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A New Chapter for Japan

The elections that take place in Japan today could possibly become one of the most important in the history of the country. “The elections are about the shape that Japan must take,” says Masakazu Uchino, chief editor of the Japanese magazine Weekly Economist. “It is probably the first time in the history of Japan that voters have this choice.”

Sunday August 30, 2009
DPJ Leader Yukio Hatoyama

About 104 million Japanese decide today how the 480 seats of the Lower House will be distributed. Before the parliament was dissolved last month, the ruling Liberal Party of Japan (LDP) held 303 seats, the Democratic Party Japan (DPJ) 112.

Almost all polls predict that this distribution may reverse itself today.

This has never happened before in Japan and would mean the end of the reign of the LDP, the party that has almost continuously ruled since 1955. Because of the policies that the DPJ intends to carry out, it will most probably also mean the end of the famous post-war system Japanese system that created the Economic Miracle.

The DPJ landslide that everybody expects today, doesn’t just fall out of thin air.

“In the 80s Japan had the bubble economy,” explains Uchino. “It was a time when Japan invaded the world under the slogan ‘Japan as Number One.’”

It seemed as if the post-war police of the LDP, especially the cooperation with business and bureaucrats—the infamous Japan Inc.—had become a huge success story.

But in the 90s, the dream shattered dramatically. The bubble economy burst, a severe earthquake devastated Kobe, and a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway destroyed the myth of a safe Japan. “Japan began to realize that things had to change.”

This brought Koizumi into power, with his promises of reform and “breaking up the LDP.” “Japan was reformed,” continues Uchino, “according to the American model.”

This appeared to work well at first, but soon problems became obvious. “People started to feel that Japan had become too Americanized. Everything was only about profit. Doubts were born.”

“In 2008, the world economy collapsed and American mass production and consumption is now experienced negatively. After more than sixty years of following the US, Japan wants to develop its own policy.”

“If you look at the manifestos you see a much larger role for the government. There is a shift towards socialistic principles. Japan doesn’t want to look at the back of America, it wants to decide itself what it will look like.”

The DPJ, which preaches change with a capital C, represents this new trend. The LDP however appears to have almost totally lost its connection with the voters. “To a certain extent there isn’t much of a choice [for the Japanese voter],” says American political analyst Tobias Harris. “The LDP hasn’t offered anything but criticism of the DPJ. So in that sense it is a choice between more paralysis and more stagnation, and the possibility of something better.”

For many the choice is filled with uncertainty. “I am half full of expectation, half scared to death,” says 60-year-old greengrocer Hiroo Wada. “But the LDP is done with.”

It is a sentiment that is shared by many Japanese. “I want the DPJ to get a chance,” says Yasushi Yuuki, a 50-year-old manager of a croquet shop. “Things have to change.”

The LDP has seen crises before. But this situation is totally different. “[Before,] the LDP remained the largest party in the Diet,” says Harris, “but if the polls are correct, you will have an opposition party winning close to a supermajority and the LDP reduced to little more than a rump party. The LDP can also barely fight back this time. “It has very few savvy politicians left,” says Uchino.

So today, most probably, a whole new chapter starts in Japan’s history.


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