Critical Japanese Public on Politics

Judge on policy of factions, not behavior of political figures

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

When my wife came home from work on May 29th, she dropped a plastic envelop on the dinning table. With a sigh, she said, “At last, it arrived.” My son was impatiently looking at the thin rectangle through the transparent wrap and found in it three set of two cloth masks. With a puzzle, he said, “What is it?” Free masks were finally delivered to our home address in a compensating scheme of COVID-19 from the Japanese leader, Mr. Abe. Our family decided to save these cloth masks for post-pandemic period but many households instantly returned them to the collection box on the street, claiming that it was too late, inadequate, and inappropriate. Japanese public are overly critical about the government.

As of today, the death of Covid-19 is below 1,000 with 17,600 cases whereas in America the death will be reaching 200,000 victims with over 2m cases. Despite the successful containment in the outbreak, the Japanese public is very harsh on political figures. Public opinions shifted toward the disapproval of the Japanese Cabinet. The approval rating had dropped below the astounding level where a half of the Japanese public turned frustrated and opposed to the handling of pandemic.

A new episode of the Economist newspaper covers three areas on spotlight toward the current stage of the Abe administration. Distrust worsens. For a start, the administration announced each household receives two cloth masks from local government early April. It costs the nation Y47bn ($436m) to the citizens of registered address. The taxpayers patiently waited for the delivery for nearly two months, in which most retail outlets display disposable masks with a price of Y50 ($50 c) a piece and salable up to 10 packs per household on the shelf. The delivery was very late.

The second scheme with stimulus still fails to achieve. Application for a universal Y100,000 ($915) handout was mailed to the household early May. With a quick handwriting, I mailed it to the local government office within a few days and yet received no record of wire transfer to my bank account for about three weeks. Worse, the application sheet has a box, in which an applicant can choose not to receive the stimulus package from the government. It makes no sense to check the box to indicate that applicant rejects the cash from the government.

The third and furious agenda for outrage lies in the plan to extend the retirement age for prosecutors from the current sixty to sixty-five years old. One of them has been accused of betting on illegal Mahjong play in the public parlor while the government recommends the general public with social distancing through tight restriction orders. The prosecutors’ office is in corrupt. One Japanese source says the prosecutor on the scrutiny will be receiving Y60m or half a million dollars on the retirement package simply because he served thirty-seven years of Tokyo prosecutors office and the gambling during the public restriction period does not rip off the whole package of compensation piled from the taxpayers’ contribution. This is absurd.

General public often end up the argument of no alternative leader. Let it go and it does not make a big difference in who will be leading the nation. This mind-set is open to question. Japanese public votes for parliament members on factions. The political leaders, including prime minister Abe, are the representation of factions, which has a long and tight old boy network. They unveil public policy and discuss it in Diet. The public must watch TV on NHK and understand the controversial policy such as Japanese defense involvement under the Constitution. In most Japanese TV shows, biased opinion leaders analyze the policy with critical approach in the afternoon and intend to turn the public into the opposing side. In the worse case of news coverage, the media fiddle with a few words of statements from the political figures without examining the whole intention of the voice from the Cabinet. The media creates a lot of frustration among general public who don’t fully understand the legal perspective and fragile consequence of public policy. The news media in Japan do not cover the story of successful policy but focus on the failure and misconduct of public figures exclusively. The public consistently get frustrated to give up the leadership of Japan.

Back in the dining room, I have been wondering how my son is reacting to the public policy of the Japanese government. It is no appropriate to talk about the politics over the dinner but my son and I share one thing in common. Let’s being proud to be Japanese and nobody can achieve anything from the criticism. Delivery system is one of the best in the accuracy and service. Japanese like to save for the future and don’t overspend for luxury. It has a lot to be desired in politics and the public evaluation. Still the point is clear, “Judge the politics on policy, not entirely the behavior of public servant.”

Taught marketing @ universities in Tokyo for a decade, ex-I-banker & mgmt consultant @ Kurt Salm (Accenture Technologies now), Georgia Tech educated