BOOK REVIEW / Samurai who has long forsaken his sword: Blueprint for a new Japan - Ichiro Ozawa: Kodansha, pounds 19.99

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The Independent Online
THE AUTHOR of Blueprint for a New Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, is the leading conservative ideologue and backroom operator of Japanese politics. Many Westerners would expect such a figure to be unsheathing his Samurai sword to claim Japan's rightful place as a military superpower. But he more often sounds like a politically correct academic than a Japanese version of Margaret Thatcher.

Ozawa is the main force behind the turmoil in Japanese politics. Until 1993 he was the leading power-broker in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the right-wing party that ruled Japan from the party's formation in 1955 until 1993. After failing to convince the LDP to accept reform, he formed a new party, the Japan Renewal Party, and went on to become the most powerful figure in a coalition government of minority parties.

More recently, with the formation of yet another government, Ozawa has had the unusual experience of being out of power. But with his background it is no wonder that Blueprint for a New Japan has sold over 640,000 copies in its original Japanese edition.

In the first part of the book, Ozawa proposes a programme to 'demolish the old order' in Japan. He advocates political reforms to promote the decisive leadership necessary for Japan to normalise its relations with the world. For instance, he believes that Japan's electoral system of multi-member constituencies encouraged complacency in the long dominant LDP, which was virtually guaranteed overall victory. But for Ozawa, political reform is a means to an end. His main concern is to turn Japan into a 'normal nation', by which he means that Japan should develop a political profile commensurate with its economic size.

He believes Japan must eschew the strategy that served it so well for almost 50 years - concentrating on economic development while largely foregoing a broader political role. Ozawa argues that with the end of the Cold War the 'Yoshida doctrine', named after one of Japan's post-war prime ministers, is no longer appropriate.

Becoming a 'normal nation' means, above all, coming to terms with the legacy of the Second World War. Japan has started tentatively to recast its relations with the outside world, which were based on the assumption that Tokyo could not be trusted to play a full global role. For instance, Japanese diplomacy is consciously promoting the idea that the terrible legacy of the war gives it a moral obligation to help guarantee stability in east Asia today.

Ozawa would like to broaden Japan's role by working with rather than against the United States. He was probably heartened by President Clinton's recent endorsement of Germany as the leading power in Europe. But the US is less likely to accept that Japan, a more direct competitor for global power, should play a comparable role.

If Japan is to confront the legacy of the war it must also confront its history.

For Ozawa, the solution is not to deny that Japan has a record of aggression but to promote what he sees as a more balanced view of Japanese history.

The development of a new national identity will be a traumatic process for Japan. Tokyo's conservative rulers are naturally fearful of casting off an identity that has served them so well in favour of something that is untested. But outsiders awaiting the reawakening of a Samurai spirit will find themselves unable to comprehend the complexity of future developments.