Takako Doi : Building an Opposition in Japan’s One-Party State

<i> Sam Jameson is The Times' Tokyo bureau chief. Shelby Coffey III is the editor of The Times. They interviewed Takako Doi in a conference reception room</i>

“The reason I became a politician lies in Hollywood,” Takako Doi, the charismatic chairwoman of the Japan Socialist Party, said during a break in a two-day meeting of U.S. and Japanese opinion-makers.

“I saw a movie. Its title was ‘Young Mr. Lincoln.’ I didn’t go because of the title but rather because I am a great fan of Henry Fonda,” she said. “I was deeply moved. So I wanted to become a lawyer. I entered the law school at university and ultimately became a politician.”

Her inspiration, she explained, was Lincoln’s “defense of a black person. Despite the fact that (Lincoln) was subjected to all kinds of accusations, he still continued. I was very moved.”

Today, Doi, 62, has herself become an inspiration, both to women in Japan and to any voter who wants Japan, which has been governed continuously by the Liberal Democratic Party and its conservative predecessors since 1948, to develop a two-party system.

The first woman to lead a major party in Japan, Doi has resuscitated her fading one-time Marxist ideologues into a party that scored major gains in the last two national elections after two decades of decline.


But critics say her charisma alone won’t be enough to carry the Socialists to power. Doi herself remains reserved in predictions of the future. The Socialists’ first chance to come close to winning an election in the House of Representatives, which elects the prime minister, won’t come until the second election from now, or another six years or so, she said.

Meanwhile, Doi has been trying to pull the Socialists into the mainstream of Japanese politics by uprooting the last vestiges of the party’s old Marxist policies. She plays down the party’s advocacy of abolishing the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty--indeed, she tries to avoid answering questions about it. She also has moved to improve her party’s contacts with the United States, which once were all but nonexistent.

Doi, a constitutional lawyer, is dedicated to upholding Japan’s postwar constitution that bans the use of force in settling international disputes. But she has supported overseas dispatch of non-military personnel to assist U.N. peacekeeping activities.

Relaxed and gracious in person, Doi exudes an aura of self-confidence and conviction--even when she is forced by divisions in her party’s political philosophy to speak with less than full candor. She displays a playful sense of humor, occasionally breaking into infectious laughter. Unlike many Japanese politicians, the self-proclaimed devotee of pachinko (upright slot machines) playing and karaoke (singing to music recorded without words), affects no airs of self-importance.

Question: Concerning a possible dispatch of Japanese people for the gulf effort, what personnel might help?

Answer: . . . Non-military personnel . . . who would be helpful to civilians . . . . The important condition is that (the dispatch) be based on a United Nations decision and be carried out at the request of the United Nations. Unless this requirement is met, it would be difficult to obtain the consensus of our people.

Q: What if the U.S. effort is a failure--and Saddam Hussein stays in Kuwait? Is Japan content to make its own arrangements and live with Hussein in Kuwait?

A: Didn’t the first U.N. resolution that was passed after the Aug. 2 invasion call for the withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait? Saddam Hussein used his military forces and invaded another country and occupied it, claiming that that country was his own territory . . . a violation of international law (that) flouts international opinion . . . . The U.N. resolution makes clear what should be done. We (Socialists) support that.

Q: Do you support a continuation of the economic sanctions against Iraq indefinitely if Hussein does not leave Kuwait?

A: Yes. The fact that economic sanctions do not quickly produce results raises difficulties. One must brace oneself for a passage of time before the effects emerge.

Q: So, you see the Americans as too impatient?

A: I’m quite short-tempered myself. But even for as short-tempered a person as I, . . . once you start firing . . . and get entwined in warfare, the situation will become irretrievable . . . . Whatever happens, that absolutely must be avoided.

Q: You said the United States should be patient. In exchange for American patience, is Japan willing to contribute more money for the maintenance of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia?

A: That would pose many problems . . . . The Japanese people strongly feel that if war occurs in the gulf, we will cross a bridge of no return . . . .

The United States has decided to add still more troops (but) the more troops and the stronger the weapons deployed, the greater the danger grows.

As we see it, a solution should not be sought by force or by military power but rather by peaceful means through diplomacy. That is the strong public opinion of Japan . . . . Just because the United States has made a request, the people find it hard to accept providing assistance for maintenance of American troops in the gulf. And if money is to be paid for the maintenance of military forces, Japan and the United States should have some kind of formal agreement. We don’t have such an agreement now.

Therefore, the people don’t understand us providing, first, $1 billion, and then $4 billion. There are many Japanese people who believe that (Prime Minister Toshiki) Kaifu decided on $1 billion and then added another $3 billion just because he received requests from the United States.

Any assistance in whatever form to military forces deployed in the gulf by the United States should be avoided. In addition, this is a case of America applying pressure.

I think Japan-U.S. relations are important. That we feel we have been pressured and finally provided the money is a minus to Japan-U.S. relations.

Q: Although you called yourself short-tempered, many women--around the world and in Japan--regard you as a heroine. Is that a difficult burden at times?

A: It’s always a burden.

Q: How do you cope? How do your try to live up to their high expectations?

A: I am an easy-going person and I don’t consciously take notice of their expectations. I have made up my mind to do whatever I can . . . . Things that can be done, I do forcefully . . . . If there are things which I cannot do, I simply say I cannot do it . . . and explain why . . . . But when I have promised to do something, I feel I must uphold that promise.

. . . . You have flattered me excessively. But if people were to embrace an exaggerated belief that I was a heroine or had power, it would lead to them thinking I was almighty and there was nothing I could not do. Superman exists in movies but not in real life.

Q. The Socialist Party was on the verge of death when you took over as chairwoman. The opposition won the election for the upper house of Parliament in July, 1989, but lost the lower house election of February, 1990. However, there was one element in both elections: tremendous gains by your party and losses by the other opposition parties. To what do you attribute that ?

A: There is a difference between a statesman and a politician. This is an era in which the people are looking for statesmen . . . . Perhaps, I had a “color” or an image that is different from the stereotyped image of politicians.

The more the people distrust politics, the more the old color and the old image politicians have, the more impossible it becomes to dispel distrust. People came to believe they could have no expectations of old-type politicians . . . .

Q: Does the plan by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) for the upcoming decade say interesting things for you? What would be the “Takako Doi Plan” for the next 10 years?

A: MITI’s plan . . . was based on the kind of thinking that goes into government “white papers,” not on real, everyday life. It doesn’t strike a true note with the people. Recently, I have come to the conclusion that I would like to draw up a 10-year plan.

In the Structural Impediments Initiative talks with the United States, Japan committed itself to spending 430 trillion yen ($3.3 trillion) on public works. That is a 10-year plan . . . .

Public works must not be carried out in the way we have done it in the past . . . . At least 70% should be used for social welfare. In the next 10 years, the population will grow considerably older.

In Japan, when you speak of public works . . . waterworks, sewage, roads . . . become the focus. The software side gets pushed aside. It is important we not forget human care . . . .

It is said that Japan is strong in economics and weak in welfare. Japan doesn’t have a consciousness of human rights proportionate to its economic power. That criticism hurts. But it is true.

We must raise the level of social welfare throughout the nation . . . . A “Basic Social Welfare Law” is absolutely necessary . . . . That should be a 10-year program.

In the next 10 years, internationally, we must clarify the standards for providing official development assistance (economic aid). In a word, our ODA . . . lacks any consideration of human rights.

. . . . We (also) fail to carry out follow-up investigations of the use of our aid . . . .

In the past, the Filipino people came to regard Japanese ODA as having been used to sustain the government of (the late President Ferdinand) Marcos . . . . We (Socialists) advocated that aid should have been frozen . . . .

In general, I believe that economic aid should not be given to military governments, . . . to countries involved in international disputes, to countries whose regimes were established through military coups or to countries where undemocratic politics are being conducted . . . . A democratic society is important. We think economic cooperation must contribute to the people’s livelihood . . . .

Q: On politics at home, how soon do you think it will be before you become prime minister? And what do you think would be the three most critical issues you would face?

A: . . . We must win an election for the House of Representatives to obtain a majority. It is difficult to foresee the possibility of that happening right now . . . .

The three problems?

Land is a very difficult problem, along with housing . . . . Also, fiscal problems . . . . We should rectify tax inequities . . . .

The most basic is political reform. With the exposure of corruption as the trigger, the issue of “elections that don’t cost money” has come to the forefront. But it is impossible to conduct an election that doesn’t cost money.

What we must do is create an election system in which it is impossible to use huge sums of money . . . and that will accurately reflect the sentiments of the voters, . . . a system that can be understood and trusted by the people . . . .

Internationally, since we are a member of Asia, I want to press for the adoption of specific confidence-building measures . . . including disarmament . . . in the Asia-Pacific region . . . .

Q: And vis-a-vis the United States?

A: Until now . . . both sides have focused on only a narrow view of just the bilateral relationship itself. In the future, we must make more importance of Japan-U.S. relations in the (context of the) world.

We must have more frank exchanges of opinions. We may have points of insufficient understanding and misperceptions about the United States. But among the views we hear coming from the United States, there are one-sided opinions that don’t match the conditions that exist.

For example, on the gulf problem, Americans say they understand our constititution (which bans the use of force to settle international disputes). And they go on and say they would welcome the dispatch of Japanese troops.

You get to the point where you want to ask, . . . “Which is it?” . . . .

Viewed from the United States, Japan’s efforts may be insufficient. But viewed from Japan, when the United States asks for help, we want to say, “Do you hear our voice?”

Q: Do you think the government is expressing that voice so that Americans can hear it?

A: That is the problem.

Q: If you became prime minister, wouldn’t you have trouble dealing with the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty (that the Socialist Party advocates abolishing)?

A: The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has changed--because of the change in the environment. Until now, the premise has been that the Soviet Union is the threat and the issue was how to deal with that threat. That assumption has disappeared.

The U.S.-Japan Security treaty itself must not become a threat. Strengthening the military aspect of the treaty or dealing with threats on the premise of confrontation should be abandoned. Japan-U.S. relations that are not founded upon a threat but rather based on cooperation between the two countries should be considered.

Military power should not get priority in our relations . . . the focus should be on how we can ensure security and peace.

Q: Do you still believe that a Socialist government must get rid of the treaty?

A: We could not quickly cut off the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty that has been maintained by Liberal Democratic Party governments. Change must come within the continuity of foreign policy. Mutual agreement is important. We do not intend to change it unilaterally.

Q: You are using the word, “change,” not “abolish.”

A: If it could be instantaneously abolished, that would be fine. If we tried to abolish it suddenly, we could not achieve a consensus between us. Achieving a mutual consensus is important. Bringing conditions to that point is vital . . . .

Q. Some voices in America feel that Japanese companies carry out unfair trade practices--like predatory pricing. Do you think that Japanese business practices are guiltless and that Americans are just whining and complaining?

A: . . . . We have no feeling that everything we are doing is perfect. We should check and verify complaints . . . . (But) I don’t think it is constructive at all . . . for both sides to wind up dealing with problems emotionally.

Q: When do you think Japan will surpass the United States in gross national product?

A: I don’t know. That is difficult to foretell.

Q: You do think it is going to happen?

A: If things go as they have been going (pause).

Fifteen years ago or 10 years ago, no one in Japan thought that the United States would become a debtor nation and that Japan would become a creditor nation. In the same way, when you ask about (Japan surpassing the United States in) GNP, perhaps you can say, “maybe.”

. . . . I am a person who experienced the immediate postwar period in Japan--from my late teens into the early 20s, when one is most alert and sensitive.

America was a blindingly dazzling existence in those days. In every home, there was a car. All Americans had homes. Roads were all over the country. There were uncountable attractions. It was an extraordinarily dazzling sight--especially because, for us, building an economy was a topic for the future then. We did not have enough food. If anyone had tried to think of today at that time--no way!

Therefore, when you ask if Japan will surpass the United States in GNP, that’s a very difficult question.