Japanese Politics Updates – April 21, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates, #167 session of Japanese Politics One-on-One

Welcome to the latest Japanese Politics Updates! Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights present the 167th Episode of the weekly Japanese Politics One-on-One.

In this episode, Timothy is reporting from Aburatsubo, a small cove on the Yokohama peninsula facing Sagami Bay. The upcoming Golden Week will be busy, but we will continue the Japanese politics updates during the two Sundays that fall within the holiday-period.

PM Kishida has a busy Golden Week, too: a trip to Paris and Official State Visits to Brazil and Paraguay… both important trade partners for Japan, particularly for ethanol and agricultural products. Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, the second most powerful person in Japan (maybe the first?), will also be on the move: tomorrow he departs to hopefully meet with former President Trump. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Kihara will be in Hawaii for a summit with military allies, flowing from the feverish-pitch evident in the week-long State Visit just 11 days ago (40+ Agreements were executed!). Japanese tourists flood Hawaii during Golden Week, as you know, maybe not the best location for a summit. In any event, the pace of movement is at a surprising rate, suggesting urgency. But here is what transpired this last week:


PM Kishida’s trip to the United States was a success. He telephoned South Korea’s President Yoon this week following the dismal S. Korea election-results (fell on the same day as the Kishida-Biden State Dinner). President Yoon now has limited power due to his party’s recent election loss, pushing him into Lame Duck territory. Progress in building stronger ties between Japan, the United States, and South Korea is thereby hindered by unresolved issues related to Japan’s colonial past and reparations for marginalized individuals during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. By-elections in Japan are taking place, with a focus on Shimane Prefecture, the former LH seat of the late Speaker of the House, Hiroyuki Hosoda. The LDP faces challenges in Shimane as it is a heads-up fight just between the Constitutional Democratic Party and the LDP. Today, both PM Kishida and CDP leader Izumi are stumping in there.

In this one race alone, Kishida’s popularity and the public’s already-low perception of his Cabinet will suffer significant damage if the LDP loses Shimane. They have already conceded (unbelievably!) in the other two races: Nagasaki and Tokyo. The LDP continues to face challenges with the recent disbandment of the Motegi Faction on Wednesday. This leaves only one faction remaining. Previously, granular-familiarity of factions was essential in understanding the LDP and politics in general here. Obviously, the upcoming election in Shimane is a crucial test for the LDP. If the party loses all three seats, pressure on Kishida to resign will certainly mount. And to drive this point home upon his return, he came under fire in parliament. He was roundly criticized, for example, for making something of a joke (he got lots of laughs, for sure) during his speech to the joint-congress. The PM also caught enormous heat for the military agreements with the United States and for the revelations of the establishment of the US Indo-Pacific Command and Control Center to Tokyo (from Hawaii). This is a big move.

Potential Contenders for Next Prime Minister

Generally when this issue comes up, Taro Kono, Seiko Noda, and Toshimitsu Motegi are always (and rightly) mentioned as potential contenders for the PM role. Realistically it is Motegi, as Secretary General, as the strongest contender due to his experience and influence within the LDP. The problem for Kishida is that there is no friendship between the two, and keeping Motegi as Secretary General could be risky for the Prime Minister on several levels. For one, the Secretary General dictates the rules for any LDP presidential election. In addition, Sec. Gen. also controls party funds for elections. If Kishida decides to run for LDP President again, there definitely will be a power struggle within the party. As a defensive measure, Kishida could call a snap-election before next Friday to improve his chances of winning. Or he could either fire Motegi or shuffle the Cabinet. Currently, the money is on a snap election.

Challenges for CDP Leader Kenta Izumi

Kenta Izumi, the leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), has faced challenges during his limited tenure. He (the CDP) has lost three LH seats and two UH seats in recent by-elections. As the face-off in Shimane uniquely pits CDP against the LDP, Izumi’s leadership is in the balance: lose Shimane, there may be potential contenders for his position. Win Shimane and one-or-both of the other up-for-grab-seats, and he could be claimed a hero. Pollsters predict the CDP might win all three. Most likely, the CDP and the Ishin party could split the wins in the upcoming races, leaving the LDP totally out in the cold.

Difficulties with the Reform Panel

Kishida is increasingly pushed to establish a Reform Panel to address the kickback scandal. Coalition partner Komeito, in fact, presented a list of six demands for the LDP to incorporate. But there was little enthusiasm for genuine self-reformation. Meanwhile, all week the various opposition parties banded together to criticized the LDP for lack of sincerity and contrition in reform efforts, accusing the LDP leadership of merely buying time. The LDP’s lack of progress on reform could negatively impact their performance in upcoming by-elections. PM Kishida promises to present a Reform Plan next week.

Abe Faction’s “Chairman” Shionoya Challenges Reform Panel’s Reprimand

LH Member Ryu Shionoya, the former Secretary-General of the Abe Faction, challenged the reprimand issued by the reform panel. It recommended his voluntary resignation. Shionoya criticized Kishida personally and other senior LDP members for their involvement in the scandal while he was singled out for punishment. The reform panel upheld their decision on Wednesday, rejecting Shionoya’s challenge. Now, his options are to either resign or be expelled. It is looking increasingly bleak for him. Shionoya’s case purposefully serves as a cautionary tale to others, highlighting the consequences of being caught-up in scandals. But there is an actual feel of scapegoating to this, many perceive.

Governor’s Election in Shizuoka

The former 4x governor of Shizuoka resigned due to (it is said) controversial remarks made during a speech to new recruits. The upcoming gubernatorial election will thus be on May 26. The LDP and the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP) will square-off. The LDP candidate is a bureaucrat from Internal Affairs Agency (first time running), while the CDP candidate is a former LH member from the CDP and former Mayor of Hamamatsu.

Impact of Weakening Yen on Japanese Policy

The Japanese yen reached a 34-year low against the US dollar on Tuesday; it closed Friday at $/¥154.32. BOJ is unlikely to intervene to prop up the yen as they massively did in October of 2022. And it is not just Japan: Japan and South Korea lobbied on currency fluctuations at the G20 meeting in Washington DC this week. Treasury Secretary J. Yellen cautioned against unilateral action and advised coordinated intervention, which obviously requires alignment among all parties, “which is currently lacking” she pointed-out. Ouch.

To generate the kind and velocity of relief required, therefore, Japan may need to make concessions to other nations to gain support for intervention. In this light, Japan’s pacifist stance outlined in Article 9 of the Constitution is being challenged by geopolitical realities. Due to regional tensions with North Korea, China, and Russia, the US & Japan are strengthening their alliance, including military cooperation, on a vast scale. The US will relocate the Indo-Pacific Command and Control Center to Japan to manage strategic forces in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is developing, as you know, an advanced fighter jet together with Italy / Britain and advocating for First Strike capabilities. There is so much in-flux right now. We will continue to observe and report on developments in the upcoming Japanese politics updates.

Diet Passes Child Care Law

The Japanese government passed a new Child Care Law to encourage people to have children. The law extends the age limit for children, allowing parents  to receive cost of living allowance up to 18 years old (currently 16). GOJ is allocating significant funds to support child care in an effort to address the declining population issue (some would rightly say, “a little late, fellas..”). This law comes at a time when the government is facing difficulties in attracting university graduates to work in the public sector, since graduates are more inclined to join private companies due to better working conditions and benefits, so the crunch is already being felt. Increases in medical premiums will fund the enhanced support, to be implemented in 2026 and cost approximately ¥800 per citizen/month on average. Opposition parties are calling this a “tax” and lambasting the Kishida Administration.

Lower House Passes Bill Allowing Joint Custody

The LH on Friday passed to the UH a bill to allow for joint custody in the event of divorce. Currently, Japanese law does not allow for joint-custody. This situation disproportionately affects foreigners married to Japanese nationals. This is a very hot-button issue. In fact, Timothy will speak at a seminar on the Bill on May 24th. The bill will become law if it passes the UH this session.

Immediate Action Following PM Kishida’s Trip

The Minister of Defense will be in Hawaii over Golden Week for a US/Australia/Philippine/Japan military summit. Legislation governing the establishment of a permanent joint-headquarters for the 3 branches of SDF has passed. It will be headed-up by an officer of equal rank with the other three (Air, Land, Sea). Personnel changes are taking place now within the US Indo-Pacific Command and Control Center in Hawaii as well. Admiral John Aquillino was in Tokyo saying goodbye’s to his counterparts, to be succeeded by the Asia-Pacific Command and Control leader. This is all part of the ‘new era’ that Biden/Kishida were talking about… at a lightening fast speed.

Plenty of action following the Kishida DC trip, including the G20 summit of central bankers and Finance Ministers all last week (which triggered the fall in the yen). Samsung and Texas sealed a huge semiconductor deal for a new chip factory: US$6.4 billion. TSMC is also expanding its operations in Japan with a second plant in Kumamoto and another, different project in Hokkaido. Japan is set to develop a military-industrial complex to boost the economy, gain new technologies, participate more viably in the emerging lattice network of military & economic-security re-alignments.

UN Security Council Representative Visits Japan & South Korea

UN Security Council representative Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield visited South Korea, then Japan last week in a rare visit to assure these two countries of the Security Council’s firm support. Both Japan and South Korea are vying for permanent member status in the UN Security Council: the US wants them in order to strengthen oversight of, among other things, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. UN oversight of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs lapsed in March because Russia and China blocked Security Council renewal. As a consequence, there is no oversight mechanism in place. North Korea thus is on a tear to launch spy-satellites, hypersonic missiles, supply materials to Ukraine, and develop advanced technologies with Russian help. The situation is causing tension in the region, particularly for Japan, and highlights the need for effective oversight.

Privacy Policy

Japan and the US Assist Philippines Coast Guard

The US, Japan and the Philippines held a first-of-a-kind trilateral Official State Visit to discuss bolstering the Philippines’ ability to counter Chinese incursions into their exclusive economic zone and disputed territories. Japan donated a coast guard vessel to the Philippines, while the US assigned Coast Guard cutters and US personnel further south to the island nation of Vanuatu. The US in fact boarded 12 Chinese fishing boats in the area of Vanuatu, leading to concerns about potential confrontations with the Chinese Coast Guard (or at a minimum placing US soldiers in harms way). Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos stated that if any Filipino loses their life in the defense of their country, he will call on the US to execute their mutual defense agreement. Many consider the situation as a potential flashpoint, with countries increasing their defenses in the region. Tensions are mounting.

Questions poised during the 167th Japanese Politics Update

  • What do you expect the impact to Japan of US Congress approval of military assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan?
  • Do you see a disintegration of the LDP?
  • LDP factions have NOT dissolved in reality; they are insisting on long legal procedures to draw out the clock. What do you think about this? Are factions in fact invincible?
  • About Taro Aso’s trip to Florida: given his stature within the LDP, wouldn’t his effort to meet with Trump indicate the Japanese government is expecting a Trump victory?
  • Audience Comment: A suggestion was made that Kishida and Trump may meet in September during the UN meeting, as is customary for world leaders to meet with candidates during the UN General Assembly. Will this happen, you think?
  • Why does Aso Taro not want to endorse Kono Taro? If he did (even last time, when he lost to Kishida), wouldn’t it have been a slam-dunk?
  • Ishin and the CDP seem to be fighting against each other. Is Ishin just solely focused on Osaka, or are they trying to expand nationally? Do you know their strategy?
  • New money: the Ministry of Finance will print new Japanese bills in various denominations, hitting the market in July 2024. What can you tell us about this?
  • What is going on regarding the joint custody Bill? Will the new law be retroactive to any degree, in any aspect, considering the current system’s significant impact on families?
  • Realistically speaking, what kind of faction reorientation would be the worst for Kishida’s prospects and which kind would benefit him the most?

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