The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

An ABErration

The LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) actually did it: they voted Shinzo Abe back to the top job as leader of the party. Due to the current dissatisfaction with the Prime-Ministership of Yoshiko Noda it is very likely that the LDP will win the next general election, meaning Abe would become the next Prime Minister, even though he was by ALL accounts incredibly bad at it last time. This is very troublng news for Japan.

Abe became Japan’s ninetieth and youngest Prime Minister in September 2006 but resigned a little under a year later due to a bad stomach and stress. Why he even thinks he has a right to run again is beyond me. There must be some serious ego at work to enable him to put his disastrous first term out of mind and try it all again. Perhaps he has a new agenda; he has certainly moved even further to the right since leaving office. Perhaps he just lives in a world where his wealth and position do not encourage criticism and he has never heard any opinion questioning his ability at that level. Maybe he genuinely thinks he has what it takes this time round.

During his first  time as Prime Minister he did enjoy the support of nationalists for policies such as patriotic education and the repealing of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. Though these  emotive ideas never quite got off the ground he didn’t exactly endear himself to Japan’s Asian neighbours either by supporting the use and publication of revisionist school history textbooks and by denying the existence of  any form of coercion in the recruitment of Comfort Women (sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese army during World War 2)

He generally took a more hawkish attitude to Japan’s relations with the world and in particular its rivals for regional influence like China and Korea. Something he has promised to continue and add to if he becomes Prime Minister again

So not exactly the sort of Prime Minister you want at the moment; when territorial disputes with China and Taiwan over the Senkaku Islands and South Korea over the Dokdo/Takashima islands are growing more dangerous everyday.

Truthfully I am a little surprised that he won and it is definitive proof that the LDP has run out of ideas. Something we all knew long ago anyway.  He was certainly the outsider for the job but a late campaign which saw him fight a run-off with the favourite Shigeru Ishiba. This vote was not open to rank and file members of the party and must surely have relied on machinations between the various cliques and factions within the party to have secured him the win.  His other main rival was Nobuteru Ishihara, the son of Tokyo’s right-wing governor Shintaro Ishihara. Not that either of these men as leader would necessarily have helped defuse the difficult territorial disputes that Japan finds itself facing now. Both are as rabidly right-wing as Abe, and Ishihara especially would have probably been as clumsy and unapologetic as his father in dealing with foreign sensitivities. Abe at least has politics in his blood and the higher skills of diplomacy needed  at the international level are something he initially showed some surprising aptitude for. His first trip overseas when he became leader in 2006 was to China. This complimentary gesture helped smooth relations that had been frayed by the previous Prime Minister’s visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine where Japan honours its war dead.

Abe regularly visits Yasukuni himself these days. and has vowed to continue doing so as leader. Like the Republican Party in The US the need to wear your patriotic colours seems to have trumped pragmatism and necessary diplomacy. Abe is a keen advocate of closer ties with the US and is maybe aping their political zeitgeist. Certainly his rivals for leader enjoyed more grass-roots support for their imagined strengths in any future dealings with China and Abe will have to prove his mettle now he has beaten them to the job they were expected to take. This dangerous shrillness is not what many other Japanese want however: a majority still hold the pacifist constitution up as a thing to be proud of and, especially in rural areas, issues like US bases and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its perceived effects on the the future of Japanese farming are hot-button issues that will eat into his support. Particularly if, as seems likely with Abe’s election, the LDP is postioning itself for some sort of post-election partnership with the Japan Restoration Party  led by Toru Hashimoto who supports the TPP and who is even further to the right than Abe: he even wants to change the whay the country is governed and by many fear he is a dictator in waiting. In March 2012 the then leader of the LDP, Sadakazu Tanigaki, said that “Saying, like Hashimoto does, that political parties are bad, led to militarism in Japan in the 1930s.”

Tanigaki has now gone however and Hashimoto is all over the news.

Of course even though the Democratic party of Japan and Prime Minister Noda himself are barely respected and borderline inept doesn’t mean Abe is a certainty for the next Prime Minister. His own unpopularity with voters and LDP members is not to be underestimated and the perception that he is weak and a failure is something he cannot hope to erase purely with patriotic bombast. Japanese persevere through adversity, it is the national characteristic they most admire in themselves; and Abe, when he quit in September 2007 let the Japanese people down. They expected more “Gambaru”. For all his talk of pride in Japan’s fighting spirit and love of country he, himself failed to live up to the standards he measured others by. An irritable bowl is an ignominious excuse for walking out of a job for which people had invested trust in you. That is why I cannot understand how he quite has the audacity to try again. Because he is still as weak and out of his depth as he ever was. Though no-one, in his pampered world has told him he’s a joke of course, the Japanese people are aware of it and one can only hope this will motivate the electorate to stick with the unpopular but deft Noda and the DPJ.

Abe’s sudden conversion to anti-nuclear opinions may just sway enough voters thinking about  that one-issue and in the short term, to oust Noda though and bring in a coalition with Hashimoto. Hashimoto is not weak and is a very skilful populist politician. He will almost certainly make quick work of replacing Abe and then we really are in unknown territory. These could be interesting times in Japan.

Anyway a long winded way to push some photos of Shinzo Abe from my archive.



UPDATE Fixed some spelling mistakes and other errors in the post, including the title…(duh) trouble of trying to do too many things at once. Sorry about that.


One response

  1. Pingback: The Plot Thickens « sungypsy blog

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