Japanese Politics Updates – April 7, 2024

Play Video about Japanese Politics updates: #165

Welcome to the 165th update in the Japanese Politics One-on-One series! This week, Langley Esquire and Japan Expert Insights are delivering more news that should help you follow the latest developments in Japanese politics and public policy.

What an active and pivotal week this was! PM Kishida, in a rush to wrap-things-up and put behind him conclusively this nastiness with the kickback scandal, imposed sanctions on 39 Members of his own party. And so with this done, he can now leave with a clear conscious for a week in the United States (departs Monday/arrives Monday). In celebration of this, Tokyo’s cherry trees finally decided to bloom in unison (10 days later than predicted). With so much going on, dual Dan Harada/Timothy Langley update after the Kishida-speech to the joint-congress on Friday (Thursday D.C. time) is necessary: please join us at noon on Friday for this exclusive debriefing “Do or Die? Kishida Closing down the House”. 

Kishida imposes punishments 

39 LDP Members received reprimands of one-sort-or-another on Thursday. Not very satisfying for the rest of the LDP, but a relief to the other 60 Members who were implicated and admitted receiving kickbacks (but forgot to report them or thought it was okay… for the last decade or so). High on the hit-list were Hiroshige Seko, Hakubun Shimomura, Ryu Shionoya, Yasutoshi Nishimura… the heavy-hitters of the Abe Faction. Seko and Shionoya were asked to leave the LDP. Seko did immediately and Shionoya protested, wagging a justifiably accusatory finger at the Prime Minister, “hey! what about you!”. More to this saga later.

Other punishments

Others received suspended terms of 6 months or a year where they either cannot hold any party posts or, worse, will not receive any endorsement (or campaign funds) in the event of an election. Toshihiro Nikai escaped unscathed because he announced earlier (in something akin to a plea-bargain) to not run in the next election (whenever that will be!)… but not to ‘resign’. In doing so, he not only preserved his Faction Members from retribution but also secured his replacement of the open seat he is vacating to his son… and not to Seko who wanted to ditch his 5 terms in the UH in order to run for the LH (and eventually for the PM seat!).

Lots more intrigue present here, including Kishida’s decision to give another “bye” to Takeda Ryouta (55yo, 7x, Nikai’s #2, Fukuoka 11). Once again infuriating his Deputy Prime Minister and key heavyweight Taro Aso (83yo, 14x, Fukuoka 8). This is not only because Takeda is his long archrival in Fukuoka but also because, as Nikai’s #2, he was deeply into the kickbacks (thus an easy target: “why the hell did you let him off?”) And will replace Nikai to become the Takeda Faction. A big ‘ouch!’ for powerful Aso. Seems like Kishida doesn’t need friends-like-Aso as much as he used to… and wants different ones now.

Kishida meets Biden in a new launching pad

The Prime Minister departs tomorrow for a week in D.C. It is a fully-packed agenda: a State Dinner Wednesday night, speech to joint-congress Thursday, visit Toyota battery plant (under construction) & a Honda business jet manufacturing plant in N. Carolina, wholly revamp the US – Japan relationship and realign militarily with AUKUS and the Philippines. We expect (and he certainly does, too!) massive news and lots of flowery words in order to tune-up his approval-ratings. This will be short-lived but there is a purpose to this: the upcoming By-Election that starts three days after his return home. Three seats are up-for-grabs… each dominated by the LDP, each very at-risk. So much so that the LDP will not even run a candidate in two races and fight hard for the third on in Shimane Prefecture. This will be the focus of the “Do or Die” briefing on Friday at noon, so please tune-in.

Household spending is still down

This is in spite of the tremendous effort of the PM, the Bank of Japan, the Finance Ministry. The PM is hellbent on turning this around not just because of the By Election (largely has conceded defeat already there) but because his term as LDP President ends in September. March figures indicate the 12th month running of spending going down… another 0.5%… 2.8% for the year. The value of the yen on Friday was $/¥ 151.61 and a 34-year low. Even on top of this, GOJ announced a further 2,800 food items will increase in price this month. In spite of this, reports show that consumer-confidence is up (maybe due to the approach of Spring?). Specific areas of mention: Utilities prices were down by 19% this last quarter; Education fees up a whopping 42%; food up 2%. 

Raymond Green, DCM in the US Embassy to become the version of Ambassador to Taiwan

Reports say that Raymond Green, Deputy Chief of Mission in the Rahm Emanual US Embassy, will be posted to the version of Ambassador to Taiwan this summer. In a bow to China, the US does not have an “embassy” in Taipei but rather “The American Institute of Taiwan”. The current Director, Sandra Oudkirk (2021~ present) will switch-out as new President Elect Lai Ching-te (disliked by Beijing) takes office in May. This is a great posting for Mr. Green, a well-known, highly reputable figure in Tokyo business circles. In any event, a continuing flash-point for us all to watch. Good luck, Excellency!

Shizuoka Governor resigns 

Four days ago, Shizuoka Governor resigned. There has been a lot of talk about this resignation and the implications for the maglev railroad construction through this Prefecture. Governor Heita Kawakatsu is no floozie: holds a D. Phil from Wolfson College in Oxford, has published several economics books, is serving his 4th term as Governor. Identifies as an independent and not necessarily friendly to the LDP. There is more to this story than is in the news but let’s leave it to the Q&A session because maybe not everyone is that interested. But it is a good example of how things sometimes work here.

North Korea keeps busy 

North Korea was busy – this week firing-off a new intermediate hypersonic IBBM missile on Tuesday, the second such test of this new technology. Then on Wednesday they fired-off two more, this time solid-fuel short range missiles. These are easier to store and conceal, and are more readily available for launch than the regular liquid-fuel missiles. The leaps in technological missile prowess is a growing regional and international concern. Somewhat connectedly, the hermit kingdom conclusively shut the door to a possible Kim-Kishida summit which Japan proposed 10 days ago, due to the stringent demands of talking-points insisted-upon. Separately, national elections are this week, putting more pressure on President Yoon’s administration and his hoped-for more robust relationship building with Japan. This is turning into a real powder keg.

Privacy Policy

Questions Poised (65 minutes)

  • We’ve talked about this before: PM Kishida has brought a lot of changes to the LDP. He has disbanded the most powerful faction – the Abe Faction. It could be said that everybody has underestimated Mr. Kishida’s political acumen. What are your thoughts on this?
  • Why did PM Kishida decide to visit North Carolina and not California?
  • What is going on with the closing of the Tokyo bureau of famous CBS? Why have they decided to close their Tokyo office? Given the timing and the action going on here (as exemplified by the popularity of your briefing), what sort of justification is there? Part of a larger exodus?
  • More about Governor of Shizuoka Prefecture: he resigned because of his offensive remarks to farmers, or is there a more sinister reason for his resignation?
  • Can you provide any updated analysis on the Osaka EXPO and its possible impact on LDP – Ishin relations?

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

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