Friday, June 4, 2010

Summertime, and the Leaving is Easy

Ah yes, beginning of summer. The cycle turns. As every year the rainy season will soon be upon us. Summer festivals will return. We can look forward to the yearly Obon holiday in August, when, as every year, half of Japan leaves the cities for their ancestral villages.

And of course, in an ancient yearly tradition1 the fragile annual that is the Japanese Prime Minister will wither, to be replaced by a fresh new specimen that will surprise and delight us over the year to come.

This year brings us Naoto Kan2, finance minister in the Hatoyama cabinet. With just a month or so before the upper house election, his election and appointment is being run through at the highest possible speed.

The pundits pretty much all seem to agree he's not only the best choice available, but a solid choice for Prime minister in his own right. As finance minister he's done a good job the past year in the face of the continuing economic crisis, he's got lots of experience in politics and in government, and he has a healthy distance to the Ozawa people, without being opposed by them.

And even more refreshingly, he's the first Prime minister in a good long while that is not the son or grandson of a former Prime minister (the last one was Koizumi; his grandfather only made "ordinary" cabinet minister). Even more, he's a self-made politician, with no family history in politics, so he entered the field from personal interest and conviction rather than a sense of family obligation or simply taking the easy road prepared by his parents. And being neither from a well-connected political clan, nor being all that liked among his peers, we can be pretty sure he reached this point using his own ability rather than riding the coattails of others.

Will this improve the fortunes of the DPJ and of Japan? Well, it's hard not to improve on Hatoyama3, and irrespective of the prime minister, having Ozawa leave can only be a good thing for Japanese politics. Also, it's easy to miss the forest for the trees here. Many people rightly call for a political realignment in Japan, as the old party and political structures just aren't a good fit to current reality anymore. But that realignment will be very messy, with large parts of the political world thrown into disarray. It will look quite a lot like events in recent years in other words. Chaos and confusion are not desirable of course, but hey may well be unavoidable if a more appropriate system is ever going to emerge.

#1 Anything that happens twice is a tradition. If it happens a third time it's ancient and honourable. Remember that whenever you read tourist travel information.

#2 Really, Wikipedia is a very popular site, with lots and lots of visitors. Were I in the PR team for a public figure like Kan, I'd make a point of giving them a well-composed freely-licensed picture to use, instead of having them settle for some direct-flash keitai snapshot that would make even Ingrid Bergman look like Gollum on a bad day.

#3 I'm speaking relative to the top level people in Japanese politics of course. Hatoyama lasted eight months, but had I been put in that job we'd have measured the incumbency in weeks - hours if anybody was stupid enough to let me write my own acceptance speech.

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