Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Are Japan’s rookie lawmakers being treated like kids?

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Name tags on their chairs so their “teachers” can take attendance; instructions on how to greet their elders politely; orders to turn up on time.

Rookie lawmakers in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party are, critics say, being treated like first-grade students instead of a talent pool the government can draw on to tackle tough policy problems from a bulging debt to strained ties with Washington.

Political mastermind Ichiro Ozawa’s strict control of the 141 new lawmakers swept into office by the Democratic Party of Japan’s (DPJ) huge August election victory that ousted their long-dominant rival has cast a spotlight on the paradoxical power of the man many credit with engineering the historic win.

JAPAN-POLITICS/OZAWAFears that Ozawa, who bolted the long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1993 and spent the following years plotting its overthrow, would pull the strings in Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government have simmered since he took over as the Democrats’ No. 2 after their stunning win at the polls.

Balancing Asia with an old friend

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There was no U.S. representative at a recent summit of Asian leaders but, one official told me, Washington still played a leading role behind the scenes at the meetings held in the Thai seaside town of Hua Hin.

A top Japanese government official told us as we flew south with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to Thailand that his boss would tell Asian counterparts that the U.S. “involvement” would be important when he pushes for his idea of an East Asian Community. ASIA-SUMMIT

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

Unknown territory for bureaucrats and media

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Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party scored a historic victory in last month’s election, wants to radically change how the country is run and in particular reduce bureaucrats’ control over formulating policy. 

And his government has taken a symbolic approach – it has decided to ban top bureaucrats from holding news conferences to explain its policy stance. The Hatoyama government has also abolished twice-weekly meetings of top bureaucrats, which have discussed, coordinated and decided policy agendas before cabinet meetings so that cabinet ministers can rubber stamp them. Naoto Kan, the new deputy prime minister, has dubbed the so-called vice ministers’ meetings “the bid-rigging meetings” of bureaucrats.

Day one speed bumps

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Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama‘s first official day on the job has come with lots of media attention, photo opportunities and the first couple of speed bumps for his administration.

The contrast with his predecessor was clear from the TV coverage. All but one of the major channels in Tokyo carried him live. Leading up to his election drubbing last month, former Prime Minister Taro Aso could not always get his pressers carried live even on national broadcaster NHK.

Frog diplomacy

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When he met Japan’s incoming prime minister, a football helmet was the catalyst for conservation . Then Washington’s envoy in Tokyo bonded with the next foreign minister over a frog.

GOLF-OPEN/Katsuya Okada, who is expected to be appointed as Japan’s next foreign minister this week, is a policy maven with a “Mr. Clean” image. He is also known in Japan as an avid collector of frog-related knick-knacks such as miniatures and soft toys.

Farewell to photogenic Aso

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JAPAN-ECONOMY/ASO

Japan’s voters may have overwhelmingly rejected Prime Minister Taro Aso at the polls last week, but he and my camera got along just fine.

The 68-year-old makes vigorous gestures with his hands and strong facial expressions. His crooked smirk and his eyes that sometimes seem to be  popping out of his head always gave me a lot of interesting photo choices.

Political paparazzi

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It’s been a scramble for journalists to follow Yukio Hatoyama’s every move after his Democratic Party won the election by a landslide, making him the next prime minister

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From his opulent home to gatherings with political and government figures, reporters chase him all around Tokyo, with pit-stops at the Democrats’ headquarters in Nagatacho, the heart of the capital’s political district.

Japan’s first lady: High-flying UFO rider

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Call her what you want, but boring she is not.

Japan’s next first lady is making international headlines as more details emerge of her eccentric past.

Miyuki Hatoyama, now in the spotlight following her husband’s crushing lower-house election victory on Sunday, wrote about her extraterrestrial voyage in a book published last year entitled “Very Strange Things I’ve Encountered.”

Historic win in Japan. Now what?

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Historic is usually a word that makes my skin crawl when I see it in the news. Journalists are prone to overuse it, so when I saw it in our election stories I had to stop myself deleting it — because this election truly is historic.JAPAN-ELECTION

The Liberal Democratic Party had never lost an election since its founding in 1955. Even when it lost power for a few months in 1993/94, it was because of LDP lawmakers defecting rather than an election loss.

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