to debates in the Budget Committee all afternoon, and traded insults with the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) with relish. But, the real drama-- de rigeur on such occasions, it seems--was yet to come.

At 10.25pm all parties entered the chamber to take the vote on the Budget. In the past, left-wing opposition parties--normally the Communist Party (JCP) or Japan Socialist Party (JSP)--had employed the interesting tactic of "cow-walking" (gyuho) to slow down voting at this point. Opposition politicians, by creeping to the ballot-box at a snail's pace, stretched what might be a 20 minute affair to a 1 1/2 hour marathon in the attempt to delay Budget decisions in the Diet and embarrass the ruling party. [An interesting English article about cow-walking can be found here]

But tonight was neither an easy vote nor a display of disruptive cow-walking. At around half-past ten at night, 42 year-old DPJ politician, Yukio Edano, took central stage for a mammoth display of obstructionist filibuster. Or, as the Japanese might call it, "cow-tongue tactics"(gyutan senjutsu). The opposition fielded a motion which called for the removal of the Chairman of the Budget Committee, Kazuyoshi Kaneko, and successfully launched a red-herring into a session that should have been concluded before midnight. As it was, the DPJ (et al) managed to string proceedings out until 4am on the 3rd, delaying the Budget for a day. The question is, however, what was the point?

By the look of things in the early hours of Saturday morning, the DPJ could perhaps be reprimanded for endangering the lives of some the more elderly politicians. However, the events of this weekend also raised serious questions about the way Japanese politicians campaign in the Diet. Why the fuss about extending debate in the Budget Committee, and why all the filibuster?

Firstly, it is unclear why the opposition were so emphatically calling for an extension of committee debates when their original questioning had been so unenthusiastic (punctuated by snoozing politicians on both sides). "Why you running away?" and "Come back and debate properly!" were the much-repeated battle-cries on Friday. But, if the DPJ and their opposition allies cared so much about frank debate, surely time would have been better spent hammering-out issues properly in the first place? Of course, in Japan this scramble on the last day is the traditionally-correct way to behave when in opposition. Although it is strange that the DPJ buys into it because history and tradition has never really supported those on 'the other side' in Japanese politics.

Secondly, was there any point in the obstructionism--led by Edano--that kept politicians, bureaucrats and secretaries at their posts until the wee hours of Saturday morning? The weekend newspapers were curiously quiet about the whole affair. If the DPJ intended to build up tension and 'fight' in preparation for looming elections, it was a sad flop. Even if they actually disagreed with the Budget and intended to try and stop it, a quick look at the LDP majority (or with Komeito, an absolute majority) in the House of Representatives would have revealed this was an impossible struggle. To many on the outside, it looked like the country's lawmakers were having the political equivalent of a matsuri--a festival. And this may well be what they were doing.

Instead of cow-walking, cow-tongue rhetoric or any other variation of immature (yet, admittedly rather fun) opposition, it might be pleasant to see frank, aggressive and well-informed debate. As I have written in another post, politics does not currently glow with interest. Until opposition politicians learn about their own policies and acquire the ability to critique those formulated by the Government, a regime change may well remain elusive.

R J F Villar