Later this month, when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi concludes what may have been Japan’s most flamboyant premiership ever, pundits aplenty are sure to lavish his five-year term with glowing praise.
They’ll likely enthuse that, on Koizumi’s watch, the mountain of bad debts at banks shrank, while the anemic Nikkei stock index swelled. In foreign affairs, Koizumi is sure to be lauded for arguably his biggest coup when, in September 2002, he met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Il, and secured the return the following month of five Japanese abductees.
Looking back at this eventful time in Japanese politics, noted political commentator and popular author Minoru Morita also has glowing words for Koizumi. In Morita’s case, though, the words glow with white-hot condemnation.
In the view of Morita, 73, a former senior economics journalist turned prolific television and radio commentator, Koizumi’s tenure has been accompanied by an alarming degree of unquestioning subservience from the political establishment. In the media, too, Morita says that during the Koizumi era since 2001, the journalist’s duty of holding those in authority to account has been remarkably unfulfilled.
Yet in reality, as Morita told The Japan Times in our recent interview, he believes that “the Japanese are in despair over their future.’‘
In particular, he claims that Koizumi’s watch has seen the creation of a new underclass of working poor, and hordes of directionless young workers who drift from one low-paid job to another without gaining marketable skills — a group known as “freeters.’‘
No less dangerous for the well-being of the country, says Morita, have been Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where 12 convicted and two indicted Class-A war criminals are enshrined — visits vigorously opposed by Japan’s Asian neighbors.
In the super-high-octane 58-minute interview, in which he somehow managed to span topics ranging from geopolitics and economics to militarism and gender relations, Morita found time to forecast that Japan’s next administration will be doomed to U.S.-encouraged foreign-relations missteps in Asia. After that, though, he sees Japan and China finding common economic and cultural ground.
The son of a master carpenter, Morita graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Engineering. After a stint in business, he switched to journalism — where he found his calling. Thirty-seven books later, he now divides his time between writing and speaking engagements around the country.
And as he’s not one to pull his punches, over the decades Morita’s searing criticism of both the political right and the left have provoked numerous threats, including at least one on his life. Now, he says, he has effectively been barred from TV appearances after declaring in an Aug. 9, 2005 broadcast that Koizumi’s dissolution of Parliament the day before had been unconstitutional.
“I’m in the minority,” says Morita, a father of two grown sons who lives with his wife in Tokyo. “But within a year or two, my views will be accepted.’‘
How do you evaluate the tenure of outgoing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi?
The Koizumi administration was the worst possible for the Japanese people. In terms of foreign diplomacy, it worsened relations with neighboring countries, while domestically it spawned severe disparities within society.
A small number of people reaped benefits. The great majority, however, suffered considerable disadvantage and lost hope.
Domestically, haven’t Koizumi’s economic policies of eroding the public safety net and creating a leaner, more individualistic society been along the lines of Margeret Thatcher in Britain in the 1980s?
Koizumi’s policies were a mimicry of Thatcher’s and, like Thatcher’s, they failed. However, Koizumi’s failure is larger by a long shot. In Britain as well, “market fundamentalism” caused the collapse of capitalist morality. Still, the situation in Japan is clearly more serious.
Capitalism came into being and developed within Christian culture. However, it hasn’t thrived in other cultures. Heedlessly introducing market fundamentalism in the distinct civilization of Japan wreaks havoc with the socioeconomic fabric, causing fissures and a sharp rise in social stratification.
Meanwhile, a serious collapse in morals within the upper stratum of society is occurring. One symbol of this is the fact that Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui has . . . kept his job despite being found to have profited by means of the Murakami Fund. Koizumi, his Cabinet, top Liberal Democratic Party officials and leaders in the financial world have protected Fukui. [Fukui came under fire in early June after revealing that he invested 10 million yen in 1999 in a fund founded by financier Yoshiaki Murakami, who was charged with insider trading in June. The investment did not violate current in-house regulations.]
Many leaders are exploiting their public position to reap individual rewards. Injecting American-style belief in the market into Japan has triggered the downfall of morality in the leadership class.
Do you think Japan’s media has pursued such problems aggressively enough?
The Japanese media has not pursued Fukui’s responsibility. They have escaped from this problem. Rather, the Japanese media has abandoned its neutrality, adhering themselves to the Koizumi administration and becoming its mouthpiece. The Japanese media has returned to the role it played from the 1930s to the first half of the 1940s, as a public-relations organ for militarism.
In Japan, freedom of speech and freedom of the press have died. The media has become a part of the LDP-Komeito establishment.
What do you see as the cause of this?
The basis of morality for Japan’s elite was the bushi (warrior) spirit. Inazo Nitobe [a pioneering educator and author of the influential 1899 book, "Bushido: The Soul of Japan"] tells us that the three wellsprings of the way of the warrior were: ancient Shinto; Buddhism that came from India via China; and Confucianism, which originated in China. Starting in the Edo Period (1603-1867), Confucianism became the main current.
Yet, following World War II, under U.S. occupation, education based on bushi values was prohibited. Confucian education was also banned. Japanese leadership lost all theory of leadership.
Then, the introduction of market fundamentalism encouraged the crumbling of moral structure within Japan’s elite. Koizumi’s rule has drastically sped up the process. The moral collapse is several hundred times worse than in Thatcher’s Britain.
But any outside observer looking at modern Japanese youth surely sees nothing but quiet, well-mannered people.
The reason Japanese look so mild is that, under a dictatorship-like political regime of fear, a particularly Japanese emotional response called akirame (resignation) emerges. Because of this national character of akirame, the Japanese are prone to falling into states of apathy.
Japanese were apathetic during World War II, as well. The current situation resembles that wartime era.
In that context, how do you view the alleged torching by a rightist last month of the home of LDP lawmaker Koichi Kato, who has been critical of Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine?
In the future there is a strong likelihood of such incidents becoming more commonplace. People who, like Kato, criticize political power, will probably be targeted more frequently.
How do you interpret Koizumi’s dispatch of Self-Defense Force troops to Iraq?
Because of Article 9 of the Constitution, SDF activities are entirely restricted to Japan’s land and maritime territory. But due to special legislation by Koizumi’s Cabinet, the SDF was dispatched to Iraq. This is unconstitutional.
Have you perceived any change in social consciousness under Koizumi?
A large segment of the population has lost its confidence. Whether you’re talking about the future of the nation or the future of the individual, people have come to feel that there is no hope. Koizumi has disappointed the vast majority of Japanese. Because there was such hope for him when he took the stage, the repercussions will be large.
Yet, there have been signs of light on the economic horizon.
The only place where anybody sees any light is from the “winners’ ” camp. In the much larger camp of “losers,” the situation remains just as dark.
If that’s the case, why don’t people put up resistance?
The pace of the deterioration of living standards is fast, and the population is baffled and weighed down. Labor unions are weak and reform parties are powerless. The population as a whole is enervated. There are no leaders of opposition movements. The sense of solidarity within society has evaporated. Koizumi’s structural reform has stolen the hopes and motivation away from the citizens.
Some time ago, an LDP panel studying reform of the Constitution criticized its Article 24, which guarantees gender equality, for contributing to the ruin of society and family. Shinzo Abe, widely considered the front-runner to replace Koizumi when he steps down, reportedly said, “A [gender-free] concept which ignores the value of marriage and the family is linked to the destruction of culture.” What are your views on this issue?
There are many female LDP lawmakers with extremely rightwing opinions — many with opinions similar to those of Abe. Thus, it is unthinkable that many LDP lawmakers would oppose Abe; everybody will fall in line.
Many LDP members believe that the declining birthrate is due to a reduction of barriers to women’s participation in society or the quickened pace of gender equality — that women are expanding their legal rights and thus holding back from motherhood.
This is a complete misunderstanding. The cause of the slowing birthrate is that people’s livelihoods are more impoverished. Japanese citizens have suddenly become poorer. That, and the fact that Japanese youth are exceedingly unhappy in comparison with their parents’ generation. Such people refuse to bear children because they believe their offspring will experience yet greater hardship and unhappiness. This is a more serious issue than just changing the law, or the Constitution, and hoping that people will give birth.
Vast numbers of Japanese youth can’t find stable work. Koizumi has given managers, the trustees of capital, complete freedom on the basis that it is what America has done, and that Japan must create an American-type society. I’ve been to the United States on several occasions, and I believe that such a perception of the U.S. is mistaken. The U.S. has a somewhat better situation: Labor unions there are more powerful; there is a sense of humanism. But Japan has fallen under the impression that American shareholder-led capitalism disregards the importance of the employee, and that to conform to a U.S.-based global standard must involve adopting such a system.
In that way, Japan has discarded the view that the employee is an essential element in the working of a corporation. In this fashion, corporations have cast aside their responsibility for employment, and in doing so dashed the aspirations of youngsters graduating from high school or college. They foresee a life waiting at restaurant tables or working at bookstores or signing up at personnel agencies. They can’t envision themselves pursuing meaningful careers.
Disenchantment discourages marriage. And even those who do marry, divorce. And they hold back from parenthood. But Abe and the others behind the mistaken notion that lifting barriers to gender equality is behind the slowing birthrate, they refuse to see this reality.
Abe is widely expected to become the next prime minister . . .
I believe he will be.
. . . and if that comes to pass, how do you foresee this affecting diplomatic relations between Japan, South Korea and China?
Well, I don’t think the situation will get any better. It doesn’t get any worse than not being able to hold summit talks, because in the event of some political clash between Japan and China or Japan and South Korea, there are no mechanisms for crafting solutions. The inability to hold summits represents a crisis of foreign relations. Koizumi has attracted monumental opposition from China and South Korea, and if Abe continues to go about things the way he has, this situation will persist.
Seen from a different perspective, it could be argued that a Japan that doesn’t assert itself risks forfeiting its geopolitical sway in the region.
Koizumi has kept up a steady flow of anti-Chinese actions and statements; Abe has even more assertively criticized China. Because of this, within China there is an expanding view that Japan has returned to its pre-World War II stance. To put it more concretely, they’ve begun to think that a militarist expansion into Asia by Japan is within the realm of possibility. Consequently, in China, and South and North Korea there is a broadening sense of threat, the need to gird themselves against Japan. Japan’s leadership doesn’t consider its own role in this.
Of course, the Japanese are no different from anybody else. If neighboring countries threaten Japan, it has to prepare itself. Japan has to beef up its military preparedness. North Korea has been threatening to lob missiles at Japan — we’ve heard much information along these lines recently — and in response, Japan deepens its relationship with the United States. It asks for more protection.
Japanese politicians fearful of North Korea want Japan to become another American state. I say that figuratively, but for the security of the country, they want Japan to in effect become just another part of the United States. It’s not debated openly, so the public doesn’t know it, but that is what the Japanese leadership is thinking. And members of the brain trust are telling bureaucrats that Japan can’t go on as an independent state. A certain friend, who is quite highly placed, has said that Japan cannot continue as an independent country. It has no other choice but to be a client of the United States. There are many Japanese who hold that opinion.
But if Japan is to pursue neither militarism nor military dependence on the United States, what other stance can it take?
Well, you see, there’s nobody left in Japan capable of conducting diplomacy with North Korea. In the absence of diplomacy, the military steps in. We don’t have the military might ourselves and so must depend on the United States.
There were unofficial channels of communication with North Korea, but they have all shut down. We’ve got issues that need to be solved diplomatically, but there is no diplomacy. But the whole issue of North Korea being a bogeyman is nonsense. North Korea’s population is a sixth of Japan’s. Economically, it is tiny. So the Japanese people can’t be fed the argument that North Korea justifies making Japan part of the United States. They won’t accept it, so it can’t be made publicly.
So the specter of China is raised instead. China has 10 times Japan’s population. China’s military is [numerically] 10 times the size of Japan’s. So if you present a threat of invasion by China as justification for becoming one with the United States, that goes down easier. That’s the direction we’re going now. Rather than North Korea being a threat, China is being presented as one, with that being the rationale for cozying up with the United States.
Considering the economic challenge posed by China, if Japan is to follow a post-industrial course similar to that of the United Kingdom, relying less on heavy industry and more on services, can it compete?
I visited Shanghai the other day and met with Japanese trading-house officials and shipping companies, and everybody expressed confidence. These people are studying Chinese and blending in. The problem is that such people are still few in number.
In order to build cooperation with the United States, Japan sent waves of people to study abroad in America to learn the language, and many people became good at English and befriended Americans. If we can simply do the same thing in China, there won’t be such a problem. If we increase the number of Chinese speakers who befriend Chinese, we’ll be able to develop mutual understanding.
But though Japanese study English, they don’t study Chinese. Japanese have too many prejudices against Chinese. Before the war, Japanese had enormous prejudices against America — but we changed our thinking and came to understand America. Many millions of Japanese died from American aggression during the war — from the atomic bombs and what have you. Yet, Japanese have put that behind them in the interest of friendship. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to overcome our differences with Chinese people as well.
If Japanese leaders just put understanding China on the agenda, there wouldn’t be any problem.
What worries me, however, is the Bush administration, whose basic strategy is to pit Japan and China against each other. Koizumi and Abe’s aggressive stance toward China is in line with that policy. So while Bush is still around, we’ll be stuck with lousy relations, but when another administration has taken over, I don’t foresee continued hostility. The Bush administration is a particularly militaristic administration. I think things will go better when he’s moved on. That’s not to say that Japan will say, “Sayonara, America, hello China.” It won’t go that far. Fundamentally, Japan wants to coexist with the United States. I just want Japan to have the freedom to get along with China without obstruction from the United States.
Assuming Abe takes the reins as prime minister, what would you expect from his administration?
Everybody knows that the LDP administration’s power resides in the Bush administration. And everybody believes that the Bush administration will suffer in the upcoming midterm elections. Abe’s power will plummet accordingly. I believe Abe’s administration will be insignificant.
An election may then bring a change in regime, with a Democratic Party of Japan administration led by Ichiro Ozawa. I believe a change in regime is necessary for Japan, and that an Ozawa Cabinet would be good for Japan.
Why is that?
Because extremist politics would end. Koizumi and Abe work by extreme means. They’re rough. By comparison, Ozawa pursues symbiosis. By symbiosis, first of all, I mean world peace, living in harmony with other countries and not antagonizing China or South Korea like Abe and Koizumi. And, of course, in harmony with America.
I also refer to the natural environment, to the natural world and humanity coexisting. Ozawa aspires to this, and so his politics will be far and away better than [the current] fighting politics.