The Ugly Prime-Ministerial Unpopularity Contest In Japan

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

Can your approval rating drop to zero? That must have been the question Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda was brooding over as he digested two polls taken over the weekend: his approval rating had plunged 15 points from October, to 19% in November, his lowest rating yet. Turns out, October’s spike hadn’t been a sudden turn in fortunes for a job well done, but a dead-cat bounce.

Support for his cabinet dropped to 17.7% from 29.2% in October. And only 12% of the respondents would now vote for Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had come to power in 2009 on a platform of reforms and a stance against the formidable bureaucracy.

But reforms remain hard to see, Japan Inc. is as powerful as ever, the budget deficit is worse than ever, and public debt has reached dizzying heights. The DPJ’s three prime ministers—one for each year—have slithered down steep bumpy slopes, like all prime ministers since Junichiro Koizumi. The slide lasts between 8 and 15 months. Once they hit the teens or low twenties, they get axed by their own parties. Hence, Noda’s rating of 19% after 14 months in office qualifies him for the next step in his career:



The breath of fresh air, after five decades of nearly continuous rule by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has become much of the same: ineffectual politicians in face of mega-problems and a bureaucracy that is as powerful as it is intransigent. The LDP, now one of nine opposition parties, isn’t riding high either. It would only garner 27.7% of the vote. These dismal poll numbers are a form of public scorn heaped upon politicians by people who’ve been paying the price [ The Pauperization Of Japan ].

Noda’s November dive has a lot of causes. Certainly, a yakuza scandal didn’t help. October 1, Noda did some housecleaning and brought in some new guys, including Justice Minister Keishu Tanaka. But Tanaka barely had time to settle in his chair when revelations popped up that he was close to the Inagawa-kai, the third-largest yakuza syndicate. He’d acted as marriage matchmaker for a high-level member and had given a speech at the wedding. Tanaka’s excuse? He didn’t know they were yakuza! It also seeped out that he’d received ¥420,000 from a Chinese supporter in violation of the Political Funds Control Law. An outstanding resume for a justice minister. He resigned due to health reasons after 23 days in office.

The one major “accomplishment” Noda did manage to chalk up was the despised consumption tax increase from 5% today to 8% in 2014 and to 10% in 2015. That was his “apex,” explained former Prime Minister Taro Aso, who’d been axed in September 2009, after sinking to the lowest point yet in the Prime-Ministerial Unpopularity Chart. Raising that tax was something “nobody else could do, no matter how hard they tried,” Aso said. “After that, there are no high points.”

But the only way Noda was able to get this thing through the gridlocked Diet was by promising opposition parties his own head: on August 8, he told them that he’d seek “a public mandate soon,” that he’d dissolve the lower house of the Diet and schedule general elections, which would likely kick him and his party out of power. The opposition bit—and the law passed. Since then, the soon has been percolating up in his speeches. But that’s all it did.

In October, the opposition turned up the heat on Noda: dissolve the lower house after the Diet session ends on November 30 and hold new general elections on December 16, or else it would block passage of the law that would allow the government to borrow ¥38.3 trillion ($480 billion). Japan’s version of the debt ceiling. If Noda didn’t comply, “default” would creep into the vocabulary of the media—to be avoided at all costs, given the precarious state of Japan’s finances [ Japanese Ministry of Finance To Japanese Bondholders: You’re Screwed! ].

Holding that bill hostage accomplished a variety of things, such as focusing worldwide attention on Japan’s “fiscal cliff.” The one thing it hasn’t done: get Noda to comply. Out of practical options, the now furious opposition has called him a liar but has shown a willingness to compromise.

And so, on Sunday, DPJ Secretary General Azuma Koshiishi backed away from that soon even further. It would be difficult to hold general elections this year, he said; the Diet would need to focus on passing two bills, including the deficit-covering bonds. So maybe next year. In which case Noda would set a post-Koizumi record in prime ministerial longevity—and perhaps in prime ministerial unpopularity.

Following in Japan’s footsteps: year after year, the US has racked up mega-deficits. And as in Japan, there are consequences. Read.... One Chart Explains Why Government Debt Is Dragging on the Economy.

And here is my book about Japan: love hotels, Korean roommates, unspoken rules, isolation, a girl, and not a happy end. “A funny as hell nonfiction book about wanderlust and traveling abroad,” a reader tweeted. BIG LIKE: CASCADE INTO AN ODYSSEY. Read the first few chapters for free on Amazon.

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donpaulo's picture

Mr Noda a NDP member is actually having to deal with the decades long BS debt bomb built up by the LDP. The sad truth is that the 10% consumption tax that Noda is trying to pass through the legislature is insufficient to balance the books due to LDP inaction. The real number should be 12% not 10% and they are NOT planning on reducing the debt but rather to continue their spending programs and pork barrel projects.

Now to make matters worse the LDP has prevented the Prime Minister from addressing the Upper House which is LDP controlled. This is the first time in the history of Japan that such an action has been taken. The whole fiasco is a circle jerk of denial, obfuscation and graft with Noda-san's popularity plummeting to new record lows. Yet his decision to hike the tax is pretty much the only solution that will keep the Titanic ship of state steering right towards the rocks rather than cause it to prematurely sink due to the captain abandoning the vessel decades ago.

Its a pathetic tale of how low the former captains of tech and capital have sunk. Profits are down across the board, energy imports due to the nukes shutting down has pushed Japan into a net importer and the recent events over the islands resulted in massive property damage to corporate Japan.


The LPD replacement is Shinzo Abe and master doing nothing and speaking in a sort of vagueness highly valued by a culture that avoids making others lose face. He quit the last time he was PM due to health problems. This is the best the LDP can do ? LOL

And the blowhard nationalist 80 year old Ishihara and his new Rising sun party are a waste of oxygen as well. The guy opens his mouth and the Chinese send more ships to the disputed islands. Many Japanese like the guy because he says what he feels, something Abe can't do. But seriously an 80 year old party leader ?

Japan is so focused on yesterday. They have an average of 1.3 kids per family, a broken govt and a corporate battle plan focused on harnessing the Chinese. Sounds like a weiner to me.


I could write more but whats the point most will never read it neh ?

Hobbleknee's picture

One would think the Japanese would have figured it out by now- that government doesn't work.

Short Memories's picture

What makes you think they haven't?

I've never met a Japanese person who thinks their Govt works and I've lived here for a 3rd of my life.

suteibu's picture

"But reforms remain hard to see, Japan Inc. is as powerful as ever..."

Japan, Inc is being held together by duct tape and bailing wire, and Y1 quadrillion in future taxes.  Off-shoring is their only option to survive which will mean a continuing decline in Japanese economy, incomes, and personal lifestyle.  It won't be too long before the politicians have nothing to sell to the public which is growing weary of the constant deception from the government over a variety of issues.  Japan, Inc is on its last legs.  The Kyle Bass scenario will be the kill shot.

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Wolf, your graph is statistically significant!  Probably an R2 of 0.85 or so?


I did not pick up on love, happiness nor skittles from the unicorn feelings when I was there in May.  Quite the opposite, I sensed resignation to a decline...

Zero Govt's picture

4 Things are crystal clear from Japan...


1. Politicians cannot alter economic decline. 20 years of pump-priming promises in Japan demonstrate it. Political promises to the unemployed and emplyed are false (lies)

2. Printing counterfeit wealth does not arrest economic decline. 20 years in Japan demonstrate it. Political promises about the economy are false (lies)

3. Politicians define stupid (and equally insanity) repeating the same behaviour expecting a different outcome. Govt is a truly dumb stupid institution.

4. Having spent tax revenues and exhausted debt issuance the central bank monopoly provides these suicidal stupid people with their final straw to grasp to cling onto power as long as possible. They will destroy that (the currency) too leaving the entire economy in chaos for the scrawny worthless necks of a few

This is Govt the world over ...a cushy number for a few, a wrecking ball for the country

Time to flush this human sewer of an institution down the drain

RECISION's picture

First off we have to get a proper picture of the proper function of government.

The job of Government is not to change anything - the job of Government is to keep things the same.  To preserve the status quo.

It is the job of Revolution to change things.

So in light of this analysis and understanding...

Japans government has been doing an outstanding job for the last 20 years.

Japans government is working perfectly - nothing has changed.

(here as there)

it is just not working for YOU.

Your job is to vote, and thereby legitimise the Government(while paying taxes), while the Government does everything in it's powers to support and sustain the Corporations and the Banks.

Fraud, lying, cheating, stealing, and wars are normalised functions of government - because they work.

Wealth and power flows to the 1%, while you get to work and die for "your country"...  lets call it - Kleptostan.


Zero Govt's picture

Reci, you're right that Govt wants to maintain a status quo, in that Govt is always a drag on progress because the dribbling scum in it are ignorant about technology and always make critical mistake, thinking there's one answer to every issue (does society like only 1 car choice, or would it prefer to choose from 200 choices?).

Govt has a massive drag on our progress (beneficial change) primarily through sucking wealth out of the private economy that would be massively better left in productive peoples pockets. It is productive people who bring (all) beneficial change, Govt delivers nothing, politicos promising good is a material lie, they know nothing about anything and manage nothing either efficiently or productively.

Meanwhile Govt treats every new technology like a threat (see twats walking with flags infornt of that new fangled 'car' thingy as it was "dangerous") and massively holds back the progress of existing technological progress (again cars limited to 70mph for the past dreary 60 years as it's "danergous" while cars have progressed and most today will happily cruise at 100-130mph with zero safety issues)

Regards Revolutions "job" to bring change again that's not a certainty either. The Russian Revolution was a disaster on that score, so was the Chinese, so was the French. All brought worse systems, 2 the pure ignorance of communism the French a bunch of fancy power-drunk tosspots

That's because revolutionaries know what they're fighting against, but very rarely know what they're fighting for.

This time it's different: Freedom (free of Govt)

bank guy in Brussels's picture

Mr Testicles Pit is trying to sell his book again:

« ... And here is my book about Japan ... »

It is obvious Mr Testicles Pit is an older guy, he still thinks 'books' are a desired product, and something 'important' for himself to do ...

When in fact the book age has just about DIED ... most people don't read books very much anymore ... and often don't have much money to buy the klunky, dust-collecting things either

And today any idiot gets a 'book' published for just about free with these print-on-demand services ... and so people pad their CVs with 'Author of 15 books', ha! ... and their 'print on demand' books have not even sold 1 copy, and are barely longer than a magazine article

Books are antiques ... and we all like a good picture book connected with our favourite interests and hobbies

But these books by Mr Testicles Pit do not sound interesting at all ... don't even want to read the free excerpts ... I doubt if a person who names his blog Testicles Pit or whatever, has somehow written a good story

CrazyCooter's picture

When TP first showed up, I admit I peeked and read a little bit. Maybe pieces of a couple chapters. It was really some sort of autobiography sort of thing. Interesting perhaps to some people, but I never cared much for other peoples business. Net time investment? Maybe 10 minutes.

Because the "signature" of almost every post is a book plug, I just read down to that and skip over the promotion.

That said, I do like the Euro and and Japanese centric analysis. I generally read TP when I see it come across the main page. I almost always learn something I didn't know. I don't always read the whole article, but that is usually due to time pressures rather than content.

I am not in professional finance, so TP gives me insights/facts/perspectives that I don't get from other sources. And, at least to me, that is worth the static advertisement at the bottom of each post.



Coldfire's picture

Bank Guy - It's not about the physicality of the book, it's about the ideas. Part of the cachet of having been published was the implied imprimatur of the powers controlling publishing. Literally: authority. Because of the internet Reformation that cachet is dying a well-deserved death amongst thinking people. I believe Wolf as an author is not trading on this kind of "authority" but on the strength of his ideas.

suteibu's picture

Thanks.  I grew weary of slamming him for his poor self promotion. 

Western's picture

oh dear both of you must be very interesting and im sure you pay for pussy.