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There are 727 lawmakers in the Diet, with 480 in the House of Representatives and 247 in the House of Councilors. Yet the number of Diet groups — not political parties — is said to be more than 1,000 and growing.

Of these groups, one that came under the spotlight recently is a league of members supporting relatives of people thought to have been abducted to North Korea. It is led by Shoichi Nakagawa, a Lower House member of the Liberal Democratic Party.

LDP sources said that Diet groups can be inaugurated if more than two lawmakers want to act together for some purpose. After a chairman, secretary general and secretariat chief are named, an inaugural general meeting can be held.

An official at LDP headquarters said, “Nobody knows what their actual number is” because there are dormant leagues.

Analysts said the leagues can roughly be sorted into four categories — policy groups trying to promote industry and enterprise, friendship groups seeking to promote ties with other countries, ideological groups that pursue various philosophies and creeds, and hobby groups.

The first group includes a tourism-promotion league, a group seeking to promote construction of bullet-train lines and a league pushing highway construction, which acted as a pressure group in December, opposing a final government report recommending the privatization of four heavily indebted highway public corporations.

An aide to a midranking LDP lawmaker said, “These leagues are a stronghold of those seeking rights and interests by extending political support to specific industries.”

The second category ostensibly tries to promote friendship with other countries, although there are sometimes allegations of vested interests. A young lawmaker in the Democratic Party of Japan said, “A certain Diet member has been found to be monopolizing the chairmanship of all leagues with African countries.”

He was apparently referring to Muneo Suzuki, a Lower House member once powerful within the LDP who is now on trial on suspicion of accepting bribes from a lumber firm in Hokkaido, his fiefdom. Suzuki also had dubious dealings involving Russia and the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan, as well as with some African countries.

The ideological group is most notably represented by a league to promote visits by politicians to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where war criminals are enshrined along with Japan’s war dead.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the Shinto shrine last week provoked fury in China and South Korea, which view the shrine as a monument to Japan’s wartime militarism.

“There are many rightist-oriented leagues, and they are now gaining strength,” a member of one such group said.

The hobby group includes a league on enjoying chorus singing, a karaoke league, a bicycle-riding league and a league to collect postage stamps. But here too there are allegations of ulterior motives.

“Through these hobbies, members are also trying to buy votes and collect money from industries,” an LDP source said.

A young LDP lawmaker said, “Diet leagues are effective in realizing policies.”

Seishiro Eto, acting chairman of the LDP’s decision-making general council and a member of about 200 leagues, said, “It takes time for a political party and government offices to work out policies because various procedures are required, but leagues can act quickly when problems arise. This is their largest merit.”

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