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.