Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Opposition sees “Hitler Youth” in ruling party

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JAPAN/When Japan’s new opposition leader compared ruling party lawmakers cheering the prime minister’s policy speech to “Hitler Youth”, the comment grabbed headlines, though it was perhaps just a sign of the depth of opposition frustration.

“I got  the impression that the atmosphere in parliament was similar to the Hitler Youth agreeing to Hitler’s speech,” Liberal Democratic Party leader Sadakazu Tanigaki told reporters after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s first policy speech since his Democratic Party ousted the LDP in a historic August election.

Hatoyama’s Democrats trounced the LDP in the lower house election, taking 308 seats in the 480-member chamber, while the conservative party that had ruled Japan for most of the past half-century lost its grip on power after its presence was slashed to a mere 119.

The LDP defeat was particularly stunning given that in the previous general election in 2005, popular LDP leader Junichiro Koizumi had led his party to a massive victory with talk of bold reforms, only to see the tables turned four years later.

It’s only been a week

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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stepped onto the world stage last week, just days after formally being voted into his post. After his party’s decade in the obscurity of opposition, the sometimes dour academic seemed exhilarated by the whirlwind of top-level meetings at the United Nations in New York and the Group of 20 in Pittsburgh.
 
Some other party officials along on the trip appeared a little lost. “We’ve only been doing this a week,” followed by an embarrassed chuckle, was the answer to some of the more probing questions put by the Japanese press corps flying with the prime minister.
 
Hatoyama’s Democratic Party has made much of its determination to do things differently from the long-ruling Liberal Democrats, including how they treat the media.
 
Signs of change appeared almost immediately his official plane took off from Haneda airport bound for New York, when Hatoyama made an appearance among the journalists at the rear of the plane. That’s a rarity in itself in status-conscious Japan, but he caused even more of a stir by bringing along his wife, former musical star Miyuki, who handed out boxes of cakes for reporters to share.
 
Buns aside, the biggest sign of change was the regular briefings during the trip, which were given by a politician, rather than a bureaucrat. Some sessions turned into a bizarre game of Chinese whispers, with the briefer passing on information passed on by a bureaucrat present at the meeting.
 
But Hatoyama himself seemed eager to talk to reporters in person. After a detailed run-down of his first meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama left one interviewer speechless, he caught himself in mid-flow with: “Oh, did I go on too long?”He also chatted freely with reporters off the record.
 
Less of a joker than popular former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, who initially attracted popstar-like adulation, Hatoyama could yet win fans in the press with sheer enthusiasm.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Japan vote decision a bit of a tough one

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JAPAN-ELECTION/If the woman who works in my dentist’s office is anything to go by, some Japanese voters are having a devil of a time deciding how to vote in an election just over a week away.

Pollsters are predicting that the opposition Democrats will win by a landslide, ousting the conservative party that has ruled for nearly all of the past half-century.

Aso flags LDP conservativism

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To some people a national flag is little more than a piece of cloth, while to others it is a sacred symbol that embodies a country’s ideals. It was the latter that Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso apparently tried to score some easy points with this week in the run-up to the Aug. 30 election that voter surveys show his Liberal Democratic Party party is likely to lose.

In a televised debate, Aso accused the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan of defacing the national flag, commonly known locally as the Hinomaru or “sun circle”,  at a gathering for one of its candidates in southern Japan this month.

Japan’s Democrats get ready to govern

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Close your eyes and it could almost be a cabinet minister speaking.

Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party is gearing up for government after the Aug. 30 election, if a talk by the party’s No.2 leader Katsuya Okada is anything to go by.

Speaking at a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event in Tokyo, Okada sought to display the politician’s gravitas as he answered questions on everything from foreign policy to the environment and the economy.

Nippon or Nihon?

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What’s in a name? A lot, according to one Japanese lawmaker, who’s appalled by his country’s schizophrenia over how to pronounce the two ideographs rendered in English as “Japan”.

“What is the formal name of this country? Overseas, it is called ‘Japan’, but Japanese people say both ‘Nihon’ and ‘Nippon’,” opposition parliament member Tetsundo Iwakuni told me.

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