Shadows of inherited power

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Shadows of inherited power

The author is the Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“Japanese politics is a big problem. Politicians are princes who inherited power, and officials and districts only flatter them. So they don’t have the basic senses,” complained a Japanese professor who is knowledgeable in Korean and Japanese situations. He mentioned Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cherry blossom-viewing party arranged with tax money inviting 800 residents of his district, and the Morimoto scandal in which treasury officials fabricated documents after the prime minister said he would step down if he or his wife were involved.

In Japan, many tend to find the discrepancy between public sentiment and politics stems from the sense of privilege among the Liberal Democrats. Politicians, who inherited the district and support groups, reputation and fund from their fathers and grandfathers, sway politics and continue to form their own league far from national consciousness. Nine out of 10 Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) chairmen in the past 30 years — and 72 of the 218 Liberal Democrats who won the small districts in the Diet election in 2017 — are hereditary politicians. Eight of the 20 current cabinet members can be identified as hereditary politicians.

Koreans can hardly be convinced. But the atmosphere in Japan is different. Japanese people think that well-bred hereditary politicians are better than sloppy self-made men. A source in the Korean Residents Union in Japan who is familiar with the internal situation of the LDP said that the party assigns exclusive teachers to the hereditary politicians, who have the potential to become prime minister, for education in various fields. They think it is safer to nurture proper hereditary politicians rather than promoting new faces without family roots who may cause trouble.

It is also a characteristic in Japanese society to have relatively little rejection to heredity or privilege. As Japan has little chance for social mobility, people think it is natural to follow the hereditary class rather than moving up through intense competition. It is natural in Japan that admission to an elementary school affiliated to a prestigious private university practically guarantees admission to college. Some middle school admission includes interviews with students’ parents.

Some Japanese people who are frustrated with the political and social system envy the dynamic nature of Korean society. But I don’t think it is so enviable considering the subpar behaviors clearly exposed in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections. A candidate even publicized that he was born to a father from Chungcheong and a mother from Jeolla. I am not sure if these politics are any better than the hereditary politics in Japan.
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