Yasuo Tanaka's new initiative faces formidable tasks ahead

Thursday, June 30 2005 @ 11:16 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

In the last five years since Yasuo Tanaka, 49, took office as the Governor of Nagano Prefecture, he has delivered a lot of things on his campaign pledge about a "Nagano Revolution." Most importantly he has given an equal opportunity for everyone to take part in civil engineering projects which were once monopolized by big businesses, while at the same time killing unnecessary or unaffordable projects such as redundant dam constructions. The admirable accomplishments have confirmed that a reform from bottom up can succeed even in Japan if it's attempted at the right time, at the right place, and most importantly by the right person.

In stark contrast to the Nagano's experiment, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has failed simply because the 70-year-old wasn't the right person. Before taking office, he had already been a loser in his pursuit of a "reform from within" on the scenes of national politics.

One of the most recent revelations that showed things have essentially remained unchanged in the Tokyo government is the falsification of the test data on the "Diesel Particulate Filters" by one of the major contractors of the metropolitan government, Mitsui & Co. The trading conglomerate based in Tokyo has kept "cheating" the Tokyo Metropolitan Government since February 2002 by submitting falsified test data on the filters to win a lucrative contract along with a multi-billion subsidy from the Transportation Bureau of the Metropolitan Government. It's only as recently as December 2004 that Governor Ishihara started to threaten that he would refuse to accept apologies offered by Mitsui "from the bottom of (their) hearts" and that he would take the trading company to court.

It's interesting to know that part of the generous subsidies came from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport which was once headed by Nobuaki Ishihara, Tokyo Governor's son (Sept. 2003 through Sept. 2004.)

Here, we see yet another farce going on around Ishihara. Although the Sankei Shimbun and many other media organizations, to whom Shintaro Ishihara is one of the favorite political figures, have indicated otherwise, this sort of crime, like tango, always takes two. If these highly-paid professionals at the Tokyo Transportation Bureau had actually acted like innocent suckers when they received the result of the tests on the filters, that would have disqualified them all together as local public servants. But in fact nobody believes that could have been the case.

Corruptions at the state level, which are inherent to the 1955 System, are even worse. According to an article in the June 24 issue of the Daily Yomiuri ("Bid-riggers doled out JH contracts",) "two bid-rigging groups that acted as ringmasters in awarding public steel bridge construction projects planned by the Construction and Transport Ministry (see
Note below) played a central role in rigging bids for steel bridge contracts offered by Japan Highway Public Corporation."

(Note) Obviously the DY is referring to the MLIT here. In its official website, Kokudo Kotsuu-sho calls itself the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

And as the DY suggests in its June 22 issue ("Amakudari reigns at ministry",) the widespread practice of amakudari, or descent from heaven, is the main culprit for these corruptions. In this practice retired government officials are given high-paying positions in the private sector to further cement the collusive relationship between the government and the industry, most typically construction firms. Those who have descended from heaven normally make some more job-hopping, each time getting a handsome amount of severance pay.

The informative DY article goes on to compare the numbers of those who took the lucrative amakudari path between the central government and the Nagano prefectural government.

According to the report, "as of July 2000, 218 of 396 retired officials from the prefectural government's civil engineering division had taken jobs at construction companies. However, in March 2003, only five former officials took such jobs and in March 2004, no official was found to have taken a new job with private building firms in the prefecture."

As a result, "the prefectural government's committee for promoting fair public works tenders concluded that bid-rigging had almost been brought to an end in the prefecture."

Emboldened by these striking accomplishments, Yasuo Tanaka launched a new nation-wide initiative earlier this year. Tanaka, or hopefully someone else, has named the new grass-roots movement "Team Nippon."

Now that his bottom-up methodology, which Tanaka prefers to call a Copernican approach, has tested workable, he seems to have thought, "Why don't we apply the same method to the entire nation?"

Since his "ideology-free" initiative is meant solely for doers, there's no room for critics like Ishihara or myself. So I think I should refrain from commenting on any steps he will take along this line.

Still being an incumbent governor, though, Yasuo Tanaka cannot be the major driving force of the movement. So someone else is currently working on preparatory steps to get Team Nippon up and running as early as possible.

Under the circumstances I feel somehow obliged to speak up something here in my blog as I have already seen some warning signs ahead of the Team Nippon campaign.

To me the most worrisome thing about this initiative is the fact that the right-leaning Fuji-Sankei Media Group was the first to climb this bandwagon perhaps because Team Nippon claims to be an ideology-free movement from the outset. These guys at the Sankei Shimbun, weekly magazine "SPA!" and Fuji TV know by instinct that a politically immunodeficient group of people is the easiest sucker to deal with.

Another example of well-intentioned people who have fallen victim to the ostensibly right-leaning media empire is the group of the family members of the people who have allegedly been kidnapped by North Korean agents. Early on these people with an admirable perseverance just wanted to have a broader media exposure by getting closely associated with the Fuji-Sankei group, in particular. And the group certainly gave it to the family members headed by the Yokotas, parents of Megumi Yokota who went missing in November 1977. In return, however, the media group has taken the liberty of abusing the abductee rescue campaign by dramatizing, oversimplifying and over-politicizing the issue to make it serve for the dubious seiron cause of the Sankei Shimbun. (The word seiron is literally translated as sound arguments unclouded and unaffected by fear or favor.) More importantly, the media group hasn't bothered to take a single specific and sensible step to press the Koizumi's government to actually bring back these abductees.

It's these concerns that brought me to a gentleman sitting at what looked like a provisional office for the secretariat of Team Nippon. I said to that gentleman, "You have launched an ideology-free movement. So I wonder how come you have chosen hinomaru (the Japan's national flag featuring the rising sun) as your logo. It doesn't really become your movement." He answered: "We have chosen it, with some deformation to the design, because we are Japanese, after all, aren't we?"

I hadn't really been prepared for hearing this all-too-familiar killer sentence from someone sitting in the Team Nippon office. To most Japanese, hinomaru doesn't represent an ideology whereas any notion against it does.

I don't know what Yasuo Tanaka would have replied to my question. But I hope the Nagano Governor doesn't believe in the Ishihara's fishy "theory" about reform from within.

In fact it's too optimistic to assume a grass-roots movement such as this one could successfully be driven by people with a nativist mindset because the entire society is so corrupt that even self-professed nativists cannot claim to have clean hands. Actually it's not that these people are fighting against "the triangle of evil" (see Yasuo Tanaka's "The Purpose of This Movement" cited in the last paragraphs of this piece.) Instead they are fighting against themselves.

I also said to the representative of Team Nippon: "Since Japan has been a nation extremely prone to yield to gai-atsu, or external pressure, since the black ships of Commodore Perry, I think you can expect a synergy effect if you think about combining it with nai-atsu, or internal pressure, you are going to build up and put on the triangle of evil now. To that end please feel free to tell me to translate your website into English, for free, if you find my proposition convincing." Once again the gentleman looked unimpressed.

It seems I've failed to influence their way of thinking for now. But the fact remains that we have learned our bitter lessons from the fate of the Tokyo Governor's dubious and half-hearted aspiration. This nation is no longer reformable from within. It can only be reformed from the bottom (by the oppressed,) or from the outside (by the alienated.)

Below here I will translate into English the first three paragraphs of "The Purpose of This Movement" written by Yasuo Tanaka for the website of Team Nippon:


The Purpose of This Movement

Are you not feeling, "Japan's existence is in danger" if we don't act now?

In the last 3 years since the inauguration of the Koizumi administration, the nation's indebtedness has snowballed to 165 trillion yen and it has topped 1,000 trillion yen when combined with the debts incurred by local governments. This translates into a per-capita indebtedness of 10 million yen. And it's always each one of us that the government eventually turns to for bail-out from the mess in the form of tax hikes or tight-money policy. Nobody wants to be held responsible for, or is ready to articulate counter-measures against these problems such as (failing) national pension programs, Iraq, North Korea, soaring crime rate, aging population, declining birthrate, etc.

Today's Japan is on the brink of foundering because of the aberration in domestic and foreign policies as well as the burden from the astronomical amount of debts. The System which once led the postwar Japan to the unprecedented prosperity has already been ravaged and is now cornering this nation into the chasm of a total collapse. Against this backdrop we cannot just look on idly. Unless we do what we have to do, Japan is doomed to become a land of the eternal sunset, rather than a land of the rising sun. Time is running out on Japan. (In this context I thought) a national salvation project to reinvent Japan from scratch must be launched by those with a patriotic mindset.

The principal culprit that is going to bring about the collapse of Japan is the mechanism in which the government, bureaucracy and industries collude with each other so they can cling to their vested interests. "Team Nippon" is set to destroy this triangle of evil. It is a participatory policymaking group formed by "real reform-minded lions" who are willing to resurrect "Japan" by forcing out all the people and organizations deep-rooted in the old system.


Footnote: All the parentheses are mine.

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