I haven't written about Japanese politics for the past year or so. There are reasons for that.
When you write something you pick a point of view, then describe what you see from that point. You describe the structure of things, you ascribe intention to actors and meaning to events. You create a narrative. This is true for even the most dry, fact-filled writing; the most important advice we give to students learning to write research papers is to tell a story. Weave your research into a tale of sorts. You can't simply "state the facts"; that will give you a nice list of facts, but not a coherent, readable text.
What does that have to do with Japanese politics? Right now, to my eyes, there is no structure to describe. The actors have no intention and events have no meaning. It takes a far better — and far more knowledgeable — writer than me to find a point of view that makes sense, and to wrest structure and narrative from the chaotic events of the past year.
The always inestimable MTC touched on this in the latter part of a great post, in a manner far better than I could do myself:
Is it important or not that 4 sub-cabinet level officeholders resigned their posts on Friday, especially as the Deputy Prime Minister tells the press on Saturday that the Noda government is not accepting their resignations (J).
Will the Liberal Democratic Party under Tanigaki Sadakazu vote against the government bill raising the consumption tax to 10% in a de facto joining of hands with Ozawa Ichiro and those members of the Democratic Party of Japan loyal to him? When the LDP's manifesto calls for a raising of the consumption tax to 10%?
As the analysis article's unintentionally hilarious four-word paragraph...
"Then again, maybe not."
...indicates, arguments in either direction, with up and down thrown in to boot, all seem equally valid.
I haven't written about Japanese politics because plainly nobody knows what they are doing, nobody knows where current events will lead, and nobody has a clue what Japanese politics will look like six months from now, never mind years into the future.
The three largest parties combined don't even reach 50% approval rating; the most popular alternatives are "None" followed by the national offshoot of a local Osaka party - a national offshoot that still has no candidates, no detailed political program and that does not in fact even exist at this point. We do know the current structure is slowly falling apart, in other words, but it is still far too early to get a hint of what will replace it.
You may ask why such an orderly, smoothly-working society as Japan can have an utterly dysfunctional political structure. I say it is because society here mostly works well, not despite it. In many other places this level of chaos and lack of leadership would spill over into society at large. It'd cause civil unrest, crime and graft, economic damage, perhaps even civil war. People would not long accept such a dangerous situation and would react quickly to redress it.
But here the society just keeps ticking over, mostly unconcerned about the lack of direction at the top. Belgium is another example where they managed well over a year with no government at all, with few ill effects. It has been allowed to continue for so long because the effects are small.
That can't last indefinitely of course. Short-term effects are small to none, but there are long-term, large-scale issues that need to be addressed eventually. There is a real risk that the political disintegration continues to the point where there is nothing left to reassemble once the situation really does become pressing. The short-term resilience may paradoxically contribute to making the long-term effects far worse.
We'll see. Meanwhile I'll keep silent about it until there is some hint of a coherent narrative again.