Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Diet has become another point of contention between right- and left-leaning entities in Japan. One of the more revealing responses involved a website set up by a member of a nonprofit organization called Bokura no Ippo ga Nihon wo Kaeru (Our One Step Will Change Japan) and presented as the work of a 10-year-old boy who wonders why Abe did what he did. As translated into English by JapanCrush, the text is simplistic in the way it focuses on the wastefulness of the election and the less admirable results of “Abenomics.” It obviously wasn’t written by a child and doesn’t seem designed to fool anyone on that count, though it did. Such rhetorical gambits are common in Japanese media as a means of making issues understandable to the average person, though the mock style of the post rubbed many readers, including Abe, the wrong way, forcing the person who wrote it to quit the NPO and apologize. The most telling complaint was from a contributor to textboard 2Channel, who said, “Don’t do things like the Asahi Shimbun does.”
This individual is referring to the nominally left-wing newspaper’s recent problems with past reporting that proved to be false, and as with the Asahi’s subsequent persecution, the website’s vilification has more to do with the perceived political stance of its author than with its content, thus setting up a situation familiar to veterans of the culture wars in the United States, where the public is conditioned by certain parties to hate liberals and “elites” in order to promote a self-serving agenda that, when scrutinized objectively, hurts the interests of the public more than helps them.
Granted, Japan’s electorate doesn’t seem thrilled with the upcoming snap election, and in interviews voters question its timing. But the general mood is that there isn’t enough reason not to vote for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, either because the opposition isn’t a credible alternative or because the respondents have bought Abe’s claim, verbalized testily during his Nov. 18 press conference, that Abenomics is the only answer to Japan’s fiscal ills because no one has proposed anything better.
The nominally right-wing Yomiuri Shimbun has accepted this explanation, saying in an editorial that criticism of the election “misses the point,” since the ruling party can’t go ahead with its plans “without the people’s understanding and cooperation.” If the opposition is unprepared at such short notice to campaign against Abe’s platform, then in the paper’s estimation it only has itself to blame, an assertion that implies the LDP deserves to win because it’s better at gaming the system.
Yomiuri’s support for Abenomics is based on what it has achieved so far, namely “a very weak yen, considerably higher stock prices and improvements in corporate profitability.” All of these things, the paper believes, will help Japan regain economic health, but it doesn’t explain why they are good for anyone except the companies and individuals they benefit directly. What seems to impress the Yomiuri, exemplified by Abe’s decision to postpone the next consumption tax hike, is his decisiveness, as if that alone were reason enough to support him.
Meanwhile, the Asahi published an opinion piece that called Abe’s move “patently self-serving,” an ostensible means of giving the electorate a say in determining policy that is really no say at all. However, by spotlighting Abe’s decision to delay the consumption tax hike as a dramatic flourish, Asahi lost the chance to show clearly how people were being bamboozled into voting against their own interests.
This oversight was corrected several days later with a series attempting to show how Abenomics really worked. Explaining that 99.7 percent of Japanese companies are small or medium-sized and that these companies employ 70 percent of Japan’s workers, Asahi talked to a small factory owner in Fukuoka who makes car parts. Encouraged by the prime minister’s zeal he boosted the wages of his 20 employees by ¥10,000 a month in anticipation of the fruits of Abenomics, but on balance has been losing money while his clients, Toyota and Nissan, enjoy record profits, and for the same reason: The low yen that makes his materials so expensive helps the big automakers sell their products.
For contrast, the Asahi went to the city of Toyota in Aichi Prefecture, where everyone works for Toyota and local retailers are reaping the windfall. The town’s economic well-being is exceptional, the implication being that only huge export-driven companies do well under Abenomics, since the promised trickle-down effect is limited. Many of these companies moved production overseas when the yen was high and, as the president of Panasonic told reporters last April, they aren’t coming back.
Tokyo Shimbun did something similar with regard to the investor class, which consists of people who are already well off and buy stocks as a matter of course. In 2013, the number of people with assets of more than ¥120 million increased by 420,000, while everyone else faces declining prospects. Nonregular employees now account for 37 percent of the work force, their number increasing by 930,000 from 2012 to 2013.
It is these people, most of whom are younger members of Japan’s vast middle class, who need to comprehend what’s at stake in this so-called referendum, and the Asahi tried to reach them with language they could understand. Columnist Takayuki Yasui’s Nov. 23 piece quoted the president of Kirin Beer, Yoshinori Isozaki, who, unlike other business leaders, was not surprised when Japan’s GDP registered negative for two quarters in a row. He had seen over the summer how sales of premium beer rose while those of every other beer and beer-like beverage dropped. Since the premium-beer market is small and the regular-beer market big, “I could tell the economy was bad,” he said. In other words, the haves had it good, while the have-nots didn’t. Even a 10-year-old could see that.
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