Taking a deeper look at Kan's realism
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's naming of his new Cabinet as the "Kihei-tai Cabinet" (Irregular Militia Cabinet) still doesn't sit right.
The Kiheitai was a militia formed in the Choshu domain (present day Yamaguchi Prefecture) toward the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, standing in opposition to the shogunate.
Many people have probably never heard of this militia, and the meaning of "Kihei-tai" in reference to Kan's Cabinet doesn't come across clearly -- to the man on the street, its significance is lost.
The adoption of such an odd name is a reflection of the prime minister's lack of preparation and direction. By referring to his Cabinet as a "Kihei-tai," does Kan plan to keep up with the idea of destroying the system?
In a question directed at Kan on June 15, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Yoshimasa Hayashi, who is from Yamaguchi Prefecture, asked, "Are you a destroyer or a creator?" to which Kan replied, "Both."
During the question session, Hayashi made reference to the historical work "Yoshida Shoin," by the great pre-war journalist Soho Tokutomi, explaining, "For a revolution, three types of people are needed: thinkers, destroyers and creators."
Looking at Soho's original work, we see that the "creator" is a "constructive revolutionary." In giving an example, the journalist listed Cromwell, Napoleon, and Toshimichi Okubo, and noted that the reason they were successful in the final phase of their revolutions was that they were people who looked beyond ideals to the actual situation.
Looking beyond ideals to the actual situation probably means being a realist with a well-balanced feel for the situation.
Kan is a realist, which both the prime minister himself and others acknowledge. Amid the upheaval brought about by political realignment, he has chosen, as a party leader, to place priority on survival. His dry yet flexible approach that is not necessarily bound by ideals, duty or obligations comprises the basis of others' assessments of Kan's character.
This approach is evident in his relationship with labor unions. Kan comes from a background of citizen campaigning, and during his time in the Socialist Democratic Federation and New Party Sakigake, he was consistently critical of politics that relied on labor unions. However, that changed when he formed the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and teamed up with lawmakers from the former Social Democratic Party and Democratic Socialist Party. He placed priority on solidifying his base of support and started making an effort to cooperate with labor unions.
Kan's approach when it comes to former DPJ Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa is even drier. The two didn't get on well to begin with, and Kan didn't hesitate to criticize Ozawa. But in the autumn of 2003, as leader of the DPJ, Kan decided to merge his party with the Liberal Party led by Ozawa. After that, he was cautious not to quickly join in criticism of Ozawa that was smoldering within the DPJ, and solidified his chances of succeeding former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Kan's realism has also been displayed in his policies. In the book "90 Nendai no Shogen/Kan Naoto" (Testimonies of the 1990s -- Naoto Kan), published by Asahi Shimbun Publications in 2008, reference is made to Seiji Maehara, a particularly hawkish figure in the field of diplomacy within the DPJ. Kan is asked, "You're not as much of a realist as Maehara in diplomacy are you?" to which he responds, "Well actually, from my point of view, Maehara is more fundamentalist than pragmatic. I'm much more of a realist."
In his policy speech at the Diet and during a party leaders' question session, Kan stressed that he would deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the policy of an "equal Japan-U.S. alliance" promoted by Hatoyama's administration vanished.
Kan also suggested raising the consumption tax to 10 percent, "using an LDP proposal as a reference" -- in other words a policy no different from that of the LDP.
I would like to laud this as the behavior of a realist, but when we've come this far the question arises: What exactly is realism?
The "Kojien" dictionary's definition of "realism" (genjitsu-shugi) translates as follows: "the attitude of handling affairs based on reality without adhering to a doctrine or ideals. There are times when the attitude of yielding to an established fact before one's eyes or opportunism has the same meaning."
So what is Kan's realism? Is it realism on the same scale as that used during the early years of the Meiji Period by Toshimichi Okubo, who observed the U.S. and Europe and decided to focus on internal affairs? Or is it the realism of the art of survival by the Kihei-tai of Japan's political center of Nagatacho -- suppressing Ozawa's group within the party for the time being and beating the LDP? That's the issue at stake. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2010年6月21日 東京朝刊