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Japanese Politics Updates – June 30, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates, Japanese Politics One-on-One #177

Welcome to the 177th Japanese Politics UpdatesJapanese Politics One-on-One” Episode. Here’s a quick recap of the major events which took place this past week:

  • We are just a week away from the highly anticipated Tokyo governor’s election next Sunday, with incumbent Gov. Yuriko Koike leading;
  • Coincidentally that same day, nine Metropolitan Government seats (of 127 seats) are also up for grabs: 5 LDP seats, LDP going after 8, 2 seats where CDP vs LDP;
  • Adding to the excitement, the US Presidential Debate two-days ago has stirred speculation about Donald Trump’s potential return to the presidency. The buzz is capturing significant attention and sending ripples across Japan. Uncertainty looms large especially amid military engagements involving the United States and ongoing tensions between the Biden and Trump administrations over their strategies on China and North Korea;
  • The Emperor and Empress returned yesterday from a 7-day State Visit to England, roundly reported as fabulous in every single way. Great diplomacy;
  • New currency goes into circulation on Wednesday. The only paper- money in Japan is ¥10,000, ¥5,000 and
    ¥1,000 denominated notes. The currently used notes will be circulated-out over the next three years. Many machines are not quite ready yet;
  • The Nikai Faction closed-down it’s office this week; formalities for dissolution next: only one Faction remains untouched: the Aso Faction.

So, let’s dive deeper into this and what-else transpired during this dramatic past week.

Taro Kono Hints Intention to Run in LDP Leadership Race

A significant development shaping Japanese politics revolves around Kishida’s tenure as Prime Minister. The Diet recently adjourned ten days ago, and shortly after, former Prime Minister Suga suggested that Prime Minister Kishida step down. Two days later, Digital Minister Taro Kono, a member of the Aso faction, engaged a lengthy dinner with Faction boss, Taro Aso. The main point was Kono’s potential bid for the premiership, possibly securing Aso’s endorsement. This is a critical move as Kono prepares for his third attempt at running for the office.

Kono’s first attempt was in 2009 when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) fell out of power under Prime Minister Taro Aso (for the first time), but he didn’t succeed. This was followed by a second attempt in the last election; he did well against Kishida in the final round (to take over from resigned Prime Minister Suga) but eventually lost.

Alongside Kono’s (not quite an) announcement this week, former LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba also indicated his intention to enter the upcoming race. Ishiba is a top contender with opinion polls ranking him higher than Kono. Analysts foresee additional contenders, including LDP Secretary General Motegi Toshimitsu certainly and likely

Sanae Takaichi, joining the fray as we get closer to the election. Still, it is 3 months away!

There’s plenty of time until the 2024 LDP leadership election in late September. With the certainty of Kono Taro running, there is speculation of a Cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Kishida. This means that Kono would no longer be a Cabinet Minister. That opens doors-of-opportunity as it closes others for ‘Kono as a Minister’. So timing is important for both gentlemen: announce more boldly?… cut- him-off later to be able to reign him in?

LDP Faces Challenges this week: a Turning Point or Trouble Ahead?

In the Tokyo governor’s race, incumbent Governor Koike leads the pack as the frontrunner against contender Renho from
the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). Inside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government there are 127 seats: LDP holds 27 seats, Governor Koike’s Tomin First-no-Kai holds 25 and Komeito holds 23 seats. This essentially means the CDP is severely outnumbered, even

if Renho becomes Governor. The more fiercely contested race this week is the By-Election for vacated Tokyo Municipal seats. Here, the LDP aims to maintain at least the 5 it holds among the 9 seats that were vacated over the last 4 months (for a variety of reasons). In light of recent electoral setbacks where the LDP has consistently lost in the last 6 consecutive elections to the CDP, all eyes are on how well/poorly the LDP fairs this next weekend: any loss of seats will be evaluated as a (continuing) LDP disaster.

The aftermath of the recent legislative session, notably the kickback scandal and associated legislative fallout, has left a sour taste among the electorate. Criticisms from figures like Suga and Ishiba underscore dissatisfaction with current leadership. They highlight internal rifts within the LDP and possibly dictating the outcomes this weekend: time will tell.

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako Return from the State Visit to the UK

Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako recently concluded a significant seven-day state visit to England (just in time to catch today’s show!) Their visit was extensively covered by the media, showcasing grand parades, glittering ceremonies, and a tremendous State Dinner. During their stay, they engaged with Japanese expatriates, visited historical sites, and participated in high-profile meetings aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

Policy Implications

This state visit, distinguished by its length and ceremonial splendor, underscores ongoing efforts to foster a warmer relationship between Japan and England. This notably comes at a time when Japan has been an active part in trilateral military projects with England and Italy on next-generation fighter jets. As diplomatic efforts intensify, the prospects for further collaboration and interoperability between these two nations are promising. These developments reflect a shared commitment to deepening their bilateral relationship.

Japan Strengthens Regional Defense Preparedness

The collaboration among like-minded countries, particularly concerning potential Chinese actions towards Taiwan, has seen a surge in joint military activities involving Japanese forces. Notably, the upcoming “Resolute Dragon 24” exercise, starting on July 28th, will feature Osprey aircraft operating alongside Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Forces in Kumamoto and Okinawa. These aircraft, a blend of helicopter and plane, were recently cleared for operations following a hiatus due to a fatal crash in Kyushu earlier this year involving US personnel.

Further bolstering regional defense readiness, Japan will also host a multinational fighter jet exercise on July 19th. The exercise will involve aircraft from Germany, France, Spain, and Japan. This event will span Hokkaido, Kumamoto, and Okinawa, showcasing advanced military capabilities and emphasizing coordinated responses among allied nations.

Policy Implications

These exercises underscore a unified resolve among participating nations to deter potential aggressions and maintain regional stability. The presence of reciprocal troop arrangements, traditionally exclusive to the US under SOFA, highlights Japan’s expanding defense partnerships. This is exemplified by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defense’s upcoming 2+2 meeting in the Philippines on July 7th and 8th. These discussions aim to formalize agreements allowing Japanese and Philippine forces to train together, share defense strategies, station troops on each other’s soil, reflectingongoing efforts to bolster collective security in the face of escalating tensions: fairly hair-raising steps.

The Yen Reaches Past the $/¥160 Yen Mark

The yen has experienced a sharp decline over the past week. It closed around $/¥161.5 yen by Friday—a level not seen since Japan’s initial 9.8 trillion-
eningyen intervention to stabilize the currency. Despite the massive injection about five weeks ago, it only bought a brief respite, so concerns are heigh. Critics, including figures like Janet Yellen from the United States, have cautioned against unilateral actions. They have sternly advocated for coordinated approaches among global financial bodies.

The Japanese government faces a conundrum: stay-the-course or intervene once more with substantial financial resources to bolster the yen. Past interventions have shown only limited long-term effectiveness, akin to a temporary solution that fails to address underlying economic fundamentals. We see the yen continuing to depreciate toward the $/¥170-yen mark in the near term.

Policy Implications

The Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Japan are undergoing their customary leadership transitions. This includes a new appointment for Foreign Exchange Chief, Atsushi Mimura, who will assume the role after the upcoming G-20 in Rio at the end of this month. Change is elsewhere underfoot and we expect currency policies, particularly as Japan navigates through volatile foreign exchange markets amidst global economic uncertainties, to be particularly challenged.

This currency volatility impacts various facets of Japan’s economy, from the costs of imported goods to consumer prices, notably affecting essentials like food and energy. As summer approaches with its associated high energy demands, the Japanese government has extended subsidies for electricity costs into August and September, offering some relief to consumers.

Meanwhile, starting from July, new versions of the ¥1,000 yen, ¥5,000 yen, and ¥10,000 yen notes will be out. They feature updated designs that highlight aspects of Japanese culture and history, to mention nothing of the anti-counterfeiting enhancements. This release symbolizes continuity amid economic flux, providing a fresh perspective on Japan’s resilience and commitment to its cultural heritage.

Anti-NHK Party Displays Unconventional Tactic During the Tokyo Governor’s Race

The election season in Tokyo has brought about its share of attention-grabbing moments and controversies. Many are particularly centered around the the “Let’s-Protect-People-from-NHK” party (aka Anti-NHK Party) and their election posters. With 56 candidates vying for 48 available slots on 14,000 election billboards scattered across the city, a lottery decided which additional eight candidates could staple their materials on the sides of the board. These photos are pasted to the billboards by the contender’s volunteers (not the city government). So the fact that many slots remain vacant indicates zero volunteers.

What caught the public eye is the innovative, if controversial, tactic of Takashi Tachibana, who leads the Anti-NHK Party. He has fielded 26 candidates and sold some of their poster slots to supporters to generate revenue. This is a legal move that has raised eyebrows. This practice has led to streets adorned with multiple posters featuring the same or unfamiliar faces. This has created a spectacle that has drawn criticism from the Internal Affairs Minister and scrutiny from Tokyo Police.

Such antics are not unfamiliar in Japanese politics. Recalling past elections’ memorable moments where candidates engaged in colorful and unconventional campaign tactics. This election cycle’s blend of spectacle and controversy underscores the dynamic and sometimes unpredictable nature of Japanese electoral politics. It is garnering interest not just domestically but also from international observers curious about Japan’s unique political landscape. This is not necessarily a bad thing and at least the political scene is vibrant and non-violent. Better than being boring.

Policy Implications

While there have been calls for reforming these practices, any changes are unlikely to occur before the Sunday election. This situation adds an intriguing subplot to the campaigns, almost rivaling the fervor stirred by prominent candidates like Renho and Governor Koike during their spirited speeches atop campaign vehicles equipped with blaring microphones: who says that is the best way, or the only way, to campaign?

Questions & Comments

  • Considering the growing congestion of tourists, are there any incentives to increase or drive tourism into rural areas beyond the typical hot-spots?
  • Do the election billboards require candidates to be real humans? Currently, one of the running candidates’ name is “AI Mayor” and has the face of a robot?
  • Is there ever a debate among candidates for, i.e., Prime Minister, similar to what we witnessed between former President Trump and President Biden last week?
  • Do you think the choice of candidates running for US President have any impact on Japanese politics? If ‘yes,’ then how?
  • You mentioned Mr. Suga strongly implied that Kishida should give way to other candidates. But do you think him saying so (or implicitly saying so) will really have any impact?
  • How is Kono Taro’s declining popularity going to affect his bid for the LDP presidential election?
  • Do you expect any of the candidates for LDP president to be women? And if ‘yes,’ then who?
  • Some people criticize Sanae Takaichi for being overly conservative. What do you think?
  • Why doesn’t Japan abolish election billboards entirely and use, for example, mail-in ballots with a description of each candidate instead?
  • Why do you focus so heavily on energy policy in your Policy Deep Dive video series?
  • When is the By-Election for the 9 Tokyo Metropolitan government seats?
  • How will the election for these 9 Tokyo government seats affect (if at all) the upcoming LDP presidential election in September?
  • There was a trilateral meeting earlier this year between China, South Korea, and Japan: did this help mend the relationship between West and East? What was the take-away?

Are you familiar with “Tokyo on Fire”? Episodes can be found on YouTube “Langley Esquire”: excruciatingly-gained insights sifted over 40 years in-country! Entertainingly presented.

Japanese Politics One-on-One” episodes are on YouTube “Japan Expert Insights”.

If you gain insight from these briefings, consider a tailored one for your Executive Team or for passing-through-Tokyo heavyweights. 

To learn more about advocacy in Japan, read our article “Understanding the Dynamics of Lobbying in Japan.”

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