Japan votes. But, from the outside looking in, things appear pretty grim.
Japan’s political machinery may well be winding up to a deafening crescendo ahead of the coming election, but for some, the soundbites and empty promises mean even less than they do to the voting public.
Autumn in Tokyo may well mean comfortable temperatures and colourful foliage, but it is also the time when Mount Fuji once again makes a welcome reappearance. A sight that simply never ceases to amaze — no matter how far away it might be.
Coincidentally, however, this photograph was taken on the day that Prime Minister Noda dissolved parliament — setting in motion another political merry-go-round involving privileged men and equally tired and old policies. A thoroughly dismal state of affairs that is even worse on this occasion as it involves the current and rather incompetent incumbent, along with the favourite and ultra-conservative second stint seeker, Shinzo Abe. Plus, if that wasn’t dispiriting enough, Tokyo’s former governor and unrepentant racist, Shintaro Ishihara, is also waiting in the wings with his new political party. This complete dearth of talented or even slightly forward thinking candidates making a mockery of sorts out of democracy.
So set against this depressing backdrop, the sight appeared all the more poignant; a sign of both the season, and, short of huge political upheaval, Japan’s seemingly irreversible drift into its own sunset.
Japan and China’s ongoing dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has strained relations between the two nations enormously, although potentially just as damaging to Japan is the political shift to the right it might cause — particularly so as the country and its politicians are generally very conservative to begin with. The hawkish Shinzo Abe is back fronting the Liberal Democratic Party, and along with the capital’s unrepentantly racist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, they are wilfully goading their neighbours. The former once again visited Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine, and the latter, not content with starting the whole island controversy in the first place, is now attempting to make matters worse by proposing building on the rocky outposts.
Such fears of a rightward shift aren’t exactly dispelled by the individual below either. A man who, along with his Rising Sun flag, was carrying a sign that in no uncertain terms said Chinese and Koreans should get out of Japan.
Yet at the same time there is hope — at least in regards the Japanese public, if not their politicians — as he was very much alone, and reassuringly the only responses he got were confused or openly critical stares.
Japan’s ongoing spat with China is undoubtedly a rallying call for the nation’s rightists, but for the vast majority of people, the country’s nuclear issues are a more pressing concern than some far flung rocks. Issues that many are still protesting about, and countless others continue to watch very closely.
Even in the ultimate old boys’ club, where nepotism and social standing trump merit and competence, yesterday’s election of Shinzo Abe as president of the opposition LDP — giving him a very good shot at being the next Prime Minister — marks something of a new low for the already closed world of Japanese politics.
Born into a distinguished political dynasty, Abe’s rise through the ranks was inevitable, culminating in him becoming Prime Minister in 2006. A post he then quit after only 12 months of a decidedly undistinguished reign. Such failure, apart from in the world of finance, usually leading to a rapid slide into irrelevance.
But no, and what can be seen as a further sign of Japan’s fall from grace, the hawkish and diplomatically provocative Abe is now well and truly back. For how long, and in ultimately what role, only time will tell, but hopefully what it also signals is the final straw for what has until recently been a distinctly apathetic population.
The size and passion of anti-nuclear demonstrations over the last 18 months have shown an anger and frustration not seen since the sixties. An issue that perhaps importantly isn’t just restricted to the present regime, but all those since the dawn of nuclear power itself.
Now whether that zeal can be maintained, not to mention extended beyond the nuclear issue, remains to be seen. But what is clear is that for younger generations in particular, the veil has been well and truly lifted, and those with their eyes open definitely don’t like what they see.