Come back, Koizumi. Japan needs you

TOKYO —

As a communalistic society built on consensus-based decision making, mutual agreement and compromise, strong & decisive leadership has never been strongly encouraged by Japanese society as a whole. In the West, the most successful companies are oftentimes founded on a meritocratic basis, and are led by strong and competent CEOs with sound business acumen. Japanese corporations, by contrast, are usually managed by a wide board of directors chosen based on seniority and his dedication toward the company over the course of each individual’s career.

Now, this difference is one that many are already aware of.

There are also many books comparing and contrasting the differences and similarities between Japanese and Western-style executive management, sometimes to a degree of near-incomprehensibility. No; this piece is not intended to fully understand the intricacies between both, but rather note its significance to and application in Japanese politics in the larger scheme of things; why it would be to Japan’s favor to bring former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi out of retirement and back into the political spectrum.

To understand why the leadership situation in Japan is the way it is, it is important for observers to first understand the way things are done in the Land of the Rising Sun. And to understand the way things are done in Japan, we must first look at the root of humanity and what makes society tick: education.

There’s no question that the pre-university education received by most Japanese is one of the hardest in the world. Though the standard has been relaxed in recent years, the Japanese curriculum outlines course material a year ahead of its Western-taught equivalent. The result is a highly educated workforce capable of the most infinitesimal of calculations, and that is able to take and pass difficult entrance examinations that predetermine one’s future career and prospects.

The problem and unfortunate downside to this systematic approach to learning are students who are able to memorize and spit out formulas, but are unable to apply these concepts practically and in an analytical manner. By the time they hit working age, such skills become absolutely useless to the majority of graduates anyway. In Japan, you see, jobs prospects and advancement up the corporate and public ladder are based more on loyalty to one’s organization and who you know rather than your ability to solve an issue using said skills. Students – now adults – never develop the ability to think critically, and approach every problem in the same way that they have done in the past.

This lack of analytical thinking, compounded with the societal push for conformity & group-based management, has led the country to use the same approach in its attempt to tackle every problem. If consumer demand plummets, pump money into the system in the form of incentives and tax breaks. To fight deflation, lower the interest rates. To curb the appreciation of the yen, print more money. To promote local industry, build more civil infrastructure and random, superficial tourist “attractions.” This has led Japan to its current state of economic malaise, and has had its leaders come up with Band-Aid, symptomatic solutions to the country’s equivalent of needing a triple-bypass surgery.

The only exception to this rule was Koizumi. Though public opinion on the man’s legacy remains split, it is difficult to argue against the work Koizumi put into reforming Japan from inside-out. By the time the now-69 year old veteran politician left office, the fiscal reforms that he had pushed during his five year tenure resulted in 3.2% economic growth in FY 2006, in addition to a 66% rise in the TSE’s stock market index. He was also noted for being the first Japanese prime minister to force lenders to cut bad loans, slashed public spending by 33% and sent corporate profits through the roof. Unemployment during his tenure fell, and wages under his administration rose.

Koizumi, in effect, left Japan better off economically than the Japan he was faced with in 2001. That’s something that (to this day) no Japanese prime minister can say his administration has achieved.

But what made Koizumi work? What made him different from the rest?

Koizumi, you see, was an outlier. Unlike the systematic, robotic approach taken by his predecessors and successors, Koizumi was a leader who stood for reform; a politician who wasn’t so much concerned about his popularity and approval in the party (in fact, he was anything but), but was focused on resolving the core issues that were and continue to plague Japan. Koizumi was not a populist – though he was popular – and did not try to appease everyone, but took a firm stance to most issues and tackled them from a critical and analytic point of view. Koizumi was the anti-stereotype of the Japanese politician, and that served Japan well while he was still in power.

Fast forward 5 years, and Japan is now faced with a political power crisis. Naoto Kan is being pressured to resign, and there are currently few viable candidates for the seat of prime minister. Faced with the highest debt to GDP ratio of any country in the developed world; an aging population; deflation and apathy from its youth, what Japan needs now is to wake from its slumber, and to revive the country in the same way that it had been during the Meiji Restoration. What Japan needs now is sweeping reform. Who better to bring about said reform than the maverick leader himself?

Come back, Koizumi. Japan needs you.

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  • 0

    ihavegreatlegs

    I have read much of him. Seemed like a pretty smart independent guy.

  • -3

    some14some

    Come back, Koizumi. the writer of this article needs you not Japan. I won't mind his return if same call is given to G.W. Bush and he takes charge as commander-in-chief of the USA.

  • 1

    NetNinja

    Nah, Koizumi. Every man needs to rest. One can only imagine the political nightmare that is Japanese Government. Better to take a long vacation and enjoy some Mojitos while listening to Elvis.

  • -4

    johninnaha

    What's needed is not so much a leader as someone who represents the people.

    That person would have to be a good listener and have some kind of feedback system in place where he or she could find out what the people of Japan want and get it for them.

    I don't see Konezumi - I'm sorry Koizumi - as that at all. He's just another cantankerous know-it-all oyaji.

  • 0

    paulinusa

    While you can argue Japan needs a strong leader, Koizumi's moment and methods are of the past. Different era, different needs.

  • 1

    tkoind2

    Koizumi still represented the LDP establishment. His time in office looks good largely relative to all that followed. He did very little for the general welfare of working class people in Japan. And his policies were largely beneficial to industry while ignoring the needs of the people.

    It is sad when the only reference we have for Japan's recent leadership is a charismatic but essentially non-beneficial leader like Koizumi. It is telling for the "leaders" who have followed him.

    Now if we have to choose between the return of Abe or my least favorite Aso, then give me Koizumi any day. But think for a moment, that means restoring the LDP to power. And do we really want that gentrified self interested party in power any more than the inept DPJ?

    What Japan really needs is new leadership. And that includes a new political party that is interested in the well being of the people.

    If the young politicians of Japan are sincere in wanting to exact change and show their potential for leadership, they should abandon their existing parties and kick off an entirely new party. They should encourage leadership, reject the old policies of both the LDP and DPJ in favor of new policies centered around the well being of the majority of Japanese and not just the elite.

    A non-lethal coup based upon a new vision for Japan and the growth and development of real leadership and real political change.

    Sadly this is an unrealistic dream by a foreigner who wishes that Japan could produce new and inspiring leaders. Sadly I don't see any light at the end of Japan's political tunnel. Koizumi included.

  • 0

    whiskeysour

    Peter you got it wrong !!!!

    Come back, Koizumi. Japan needs you.

    Actually, he`s not needed now. The most serious problem is toad man Ozawa.

    Once he`s out of the loop the whole country can move on.

    Also get rid of people over 53 years old. Make them retire.

    Than you will have a chance of rebuilding japan.

    This is sad but alllllll so true

  • -1

    Badsey

    When you have great hair -everything is just easy it seems. Koizumi never missed a photo-op and always looked good. Koizumi would have made sure the Women's World Cup Champions got the attention they deserve and always made time.

    Now you have the Royal Family taking up the slack with this Tsunami/Radiation disaster. -And that is nice.

    Since Koizumi is gone people have not picked-up the slack. Some have but not everyone, so you have disfunction and uncertainty. Koizumi probably put in 18-20hr days everyday and was a role model for others.

  • 0

    LFRAgain

    "Also get rid of people over 53 years old. Make them retire."

    Excuse me?

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    Koizumi only had one real agenda, which was to break the back of the postal savings system. Oh, and he lowered taxes for high-income earners, creating the continuously widening kakusa-shakai (gap between rich and poor). I'll concede he was less greedy than many and likeable (or a hard man to hate if you prefer), but that's not necessarily a sign of competence as a leader. At best it can said Koizumi fares a tad better than the blokes who followed him -- Abe, Fukuda, Aso, Hatoyama and Kan.

  • 0

    gaijinfo

    What Koizumi did isn't difficult. Lower corporate taxes to attract business. Lower taxes across the board to increase spending and thereby increase government tax revenues. Cut government spending in order to lower the debt.

    These three things can be done by anybody, and will allow the economy to grow.

    Unfortunately, few politicians have the cajones to do this, because they feel they need to spend spend spend to remain in power.

    This problem, the difference between doing what works and doing what pleases voters in the short term, has nothing to do with Japanese education. It is endemic in every country on Earth.

  • -1

    BurakuminDes

    Why not just install his son as PM? That's what they always do, it'll work a treat!

  • -1

    Virtuoso

    These three things can be done by anybody, and will allow the economy to grow.

    Thanks @gaijininfo for this "Economics for Dummies" lesson. Maybe Japan will take a cue from the US and mobilize an "ocha" party.

  • -3

    Skeptical Hippo

    In that case I'd rather have DAIGO (Japanese "talent" and grandson of a former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita) behind the wheel.

    WISH!!!

  • 1

    Michael Craig

    Koizumi was different from the others! Give him another go!

  • 1

    Virtuoso

    @Skeptical, In somebody's blog not long ago I saw an amusing DVD of Takeshita's grandson DAIGO in an Nazi SS uniform, singing in front of a chorus line of women with their arms extended in Nazi salutes. I don't think this will contribute to his future career in politics.

  • 1

    OrangeW3dge

    It's not so much what he did, but how he did it. Because he was a leader that made (makes) him different from the rank-and-file. Current Japanese politics are too jealous to have a leader in place because it makes the rest of the cows look bad (or at least ineffectual). They wanted Koizumi out because they can't handle the guilt of their own inaction and nepotism. I'm pretty sure that none of them even open a book to read anymore, except maybe a comic book or porn mag.

  • -3

    Skeptical Hippo

    Virtuoso:

    Wasn't that the music group Kishidan (DJ OZMA)?

  • 1

    globalwatcher

    Get rid of Ozawa first. He should be in jail.

  • 1

    CruzControl

    Koizumi was quite a character and Japan could use him right now.

    And I love having a post office open 7 days a week 24 hours a day with people helping you out while you are in line.

  • 0

    tokyokawasaki

    A change to the system is required, not changing the leader. The leader is nothing more than a face (window dressing) under the current system. The system is corrupt, selfish and does not represent the needs of the Nation. The system is self serving first and foremost. it does not matter who the leader is, because he/she has no real power.

  • -7

    steve@CPFC

    They could train a chimp to do a better job than those idiots and that includes Koizumi the negligent disgrace of a father.

  • -1

    BurakuminDes

    @ Steve - finally agree with you, brother!

  • -4

    Skeptical Hippo

    Only four years of marriage and three sons. Why was his wife unhappy with the marriage?

  • 1

    cactusJack

    Koizumi got into the least trouble...so that is why we need him?

  • 1

    chewitup

    Having a strong leader is grossly over-rated, especially by westerners. I could name a long list of strong leaders that would make you want to vomit. Saddam, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini,...need I go on?

    Its an amazing feat of duality to request a strong leader on one hand and democracy on the other.

    A strong leader can be good in a jam such as what Japan is in now. A strong leader could have been good if he was focused on making sure TEPCO did not cut corners. But just having a strong leader in general at the top is good for what exactly? Who knows what direction he will go?

    I think the people are in agreement that the nukes need a firm hand. So make a body to do that and put a strong leader at its top. But a general strong leader is not needed nor wanted by me. Seems to me most bases are covered and I don't want PMs and the Diet making new random laws based on new fangled ideas as job security that just causes us trouble down the road. I like the general gridlock. If we had had more gridlock my tax money would not have been blown on scanners at the airport and I would not get fingerprinted as I come back.

  • 1

    billyshears

    This should be entitled "Japan needs a new Koizumi". He has already said he would never come back. And who do the Japanese people themselves want in power? In a recent poll to find the answer to that question, the number one spot was filled by...(Beat) Takeshi Kitano!!! BTW, this article is full of simplistic and naive stereotyping about the education system here and the behavior of those who live in "The Land of the Rising Sun". In fact. this hackneyed expression automatically detracts from the value of any article that purports to give any kind of insight on Japan.

  • 0

    Kwaabish

    Yes, bring back Koizumi. Of course, the PRC would get pissed off since Diet members would start going back to Yasukuni, but...

  • 2

    Serrano

    Koizumi can't come back because his party is out of power and will probably continue to be out of power. Minshuto will probably hang on to the Lower House in the next election.

  • 0

    melguy

    @skeptical It was daigo. Search for "breakerz real love 2010" - its on youtube and youku.

  • -3

    Skeptical Hippo

    Thanks for that

  • -1

    yokatta

    No, I don't think he (Koizumi) would be able to deal with today's realities in Japan.

  • -1

    janssen_g

    I totally agree!

    Koizumi was a great exception on the sad bunch of policians in Japan. There are serious issues to be solved, and the current political clan doesn't have the will or competency to tacke even a sigle issue anytime soon.

    What about Tōru Hashimoto, the young and energetic governor of Osaka? I hear good things about his performance. With a strong personality and disliked by many (old) politicians he seems like a great candidate for the Prime Minister's job. Unfortunately, lacking the old family connection and refusing to pay lip service to the likes of Ozawa, it is unlikely he will have a chance.

    Let's keep hoping for actual change some day!

    George

  • 0

    Virtuoso

    Skeptical@Kishidan did it too, but you can find Daigo doing something even more offensive in YouTube I think.

  • 1

    MASSWIPE

    Not bad writing for a teenager (Peter Dyloco is just 16-17 years old; look it up). But Japan's political problems are rooted in its system, not its leaders. The Upper House should be either abolished altogether or its powers severely limited, a la the House of Lords in Britain. This accounts for the "twisted parliaments" and endless gridlock in Japan.

  • -1

    tmarie

    Koizumi is the one that screwed with the haken length and made it very difficult for those without PT jobs. He has the charisma but many people overlook all the damage he did to the country. He is also to blame for the crappy economy, the crappy education system, the pension numbers going missing, the nuclear safety issues, roads to nowhere... No idea why people think he is some sort of God. He was also a petty little baby with Makiko Tanaka and basically blocked her from every moving up into power - which I think was a huge mistake.

    Add in that his wife divorced him WHILE pregnant and he's never met his youngest son... not exactly someone who stands for family values. Don't let the hair and smile fool you.

    And he can take his arrogant, silver spoon mouthed son with him.

  • 1

    BurakuminDes

    Come back, Koizumi. Japan needs you

    Like a hole in the head

  • 0

    tokyotom

    OMG, my wife and i have had this conver many times need a leader!

  • 1

    kchoze

    "In the West, the most successful companies are oftentimes founded on a meritocratic basis, and are led by strong and competent CEOs with sound business acumen."

    Excuse me while I go laugh myself to death in the corner...

    ...Yeah, sorry for the interruption. The truth is that most CEOs in the West are rapacious mercenaries, who bolster the short-term at the expense of the long-term, then use their golden parachutes to escape before problems manifest. Since CEOs are a class in themselves and nearly all pals with themselves, they just go from company to company with the support of their pals. People like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are the exception, not the rule.

    Japanese business management may not be flashy, but it certainly has been successful. People act like Toyota is a disaster, but a company that grows from a local producer to #1 in the world in 40 years and falls back a bit isn't what I would call a failure. Japanese companies are well represented in a lot of economic sectors, especially high added-value technological sectors, previously dominated by American giants, most of which have disappeared.

    I'll take the Japanese consensus-building, loyalty-rewarding way over the American mercenary, slash and burn way any day. It certainly isn't perfect and prone to fear of reform, but it's nonetheless better, especially in the long run.

  • -1

    sfjp330

    kchozeJul. 22, 2011 - 04:51AM JST. Japanese business management may not be flashy, but it certainly has been successful.

    They are no longer successful. Only few. There has been record number of bankruptcies in Japan and they are less competitive in the world because of reluctance to change quickly. Japanese businessmen and CEO's are too conservative on their approach to their product lines. They do think in a long lerm, but times has change to think more of short term because Japanese products demands are changing quickly, similar to the west. If the Japanese do business in the U.S. or in China, the problem with Japanese businessmen is that they have communication problem and they think from very Japanese viewpoint, and they don't mingle with the locals and they stay in their own Japanese groups. They have very narrow view of the world. The Japanese really don't understand the importance of psycology and communication skills that are needed to make the transition more respectful and equal. Compare to the west, such as U.S. companies they have foundation everywhere in the world, including China. Japan will not equal the leverage of Americans because they are not able to communicate deeply and develop more respectful equal business relationship. Only few Japanese businessmen understand this but when these talented executive returns to Japan, they have to stay in the harmony of old corporate habits. Japan cannot change.

  • -2

    globalwatcher

    kchoze, thank you for your interest on this topic. I would like to add the difference between leaders and managers.

    A great leader does the right thing while managers do how to do it right.

  • -2

    herefornow

    Having a strong leader is grossly over-rated, especially by westerners. I could name a long list of strong leaders that would make you want to vomit. Saddam, Mao, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini,...need I go on?

    chewitup -- silly comment. The atricle is about democratically elected LEADERS, not dictators/fascists. Your point adds nothing to the conversation. (But, why didn't you put the Emperor on the list? Japan's atrocities were as bad as those you list.) In any case, and on topic, Japan needs a Koizumi-like leader. All the faction-led, old-time politics has only dug Japan a deeper hole in the past five years. And now the Tohoku disaster and Fukushima-related problems have only made it worse. Concensus style is great when things are good, and the issues are more related to who gets what. But concensus is a disaster when tough decisions need to be made to turn things around.

  • 0

    Tim Bedwell

    This article absolute trash. What did Koizumi ever do to to really solve Japan's problems? Did he help out in foreign relations with China? No, he purposely pissed them off. Did he reform the education system? No. Did he do anything but what right wing jerks always do, being the lap dogs of rich corporation's interests? No. He might have had some leadership skills too, but Japan needs a fresh start in politics, not the same old cronyism and bull.

  • 0

    mushroomcloudmaster

    If this Koizumi character comes back, he will face the reality of a diminished Japan, languishing in China's shadow. That fact alone might be way too much for him.

  • 1

    Scrote

    I disagree that the pre-university education in Japan is "one of the hardest in the world": if it's so good why do so many children go to Juku? It is good at turning out young adults who are numerate, literate and able to follow instructions without question: people ideal for factory work. But what Japan needs is creative people who can think for themselves and its education system utterly fails in that regard. These are reasons why my son is now studying overseas: the Japanese education system isn't good enough.

    As for Koizumi: he introduced laws allowing large companies to use part-time workers. Average salaries fell as a result and are still falling. He created a whole underclass of insecure, low wage earners, able to be discarded like trash by big business when they no longer generated sufficient profit. Great for the companies, not so great if you can't find a full time job.

    He so antagonised China and Korea with his continual worship of war criminals that their prime ministers refused to meet with him. Inflexible, pig-headedness are hardly the traits a country needs in its leader.

    He promised to reduce government borrowing below Y30 trillion per year, but failed.

    He promised to privatise the postal service, but failed.

    I can't think of anything positive that Koizumi did for the Japanese people. Yet they elected his acknowledged son despite all of the above. They must see something I don't: maybe they are beguiled by the hair? "That Koizumi has lumbered me with a low paid, menial job, but his hair sticks up so I'll be voting for his son".

  • 0

    John Ray

    Imagine my disappointment, I thought they meant Koizumi Kyoko!!

  • 0

    warnerbro

    "Koizumi, you see, was an outlier." Not an outlier, just a liar. He was a Ronald Reagan type whose policies were the reverse of his rhetoric. His work massively expanded Japan's public debt.

  • 0

    miamum

    In the West, the most successful companies are oftentimes founded on a meritocratic basis, and are led by strong and competent CEOs with sound business acumen.

    OK, stop right there.

  • 0

    Fokuz Live Free

    if he actually had a positive impact on japan then that's cool, but i read on a comment that someone compared he to g.w. bush that's bad.

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