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    Japan
     Aug 29, 2009
Japan on the brink of a new era
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - History sometimes throws up wonderful ironies: in Japan, a rising grandson is about to destroy his grandfather's legacy.

With opinion polls suggesting a massive victory for his opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in Sunday's general election, Yukio Hatoyama is poised to become the next prime minister, replacing Taro Aso. This would mark a fundamental change of power in the country, ending the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP's) near-perpetual one-party dominance since Hatoyama's grandfather Ichiro created the LDP in 1955.

The number 320 is the key for this election. Should the DPJ secure a more than two-thirds majority, or 320 seats out of the 480 up for election, it would enable the DPJ to enact any legislation rejected by the Upper House, where the party still

 

lacks a single-party majority. This Sunday, a total of 1,374 candidates will vie for the 480 Lower House seats - 300 for single-seat districts and 180 for proportional-representation constituencies.

In the final stage of the campaign, the Asahi Shimbun on Thursday reported that the DPJ was likely to win more than 320 seats, up from the 115 seats the party had before the Lower House was dissolved on July 21. The ruling LDP, meanwhile, is likely to suffer a crushing defeat by only securing about 100 seats, far from its pre-election strength of 300, the newspaper said, based on its most recent survey.

Figures published on Friday worsened the LDP's bleak outlook. The unemployment rate rose to an all-time post-war high of 5.7% in July, according to the government, while deflation intensified and families cut spending.

"The DPJ is highly likely to gain more than 320 seats," Minoru Morita, a noted political analyst in Tokyo, told Asia Times Online. "But I do not think the DPJ will railroad legislation through the Lower House forcibly, by using their two-third majority [to override Upper House decisions]."

Blue-blood politician
The 177-centimeter-tall Hatoyama, 62, conjures up an image of silk stockings and silver spoons among the Japanese public. He is a scion of the country's wealthiest and most politically influential family, which has been nicknamed "Japan's Kennedys" by local media.

Hatoyama is a fourth-generation politician. His paternal great-grandfather Kazuo was speaker of the House of Representatives of Japan's Diet (parliament) from 1896 to 1897 in the Meiji era. Subsequently, Kazuo also served as vice minister of foreign affairs and as president of Waseda University, one of Japan's top universities.

Yukio's paternal grandfather Ichiro was three times prime minister between 1954 and 1956, and a founder and the first president of the ruling LDP. In 1951, he restored diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and enabled Japan to become a United Nations member, his earnest political ambition before retirement.

His father Iichiro is a former vice minister of finance and a former foreign minister. His younger brother Kunio is a LDP Lower House member and served as an internal affairs and communications minister under the current Taro Aso administration until June 2009.

Moreover, Hatoyama's maternal grandfather was the late Shojiro Ishibashi, founder of Bridgestone Corp, the world's largest tiremaker, headquartered in Tokyo. Bridgestone was named after Ishibashi; In Japanese, ishi means a "stone", and bashi(/hashi), a "bridge".

Hatoyama's mother Yasuko, 86, is called "Godmother" in Japan's political circles, as she has provided significant sums of money inherited from her father Shojiro Ishibashi to help her two sons pursue their political ambitions, especially when they created the DPJ in 1996 by donating several billions of yen. Younger brother Kunio subsequently returned to the LDP as he felt the Democrats had moved too far left from its centrist roots, while Yukio remained a major figure in the DPJ.

"Traditionally, the Hatoyama family introduces much permissiveness into children's upbringing," Morita said. "That's why Yukio and Kunio have totally different characters."

The Hatoyama family is related to three former prime ministers: Ichiro Hatoyama, Hayato Ikeda, who advocated the "income-doubling plan" in the 1960s, and Kiichi Miyazawa, who served as premier from 1991 to 1993. Yukio Hatoyama owns about 8.6 billion yen (US$91.9 million) as personal assets, according to the monthly literary magazine Bungei Shunju published on August 10. He has 3.5 million shares of Bridgestone, which amounts to about 6 billion yen, according to the October 2008 financial disclosure regarding Diet members' salaries set forth by law.

Battle of the grandsons
This strong political advantage provided by the famous Hatoyama family pedigree is equivalent to that of Aso, who is related to seven former prime ministers, including his grandfather Shigeru Yoshida, Japan's first post-World War II prime minister.

Many political observers point out that the crucial battle taking place between Aso's LDP and Hatoyama's DJP in this weekend's poll replicates that of their grandfathers Shigeru Yoshida and Ichiro Hatoyama, who led the two strong conservative groups during the immediate post-war years of Japan. That is, their descendants' battle from different sides of the party political system: Aso for the conservative LDP that has dominated Japanese politics for more than half a century, and Hatoyama for the reformist DPJ.

Right after the end of World War II, Yoshida was able to hold a firm political foundation for a stable government because the US-led General Headquarters of the Allied Forces (GHQ) in 1946 purged then-powerful political leader Ichiro Hatoyama, who formed the Liberal Party in August of 1945. Five years later, Hatoyama was welcomed back by the GHQ, and in 1954 he regained control of the government by ousting prime minister Yoshida.

Yoshida gained the favor of powerful bureaucrats, while Ichiro strived to make policy-making based on leadership by politicians. This is the same pattern as today. Yukio Hatoyama promises to abolish the institution of the so-called amakudari (descent from heaven), which has provided a means for government regulators to move down from their ministries into top positions in the industries that they formerly regulated. Aso has appeared unwilling to do so.
Political rise
Yukio Hatoyama graduated from the University of Tokyo in 1969 and received a PhD in engineering from Stanford University in the United States in 1976. He was first elected to the Lower House in 1986 as a LDP member after being an assistant professor of the department of business administration at Senshu University. He left the LDP following the 1993 general elections, which saw the party lose its overall majority for the first time since 1955. This prompted various members to break away from the LDP and form new political parties, such as the New Party Sakigake, in which Hatoyama became one of the founding members.

He served as vice chief cabinet secretary in the cabinet of Morihiro Hosokawa (1993-94), whose coalition government, including the New Party Sakigake, toppled the LDP from nearly four decades of power. In the DPJ, Hatoyama won the party's presidency in September 1999, but resigned in December 2002 amid confusion over a forthcoming merger with the Liberal Party, led by Ichiro Ozawa.

The merger in 2003 temporarily sidelined Hatoyama, but in September 2004, after eight months as shadow minister for internal affairs, he became shadow minister of foreign affairs and secretary general of the party once again. In the May 2009 elections to the leadership, Hatoyama initially appeared an unlikely victor, with his only rival, 55-year-old vice president Katsuya Okada, providing a more youthful image, and less tainted by association with Ozawa. However, Hatoyama was elected president just months before a crucial general election.

Hatoyama can be very stubborn, decisive and bold, author Eiji Oshita wrote in a book about the Hatoyama family published in 2000, The ambition of splendid Hatoyama family.

"He has had the disastrous experience of serving in key party posts such as secretary general," Tetsuro Fukuyama, an Upper House member of the DPJ and the current deputy policy chief told Asia Times Online. "He became very tough."

It's well known that Hatoyama has a happy married life - he is wed to Miyuki, 65. He met her while studying at Stanford University. It was a stolen love. He once told a women's magazine, "In my case, I happened to fall in love with someone else's wife and ended up marrying her." Miyuki is a former star actress of a popular all-woman dance troupe in Japan. He said in the interview that the circumstances in which he met and married Miyuki made him renounce his old way of life and decide to become a politician. Hatoyama has one son, Kiichiro, 33, a visiting researcher at Moscow State University.

Man of the people
Despite his wealth and privilege, Hatoyama is trying to position himself politically as a man of the people ahead of the election, for example, by often talking about weakening the culture of hereditary politicians in Japan, which is in his party's election manifesto. Yet when Hatoyama speaks Japanese, he invokes particular honorifics that most people seldom use in their daily lives, highlighting his prestigious upbringing.

Hatoyama says he aims to implement the political philosophy of European integrationist Count Coudenhove-Kalergi. In an essay in the September edition of the monthly magazine Voice published August 10, Hatoyama said the philosophy of yuai or "fraternity", translated by his grandfather Ichiro, from Coudenhove-Kalergi's writings, is his policy platform, which is geared towards weakening Japan's bureaucracy and rejecting the US-led global capitalism that brought about the economic crisis.

With the motto of yuai, Hatoyama says he hopes to leave behind parochial nationalism and jingoism and instead further develop the East Asian Community to the extent that it resembles an Asian version of the European Union. He also advocates a common Asian currency as a natural extension of the rapid economic growth in the region.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist.

(Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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