Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s Cabinet reshuffle Friday was greeted with indifference on the streets of Tokyo, with many expressing hope that the administration will settle down and pursue policies to revive the economy.
Friday’s reshuffle included several key changes, including the replacement of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku with Democratic Party of Japan Deputy Secretary General Yukio Edano, as well as the appointment of ex-Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan) member Kaoru Yosano as economic and fiscal policy minister. Yosano, a former finance minister, will also be in charge of social welfare and tax reform.
The appointment of Yosano — an expert on financial affairs and an advocate of drastic tax reform — was seen by some on the street as an indication that Kan plans to raise the 5 percent consumption tax.
A 75-year-old man from Saitama, who gave only his surname, Yanagida, said that while Yosano’s sudden appointment came as a surprise, he believed Kan gave careful consideration to selecting the experienced lawmaker.
“I could say I was pleasantly surprised with Yosano’s appointment,” Yanagida said in Tokyo’s Shinbashi district.
He was less impressed by Edano’s appointment, however, believing him too inexperienced in spite of his earnestness.
Yanagida, who said he once worked as a secretary to a Diet lawmaker, added that while he personally disliked the idea of a consumption tax hike, he believed it was inevitable considering the nation’s poor financial condition.
“It’s a sacrifice we need to make in order to achieve fiscal health,” he said.
Koichi Kishimoto, a 27-year-old designer, agreed that Yosano’s experience and ability would be a plus for the administration, but said he hoped Kan focuses on solving long-standing problems.
“We can’t afford switching prime ministers so often like it was when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power,” he said, expressing hope that the government initiates reforms, including opening up the nation’s market by joining the U.S.-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact.
Kishimoto shared Yanagida’s opinion that a tax hike may be unavoidable, but said the government should pursue all possible waste-cutting measures before reforming the tax system.
“The administration should do what it promised to do, including banning ‘amakudari’ (the practice of giving retiring bureaucrats lucrative private-sector jobs in industries they previously oversaw), reviewing the allowances of public servants and cutting the number of Diet lawmakers,” he said.
Hiroko Tanji, a 32-year-old civil servant and mother of a 2-year-old boy, agreed that a tax hike could not be avoided in light of the burden the younger generations are faced with.
“I think a consumption tax hike or other tax increases are inevitable if we consider our children’s future. I don’t want our country to leave a huge debt to our children’s generation,” she said at the Roppongi Hills commercial complex in Tokyo.
Tanji added that while she appreciated the monthly child allowances she receives from the government — one of the DPJ’s key pledges pursued when it swept into power in 2009 — she believed the administration should focus more on increasing the number of child care facilities and other family-related support measures.
Miyako Kimura, a 34-year-old housewife from Yokohama and mother of a newborn who was also visiting Roppongi Hills, said she has been saving up all the child allowances to help cover the costs of child-rearing.
“But I do think I will need more money when the child enters kindergarten and elementary school. That’s why I’m saving it for the future,” she said.
In Tokyo’s Yurakucho district, a 37-year-old engineer working for a large electronics maker said he believed doling out money or following such policies as eliminating highway tolls “only created confusion.”
The engineer, who also supported Japan’s joining the TPP, said Kan should concentrate on long-term strategies to improve the economy, not on quick fixes, and also said he believed a tax hike was necessary if Japan were to avoid a Greece-like financial meltdown.
Some foreigners interviewed seemed especially alarmed by Japan’s frequent leadership changes.
An Indian businessman at Roppongi Hills who wished to remain anonymous, citing company rules, said that although he had little knowledge of individual ministers, after living in Japan for over 14 years he believed one problem with politics here was the relatively short tenures of prime ministers.
“Prime ministers should not change so quickly — they come to the post wanting to do something, but they are replaced every three to six months, accomplishing nothing,” he said.
“Japan is already a great country. But if you want to sustain your economy at the same level as it was before, you’ve got to accomplish some strict reforms,” he said.
Tanay Sape, a 29-year-old Indian banker, also believed Japan’s rapid replacement of leaders was “ridiculous,” and said that while politicians were prone to making mistakes, this should not immediately trigger a resignation.
“They should try harder rather than simply quitting, leaving everything up to a new leader,” he said.
“All I wish for the new Cabinet is that they do more for the job sectors and to immigration services.”
Sape, who has been living in Tokyo for six years, said that when his parents visited from India, they had to apply for visas several months in advance, an inconvenience he felt should be corrected.