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Japan’s new “voluntary militia” cabinet under PM Kan

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Newly-appointed Banking Minister Shozaburo Jimi bows to the Japanese national flag  after a news conference. REUTERS/Issei Kato .

Newly-appointed Banking Minister Shozaburo Jimi bows to the Japanese national flag after a news conference. REUTERS/Issei Kato .

When Japan’s top government spokesman, Yoshito Sengoku, was asked — as new Japanese leaders often are — to characterise the government’s new cabinet line-up, he fumbled a bit and then awkwardly said something about it being “fresh and hardworking.”

Doubtless hoping to come up with a zippier sobriquet, new Prime Minister Naoto Kan responded to a similar query a little later by comparing his 18-member cabinet to the “kiheitai” – a 19th century volunteer militia that played a key role in helping to topple Japan’s feudal overlord to open the door to the country’s modernisation.

The “kiheitai” were notable for breaking norms of the time by bringing together men of different social classes, including farmers . At a time when hereditary samurai warriors were usually the only ones joining such groups, the kiheitai chose its leaders based on their abilities rather than family status.

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