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Reviewed by:
  • Power and Pork: A Japanese Political Life
  • Robin M. LeBlanc (bio)
Power and Pork: A Japanese Political Life. By Aurelia George Mulgan. ANU E Press and Asia Pacific Press, Canberra, 2006. ix, 273 pages. $A 40.00, paper.

In Power and Pork: A Japanese Political Life, Aurelia George Mulgan provides English-language readers access to a rich collection of data that can enhance our understanding of contemporary politics in Japan's long-dominant Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). In form, Power and Pork is a career biography of Matsuoka Toshikatsu, an LDP-affiliated member of the House of Representatives from the Japanese Diet. George Mulgan concentrates her biographical work on explaining how Matsuoka used his experience as a former bureaucrat in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) and his skills at brokering connections both within and outside his party to influence public policy outcomes in ways that served particular [End Page 220] interests in his heavily agricultural electoral district. With painstaking use of more than 150 sources (nearly all in Japanese), George Mulgan provides compelling support for her strongest claim—that the political maneuvering "Matsuoka engages in . . . skirts the fine line between legal and illegal activity and, on some occasions, arguably crosses over the line" (p. 171).

Because of her devotion to detail, George Mulgan offers a very concrete view of how and why pork barrel politics are a mainstay of Liberal Democratic Party politics. Her choice of Matsuoka for the book's central character also allows us insight into some of the reasons former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō failed to make much headway with his ambitious reform agenda for the LDP and the Japanese policymaking process. Teachers and students who seek examples of the circumstances under which the LDP's policy specialists, or zoku (tribe) politicians, exert influence over bureaucrats will relish George Mulgan's stories of Matsuoka's policy influence, such as his efforts to get the government to buy up beef that could not be sold by private producers following the discovery of a Japanese cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, or mad cow disease). Presented carefully and chronologically, the account of Matsuoka's political career helps to make real more abstract assertions about the working of Japan's patron-client conservative politics.

However, because George Mulgan eschews any attempt to make a farther reaching argument with her biography, the work in Power and Pork remains generally stuck at the level of raw data—a treasure trove of helpful background examples for those who are already armed with their own intellectual framework for understanding Japanese political life, but not much more than that. Moreover, George Mulgan clearly feels substantial antipathy toward Matsuoka, and I think that antipathy blinds her to one of the most important questions her data could provoke. As I said above, George Mulgan is convincing in her claim that Matsuoka operates very close to and possibly quite often beyond the limits of the law as he pursues what he sees as his constituents' interests. But the connection between Matsuoka's service for constituency interests that are undeniably endangered as Japan liberalizes its economy in the face of global market pressures and Matsuoka's legally questionable brokerage activities should also spur us to ask deeper questions about the purposes of politics in contemporary society. At times, the line between effective representation and illegitimate rent seeking is very thin. How do we know where to draw it? Given George Mulgan's thinly veiled despite for Matsuoka's political practices, I suspect she has a notion of where the line between vigorous but legitimate interest representation and corruption falls, but she does not make her perspective explicit.

I welcome George Mulgan's willingness to trace how Matsuoka sought to shore up his reputation for and expand his access to policy influence in agricultural and forestry affairs by following his gradual amassing of a [End Page 221] large portfolio of related committee assignments. Not only does such detail support George Mulgan's characterization of Matsuoka as an agriculture zoku legislator, it also gives us a rare window into how LDP and Diet committee work is related to policymaking and political power. I am deeply...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-4721
Print ISSN
0095-6848
Pages
pp. 220-224
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-15
Open Access
No
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