Ozawa Becomes History, While Noda Makes It

Taniguchi Tomohiko [Profile]

[2012.08.06] Read in: 日本語 | 简体字 | 繁體字 |

Just over a month ago a weekly magazine carried a story reporting scandals involving Ozawa Ichirō. A letter said to have been written by Ozawa’s wife revealed two bombshells: One was that he had fathered a child out of wedlock and had made his lover raise this child. The second was a serious revelation relating to his qualifications as a politician, namely, that in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, Ozawa was so afraid of radiation from the nuclear plant disaster that he did not visit Iwate Prefecture, where his own electoral district is located and where the tsunamis after the quake caused tremendous damage; instead, he literally fled and went into hiding.

Time Is Not on Ozawa’s Side

The June 21 issue of the weekly Shūkan Bunshun, containing a letter said to have been written by Ozawa Ichirō’s wife to one of his supporters.

A truism in the word of politics is that facts do not create perceptions; rather, perceptions give rise to facts. Once a stereotype is born, it has sticking power. And this leads to new political deeds.

If we accept this paradoxical proposition, what is important is not whether the contents of the letter are factual or not. Ozawa’s future as a politician—his political life expectancy, so to speak— will depend on the degree to which the contents are believed to be true. Neither Ozawa nor his office has sued Shūkan Bunshun, which published the scoop. Nor have we heard of any rebuttal from Ozawa’s wife, who is said to have separated from him.

Inevitably, this absence of action has meant that the perception of Ozawa as more or less the sort of person described in the letter has spread—a perception that might not have taken hold otherwise. The path ahead will be a thorny one for the new party Ozawa has founded, which hangs on his prestige alone, and for the first-term legislators with weak political bases who have joined it. Having failed to secure a portion of the public funding going to the Democratic Party of Japan, from which it split, the new party is short of funds. Time is not on its members’ side.

Noda Breaks Up the DPJ and Moves Forward

For Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko, the situation after the loss of Ozawa and his adherents is not that different from the situation before. The number of legislators likely to vote against him has not increased. All that has happened is that those who would have voted against Noda’s legislative proposals as members of the ruling DPJ are now openly in the opposition.

The Noda administration faces adversities on every front: Its public support is low, its base in the legislature is weak, the party Noda leads has split, and increasing numbers of demonstrators are gathering around the Kantei, the prime minister’s official residence, for weekly protests against nuclear power. Even so, the administration is moving steadily to implement a succession of policies all bound to be unpopular. In this respect it is unlike any other administration in recent years. Even the charismatic Koizumi Jun’ichirō (prime minister 2001–6), who spoke of “destroying” the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which he headed, ended up preserving it. Noda, by contrast, is moving forward after deliberately breaking up the DPJ.

The unpopular measures that Noda has been pushing are not limited to the reactivation of nuclear reactors and hiking of the consumption tax. The government has submitted a bill to the current session of the Diet to institute a Japanese version of the US social security number system, to be called “my number.” This sort of universal identification number is essential for the prevention of tax evasion and abuses of the social security system, but despite the need for it, the task of implementing it has been left undone for decades. If the Noda administration secures its enactment, it will have completed a task that would ordinarily take a succession of several cabinets to accomplish. Noda, with his step-by-step approach, is making history. Ozawa, on the other hand, already is history.

(Originally written in Japanese on July 18, 2012.)

  • [2012.08.06]

Born in 1957. Graduated from the University of Tokyo. Was editor of Nikkei Business before serving as deputy press secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Has been a Fulbright Visiting Fellow at Princeton, a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, and a special guest professor at Keiō University, as well as a member of the Nippon.com editorial committee from 2011 to 2013. Publications include Tsūka moyu: En, gen, doru, yūro no dōjidaishi (Currency Drama: A Contemporary History of the Yen, Yuan, Dollar, and Euro).

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