The Diet Building

With a new government coming to power at this weekend’s election here in Japan, I thought I’d put up a shot I took of the Diet Building on Sunday. The Diet hosts Japan’s two chambers of parliament, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. When I walk past the building, I sometimes wonder why I am not as interested in the politics of this country as I thought I’d be.

Perhaps it’s got to do with general expat political apathy – we can’t vote, so we don’t care. I had the same problem when living in the Netherlands. It just didn’t interest me as much as it perhaps should have given that I spent four years of my life there. Meanwhile, I still check German media every day and have stayed in touch with politics back “home” over the years, despite me almost never having paid any taxes there.

Another reason for my politics apathy here is perhaps that in Japan, it somehow doesn’t seem to matter much who is in power given that the bureaucracy runs this place anyway. While that may be true in part, I think it’s also a lazy Westerner’s argument that neatly explains all that went right in this country, but on the flipside also all that went wrong (and often leads to premature calls for the dismantlement of the vast apparatus).

Anyway, this weekend, the Liberal Democrats took back the government from the DPJ after having been in opposition for three years (they have ruled most of post-war Japan). The DPJ under PM Noda had promised to take on the country’s bureaucracy, address the ballooning public debt burden and leave the central bank alone. Now former PM Shinzo Abe is back in power and pretty much vowed to reverse all of the above.

Will it matter? I sincerely have no idea. Some people say Japan needs a proper 1997-style South Korean crisis and stare in the abyss in order to change. In a way, the stagnation cum deflation that has reined here since the 1990s has produced remarkably little social upheaval and no one knows how long this can continue. An unprecedented current account deficit in September as well as further debt-funded public spending could very well erode confidence more quickly than expected.

I find this inevitability of something nasty happening down the line a little depressing sometimes. Perhaps that’s also one of the reasons why I stay away from Japanese politics – it seems pretty bleak to me.

Oh, yes, the building: you can read much more about it on the Wikipedia page. I will refrain from my usual architecture prattle this time.

2 thoughts on “The Diet Building

  1. Ben, your point about living as an expat with little interest in domestic politics rang very true and got me thinking. I certainly felt the same in Holland, as well as Italy. I guess I had the sense that nothing much was going to change, it was much of a muchness who won/lost etc, and it didn’t really matter to me who did.

    Yet I had quite different feelings in France and the US, if for very different reasons now I think about it.

    In France I felt more interested because many of the issues that came up in 2005/06 seemed to relate to problems we have in the UK (trouble flared in relation to problems with impoverished minority communities communities struggling with racism and inequality). There were also mass protests about a new job contract for new entrants to the workforce. Events also felt more dramatic as mass protests and riots erupted that were visible across the streets of Paris. You couldn’t escape the day to day consequences of the political issues at hand. Nothing like drama to awaken human interest.

    In the States I guess it’s a different issue. Most of the world pays attention to the US election. Living in Washington during the election period meant that TV, radio, and even conversation was dominated by discussions around the candidates etc. There was so much more energy around the events, and the consequences seemed relevant to my life. Yet this was probably an unfair comparison with say Dutch elections (which happen more regularly as we know!). Post-election I was certainly less interested and engaged in policy discussion and congressional rumblings.

    So I wonder if from a rather selfish self-centered way my different attitudes existed because events were either more dramatic and exciting (oh god, hollywood has killed my soul) or explained by perceived relevance to my life and issues back home. I’m not really sure. Are you more interested in American rather than Japanese politics, despite having never lived or paid taxes there?

  2. Totally, and I guess it’s also the language barrier (explaining my slightly stronger interest in UK/London politics). That said, we have the Japan Times lying about downstairs every day but I can’t get myself to reading it regularly and “tune in”…

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