Who Lost Japan?

Recent developments in Japan may dramatically change the country and the region, but for better or for worse?

Last week, Japan elected Democratic Party, ending the ruling party (Liberal Democrats)’s virtually uninterrupted reign since the end of the Second World War. In the West, the story was not paid much of an attention because in Japan, the prime ministers change faster than their car models (and boy, they do upgrade the latter a lot). However, the 300+ seat majority in the parliament means that the DPJ will be here for three or four years. In the United States, we love to think that U.S.-Japan relations are shaped in Washington D.C. (and the lobby offices). However, throughout the post World War history, it is the Liberal Democratic Party that defined the U.S. relationships. Now, with LDP gone, who knows where this relationship will end up.

But we can venture a guess. The newly elected Democratic Party’s policies put a big question mark upon the Japanese contributions to the war in Afghanistan and the redeployment of American troops in Asia. That sentence sounds like something a talking-head on the television would say but it has deep implications–all US ships and aircraft carriers crossing the Pacific to patrol South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea are currently being refueled at Japan. A US Marine airfield in Okinawa and additional troops on Japan are deterrants to North Korea. This new government can jeopardize everything. This may be the first real foreign policy crisis President Obama faces.

The party’s leader (and soon-to-be Prime Minister), Yukio “The Alien” Hatoyama, whose speeches are boring as hell, droned against the American-led globalization and urged a greater Japanese focus on Asia. “A Bloc of Asian nations led by the Japanese and free of Western powers?” For some of us this sounds eerily familiar to Japan’s pre-WWII Empire dreams, Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

To add insult to injury, Mr. and Mrs. Hatoyama are not quite there in the upstairs department. Mrs. Hatoyama, former actress Miyuki, said that she flew in a UFO to Venus and that in a previous life she met Tom Cruise. The First Couple are intensely ‘spiritual’ and eat the sun, whatever that means. (Mr. Alien and Mrs. UFO should get on like a house on fire).

So the question is Who Lost Japan? The Democratic Party wining 308 seats out of 480-seat parliament is no accident. In Japan, a younger generation strives for a move away from its long-time dependence on the United States. Last year’s financial crisis also undermined the entire financial system in place since WWII. Hatoyama (the scion of the family hailed as Japan’s Kennedys) called for high taxation to the rich–the first attempt in decades to tap into Japan’s plentiful private-sector wealth. His message apparently resonated.

For now, Mr. Hatoyama will have to wade through Japan’s extremely bureaucratic, patriarchal political system, a system he detests. He has a mandate from the Japanese people, who voted for change and progress’ sake. Whether he will be a strong prime minster, or a good one remains to be seen. Always a minor political party, the DPJ is a fractious party, ranging from socialists to disgruntled former members of the LDP. Good Luck helming that herd.

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