The Yomiuri ShimbunPolitics during the Heisei era brought Japan 17 prime ministers in addition to changes of regimes. The so-called 1955 system (see below) under the rule of the Liberal Democratic Party collapsed, changing the shape of politics dramatically.
Jin Mayama is an author whose novels, including “Hagetaka,” set in Japan after the collapse of the bubble economy, explore social themes. We spoke to him about the 30 years of the Heisei era. The following are excepts from the interview.
The Yomiuri Shimbun: What kind of age was the 30 years of the Heisei era?
Mayama: To express it in one word, it was an age of “disturbance.” Things that we had taken for granted and that were said to be stable fell to pieces, so much so that it felt like one thing after another after another. The many myths of postwar Japan collapsed.
Q: What do you mean, specifically?
A: The bubble burst in the 1990s, and the myth of growth became a thing of the past. The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 was the first earthquake to hit a major urban area since World War II. The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system came as the final blow, collapsing the myth of public safety. The lifetime employment system became uncertain, the sense of the company being like family disappeared, and the sense of local bonds also weakened. The jigsaw puzzle known as Japan fell to pieces. It is impossible to put it back together, though you may try. That is my impression of the Heisei era.
Q: Why did it happen?
A: The Showa era was trying too hard. Postwar Japan grew; it changed. It pushed its way through to create a better country, no matter what. It was captive to the illusion of growth, thinking there was still lots of room to strive even harder. It was aware of the downside — that if things kept going in the same way, we were going to end up in a pretty bad state later, but it did not look this issue squarely in the face. The abundance that we had during the period of rapid growth — that kind of thing does not last forever. Looking at the structure of the population, we should have known that a super-aging society was going to arrive. Nevertheless, we failed to prepare for it. The Heisei era is still paying for the Showa era.
Political power put to the test
Q: The 1955 system collapsed and the regime changed.
A: After the time of San-kaku-dai-fuku-chu (see below), there were fewer powerful politicians in the LDP. The change of regime that we saw during the Heisei era seems to have been a matter of destiny.
Q: Do you feel any difference between Showa- and Heisei-era politicians?
A: Showa-era politicians were keenly aware of their raison d’etre. I guess they wanted to rise up from the devastation after the war, that they wanted to do something for Japan. Power often breeds corruption, and cases of corruption did occur. Even so, these politicians had the good grace to pull out at the times that they needed to, in order to improve the country. I do not sense this kind of dignity in Heisei politicians.
Q: There were 17 prime ministers in the Heisei era.
A: The Heisei era put political power to the test. Sometimes, politicians are there to take tough demands to the people. You could say that politics is the most meaningful at times when priorities are set and strong measures are taken, for example with recovery after an earthquake or concerning financial problems including the consumption tax. It is democracy that gets consent, that persuades a populace that is going to be asked to endure such things. The Heisei era lacked the political strength to carry this out. They are caught up in the illusion that democracy is unanimous accord.
Q: The decline in the quality of politicians has been pointed out.
A: Looking at the words and deeds of politicians who have been problematic recently, one can not help but feel that they have lost all sense of shame. The Diet no longer debates policy. All it does is put on a performance for the elections.
A much-needed change of regime
Q: Six years have passed since the inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet.
A: Being a long-running administration, it has strong leadership and a sense of stability. In order to take the next steps in policy, it should let bureaucrats work with freedom and authority. The current situation is a top-down one, with politicians controlling who will be appointed to top management positions, and this is demotivating. Politicians must not seek quick results, only thinking about the immediate future. This makes bureaucrats waste away, fearful of giving advice or taking action.
Q: Do we need a change of regime?
A: When I am asked if a change of regime would be good, I reply with a “yes.” This is with the proviso that something like the Democratic Party of Japan administration that we had will definitely not suffice. The biggest event of the Heisei era was the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. Until that time, I suspect that most people would have thought that one prime minister is just as good as any other. I suspect that watching the DPJ administration stray off course back then might have made people think differently.
Q: What about the current situation?
A: If we had an opposition that kept the ruling party on their toes, then a change of regime would be good. If that is difficult, I would like to see a regime change within the LDP. We had that when we had the electoral system with multiple representatives per constituency for House of Representatives elections. While this had its pluses and minuses, intraparty factions had strengths and “changes in administration” did happen between the factions. A wide range of ideas from right to left were accepted as well. That is why I wanted more candidates to appear in the LDP presidential elections.
Mentally prepared for the future
Q: How do you view the political consciousness of the people?
A: Politics is truly raw. It stays in balance because someone wins and someone loses. However, it seems that the people try to see everything as clean and nice. They lack the imagination to feel pain. There are real hurdles involved in trying to write about politics in a novel. The people do not really feel things, despite the magnitude of the financial crisis that is facing Japan.
Q: Any hope for post-Heisei?
A: I think that people 40 years old and over are still caught up in the Showa-era illusion of growth. With a change in generations, the way that people think will also change. I tell young people to think of it as an opportunity if they see the older generation with pained looks on their faces. For example, things in the social security system that are positives for older generations are negatives for younger generations. Young people who find their interests are in conflict should just tell the older generation to move over. It is also good for the older generation to tell young people that they will make way for them.
When considering what lies ahead for Japan, everyone speaks of doing things “for the sake of the future.” But these words must be said with full mental preparation for the possibility that people who say them may be sacrificed in the name of this cause.
(This interview was conducted by Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer Yoshihisa Watanabe.)
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 27, 2018)
■ Jin Mayama, 56 / Novelist
Born in Osaka Prefecture. Mayama graduated from the law department at Doshisha University and worked as a reporter at Chubu Yomiuri Shimbun before becoming a novelist. He recently released “Syndrome,” a dramatic novel depicting the takeover of an electric power company that suffered a nuclear power plant accident caused by a major earthquake. He is currently writing the serial novel “Lockheed: Why Kakuei Was Buried” carried in the Shukan Bunshun magazine.
■ The 1955 system
It refers to the political system in place in Japan from 1955, the year the Liberal Democratic Party was formed through the merger of two conservative parties: the Japan Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. A long period of LDP rule continued for 38 years until the 1993 general election, when the LDP lost its overall majority, and the “non-LDP, non-Communist party” coalition government of Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa was inaugurated. The opposition was led by the Japan Socialist Party.
The term refers to Takeo Miki, Kakuei Tanaka, Masayoshi Ohira, Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone, who led factions within the LDP and who served as prime ministers during the 1970s and ’80s. Tanaka won the Kaku-Fuku war in the LDP presidential election in 1972 and was succeeded through election by Miki, who was critical of Tanaka’s money-driven politics. Due to a campaign by faction leaders against Miki, he was replaced through an election by Fukuda, who later lost to Ohira in the LDP presidential primary election of 1978. Under the 1955 system, the LDP experienced repeated pseudo-changes of regime.Speech