The Sunday inauguration of the *Chīki, Seikatsusya* Kiten de Nihon wo Sentaku(Sentaku) suru Kokumin Rengō (「地域・生活者起点で日本を洗濯（選択）する国民連合」. People’s Union to Launder/Choose Japan from the Standpoint of the Regions and the People; my translation) or Sentaku for short, was duly noted in all the major dailies; Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, and most notably Sankei, whose website also carried articles here, here, and here.
The Sentaku prospectus decries the political passivity on the part of the public and the reliance on the central bureaucracy and seeks to launch a thoroughgoing reform in the way we live and work by way of a new bottom-up, people’s rights movement.
The promoters of Sentaku, however, are not some wild-eyed radicals or woolly-headed New Agers. For Sentaku has been launched by an elite group of five academics including Masataka Kitagawa, the highly regarded ex-governor of Mie Prefecture and Tsuyoshi Sasaki, former President of Tokyo University; two business leaders, four incumbent governors including Hideo Higashikokubaru, comedian turned politician; one mayor; one prefectural assembly chairman; one moderate trade union leader; and one ex-Vice Minister of METI and former head of the Dentsu Institute. Mr. Kitagawa heads the 15-man (no women!) team, which is calling on Diet members who sympathize with their objectives to establish a parallel, nonpartisan Diet caucus that would work with Sentaku to develop a common understanding and make sure that the next Lower House general election will be “a truly historical election for the sentaku (in the “choose” sense) between [alternative] administrations”.
Sentaku is a direct outgrowth of the Atarashī Nihon wo Tsukuru Kokuminkaigi (The People’s Conference to Create a New Japan; my translation), which also goes by the name of “21 Seiki Rinchō” (21st Century Extraordinary Advisory Council for the Promotion of Administrative Reform; my translation). Although 21 Seiki Rinchō is not a government advisory council like its namesake**, it marshals an impressive selection from the A-list of the Japanese establishment, including the incumbent Keidanren Chairman (formerly Toyota’s Okuda, now Canon’s Mitarai) as the head of its 23-member Board of Special Advisors, which brings together an impressive array of business leaders, academics, a former head of the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations, and Nobuo Ishihara, Prime Minister Koizumi’s bureaucratic majordomo. It is headed by four “Joint Representatives”, four “Deputy Representatives”, two “Chief Examiners”, 152 “Managing Council Members” and 28 members of a “Joint Conference of Governors and Mayors of Cities, Towns and Villages”. The major media groups (those with major dailies) are well-represented in the Managing Council. All in all, it is a moderate***, centrist, establishment movement that, together with its two earlier incarnations since 1992, has sought to influence the political changes that have shaken but only partially transformed the post-1955 regime. In fact, the 15-member promotion group draws most of its members from the 21 Seiki Rinchō leadership, with the only two non-21 Seiki Rinchō additions being the newly elected Governor Higashikokubaru and the Mie Prefecture Assembly President.
Why the need for a new organization? Many other nonpartisan efforts to influence the political process (the Shintō Seiji Renmei; or Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership, comes to mind) establish parallel nonpartisan Diet member caucuses to further their cause. But 21 Seiki Rinchō and its predecessors have never done so, preferring to work through ad hoc exchanges as well as proposals addressed to the Diet and the general public. Another difference is the inclusion of a Prefecture Assemblyman in the list of Sentaku promoters. In fact, 21 Seiki Rinchō appears to have studiously avoided any institutionalized involvement with the legislative branch at any level. In contrast, 21 Seiki Rinchō has a Joint Conference of Governors and Mayors.
It may have been possible to alter the direction of 21 Seiki Rinchō instead of starting a new organization. But organizations take on lives of their own, and it could have required too much effort to change a practice that had continued since the early 90s. Perhaps just as important, a milestone event must have been considered desirable in drawing the attention of the media and calling on Diet members to sign on. And in the interests of nonpartisanship, it may have been considered unavoidable to let the Keidanren Chairman off the hook, in view of the Keidanren’s close association with the LDP****.
Will this actually have an effect on the political process? The jury is out. The group seeks to have the Diet member group up and running in February, but nothing in the media gives even a hint as to the extent of nemawashi among potential participants. If it manages to bring together a substantial number of Diet members from both sides by then, then it will thrive. If not, it will flop. Media coverage will no doubt play a role*****. In this respect, the absence of any media representation in the promoting group is a little disappointing. I’ll file a report when I know for sure. I’ll let you know if there are significant new developments in the meantime as well.
* This is one of the most difficult things to translate that I’ve ever come across. First, there is the awful pun with “sentaku 洗濯（選択）”, which I translated literally as Launder/Choose. They’ve decided to call it “Sentaku” ( せんたく in hiragana) for short. More illuminating is “seikatsusha 生活者”, which means roughly “people as individuals in their daily roles as family, workplace and community members”. In fact “seikatsu 生活” itself is difficult to describe without resorting to the same lengthy explanation. I copped out, writing “people” and putting it in italics to order to indicate that I did not mean “kokumin 国民 (which is commonly translated as “the people” but strictly speaking excludes non-citizens)” or 人々 (literally, “people”). This is not as trivial as you might think, since words by themselves shape and alter our thoughts. More specifically, it presents a problem in understanding the Japanese political environment, now that the LDP and DPJ are placing top priority on 生活 and 生活者 － forget about constitutional amendment, forget about the war on terror, etc. － and littering their policy platforms and speeches with those words. It also highlights the difference between American and Japanese politicalspeak (or more broadly social and cultural mindsets), since “individual” would usually be the word of choice in an American setting, when the word seikatsusya is used in Japanese.
Note that the translation of Prime Minister Fukuda’s January 18th policy speech also goes with “the people”. “The people” is used profusely in the translation for kokumin as well, although these are two quite distinct concepts.
** The self-appropriated nickname channels previous administrative reforms, no doubt in particular the Second Rinchō (1981-86), which propelled the ascetic Keidanren Chairman Toshimitsu Dokō to national hero status and played a significant role in Yasuhiro Nakasone gaining the Prime Minister’s seat (1982-87).
*** Tarō Yayama, one of Prime Minister Koizumi’s closer advisors, is the only recognizable figure in 21 Seiki Rinchō that is associated with the political right.
**** Keidanren members do give some money to the DPJ, but the amount is dwarfed by their contributions to the
***** Tsuneo Watanabe is not involved with 21 Seiki Rinchō, though the Yomiuri group itself is well-represented. Perhaps this has something to do with the relatively small Yomiuri coverage, on the left upper corner of page two in its hardcopy version. 21 Seiki Rinchō, with its emphasis on change through political choice and the need for a bottom-up approach to national reform, does not look conducive to an LDP-DPJ handshake any time soon.