August 30, 1994
The New Bestseller by . . . Ozawa?
Usually there's no point to learning the political line-ups of either Italy or Japan. By the time you figure out who holds what job, someone else is there. George Bush dealt with four Japanese prime ministers during his term, and Bill Clinton has already dealt with four.
But there is one Japanese politician whose name is worth remembering. The name is Ichiro Ozawa, and it can be found on the author's page of a new book.
At age 52, Ozawa is still a lad by Japanese standards. For nearly a decade he has been a deal-maker and money man in Japanese politics, first with the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party and now with the insurgent "Shinseito" or "New Life" party, which he helped form. These years of inside work created a serious image problem for Ozawa during Japan's current anti-corruption mood, but he has dramatically redeemed his reputation by writing a book called A Blueprint for Reform of Japan. The book was a huge bestseller last year in Japanese and now has been published in English, by Kodansha.
The book's main argument is the oddly revolutionary idea that Japan should become a "normal" country. By this Ozawa means that Japan should shake off many of the political, corporate, and social traits that until now have made it rich.
Ozawa issues a list of freedoms Japanese people have been denied but should enjoy. They include "freedom from the corporation" and from the hard, modern Japanese life of endless work, long commutes, tiny dwellings, and sky-high costs. He calls for "freedom from Tokyo," and an end to the centralized micro-management of the country's schools, banks, local governments, and even some companies by bureaucrats in the capital. He wants "freedom from ageism and sexism," to expand the narrow roles now assigned to men, women, students, the aged, and other groups in Japan.
This is no small agenda, but Ozawa's book lays out a variety of specific changes in Japan's tax code, legislative structure, and economic strategy to help bring it about.
Like many other modern Japanese, Ozawa feels that his country has been diminished by converting itself into a workhouse and export machine. To become a full-fledged, "normal" nation, he concludes, Japan should, like Germany, have a real military -- though one used only in UN missions or in conjunction with the United States.
This may seem like more than you want to know about Japanese politics, but the book is clearly written and takes only an hour or two to read. And even if you've already forgotten.
Copyright © 1995, by James Fallows. All Rights Reserved.