People in Japan are becoming increasingly aware of a major reason why so many Japanese politicians are perhaps not suited for the job—the ever increasing number of seshu giin, or hereditary politicians, who followed family members into politics without ambition or passion.
Japanese politics is open only to a limited number of elite, and the dynamism of Japan’s democracy has been in crisis for decades. In addition to Mr. Nakagawa—whose father is a former minister of agriculture—Prime Minister Aso and 11 of his 18 cabinet ministers are also seshu giin. The three most recent leaders, Mr. Aso, Yasuo Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, are all sons or grandsons of past prime ministers. Sadly, becoming prime minister is no longer a common dream for children in Japan.
Witnessing these sudden resignations in the less than year-old Aso cabinet, people have begun questioning the capability of the second and third generation of political families. The Japanese traditionally admire bloodlines or family trees as much as they admire the emperor, but they are also gradually realizing that politics should be different from the arts or entertainment like kabuki. However, it is unfortunate for voters who are frustrated with the increase of seshu giins that the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, is yet another politician who directly succeeded his father.
For the next election, Shinjiro Koizumi, age 27, the second son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi who announced his retirement last year, is running for his father’s old seat. Shinjiro Koizumi lacks any professional experience other than as a research associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a highly-regarded think tank in Washington D.C., but he does have ready-made local support and an existing political machine. His opponent from the DPJ is an equally young lawyer with no political background in his family. Recent media polls predict Shinjiro Koizumi’s landslide victory.
Once elected, he will be the fourth generation to join the “family business.” But those polls were held before Mr. Nakagawa’s resignation. Whether the finance minister’s disgraceful behavior will be a wake up call to the Japanese voters, who are far more embarrassed than the minister himself, is not yet clear.
Nobuyoshi Sakajiri is Asia Society’s Bernard Schwartz Fellow based in Washington, D.C. He was the Beijing correspondent of the Japanese newspaper, Asahi Shimbun, from 2005 to August 2008.