Thursday, June 23, 2016

U.S.-Japan Network for the Future Presents on Capitol Hill

On June 9th, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation* held its now annual public forum on Capitol Hill featuring members of its U.S.-Japan Network for the Future (The Network).

This program, initiated in 2009, introduced its fourth two-year co-hort group in April 2016. The Network identifies American, emerging Japan scholars and provides them with tools to make their work policy relevant. Five of the 14 from the last “co-hort” group (III) were selected to present publicly papers on the challenges facing Japanese society. The Japanese government's Japan Foundation Center For Global Partnership underwrites this effort. Harvard Professor Emeritus Ezra F. Vogel* was the moderator. The topics discussed were: religion in politics, immigration, the new secrecy law, work culture, and Japan’s opposition party. A bound publication included 3-page essays by all 14 members of Co-hort III (2014-2016) on a greater range of political issues in Japan.

The five presentations portrayed Japan as a “normal” industrial democracy troubled by an ageing population and uncomfortable with change. Accommodating immigrants and women into its rapidly shrinking workforce are challenges both politically and socially. Internationally, the U.S.-Japan alliance will continue to evolve with mainstream political parities preferring low-budget structural reforms and reassurances to the U.S. over active participation in regional disputes.

The central point of the each presentation is as follows:
  • Conflicts between LDP and the Democratic Party can not be understood without a knowledge of each party's religious affiliation: Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) – Shintoism and Komeito Party – Buddhism. 
  • The Special Designated Secrets Law that passed in 2013 although initially controversial will not threaten Japan’s democracy.
  • Japanese government could change the long-hours work culture by sending “change ambassadors” to companies to advocate for institutional reform.
  • Japan’s political parties need to begin the discussion of immigration reform to address the growing demographic problem of low birth rates and ageing population.
  • For the July 10th Upper House elections, the opposition Democratic Party could capitalize on the Abe Administration’s failing economic policies and the unpopularity of the security legislation.
“Network” Participants: List of 14
Bound Publication: New Perspectives on Japan from the U.S.-Japan Network for the Future (80 pages)

1. Japan’s Ruling Coalition Gets Religion
Levi McLaughlin, assistant professor of Religious Studies at North Caroline State University.

Conflict between the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner the Komeito must be understood as a clash of religious commitments. Although a 2008 and 2010 World Values Survey by the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun suggests that only 26% of Japanese believe in any religion, two religious forces, Shintoism and Buddhism, do “play important roles in shaping policy and electioneering within the governing coalition of the LDP (Shintoism) and Komeito Party (Buddhism).” Religious parties and positions maintained by LDP politicians and the Soka Gakkai campaigners ensured electoral success for Komeito.
Paper: Japan’s Ruling Coalition Gets Religion

2. Japan’s Specially Designated Secrets Law and 21st Century Security
Emer O’Dwyer, associate professor of Japanese History at Oberlin College.

Japan’s Specially Designated Secrets Protection Law (SDS), passed by the Diet on December 6, 2013 (and coming into force December 10, 2014) provoked massive demonstrations that clogged the streets surrounding the Diet Building. These demonstrations have since died down. The law allows government agencies broad powers to designate secret information regarding defense, diplomacy, terrorism counter-measures, and espionage. In addition, government entitites are allowed to conduct background checks and seek prosecution for criminal use of state secrets. O’Dwyer concludes that the law is reasonable and that “democracy is safe in Japan” because the law is a natural response to strengthening the U.S.-Japan military alliance and to potential security threats from China.
Paper: SPECTRE in Japan

3. Changing Japan’s Long Working Hours: “Cool Japan” Meets Keidanren
Liv Coleman, associate professor of political science at the University of Tampa.

The Abe Administration has tried, with little success, “a mixture of soft regulation, financial incentives, and moral suasion” to reduce working hours and to promote family-friendly work places. Sixty percent of Japanese women quit their jobs by the time they have their first child. Work cultures have not changed due to “too much work, face to face meetings, and unawareness of directors on this problem.” Coleman encourages the government to introduce “‘change ambassadors’ to coach managers into a new way of thinking and asking questions about work productivity while taking a profoundly personal approach.” Institutional reforms needs to accompany individualistic guidance for altering the work culture.
Paper: Changing Japan’s Long Working Hours: “Cool Japan” Meets Keidanren
Yukatsu’ program to let civil servants leave early for second summer, Jiji 6/5/16

4. Immigration and the Upcoming Upper House Election
Michael Strausz, associate professor of political science at Texas Christian University.

Japan has the largest aging population (33%) in the OED, but an extremely limited immigration system. Japan’s Prime Minister and Diet have been reluctant to make significant changes to both the legal and cultural barriers. As the 2016 Upper House elections approach, Strausz observes that “it would be good for Japan if some political parties advocate an immigration policy.” In order to keep the work force of 87.2 million at the 1995 level, Japan “would need 33.5 million immigrants from 1995 through 2050.”
Paper: Immigration and the Upcoming Upper House Election

5. Japan’s Democratic Party and the July Upper House Election
Daniel M. Smith, assistant professor of comparative politics at Harvard University.

Prime Minster Shinzo Abe and his LDP hope to secure a large enough victory to move ahead with their goal of constitutional revision, which includes “loosening restrictions on the use of the Self-Defense Forces, a change many decry as unconstitutional.” The opposition Democratic Party has an opportunity to reverse recent electoral setbacks in the upcoming election if it manages to “simultaneously avoid competition with the remaining opposition parties in single-seat districts and convince disaffected voters to show up at the polls.” The previous success of the LDP has not been due to their policies, but rather the failure of any anti-Abe coalition, including the recently formed Democratic Party, Japan Restoration Party (later re-branded as JIP), and Tomorrow Party of Japan . If the opposition combined and focused on the weaknesses of Abe economic and security policy, the LDP could lose 156 seats in the House of Councilors (Upper House) this July.
Paper: The Challenge for Japan’s Democratic Party in 2016: Simultaneously Increase Coordination and Turnout

*APP members

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