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
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
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
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]."
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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.