Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ah, So...!(?)

Wow...I'm getting SERIOUSLY negligent with this blog. Posts are getting fewer and further between. Then again, I haven't really had much to talk about. Summer "vacation" (brief, spasmodic laughing fit) is only a few days away, so things might change.

One can only hope.

The only really notable news item around here right now (other than North Korea, but I'll give that a miss) is happening in the political scene. They just finished the elections for the Tokyo Metropolitan government, which are widely seen as an indicator for the upcoming Lower House election. The results weren't really surprising, but they are still something of a shock...and a cause for some worry.

For the overwhelming majority of Japan's history since the end of the Second World War, the government here has been in the hands of the horribly-misnamed Jiminto (henceforth LDP, literally "Liberal Democratic Party", though it would actually be far more accurate to call it the CCOP [Conservative Corporate Oligarch Party]). During the past decade, the LDP's hold on Tokyo has been made possible partly by a coalition with Komeito (usually called the "Komei Party" in English, a political/religious party established by the Soka Gakkai lay Buddhist organization). For as long as I've been keeping tabs on news in Japan, I've only seen the LDP thumped out of power once. That was back in the mid 90s, when a couple of splinter groups of the LDP broke away, formed their own parties, allied with the Socialist and Democratic parties, and took over control. They didn't hold it very long until the LDP-Komei alliance clawed its way back into power again.

Well, if this recent election in Tokyo is any hint of things to come, the LDP is on the verge of being given the boot again. Both it and Komei were solidly trounced by Minshuto (henceforth DPJ, "Democratic Party of Japan", which could probably be called the "new liberal party"). It seems that people are fed up with Prime Minister Aso as well as with all the ridiculous scandals breaking out among his cabinet members, his confusing policies, and his lack of visible effort with regard to the economy. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that people are simply fed up with the factionalism, cronyism, and "Who cares about the general public?" elitism of the LDP. On the other hand, the "We are the people" line of the DPJ seems to be striking an increasingly positive note among a worried and neglected population.

As for me, I'd be perfectly happy to see those corporate elitists of the LDP tossed off the bench. However, on the other hand, I admit I'm not sure I'd be happy to see a DPJ-led government. They do seem to have some savvy politicians in their fold. The problem is their official platform. If you read their official policies listed on their (English) website, they do sound very rational. Unfortunately, it doesn't always mesh exactly with what their ministers in the Diet have been saying or what tends to pop up in their election manifestos. There has been a lot of flowery demagoguery but not a lot of rational thought. There's plenty that sounds really nice and probably would be if reality didn't keep getting in the way. Some examples include:
  • Giving the central government the right to intervene in local public works while at the same time claiming to support decentralization.
  • Giving individual localities authority over their own educational programs, yet asserting the central government's power to impose absolute educational policies and standards. (In other words, "You all have the right to do everything your long as it's our way.")
  • Terminating all further participation by the Japan Self-Defense Force in peacekeeping or escort operations under a UN mandate. The DPJ believes that, since Japan is a "peaceful country", they should make no effort to defend the peace beyond diplomacy. They figure they can solve all their problems with antagonists like militant religious fundamentalists, the Somali pirates, or North Korea by being "nice" and talking to them.
  • Reducing if not eliminating the American military presence in Japan.
  • Reducing taxes while at the same time vastly increasing social and development programs (i.e. more expenditures, less funding to cover them).
The thing that really has me worried, however, is the DPJ's recently-stated aim of making public senior high school 100% free. Senior high school in Japan is non-compulsory, and each school has its own unique program based on a particular academic level and/or specialized curriculum. Students choose schools that fit their individual abilities and interests. Admission is not automatic and usually requires passing an entrance exam. Since they are public schools and therefore funded for the most part by the state, tuition and fees are low (considerably lower than for private schools) but not free except in extreme cases. So what's the problem? Well, the strict, universal standards already enforced by the LDP-Komei government have reduced the differences between public and private schools. The DPJ wants to bring about even stricter standardization (while supposedly espousing decentralization). Basically, if the DPJ has its way, there will be no difference between public and private schools except cost (and perhaps admission standards). That's almost guaranteed to wipe out the clientele.

Ye Olde Academy, the school where I work, still has the highest academic standards (and best extracurricular opportunities) of all the schools in our area. However, it's still all we can do to compete with some of the recently-upgraded public senior high schools with high-level academic programs. If those schools wind up being free to boot, we can pretty much kiss our admissions goodbye. And if all kids wind up going to public schools, and the private schools all end up shuttered, it means the choices and alternatives that we do offer will be taken away. If the DPJ believes in individual freedom as much as they claim, why do they seem to be trying so hard to remove choices...and impose its own will?

I hate politics...


  • hah, and I had been thinking that the Japanese had a more sensible system than us!

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 9:46 PM  

  • There is always a way around things, like making certain activities independent but private and only allowing people from the private school to attend them and paying for them with a "community activities fund" which is part of the tuition.

    Kind of like the pachinko parlors where the "payoff" happens outside, but in this case actually benefits society.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:51 AM  

  • Japan, unlike America at least has the sense not to spend way beyond its means. We have an out of control congress and president which just voted to increase our national debt by twenty trillion dollars over the next ten years.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 4:54 AM  

  • Chief Rock Chef
    I think "sensible" and "system" go together with very, very few (if any) governments in the world.

    We're already doing some things like that. As I said, one of our greatest pulls is our extracurricular (including community participation) activities. As far as academics are concerned, we can't really match the top-level public academic-course schools in the big cities.

    Well, Japan is on the verge of ending up that way. The LDP has been threatening to jack up the sales tax to 12% (or more) from its current 5% in order to pay for the various programs being implemented to deal with the rapidly graying society as well as environmental issues. The DPJ-led opposition has been keeping that held down. But if the DPJ does get control of the government, they are already saying they're going to implement a lot MORE social and overseas development programs while LOWERING taxes. That can only lead to explosive defecit.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 11:04 AM  

  • Hah, just like "Military" and "Intelligence"?

    By Blogger Rock Chef, at 5:40 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home