AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 204

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Session 204: How is the DPJ Changing Japan?: Women, Denizens, and the Poor

Organizer: Alisa Gaunder, Southwestern University, USA

Discussant: Alisa Gaunder, Southwestern University, USA

How has the election of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government in 2009 changed the policy-making process and public policy in Japan? This panel explores this question by focusing on policy areas related to underrepresented people, including women, children, denizens (foreign residents) and the poor. The DPJ won the general election with slogans that resonated with these groups. Its campaign slogans “people’s livelihood first” and “from concrete to the people” suggested that the DPJ would rebuild the social security system and strengthen the rights of minorities and the underprivileged. Prospects for such changes revitalized previously marginalized social movements. By examining changes and continuities in these policy areas and social movements, this panel will speak to the impact of the alternation of power in Japanese politics. Our panel not only explores changes within the state but also between the state and society. The DPJ has proposed new parameters for the state-society relationship which would enhance democratic accountability and strengthen civil society. This redefinition will impact the new types of organizations our panel considers: advocacy groups for gender equality and suffrage for foreign residents as well as nonpartisan movements such as the anti-poverty network. Our panel is both cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural. It consists of political scientists and sociologists from different institutions in Japan and the U.S. The presenters’ cross-sectional analysis of the DPJ’s influence on policy making and social movements will shed light on the overall performance of the DPJ government and the impact of party alternation in Japan.

Children First! (Women Second?): Gender Equality and Childcare Policy under the DPJ Government
Mari Miura, Sophia University, Japan

This paper examines the changes and continuities of work-family balance policy, including the gender equality action plan, the work-life balance policy, the childcare allowance, and the Early Childhood Education and Childcare policy under the DPJ government to assess the impact of government alternation. The election of the DPJ in 2009 and its alliance with the SDP until June 2010 had a positive impact on the formulation of gender equality and childcare policy in Japan. However, due to the DPJ’s lack of experience in coordinating policies and in asserting leadership vis-à-vis bureaucrats, each policy has been promoted in the absence of a coherent, binding vision. While the DPJ government plans to increase the number of daycare centers to enable women to work, the numerical expansion without adequate fiscal subsidy might only lead to the marketization of the daycare system, thereby further widening the gap among women. Although the DPJ pledged to treat “children first” and introduced a relatively generous childcare allowance, its commitment to children’s rights and their education during preschool is weak. Thus, although gender equality policy is stronger in the government’s action plan, the absence of a linkage between gender equality policy and childcare policy risks reproducing the existing gender divide at work and home. Based on interviews with policy-makers, this paper concludes that while the alternation of power has brought new policies to the agenda, ultimate success is unclear due to the disagreement within the DPJ over policy priorities as well as its inability to effectively oversee bureaucrats.

Old Debates in a New Political Climate: Gender and Family Law in Japan
Ki-young Shin, Ochanomizu University, Japan

This paper examines a new phase of the politics of the women’s surname issue since the DPJ, a previous supporter of women’s separate surnames, came to power. In particular, it focuses on the changing relations of women’s rights groups with the new government and how such changes affect the discourses and strategies of women’s groups concerning family law reform. Family law has been a highly controversial subject in Japan for more than two decades. The current family law forces married couples to choose either party’s surname as their family name in order to officially register the marriage. Women proponents for revision of the family law argue that the law infringes on women’s fundamental rights not to be discriminated against. Conservatives, on the other hand, have fiercely opposed revisions, contending that a wife’s separate surname would destroy a sense of unity among family members and harm the beautiful Japanese family traditions. Similar to the abortion debate in the U.S., the women’s surname issue has risen to one of the most controversial questions on the current political scene in Japan. The recent change of government has heightened women’s groups’ expectations for the much needed revision of the family law. Yet, as of summer 2010, the DPJ government seems to be at a stalemate, which ironically has activated the women’s movement for family law reform. This paper traces these developments and analyzes how the change in government has affected the discourses and strategies of women’s groups concerning family law reform.

Citizenship Interrupted: The Debate on Foreigner’s Suffrage in Japan
Naoto Higuchi, Independent Scholar, Japan

This paper examines why the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) failed to enact the foreigner’s local suffrage law. Since the 1990s, South Korean migrant organizations have been pushing the Japanese government to grant suffrage to foreigners, using diplomatic channels between South Korea and Japan. These organizations pushed for local suffrage as the political right of former colonial citizens. In 2000, the conservative ruling coalition agreed to introduce a foreigner’s suffrage bill as compensation for Koreans, but it did not pass the Diet due to strong opposition by rightist groups within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Since then, foreigner’s suffrage was shelved until the DPJ came to power in 2009. The new government was keen to enact a foreigner’s suffrage law, but the DPJ failed to introduce the bill, facing strong opposition by extreme right movements as well as conservative politicians. What has fueled the successful opposition to the foreinger’s suffrage law? In the European case, foreigner’s suffrage has usually been discussed in terms of political inclusion of migrants. In the case of Japan, conservatives have stuck to the classical notion of national sovereignty that precludes political interventions by foreigners. But more importantly, opposition groups regard Chinese and Korean migrants as agents of China and Korea and thus hypothetical enemies, insisting on delusions that they will politically intervene in Japanese politics. Consequently, behind the DPJs’ failure lies the everlasting cold war and the lack of reconciliation among Japan and other East Asian countries.

The Framing Process of the Anti-Poverty Movement in Japan
Nanako Inaba, Independent Scholar, Japan

Poverty is one of the issues which has been included in the DPJ government’s agenda that is of interest to many social movements. This paper uses frame analysis to analyze the way that the anti-poverty movement has gotten involved in the government’s policy-making process. In spite of an increasing number of homeless people as a result of Japan’s prolonged economic recession, the LDP government denied the existence of the problem of poverty in Japan. An objective of social movements concerned with poverty was to get the LDP government to acknowledge the poor in Japan and provide a policy response. In 2007, the movement developed an alliance of social movements which were engaged in the problems of the poor, the handicapped, single mothers, migrant workers and others. At the end of 2008, the alliance organized the ‘temporary workers village’ for hundreds of workers who had lost their jobs and become homeless due to the Lehman shock. This event was covered extensively by the media and provided the movement a chance to justify its cause. The movement succeeded in negotiating with a future member of the DPJ government. The new DPJ government nominated several activists of anti-poverty movements to be members of the inquiry commission. This paper traces these developments using frame analysis and argues that the movement could be expanded with a bridge built between different movements using the frame of ‘poverty’.