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    Minor desires turned to major needs

    Still busy, busy, busy…but of course I can’t ignore the bit of news from Japanese electoral politics today. The following is the Nikkei graphic:

    ss09_top_graph

    The blue band is the ruling coalition, headed by the LDP. The red band is the opposition, headed by the DPJ. Look very closely, and you’ll see that one is larger. Or you can just look at the numbers.

    It was, of course, predicted that the LDP was going to get spanked in today’s Diet elections, but those are some sorry numbers even so. Voter turnout was high, too. The Nikkei has started reporting what The Australian is saying about the DPJ win:

    Influential Australian daily The Australian prominently announced on the front-page on 31 August the DPJ’s “landslide victory,” and it declared this change of administrations “an event on par with the Meiji Restoration and Japan’s post-war recovery.”

    And I’m sure we’ll be hearing that from a lot of the non-Japanese press in the next week or so. Whether it’s true, though, I’m not so sure. Voters are understandably angry with the LDP leadership, but there’s a lot about the System that you can’t reach through elected officials. That’s true everywhere, of course–legislators come and go, but functionaries remain, and they tend to know how to defend their territory. But it’s especially true in Japan. And Japan is a huge, rich country, and despite the economic troubles of the last two decades, there are a lot of people whose interests are served by the status quo and who have surely already started laying plans to keep Yukio Hatoyama and his crew from spoiling the party.

    But I doubt all the pressure against reform will come from recalcitrant old-timers. Hatoyama used Barack Obama’s “Change” mantra to fuel his campaign, and he’s likely to discover, as Obama has, that issues such as national defense and social welfare look very different when you actually have to govern. The Australian piece, according to the Nikkei, speculates that Japan will move toward more independence from the United States in diplomatic terms (while retaining its fast relationship with its Down Under neighbors, naturally). Hatoyama would undoubtedly like to, but if he tries, he’s likely to run smack up against obstacles called “China,” “Russia,” and “North Korea.” So what kind of change Japan will get is impossible to predict at this point, though it will be interesting to watch.

    One thing I can say: it’s nice to see the Japanese citizenry projecting boldness and vigor on the world stage. For the last twenty years, the Western media narratives have operated at two extremes: either the grin-and-bear-it Japanese were soldiering on through their economic malaise like helpless drones, or some sensationalizably freakish subculture (like hikikomori kids or people who hang out at manga/Internet cafes) represented the social meltdown that was just around the corner. At least, whatever the Hatoyama administration actually ends up doing, for the time being the story will rightly be one of voters using the democratic process to hold their underperforming leaders accountable.

    Added later: And of course I can’t post about a landslide victory and refer to Australia without yet again bringing in my favorite Olivia song (and see post title):

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