Perhaps I owe my readers an apology for not accurately predicting how Japan's political scene will shape up. Around the turn of the century, I predicted that the 21st century will see Japan enter an era of a steady rivalry between conservatism and liberalism, like in many Western countries. Indeed, I was pleased to see this country gradually moving in that direction.

On the economic front, the conservatives believe in omnipotence of free and competitive markets. On the political side, they favor "small government," whose responsibilities should be limited to national defense, policing, firefighting and other matters that cannot be handled by the private sector, and think things that can be handled by the private sector should be left in its hands. Socially, they put priority on public order and traditions, and do not necessarily approve of diversity.

The liberals, on the other hand, think the free market mechanism is incapable of rectifying imbalances such as unemployment and of averting economic fluctuations, and believe that it is incumbent on the government to make up for the imperfection and instability of the market. On the social side, they favor diversity and value democracy, liberalism and individualism.