December 1, 2005 Vol. 1, No. 8

Japan-US Summit Reaffirms Strengthening of Alliance

(Japan Brief article by Foreign Press Center Japan (Nov. 17, 2005))

Unprecedented Steps for Strengthening the US-Japan Alliance
-Achievements of the "2+2" Meeting on October 29-

(Press Release from the Embassy of Japan)

Japan's Vibrant Democracy: Moving Away from a Two-Party System?

-By Mitsuru Kitano
Minister for Public Affairs, Embassy of Japan
(November 8, 2005)*

After the overwhelming electoral victory of the Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 11, Japanese lawmakers have pursued ways to reflect the people's will expressed in the election. The LDP decided to resubmit bills to privatize the postal services. This time, the Diet passed them. Mr. Koizumi went on to form a new "Cabinet to continue reform" on Nov. 1. In defeat, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) elected a new 43-year-old party president.

Some negative U.S. commentators (e.g. several articles in The New York Times) viewed the election results as running counter to what they saw as an encouraging trend toward a two-party system. The assumption was that a balance of power among political parties, especially between the LDP and DPJ, is a benchmark of democracy. To them, the overwhelming electoral victory of one party over the other indicated a declining degree of democracy. They focused on the long years of rule by the LDP, and dared to view Japan's politics as somehow akin to the politics of China and North Korea.

However, we can see just how superficial that view is if we look at how seriously each party (the ruling and opposition ones alike) has tried to respond to the people’s will expressed in the election.

The two-party system is not synonymous with democracy. It is but one incarnation of democracy, proved successful in such countries as the United States and Britain. There are many other countries, such as France and Germany, that have implemented other forms of democracy.

The two important characteristics of a democracy are choice and change. It is a political system where legitimacy derives from the will of the people. It is not only the two-party system that confers such legitimacy and assures the elements of choice and change. The essential condition which supports democracy is the existence of a well-educated middle class who are guaranteed fundamental human rights, such as the right of expression. In this, Japan compares well with other advanced democratic nations.

There was a clear choice of policies in the Sept. 11 election. The LDP advocated the privatization of the postal service. The DPJ said that there were other, more important matters to deal with. The decision of the people was to grant the LDP and its coalition partner, the New Komeito Party, a two-thirds majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, which had a great impact on the direction of Japanese politics.

Choice and change characterize many realms of Japanese politics, not just this past election. Concerning choice, historically there have been many political parties in Japanese politics, conservative parties typified by the Liberal Democratic Party, and parties grounded in social democracy, socialism and Communism. The rise of the DPJ is seen by many voters as the emergence of an attractive choice.

Regarding change, some mistakenly argue that the LDP's long hold on political power signifies the lack of change in Japanese politics. However, it is pointed out that the LDP's hold on power results from adopting as its own the agenda of the opposition parties, such as social welfare and environmental protection, and changing its own policies from within. Remember, too, the LDP did lose in 1993.

Changing political power is one way to bring about change. However, what is important in a democracy is that whatever form change takes, it is brought about by the will of the people. Indeed, in the past election, the Japanese public gave a sizeable victory to Mr. Koizumi, thus conveying the message that it wanted to "aim toward a smaller government, and accelerate reform." This is the change the Japanese people wanted.

Thus, it goes without saying that the politics of Japan operate under entirely different principles than the politics of China and North Korea. To deny that Japan has a vibrant democracy because power changes hands less frequently would imply the same about Sweden--where, except for brief lapses, the Social Democratic Party has maintained power since 1932. But Sweden's democracy is hardly deficient.

Finally, it is too early to judge whether Japan is moving away from a two-party system, based only on the results of this past election. Currently, single-seat constituencies comprise an important part of the Japanese electoral system. Since such single-seat constituencies encourage a two-party system in general, the argument that Japan will take such a path over the midterm is well-grounded. However, the question of whether that direction will continue lies within the choice of the Japanese people, and ultimately this is not the determinant of the level of the democracy. Should the people in a certain election reject the path toward a two-party system, we must understand: So long as one is a true adherent of democracy, one would never disregard the will of the people expressed at that moment.

A Japanese Comic Hero Cheers Iraqi Children

-By Shiori Okazai
(Embassy of Japan)

On November 15, JICC hosted an event called "Captain 'Tsubasa' Goes to Samawah," featuring Yasuyuki Ebata, First Secretary in the Science section of the Embassy of Japan. Until August of this year, Ebata had worked in Samawah, Iraq, as Deputy Chief of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) liaison office. The discussion this day followed some of his accomplishments as a diplomat ensuring the administration of Japan's Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), as well as his lifestyle and interaction with the Iraqi people.

Ebata, a 13-year veteran of MOFA, visited Samawah eight times from May 2004 and August 2005 as Deputy Chief of their liaison office. Ebata was one of the ten Japanese staff members in Samawah, rotating between a month each in Tokyo and in Iraq so that there were five diplomats in Iraq at any one time. He was in charge of the ODA water supply, electricity generation, road construction, and other infrastructure.

Since January 2004, about 600 Japanese Self-Defense Force (SDF) members have been deployed to assist with reconstruction efforts in Samawah, the capital of Muthanna, which is the smallest province in Iraq. "The SDF assists with the water supply, medical care, and the reconstruction of schools. But according to law, they can't build new buildings or facilities," Ebata explained. "Instead, the ODA can be used for that purpose. So that's why MOFA was there."

Ebata, who was a specialist of the Balkan countries and not an expert of Arabic countries, decided to go to Samawah for various reasons. One was that he knew personally one of the Japanese diplomats who died in Iraq while on duty. "I learned what they wanted to do in Iraq and wanted to follow their will," Ebata said. Another reason was his memories of the Gulf War. Ebata was in Boston in 1990 as a student, and many people asked him why Japan did not send troops to support the Gulf War. Few people knew about the $90 billion that Japan had given to assist in the war, and even when he explained that the Japanese Constitution prevents the deployment of troops overseas, they did not understand. "They argued that if Japan enjoyed the benefits of stabilization in the Persian Gulf, the Japanese should do something. These people had family members who were deployed--to them, money is not a solution," Ebata said. Even if Japan had made a monetary contribution, "If nobody knows about it, it's like nobody did anything," he said.

Samawah was a "physically tough place to live," Ebata said. Temperatures reach 136F in the summer, and dip below 30F in the winter. Over ten months would pass without any rain, but during the raining season, the precipitation is so great that rivers flood. In the spring there are sandstorms. The climate was only half of the difficulties Ebata and his coworkers faced. They were attacked by rocket ammunitions so frequently that they were eventually able to identify what was fired by its sound. "We didn't care because they always missed," Ebata said, but later noted that he had to sleep in a container last year because he was told that it would protect him from rocket ammunitions. As it turned out, this past October, a rocket made a hole in one of the containers, which proved that he would not have been protected in any case.

Ebata detailed some of the work that he and his team did to help in the reconstruction of Samawah. They installed 2 units of reverse osmosis (RO), which is the highest technique facility to make safe water, and provided 304 water tanks of pure water. Electricity was also an issue: last summer 5 generators were burned because of overuse, and people can get power for only 3-4 hours per day. Ebata's team provided 12 generators totaling 8 megawatts. They also built 60km of roads in the Muthanna province.

One accomplishment that illustrates Ebata's commitment to his cause and compassion for the Iraqi people is his campaign to promote the image of Captain Tsubasa. Ebata noticed that the Iraqi people were very passionate about soccer, and also that Tsubasa, a Japanese comic book and cartoon character who is the captain of a soccer team, is very popular among children. "Captain Tsubasa is famous throughout Iraq and the Middle East. The Iraqi people didn't know he was Japanese--they thought Tsubasa was Saudi Arabian," said Ebata. "But I was sure that Tsubasa would cheer up Iraqi kids when they see his logo in the streets." After gaining copyright approval from both the author of the comic books and their publishing company, Ebata found a printer and, along with his colleagues and the Iraqi people, applied 52 pictures of 1.5m X 2m in size to the many water tanks that Japan had provided. "Tsubasa became the symbol of our goodwill," he said.

Ebata's job included meeting regularly with city councils, departments, and the SDF to discuss their cooperation for the reconstruction efforts. It was at times difficult to communicate, not simply because of the language, but also because of the difference in culture. "With Arabic people, the first hour is usually spent by shouting at each other. During the second hour, people calm down and discuss. In the third hour, people laugh and joke," Ebata said. He noted that the Iraqi people often said "Inshallah," which in Arabic means "If Allah wills it," and could signify both yes and no. After half a year, Ebata was able to identify which answer they meant by their way of saying it./p>

"Without the Iraqi people's support, our project would fail," Ebata said. His team often went to listen to people's opinion in public. Sometimes they surrounded them and shouted complaints about electricity or water in their respective neighborhoods, and there were some demonstrations, including children who begged for ROs. But when the Japanese team built roads or provided electricity, there would be ceremonies where children made speeches and read the Koran out loud.

"Support with sympathy is important. The success of our assistance depends on the understanding of Iraqi people," Ebata concluded. "The most important part of reconstruction is the people's will. The Iraqi people are the main characters of this story."

Third Meeting of Ambassador, Consuls General of Japan And Japanese American Leaders Results in Action Plan To Continue Efforts to Foster U.S.-Japan Relations

With the goal of enhancing U.S.-Japan relations, the third international meeting was held in San Francisco on November 7, 2005, that brought together Japanese American leaders (primarily Sansei and Yonsei) from ten regions in the United States, nine Consuls General of Japan and representatives from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. His Excellency Ryozo Kato, Ambassador of Japan to the United States and the Honorable Daniel K. Inouye, United States Senator, attended the meeting.

Ambassador Ryozo Kato opened the meeting by remarking, "The Japan-US relationship is at its best now and its alliance is stronger than ever before. However, efforts should be continued to further nurture the alliance. It is thanks to the forward thinking of Senator Inouye and other leaders from the Japanese-American communities that the first meeting was held in Los Angeles in 2003, which created new optimism and momentum. Almost three years from then, the momentum is still there and various programs and meetings have been held in various regions. It is our responsibility to tend to this relationship and see it flourish. Through the exchange of ideas that we are going to have today, I hope we can make a roadmap for the future."

Senator Daniel Inouye commented, "I would describe the current chapter in our U.S.-Japan relationship as 'Future: Brilliant or Dismal.' The relationship between Japan and the US is at the highest point since the era of Commodore Perry. It is up to us now to decide if we want to sit by and do nothing or do something to ensure the continued strong U.S.-Japan relationship. We should not miss this once-in-a-life time opportunity."

The meeting provided a forum for Japanese American and Japanese leaders to discuss issues of mutual concern related to the long-term U.S.-Japan relationship as well as develop a plan of action to strengthen future ties between the United States and Japan through the greater involvement of Japanese Americans.

Following a general discussion on key issues, the meeting was organized into three sub-groups to develop recommendations in the areas of education, tourism and business. The meeting resulted in an action plan that would be implemented at the regional and national level that included:

  • Promoting communication and connections between Japanese American and Japanese leaders, especially younger leaders. This includes such steps as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Embassy, Consuls General of Japan and Japanese Americans will increase information sharing with each other on issues related to U.S.-Japan relations; reciprocal visits of Japanese American and Japanese leaders with counterparts will be encouraged when visiting Japan and the U.S.; and holding regular meetings between Japanese American and Japanese leaders at the regional level.
  • Expanding utilization of existing networks of Japanese American and Japanese leaders to involve other American and Japanese leaders. This would include participants coordinating and sharing information with organizations also supporting the strengthening of U.S.-Japan relations, e.g., Japan-America societies, sister city organizations, cultural and educational organizations and encouraging utilization of the "networks" of Japanese American and Japanese leaders to introduce other leaders in each respective country.
  • Increasing public awareness about Japanese American-Japanese initiatives to inform Japanese, Japanese Americans and other Americans about these initiatives. This would include such steps as encouraging each Consulate to provide information on Japanese American initiatives with a link to appropriate websites; and encouraging Consuls General to introduce Japanese journalists to Japanese American leaders in order to foster on-going communication with Japanese media stationed in the U.S.; and encourage Japanese American participants to provide Information and regular updates about Japanese American-Japanese initiatives to media in their region.
  • Expanding efforts to educate Americans and Japanese about each other. This would include increasing existing educational events as well as introducing new pop culture topics to the younger generation; expanding and increasing efforts to translate Japanese American materials into Japanese and Japanese material into English and collaboration to mutually plan and organize more programs and activities.
  • Promoting efforts to increase travel between the United States and Japan. This would include coordination with the Japanese government's efforts to double foreign visitors to Japan by 2010 and developing "Furusato/Roots" tours among Japanese American communities.
  • Expanding business networks at the regional and national level. This would include each Consul General establishing a forum between local Japanese American and Japanese for a regional business network. Similar networks have been piloted in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.

The first meeting was held in Los Angeles in February 2003 at the Japanese American National Museum. At that meeting, Japanese American leaders and seven Consuls General representing Denver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle were in attendance. The second meeting, held in Washington, D.C. in January 2004, added representation from Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Houston to the original seven regions. The November 2005 meeting included the ten regions and was co-chaired by the Honorable Makoto Yamanaka, Consul General of Japan at San Francisco, Kaz Maniwa, San Francisco, Chair of the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, and Irene Hirano, President and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japanese American National Museum provided organization and support for the meeting.

Another key program of this initiative is the Japanese American Leadership Delegation sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership. Five Japanese American delegations of Sansei/Yonsei leaders have traveled to Japan beginning in 2000, with the next delegation slated for 2005.

The meeting concluded with the consensus of the participants that specific steps to implement the action plan would be taken at the regional and national level as appropriate, and that the participants would be regularly informed of the status and progress of the plan by each of the respective regions.

For further information, contact:

Japan: U.S.:

Kimihiro Ishikane
Minister, Management & Coordination
Embassy of Japan
(202) 238-6810

Irene Hirano, President & CEO
Japanese American National Museum
(213) 830-5651

Imperial Princess Nori Weds

(Japan Brief article by Foreign Press Center Japan (Nov. 17, 2005))