Is Japanese leadership broken?

From the NYT:

Never has postwar Japan needed strong, assertive leadership more — and never has its weak, rudderless system of governing been so clearly exposed or mattered so much…

Japan’s leaders need to draw on skills they are woefully untrained for: improvisation; clear, timely and reassuring public communication; and cooperation with multiple powerful bureaucracies.

Postwar Japan flourished under a system in which political leaders left much of its foreign policy to the United States and its handling of domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats. Prominent companies operated with an extensive reach into personal lives; their executives were admired for their role as corporate citizens.

But over the past decade or so, the bureaucrats’ authority has been eviscerated, and corporations have lost both power and swagger as the economy has foundered. Yet no strong political class has emerged to take their place. Four prime ministers have come and gone in less than four years; most political analysts had already written off the fifth, Naoto Kan, even before the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.

I wouldn’t quite put it that way, but the points are well-taken and the article is interesting throughout.

Comments

Isn't the times just rolling out an easy narrative here? Is there any support for the idea that a strong bureaucratic state would be dealing really effectively with an 8.9 earthquake and massive tsunami? I'm not an apologist for governments in general, but among the most absurd claims that come out of most disasters is that if only the state had better bureaucracy or smarter experts or took "good governance" more seriously, this black swan would have slid right on by with barely a ripple.

I agree. Besides, NYT is silent on where would the 'strong, assertive leadership' come from. The Japanese nationalists perhaps?

As far as no one taking leadership over the crisis, is the problem more indicative of a lack of "political leadership" or does it have more to do with a culture of saving face? In other words, would a change in political regime make much difference in a culture where shame is avoided at all costs?

Perhaps the U.S. has had strong leaders precisely because they don't have much shame. Giuliani had no shame, but he provided good leadership during a crisis. At any rate, I don't expect Japan to produce a Giuliani.

I had wondered something similar, that noone wanted to attach themselves to any message or action for fear of ultimate failure.

"At any rate, I don’t expect Japan to produce a Giuliani."

Thank Godzilla!

@JasonL
Well said.

Japan hasn't had an occasion to demonstrate these skills. After Hiroshima they've rarely had an event of this magnitude. Most of their financial and other crises have been ones of attrition and incremental changes. Nothing like adversity to bring out the best in people.

The answer is YES. Perhaps they should bring back the Tokugawa shogunate. I'm sure Tokugawa Yoshinobu's great grandson would be game.

Is PR that important for the Japanese? It seems if told not to panic, the people don't panic. While in the US, telling people not to panic causes a riot.

We have Reagan to advise us that government is the problem, not the solution, so a Japan following Reagan's lead is looking to the bankers, industrialists, the retailers, the builders, the private sector to step up and lead.

And to quote another comment, "Giuliani had no shame, but he provided good leadership during a crisis", perhaps the leadership needs to come from the Japanese crime syndicates, or do Japanese thieves have too much honor to qualify?

The Japanese are known to be indifferent to what foreigners are up to, and hence they are much less likely to learn foreign languages (Americans figure they don't have to because everyone else is learning English). I find it quite unlikely that their leaders are following cues from Reagan, or any post-war president.

My impressions of Japan studying under professors who included retired bureaucrats were:

The Japanese are inflexible in a way that is infuriating and flexible in a way that takes your breath away, but you do not know when these moments will arise;

When the first class-A war criminal got back as prime minister, he was asked why he was now just so completely pro-America, and he said in reply ‘ because they won’;

The liberal democratic party stayed in power for 50 years by co-opting the policies of its rivals quickly and without shame; and

The presence of many (pro-north Korean) communists and old style socialists in the Diet suggest a wide spectrum of political opinion and an openness to radical change.

My professor of political science prescribed this excellent book on how Japan works and the extent to which politicians “handling of domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats”:

Ramseyer and Rosenbluth, Japan's Political Marketplace (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

The authors argue that not only are the bureaucrats under the thumb through a system of back-loaded pay, judges who step out of line are transferred to family court duties way up north as near Siberia as possible for a long, long time.

The most trusted agent in one who thinks he is in charge because he has grown to think just like his principal and has no other ambitions than to serve them all my days.

Those that step out of line get the window seat as a lesson to the rest. One of my English language students at the Japan development bank told me that colleagues who had window seats were most unsettling reminders to others in the office.

The Left is always looking for an all-powerful ruler to make things right so it should come as no surprise that the New York Times bemoans the supposed lack of one four days into Japan's current plight. The Japanese are setting an example for all of Humanity with their civility under calamity.

Is the Japan leadership broken?

As opposed to the United States leadership?

The state of repair of leadership is nothing to brag about these days

This is actually kinda true since Japan has been doing great in terms of technology and innovation. However, I don't think the leadership is not the story but the followers.

A comparison is implied but not identified. Certainly the American response to Katrina did not consist of good improvisation, timely and reassuring public communication, or cooperation of multiple powerful bureaucracies. Remind me, how many nations have shown "strong, effective leadership" by simultaneously handling a major earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown?

It occurred to me that I don't care if they take the time to tell us the truth. You are busy. I get it. But don't waste time lying about it or downplaying it.

Postwar Japan flourished under a system in which political leaders left much of its foreign policy to the United States and its handling of domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats. Prominent companies operated with an extensive reach into personal lives; their executives were admired for

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