Japan takes its Italian disease to the doctor

THE public address system in central Tokyo chimed into life at 9.30am yesterday with three ascending musical notes, and the message: 'This is Minato ward local government information service. Do not be alarmed. Tomorrow is an election for the Lower House of the parliament. Let's all cast our votes. This was not an emergency anouncement.'

The omnipresent public address systems - grey speakers on the top of poles in residential areas - are intended to warn people of natural disasters: earthquakes, large fires, typhoons. And yesterday's message could indeed have been raising an alarm. Today's elections do represent an emergency for the country's entrenched political system.

The cabinet's popularity rating has shrunk to 6.7 per cent, and opinion polls show that 92 per cent disapprove of their government. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has formed every government since its formation in 1955, has split, and the cosy political structure of the past four decades looks as though a typhoon has hit it.

Japan today stands in the same position as Italy last year: huge cracks have appeared in the political consensus that dominated the country during the Cold War, and through these fissures all manner of corrupt practices, political bribes and links with organised crime are starting to show.

The 'licence to rule', accorded to the Christian Democrats in Italy and the Liberal Democrats in Japan in order to keep the communists at bay, has expired now that the latter are no longer perceived as a threat. What used to be regarded as the peccadilloes of the ruling parties are now revealed as systematic corruption on a grand scale.

In the past 12 months, a series of scandals has revealed that politicians from the LDP and the opposition parties have been routinely accepting huge bribes from firms in exchange for political favours. It has been established that Noboru Takeshita's election as prime minister in 1987 was assisted by the yakuza, Japan's organised crime syndicates.

And during the the election campaign of the past two weeks, the mayor of a large city in northern Japan has been shown to have been on the payroll of several large construction companies seeking public works contracts.

But there is no sense of alarm in the country. Since the war the system, or so-called 'steel triangle' of politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats, has built a cocoon around the country's 123 million people. Most have jobs, big incomes, some of the highest life expectancies and literacy rates in the world, and can walk home alone in the early hours with no fear of being assaulted. Unemployment at 2.5 per cent is the lowest in the developed world. And per capita GNP income of pounds 20,600 is double that in Britain. This system, however, has lost its main foundation pillars. Japan is no longer motivated by the desire to 'catch up' with the West's economy: it already has. And the need to maintain a bulwark against communism inside Japan, and in East Asia generally, has evaporated. China is now more of a threat as a low-cost manufacturer than an exporter of revolution, and North Korea, still a potential military threat, is bankrupt.

As Italy has discovered, removal of these pillars inevitably leads to the collapse of the whole structure. But the rate of change in Japan will be different. In Italy, they demonstrated in the streets, journalists exposed politicians and magistrates issued warrants to investigate a swathe of politicians and businessmen.

The press and legal system have less independence in Japan, and the idea that board members of leading Japanese car or electronics companies might be imprisoned is almost inconceivable. It will take longer for the old guard to be swept out and the new political system to fall into place.

But change is already happening. Three new conservative parties have been established, all led by people in their fifties, a new generation compared with the current LDP leaders and the Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, who is 73. And the corporate world, which has benefited for so long from the LDP's producer- oriented policies, is reviewing its allegiances; top business associations have said they will no longer support the LDP exclusively with political donations.

'Let's all cast our votes,' the address system declared yesterday morning. It should have added: 'This time it really matters.'

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, say DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin