Japan and China: The shogun and the emperor


New Member
May 24, 2009
WHO rules Japan, the emperor or the shogun? That question vexed America when it first sought to trade with Japan in the 1850s. Today, China has no doubts. The answer is the “shadow shogun”, Ichiro Ozawa, a master manipulator who secured an historic victory for the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in August elections.

In the past week Mr Ozawa has hogged the limelight on two occasions to convince China—and remind Japan—who is the boss. On December 10th he led what looked like a modern-day version of a medieval tribute visit, flying 645 people, including 143 DPJ members of parliament, to Beijing. They filled five aeroplanes. His meeting with the premier, Hu Jintao, made the top of the nightly news in China, an achievement in a country where many people still loathe the Japanese.

A day later, Japanese nationalists were outraged to learn that their emperor, Akihito, had been forced, apparently under indirect pressure from Mr Ozawa, to grant an exceptional audience to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president. Normally, protocol requires 30 days’ notice before a meeting with the ailing 75-year-old emperor. On this occasion it was offered with only a few days’ warning. Flag-waving protesters denounced what they saw as Mr Ozawa’s “treacherous” misuse of the emperor and railed against the DPJ’s overtures to China.

Though the DPJ secretary-general denied that he had ordered the breach of protocol, he nevertheless waded into an unusual public tiff with the emperor’s hermetic household. Announcing the meeting, the sovereign’s grand steward lamented the way political strings had been pulled. Mr Ozawa shot back that if the courtier didn’t like it he should resign.

In some ways, the episode reveals how much the rules of the game are changing under the DPJ. The genuflection to Beijing occurs just when Japan’s relations with America have been strained by a dispute over a military base. It appears even richer in symbolism after Barack Obama’s deep bow to Emperor Akihito last month.

Mr Ozawa’s show of force happened when Yukio Hatoyama, the prime minister, is looking weak in his dealings with an unruly cabinet. That a man who is not even a minister can wield so much power behind the throne (or thrones) further undermines the prime minister’s authority and may give the impression that Japan’s transition to an open democracy is less than meets the eye. Another reason, perhaps, to endear him to friends in China.

Japan and China: The shogun and the emperor | The Economist

Global Defence