- Japan under the DPJ: The Politics of Transition and Governance ed. by Kenji E. Kushida and Phillip Y. Lipscy
This well-researched volume covers three main areas of interest that help us better understand Japan’s Democratic Party (DPJ), the long-time opposition party that ruled Japan from 2009 to 2012. Chapters by some of the best experts on Japanese politics cover electoral politics, domestic policy, and Japan’s foreign policy. Specifically, individual chapters cover topics including Japan’s response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, transportation policy, information technology policy, foreign policy (focusing on U.S.-Japan base disputes and the Senkaku Islands dispute with China), women in politics, local governments, media coverage of politics, candidate recruitment, small parties, policy convergence between Japan’s two major parties, and the urban-rural divide in voting.
As with most edited volumes, some chapters are fascinating and some leave the reader a bit unsatisfied. In summary, though, the volume makes two excellent contributions: (1) the extensive information provided about specific topics that are not well addressed elsewhere in the literature, and (2) the interesting insights about these specific topics, many of which have direct application to the politics of other countries. For example, the chapter on the Fukushima disaster by Kenji Kushida is a compelling read. Very few fictional bestsellers can compare with the gripping narrative of events presented in this chapter. The author also argues that much of the finger pointing in the wake of the disaster has been misplaced. Rather, the disaster and the ensuing response show how difficult it is in any true disaster to respond effectively and quickly. The chapter is a cautionary tale to those who think that such disasters are unlikely to be repeated because Japanese failures can be explained by poor political leadership, something unlikely to occur in a different country.
Similarly, chapters on Japanese foreign policy by Christopher Hughes and Daniel Sneider puncture the balloon of the supposed incompetence of the DPJ as an explanation of why Japan-U.S. and Japan-China relations worsened dramatically during the period of DPJ rule. Though DPJ missteps were important causes of the problems, U.S. nonresponsiveness to Japanese changes, Chinese escalation, and a willingness of the Japanese foreign policy bureaucracy to undercut its own government in negotiations with the [End Page 448] United States all provide a much more nuanced and realistic picture of these foreign policy disputes.
Alisa Gaunder’s chapter on women in politics teaches us the importance of not stopping our analysis at just the number of women in a legislature. We must also consider the pathways to power and political influence, realizing that four landslide elections in a row, as has occurred in Japan, will make it nearly impossible for the women elected in these landslides to build their legislative influence. The victorious party in three of the four landslide elections has differed from the previous winning party, removing nearly all the women swept into office in the previous landslide. Additionally, this chapter shows how important the image of a woman candidate can be to a party trying to burnish its reformist credentials. Women candidacies may be about the political power of women, but they may also be about the image the party is trying to project to voters.
In preparing for this review, I identified several topics that an excellent book on the DPJ would ideally cover. First, I thought such a book should address policy differences or similarities with the previous and subsequent governments of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Specifically, I hoped for a discussion of the U.S.-Japan security relationship, North Korea, the Senkaku Islands, U.S. military bases, and constitutional revision. Second, I hoped the book would cover the most important issue of Japanese politics: Why is it that the LDP has been able to rule Japan with almost no alternation in power? Does the fault lie in the quality of the...