Japanese Politics Updates – February 25, 2024

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We are pleased to share the latest Japanese politics update “Japanese Politics One-on-One” Episode #159, a collaboration between Langley Esquire  and Japan Expert Insights.

It was the Emperor’s 64th Birthday on Friday so this was declared a National Holiday when he ascended the throne; only a four-day workweek. Given what is reported below, I imagine this was gratefully welcomed by Prime Minister Kishida. 

America lands on the Moon

In unrelated news, America landed on the moon Friday. This is pretty big. This is after completely forgetting about moon-landings following the Apollo Program 20 years ago. America solely focused on the Shuttle, the Space Station, then Space Force. Also newsy is the fact that it was a private company (Intuitive Machines) rather than NASA who drove the entire project. This follows the Russians, Indians and Japanese all of whom have targeted the south-pole in the last 3 months. Apparently, someone knows something that we don’t? In any event, only the Indians (and the Americans) were successful: the Japanese module landed on its head and the Russian craft crashed.

Approval ratings at record low

14% approval rating for the Prime Minister, 16% for the LDP, polls revealed this week. Tiny opposition party Riken enjoys a similar 16% approval among the voting population, so this is worrying. The LDP has not been this low since 2012.

  • Spend more money;
  • Announce something new;
  • Fire a deserving, noteworthy individual;
  • Push-up the Nikkei;
  • Travel overseas;
  • Diminish bad news via deflection or under mounds of earth.

Throughout today’s briefing, you will notice every option being actively pursued…

A massive data leak and hack announced

Unfortunately, this revelation came out of America. For over two years, it has been noticed that diplomatic cables among/between Japan and several other Southeast Asia countries have been compromised. I-Soon is identified as the culprit, an organization in Shanghai. The report states that the organization has hacked India, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea for years. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi was quick to report that ‘thankfully, Japan escaped any damage whatsoever…”.  Five-eyes indeed.

The Nikkei breaks record

Not since 1989 has the stock-market soared so much. The average price for shares traded on the 225-company exchange exceeded ¥39,153 on Thursday and again on Friday. $/¥, however, is still stuck at the unpopular $/¥150.48 on Friday (though exporters & in-bound tourists are having a heyday). Predominantly export-related companies (like autos, auto-parts, high-tech components, consumer goods) have recorded historically high profits for three-years in a row now.

The opposition parties have united 

The opposition parties have united to insist the LDP submit to an Ethics Committee Hearing on the kickback scandal this next week.  Over the last week of haggling, their insistence has been whittled-down one-by-one: they wanted the 51 admittedly guilty-of-kickback scheming Diet Members to appear: they will get 5; they wanted testimony to be compulsory: it is voluntary; they wanted a joint Upper House / Lower House Ethics Committee Hearing: they got the Lower House only; they wanted testimony to cover AT LEAST the 5 year statute of limitations: they got 2.5 years ’18 ~ ’22; they wanted Hearings open-to-the-public: the hearings will be closed. As it currently stands over the weekend, the hearings will be on Tuesday & Wednesday. They are still haggling over Open vs Closed, Compulsory vs Voluntary, even the date for starting. So far, the LDP has won every struggle and the opposition just keeps slinking along. This indicates an appreciation they have for exactly how hard they can push, with any chance of success: the LDP just has them outnumbered every way to Sunday, it seems.

Foreign Minister Kamikawa at the 10 nation Pacific Islands Forum

Foreign Minister Kamikawa was at the 10-nation Pacific Islands Forum last week, in Samoa & Fiji, in preparation for the super conclave in June in Tokyo (Tokyo is co-Chair). In the meantime, China makes inroads. China received agreement from the island nation of Kiribati (2,160 km from Hawaii) for Chinese police to patrol the island’s streets for purposes of anti-crime and surveillance. Kiribati rejected recognition of Taiwan in 2019 and received a wharf and embassy plus infrastructure development as well. Other island-nations have received similar tempting offers. The US and Japan are promising more funding and support. Progress is however slow due to budget difficulties and political tensions. China is not quite on-a-roll but the Belt & Road Initiative is making significant headway. Kamikawa is attempting to fix this.

Hottest summer on record coming

The Meteorological Agency predicts Summer of ‘24 to be blistering. The trajectory is already becoming clear: the eagerly anticipated appearance of budding flowers on the bazillion cherry trees in Tokyo is slated for March 17th. This is 1o days earlier than the average; full-bloom on March 25th. The snow-monsters in Zao Mountains, the igloo ‘kamakura’ in Yokote, Akita and the Ice Festival in Sapporo have collapsed, turning tourists away. “It is going to be a scorcher!”, we are already told.

An unfortunate turn of events for Education Minister Masahito Moriyama

In an unfortunate turn of events, Education Minister Masahito Moriyama (69yo, 5x, Kishida) suffered from a no-confidence vote this week. The Education Ministry is in a court battle against the Unification Church, with Minister Moriyama the chief architect of the legal fight. While the goal is to strip the religious-privileges from the church and redistribute their tremendous accumulated wealth, it turns out that the Minister won his Lower House election in 2021 because he signed an Agreement to endorse the Church’s policies on LGBTQ, Defense, the Constitution, and dozens of other policy platforms insisted-upon by the Church. “Oh, those guys? I forgot!” was all he could say in Diet testimony. He is still Minister of Education.

Chief Advisory Board on Defense advises the Prime Minister

Chief Advisory Board on Defense advises the Prime Minister this week that the ¥43 trillion yen he carefully earmarked over 5 years to bring Japan’s defense-spending to 2% of GDP “will not cut it!”. The original amount is now determined to be, not only ‘woefully inadequate’, but a complete waste “… if not substantially supplemented”. The Prime Minister hasn’t yet been able to articulate where the ¥43 trillion is to come from in the first place. Now he is in a real pickle.

Privacy Policy

Questions Poised in this Japanese politics update

  • How well known and how popular is the concept of universal basic income in Japan? I know Ishin and Reiwa Shinsengumi have put it in their party platforms. There are also Japanese academics that argue for it but I don’t know how well-known it is in the public or its popularity with those that know about it in Japan.
    • Speaking about an event in which the EU would like to sign military collaboration contracts, in case of any disputes, what is the primary jurisdiction court designated in the contract? Tokyo?
    • Mr. Hayashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary, said that the government did not identify any hacking of classified information despite the repeated warnings from the US. Some of the information is shared by the US.
    • Are there any significant or material differences in the foreign policy approaches or plans among the major Japanese political parties? I would like to hear Timothy’s take on this in next week’s briefing if possible.
    • A follow-up to our last week’s Japanese politics update: S. Korea President Yoon and PM Kishida have built a great relationship compared to that of the previous administration. I was wondering if they’d talk about the forced labor agreement. The Supreme Court in S. Korea decided to freeze the assets of Mitsubishi Corp. so that they can allocate funds to the forced laborer plaintiffs.
    • I attended a seminar delivered by South Korean academics. They presented data points that are not widely publicized but which reveal how different countries perceive military threats from other countries. For example, the people of S. Korea perceive Japan to be twice as dangerous-to-them as Russia in military terms. They don’t want, in fact, Japan to help them resolve any issues with N. Korea because, according to their constitution, it will technically be an invasion by Japan. What are your thoughts on this?

To stay informed, f0low the Japanese Politics One-on-One updates every Sunday at 8:20 am Tokyo time on YouTube and LinkedIn.