Will the Next Elections Save Japanese Democracy

Asahi Shimbun

Why was last Sunday a sad day for Japanese democracy? Because it was demonstrated that a TV celebrity who also happens to be the prime minister of Japan managed to hijack the cause of reform, placed meaningful policy discussion out of bounds, and was given the opportunity to continue blocking the real repairs that Japan does need. Koizumi's achievement is amazing if you consider that genuine privatization of postal savings is unthinkable. We need to be very clear about this right away; what I write here is not controversial opinion, it is a reality anyone can see. The money collected by the post office has a peculiar function that is crucial in helping to keep the Japanese economy going through the zaisei yushishikin – which officials can treat as a "second budget". If you expose the huge amount of money involved to real market forces – which is what privatization means – Japan's financial system would collapse along with many of its agricultural institutions, and practically the entire construction sector would go bankrupt. Just one further detail: In combination, this fund, administered by Ministry of Finance officials, together with Japan Post itself, are the biggest holder of Japan Government Bonds, which helps to ensure that this form of government financing remains insulated from real – unreliable – market forces. The few who have immersed themselves in these details are not worried about the possibility of a calamity, seeing that as the legislation put forward by Koizumi is designed to be implemented in the dim future twelve years hence it does not begin to represent believable policy.

With Koizumi At The Theatre

Asahi Shimbun

Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is a master illusionist. Playing the media better than any of his predecessors, he has managed to create the widespread impression that voters will have chosen reform if they return him and the LDP candidates supporting his favorite project to the Diet next Sunday. Years before he became prime minister an idea was implanted in his mind that true reform in Japan would begin with an overhaul of the postal savings system. Ever since he has believed that they ought to be privatized, and he has frequently repeated that he would stake his "political life" on an attempt to accomplish this. In the four years that he has headed Japan's official government he was creeping toward this seemingly receding goal until the Lower House of Japan's parliament passed related bills, which were subsequently voted down by the Upper House on the 8th of August. This prompted Koizumi to challenge his own party, and Japan's political elite more generally, dissolving parliament and calling for a snap election. In the current campaign he insists that his plan of privatizing postal savings is the sole issue deserving of debate. He makes it appear as if the future of Japan depends on it, and refuses to be drawn out on other subjects, including some that would appear to deserve more urgent attention.

Japan – Major Source of Conceptual Shocks

Paper prepared for What Is To Be Done?
Conference, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 3-5th February 2000

Assumptions held by Western economists, policy makers, and commentators about the nature of the world's second largest industrial power are so much at variance with observable reality there, that they ought to disturb our peace of mind. The realization that the discrepancy results from conceptual filters with which reality is normally apprehended, ought to have far-reaching consequences for those ready to rethink what is to be done about the world's international economic order.


A quick look at Japan's commercial banks affords an immediate glimpse of routine misinterpretation. In the eyes of Western governments and businessmen these are profit seeking institutions, operating in a private realm under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance (MOF). This would lead one to expect that they are regulated under civil law. But civil law and the commercial code do not at all control

Japanese Scandals as Order Keepers

On Japanese Scandals (PDF version)
Karel van Wolferen / Chuo Koron Sept. 1991

The study of Japanese political and economic affairs should be enriched with a special subcategory for scandals. Not because Japanese people produce more, or juicier, scandals than others. Some other countries are pretty good at it as well. But there is a need for systematic analysis of Japanese scandals because of their important function of keeping the Japanese power system running smoothly. The current security brokerage scandal is, again, a wonderful example of this.