Japan’s political opposition

Koizumi’s tenure is about to end and its time to evaluate.

Japan Times’ interview with political commentator Minoru Morita attempts to cast a critical light on the period.

Japan’s economy is finally looking up; Japanese banks’ unprofitable loans have shrunk. If that is all to Koizumi’s honour I don’t know but he did manage to secure the return five abductees from North Korea.

On the other hand the state of foreign affairs is at a low. Relations with neighbouring states are bad to say the least. Japan’s bid at securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council looks pretty improbable.

Along comes Mr. Morita to try and set things straight. With opposition like that no wonder LDP has managed to reign almost uninterrupted for the past 50 years.

His analysis of the state of the nation goes more or less to the tune of everything was better in the olden days – before the US came and ruined everything.

“(…)following World War II, under U.S. occupation, education based on bushi values was prohibited. Confucian education was also banned. Japanese leadership lost all theory of leadership.

Then, the introduction of market fundamentalism encouraged the crumbling of moral structure within Japan’s elite.”

So, more Confucianism in leadership would make everything alright then, would it? Moral strength is what makes a country successful? I see… Where did I hear that the last time… I’m thinking pre-war rhetoric here.

His diagnosis of Japan’s problem with falling birth-rates goes like this:

Many LDP members believe that the declining birthrate is due to a reduction of barriers to women’s participation in society or the quickened pace of gender equality — that women are expanding their legal rights and thus holding back from motherhood.

This is a complete misunderstanding. The cause of the slowing birthrate is that people’s livelihoods are more impoverished. Japanese citizens have suddenly become poorer. That, and the fact that Japanese youth are exceedingly unhappy in comparison with their parents’ generation. Such people refuse to bear children because they believe their offspring will experience yet greater hardship and unhappiness. This is a more serious issue than just changing the law, or the Constitution, and hoping that people will give birth.

Although I agree that the economic downturn and the pessimism caused by it has something to do with falling birth rates, I am convinced that Japanese women’s growing participation in the work market also has a part in it. I think Morita automatically wants to disagree with as many LDP members as possible and here he overlooks the fact that they are actually right.

The Japanese youth of today is more unhappy in comparison with their parent’s generation because women want to participate in the workplace but can’t. That is partly because there are less jobs and partly because of the cultural expectations towards both men and women.

Today Japanese women are no longer dependent on finding a husband for survival. Japanese men are, however, still expected to work 12 hours a day 6 days a week. Once a woman gives birth she is either laid off or expected to quit her job. Finding a fulltime job as a mother is next to impossible. Leaving your active life behind for the solitary life as a house wife is the direct road to the unhappiness Morita speaks about. Keeping women in the kitchen is not going to solve the problem.

He continues:

“Vast numbers of Japanese youth can’t find stable work. Koizumi has given managers, the trustees of capital, complete freedom on the basis that it is what America has done, and that Japan must create an American-type society. I’ve been to the United States on several occasions, and I believe that such a perception of the U.S. is mistaken. The U.S. has a somewhat better situation: Labor unions there are more powerful; there is a sense of humanism.”

This is exactly the point of the “many LDP members” he so disagrees with. Stronger unions would cut down the working hours and thus give Japanese families more space and time to cure the “unhappiness” he defines as the main cause of falling birth rates.

“But Japan has fallen under the impression that American shareholder-led capitalism disregards the importance of the employee, and that to conform to a U.S.-based global standard must involve adopting such a system.”

Japan is perfectly capable of disregarding the employee (as a person with a life outside the workplace) without any inspiration from the US. That is after all what created Japan’s economical success up through the 60’s and 70’s.

In other words the unhappiness does not come from Koizumi misunderstanding American systems but from pushing Confucian style expectations onto women in a society that has moved on a long time ago. I even think that the humanism, which stronger unions would bring with them, goes against his Confucian ideal of management above.

I think Morita’s outlook is too narrow. The world is bigger that Japan and the US. I would like to invite Mr. Morita to Scandinavia for him to see what real powerful labour unions look like. And how “unhappiness” can be avoided even without Confucianism.