Japanese lose old tolerance for shady backroom politics

Source:Global Times Published: 2011-3-29 8:27:00

 Despondent Japan rediscovers its own virtues after quake

Illustration: Liu Rui

By Handel Jones

In the wake of national disaster, the Japanese government is trying to show strong and steady leadership. 

But many Japanese are expressing concerns that they are not being given the real details regarding the seriousness of the problem. The protests in Tokyo over the weekend are an indicator that there are increased concerns over the lack of real leadership in Japan.

I have many friends in Tokyo who are becoming more vocal regarding their dissatisfaction. The transportation system was very disorganized because of the blackouts, and this caused high levels of discomfort because it stranded passengers on trains. Now trains are running, but at reduced speeds inside the center of Tokyo. Outside the center of Tokyo, the trains are infrequent. Gasoline shortages are extensive, and private motorists have had to abandon the use of their cars.

The electricity supply continues to be limited, and the power cuts are slowing the recovery of the manufacturing capacity of auto mobile and other companies.

The international community, including the UN, has stepped in because the initial emphasis of the Tokyo Electric Power Company was on trying to protect the reactors rather than the people.

The 700 employees that are working on the reactors are sacrificing their health for the future of Japan and are national heroes. The political leaders are, however, protecting themselves by staying as far away from the reactors as possible.

The result, however, is that the approaches of the Japanese to the future are likely to change. While the initial response was resignation and fatigue, this is being replaced with anger. Ordinary Japanese will become less tolerant of their government and the image of smoke-filled rooms where many big decisions are made in secret. The press in Japan is likely to become much more critical.

The earthquake took place just as Japan was overtaken by China as the second largest economy. Even though Japan has "lost" two decades, the social mood has been that of resignation. In mainstream Japanese media, one barely reads encouraging stories about successful entrepreneurs.

Young people of Japan are seriously disappointed by the lack of job opportunities that give them exciting careers. This is one of the reasons why the birth rate has dropped. Many young men and women don't want to get married because they don't feel secure about the future and would rather remain single and live with their parents.

While Japan witnessed some recovery of its economy in 2010, growth was lower compared to other countries and regions.

However, the earthquake has now interrupted this momentum. Japan will face severe financial strains because its debt is already more than double its GDP, unless there is the ability to grow the economy.

It is likely that taxes will be increased, with the use of foreign reserves to support the rebuilding of the northeast region.


If there is a positive view of the future, people will make sacrifices, so Japan must become more optimistic. A new mindset that calls for a growth-oriented future will be needed. There will be the need for a political system that can be innovative in rebuilding the country and stimulating the growth of industry.

The support of special-interest groups, which help politicians win re-election through slush funds and backroom deals, should not be tolerated. Society will need to encourage leaders to step forward that energizes the young to build an optimistic society, and who are willing to take risks.

Taking into consideration the strength of the political system and the electoral system, I am very cautious regarding how fast Japan will change.

While anger is building in Japan, it is being controlled. But I hope that Japan makes the required changes and rises from the ashes.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Handel Jones, CEO of US-based International Business Strategies Inc, and author of Chinamerica: The Uneasy Partnership that Will Change the World. chenchenchen@globaltimes.com.cn

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