Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The months of August and September 2009 will go down in the political history of Japan as the beginning of a process of radical change. Whilst it is too much to call it a peaceful revolution, the change is none the less an historic turning point. In fact, it is not one, but two changes. The first one came on 30 August when the people, urban and rural voters alike, exercising their sovereign democratic right removed from power the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which had held it since 1955. The second one came on 16 September when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) took over.
Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama in his first press conference said, “I was deeply moved, trembling at the thought that Japanese history was in the making. At the same time I felt a great sense of responsibility at the privilege of serving at the forefront in transforming this country into one of popular sovereignty in the true sense of the word.”
Change, long time coming
Before 16 September, popular opinion was divided over the new administration. The DPJ had won a landslide but there was a great deal of scepticism concerning its capacity to govern. As the September turned into October, opinions began to change.
“They all spoke without notes and are more serious than I thought,” a Tokyo taxi driver said. “It is as if they are taking the curve at high speed. I wonder whether they’ll make it.” Translation: going fast is good, given the inertia of the previous government, and speaking without notes means acting independently of the bureaucracy. However, what most Japanese might not have realised is that this change was 130 years in the making, and that it has produced a new generation of leaders with Yukio Hatoyama as their poster boy.
At a first glance, we might think that Yukio Hatoyama, founder and current leader of the DPJ, administered the coup de grace to the LDP, a party founded by his grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959). In fact, he is just following in the footsteps of all those who over time built and consolidated Japan’s democratic system, including Yukio’s grandfather Ichiro.
“For the first time in the nation's modern political history that began in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), voters caused a change of government by giving a mandate to a single opposition party,” wrote the Asahi newspaper in its editorial page. In reality, this government change is but the latest stage in an uneasy process that began ten years after Japan opened up to the West.
Three key players stand out in this long process: Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901), Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959) and the current Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama (born in 1947). The first two met with enthusiastic support among voters during what came to be known as the “Fukuzawa boom” (late 19th century) and “Hatoyama boom” (mid to late 1950s).
In terms of importance, Fukuzawa is at the top. A prominent intellectual of the Meiji Era, he founded Japan’s first daily newspaper (Jiji Shinpo) and its first private university (Keio).
In his book ‘Minjo Isshin’ (Transition of the people's way of thinking), he touted Great Britain’s political system, telling the Japanese to learn from the British two-party system and develop their own two political parties, one conservative and one reformist, each taking turns to rule. However, war with China (1895-95) and Russia (1904-05), and again with China (1931-1945) and the United States (1941-1945) fuelled extremist militarism and stifled developments at the political level.
When Japan’s occupation by allied (US) forces and the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida (1946-1954) ended, the newly-constituted Liberal Democratic Party took up Fukuzawa’s mantle, borrowing the much-vaunted word of his programme, Yuai (Friendship and love), embodying in theory the idea of liberal and socialist parties each taking turns at the helm of government. However, the Ldp gave priority to economic development to the detriment of all other values, encouraging an alliance between top public servants, industry and politicians. The “iron triangle’ that emerged limited the development of democratic politics.
Hatoyama, the man of change
Scion of one of Japan’s political dynasties and a former member of the LDP himself, Yukio Hatoyama has championed policies whose goal is to build “a fraternal society to realise a politics of love”. A fourth generation Hatoyama, Yukio is the great-grandson of Kazuo Hatoyama, speaker of Japan’s House of Representatives from 1896 to 1897 during the Meiji era. The family did not fare badly during the post-1945 purge. Yukio’s grandfather Ichiro became prime minister (1955-56), inaugurating the long reign of the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiyū-Minshutō).
With such antecedents, his career within the LDP machinery was ensured. In 1986, he was elected at the age of 39 as a liberal-democrat in a northern riding in Hokkaido that had no ties to his family.
What is more, not only did he have inside connections to Japan’s political establishment, but also through his mother Yasuko, daughter of the founder of the multinational Bridgestone Corporation, he was connected to the country’s business elite. Nicknamed “Godmother”, Yasuko Hatoyama contributed billions of yen to her son’s political career when he founded the Democratic Party of Japan in 1996; not out of personal ambition but in the stated intention of renewing Japanese politics to the benefit of the Japanese people.
Like his grandfather, Yukio Hatoyama is a Christian (Baptist) and has thus opted to open the gates of democracy to continue the work Ichiro could not finish.
The new prime minister’s philosophy
In September, an article signed by Hatoyama that appeared in a Japanese monthly, Voice, proved controversial in the United States, because it suggested a possible anti-globalisation streak in the new prime minister. In it—a shorter version was also published in the New York Times—Hatoyama wrote, “I also feel that as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis, the era of U.S.-led globalism is coming to an end and that we are moving toward an era of multipolarity.”
To end speculation about what he meant, the Kyodo News agency published an English translation of the article titled ‘My political Philosophy’. In describing what might be called the Hatoyama doctrine, the new prime minister went back to his grandfather Ichiro’s notion of Yuai, rendered in English as ‘fraternity’, but not as “something tender but rather [. . .] a strong, combative concept that was a banner of revolution”, an idea of fraternity like than in the French slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité”.
In fact, the paternity of this idea goes further back, as far back as Count Richard Nikolaus Graf von Coudenhove-Kalergi, the father of modern pan-Europeism, whose work Ichiro Hatoyama had studied and translated in early 1950s.
In 1953, in a statement to members of the Democratic Liberal Party, a party which he had founded, he said, “Under the banner of liberalism, we will devote ourselves to a Fraternal Revolution, avoid extreme leftwing and rightwing ideologies, and work steadfastly to achieve a healthy and vibrant democratic society and build a free and independent cultural nation.”
perhaps grandfather Hatoyama closely took to heart and closely studied the works of Tokyo-born Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi, son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat and a Japanese woman, Mitsuko Aoyama (1874-1941), who descended from a family of samurai. A Catholic, Richard studied from 1908 to 1913 at Vienna’s Theresianum, Austria-Hungary’s most prestigious educational institution.
The state to serve the people
Such background explains why the political philosophy of Japan’s new prime minister echoes Christian social doctrine, which was recently re-elaborated by Benedict XVI’s in the encyclical Caritas in veritate.
In it, the dignity of the human person at the individual and social (family, groups, etc.) levels are treated as a priority. Hence, “Man is an end and not a means. The state is a means and not an end. [. . .] Freedom without fraternity leads to anarchy. Equality without fraternity leads to tyranny.” For Hatoyama, France’s trinity of “liberty, equality and fraternity” can be meaningful only if “freedom” and “equality” are built on “fraternity”.
The revision of the Japan-US security treaty in 1960 was a double-edged sword. According to Hatoyama, after that the LDP morphed as it focused on bringing both business and labour on board in favour of an economy-centre approach.
This meant, “the LDP confronted socialist forces inside and outside Japan and dedicated itself to Japan's reconstruction and the achievement of high economic growth. These were noteworthy achievements which deserve their place in history” but in so doing people were “treated not as an end but as a means.”
The end of the Cold War could have provided Japan with an opportunity to renew its policies and make them more people-oriented both at home and abroad. However, the ruling party fell into the trap of “the politics of inertia.”
If the LDP helped Japan free itself from state-centred fundamentalism and defend itself against leftwing fundamentalism, it failed to avoid the trap of US-style market fundamentalism.
Paradoxically, in quitting the LDP, the party founded by his grandfather, and creating the DPJ Yukio Hatoyama remained faithful to his grandfather’s democratic ideals. The result was that the people rewarded him with a landslide victory on 30 August.