The Launch of a New Online Journal

Politics Society

With this post I mark the launch of I would like to start with a brief review of the twists and turns leading to the creation of this new online journal.

For a period of three years, from 2007 to 2010, I was editor in chief of Japan Echo. As those of you who were Japan Echo readers may remember, that bimonthly journal was killed by the administration that took power in September 2009, following the defeat of the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party by the Democratic Party of Japan in the previous month’s general election. The DPJ administration headed by Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio undertook a sweeping review of government programs, and as part of this process the funding for Japan Echo was axed with hardly any discussion. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs thus stopped buying the print journal and instead contracted with Japan Echo Inc. to produce an online publication, called Japan Echo Web. I also served as editor in chief for this publication. But the contract was based on competitive bidding and applied just to fiscal 2010 (April 2010 to March 2011).

In my position as editor in chief I have not been involved in the management of Japan Echo Inc. But it was evident to me that the company could not hope to stay on a steady keel as the publisher of an online journal if the business was placed up for bids every year; nor could it maintain the corps of talented employees whose support allows the editorial board to operate smoothly. I reached the conclusion that relying on the Foreign Ministry’s annual budget for public relations was not a sustainable business model and that it was necessary to switch from government funding to public funding. And fortunately the Nippon Foundation agreed to support the publication of an online journal on a long-term basis. So it was decided that Japan Echo Inc. would not bid for the contract to produce Japan Echo Web in fiscal 2011; instead, a new organization was established, namely, the Japan Echo Foundation, to publish this new journal with backing from the Nippon Foundation.

The Foreign Ministry is continuing to publish Japan Echo Web, with production contracted out to a different company this fiscal year. We do not intend to compete with it. The mission of Japan Echo Web is “to present a wide-ranging picture of domestic views of the conditions and the policy landscape in Japan, including the fields of diplomacy, politics, economy, society, culture, and science & technology.” For this purpose it selects appropriate articles, including essays, analyses, opinion pieces, dialogues, and interviews, from domestic publications like Chūō Kōron and Voice and translates them into English and Chinese. Our new online journal cannot and will not follow this model. Instead we are launching a new publication that will effectively be similar to the monthly Chūō Kōron, but as an online journal in Japanese, English, and a number of other languages. Our aim is to give readers a view of what sorts of discussions are currently underway in Japan on a range of topics including global and Asian affairs and Japan’s foreign policy, politics, economy, society, and culture. We will aim to do so in a balanced manner, taking special care to introduce views from Japan’s younger generation. And we have dubbed this journal

We have put together an editorial board with this mission in mind. The senior editor is former Vice Foreign Minister Yachi Shōtarō. Two former editors in chief of Chūō Kōron have also agreed to serve on our board: Miya Kazuho as deputy editor for the new publication and Mamiya Jun. And with a view to the eventual changing of the guard to the next generation, we have included four rising stars: Hosoya Yuichi (Keiō University), Kawashima Shin (University of Tokyo), Takenaka Harukata (National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies), and Taniguchi Tomohiko (Keiō University). will officially be a monthly publication. But we intend to take advantage of the flexibility offered by the online format to offer insightful essays, interviews, dialogues, and other articles introducing developments in Japanese politics, foreign policy, and economic affairs on a timely basis. We also intend to present content dealing with a broad range of other topics, such as recent trends in the study of Japanese history, Asian history, and Japanese politics and diplomacy, along with various other aspects of today’s Japan, including food, fashion, games, manga, anime, movies, sports, and science and technology. We hope this new publication will win your support.

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As I noted above, the DPJ took over the reins of power from the LDP in September 2009. Over the two years since then we have had two prime ministers, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto, and just before I started writing this column, Noda Yoshihiko was selected as Kan’s successor. So far the Democrats’ performance has been dismal. Hatoyama took the Japan-US agreement on relocation of US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which had been painstakingly crafted through repeated rounds of bilateral negotiations, and casually trashed it like a small child kicking over a pile of building blocks. And Kan came out with a declaration that Japan should abandon nuclear power. Though he labeled it his “personal thinking,” with this public statement he tried to turn Japan’s energy policy in a new direction at a stage when the process of reviewing the existing basic policy had not even started.

As a result of Kan’s change of mind, the shortage of electricity that initially affected eastern Japan in the wake of the March 11 disaster—earthquake and tsunami, followed by the string of accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station—has now come to affect the Kansai region (including Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe) even more seriously. Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) has 11 nuclear reactors, of which 6 have been shut down for regular inspections. Under the relevant legal provisions, these should be brought back into service once the inspections are completed, in which case there would be no problem with the Kansai power supply. But Kan put a hold on the resumption of operations of these and other reactors around the country by fiat. This is what has caused the current pinch—which, I should note, is not a direct result of the March disaster.

Kan, purportedly exercising “politician-led decision making” (one of the DPJ’s main talking points), shelved an existing government policy on the basis of his “personal thinking.” As a result, electricity is in short supply, and the national government is calling on people to conserve. In other words, the people are being asked to bear the brunt of the effects from Kan’s brand of political leadership. And in fact the overwhelming majority of them have been responding to the call to save electricity “for the nation.” This summer there have even been fatalities among senior citizens who suffered heatstroke from keeping their air conditioners turned off in response to this call. In the wake of the March 11 disaster, international media coverage has included much praise for the resilience of Japan’s society and the patience and grit of its citizens. But as I look at the behavior of our political leaders, I must regretfully conclude that these strengths have perversely been enabling politicians to get away with dismal performance.

In recent years people have been constantly ruing the lack of political leadership in Japan. It is true that this lack exists. But what we have learned from the performance of the DPJ administrations over the past two years is that when people who are not versed in the art of politics are at the helm and mistake the pursuit of their individual whims for the exercise of political leadership, their impulsive acts can ruin the entire policymaking mechanism. We find ourselves on an unsustainable course. The yen has been appreciating, at one point reaching a record high rate of less than ¥76 to the dollar. Meanwhile, the long-term prospects for power supply are impossible to gauge. According to a story in the Nikkei on August 8, companies responding to the paper’s survey on capital investment plans for the current fiscal year reported that their initial plans called for a 16.3% increase over last year (average for all industries), with an expected increase of 35.7% in overseas investment. This trend toward investing offshore is quite rational behavior for corporations. However lousy our political leadership may be, the people can only endure and show “grit.” But businesses that see no future for themselves in Japan will pick up stakes and head overseas. And it is the people who will again bear the brunt.

(Originally written in Japanese.)

Kan Naoto Shiraishi Takashi Nippon Foundation Noda Yoshihiko Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station