Kamei: Japan must keep its traditions
BY KATSUYUKI YAKUSHIJI ASAHI SHIMBUN SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Shizuka Kamei (YOSHIYUKI SUZUKI/ THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)
Shizuka Kamei is known for his straight talk, hawkish views and no-nonsense way of getting things done. As head of the People's New Party (PNP), a junior partner in the ruling coalition, Kamei has rattled the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama by pushing his own agenda for postal reform and other policy issues.
This begs the question: What is his goal in teaming up with the Democratic Party of Japan--given that not so subtle differences exist between the two parties--and throwing his weight around?
Ousted from the Liberal Democratic Party for resisting postal privatization in 2005, the 73-year-old politician now serves as a state minister in charge of financial services and postal reform.
In a recent interview, The Asahi Shimbun asked him what he thinks about a state, how Japan can embrace globalization and the prospects for the current coalition government. Excerpts follow:
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Question: The PNP, a small party with nine Diet members, is shaking the far larger DPJ. Doesn't that strike you as unnatural and unreasonable in a parliamentary democracy?
Answer: That view is wrong. Our arguments make better sense. That is why the DPJ has changed its policies one after another. If they (the party) don't agree, they should simply say no. In that case, we would naturally leave the coalition.
Q: Won't such bargaining end up distorting policies?
A: Not at all. It will change them for the better.
Q: As for policy goals, what do you believe is most important?
A: Conservatism, while cherishing the traditions and the soul of each community, tries to adopt what is good in the culture and the life of other regions and assimilating it. The role of politics is to make that possible. But that does not mean adopting and imitating everything; it would destroy the original community.
Q: Are your postal reform policies an extension of this way of thinking?
A: The postal privatization carried out by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was a form of politics that makes Japan no longer what it is. It was politics that destroys Japan's culture, life and traditions and instead allows U.S.-style best-always-wins and free-market principles to go unchallenged in any corner of society. As a result, rural, mountainous farming areas were discarded, leaving a society centering only on urban cities.
Q: Incidentally, is it true that you hold Ernesto Che Guevara, the leader of the Cuban Revolution, in great esteem?
A: Yes, I respect him. Guevara toppled Cuba's corrupt (Batista) government that exploited the people. He continued his fight against similar forms of corruption in neighboring countries until he was killed in Bolivia. I think his awareness of problems has universality in it.
Q: Are you sympathetic toward communism and socialism?
A: The collapse of the Cold War structure spelled the denial of socialism and communism. That led the way of thinking to gain strength that a state should not restrict individuals so free economic activities will be the norm. In Japan, Koizumi espoused that idea. It denies the Japanese way of thinking that seeks happiness for all. That led to the Lehman shock of 2008. I think the election of President Barack Obama in the United States and the birth of the Hatoyama administration in Japan were brought about by the "invisible hand of God."
Q: If Japan sticks too much to its own traditions, won't it be able to compete in the age of globalization?
A: It can. Japan has built its own social and economic systems, having a greater momentum than the United States during the era of high economic growth. Japanese-style corporate management, such as the lifetime employment system, led to success. Is it all right to just brush aside such know-how as being outdated?
Q: Won't Japan become isolated in the international community if it only looks to the past, not at reality?
A: Indeed, it is difficult to compete with countries with low labor costs. If Japan tries to curb wages to those levels, it inevitably will have to slash regular employees and increase the number of part-timers. But then Japan will no longer be Japan. While we cannot sever economic ties with other countries, it is also the role of a state to protect (jobs) with tariffs and by other means to cushion shocks from low wages abroad. Pursuing free trade agreements may be necessary, but I am against pushing them in the extreme.
Q: But wouldn't such steps go against international rules?
A: It's not good to rush to build trade barriers, but I do not think it is a civilized way of behaving to expose everything to competition. Just as Washington would often press Japan to open its market, it is natural for countries to clash over such issues.
Q: What is your view about accepting foreign laborers?
A: We should accept many more. It is wrong to close the door for security and other reasons. It would be better if people from various countries, regardless of race, work in Japan, marry Japanese and assimilate in society. Japan will not achieve growth unless it is an open country.
Q: Why, then, are you opposed to granting voting rights in local elections to permanent foreign residents?
A: In elections, voters get excited, giving rise to ethnic confrontation in communities. I'd rather they would be naturalized if they want suffrage.
Q: What if the DPJ says it no longer needs the PNP after the Upper House election this summer?
A: It's all right. If they no longer need us, let us dissolve the coalition. We have nothing to lose. We rose from the bottom of hell by forming a new party with only five members. That's our energy source. We will continue to push our own policies. That's our sole priority.