I'm visiting Washington D.C. now, interviewing various people here on e-government / Government2.0 / IT&web utilization by the government, etc. Why am I doing this? Because I think it is a crucial time for Japan to change, (including opening up the data / information, getting web / IT into the system, etc) and there are so many things we can learn from the U.S..
Change of Power (LDP to DPJ)
In Japan, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had been the ruling party for more than 50 years. Now people want change. The results of the lower house election that took place on 8/30 clearly shows that demand. LDP lost the election and Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) became the ruling party. Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, head of DPJ became the prime minister of Japan. DPJ was a party that had been insisting in making the government open and making change.
Opening Up Press Conferences
One example was opening up press conferences to freelance journalists and foreign journalists. During the LDP years, only the limited main stream media that joins the Press Club were able to join government press conferences. Press Club has a room inside the government building (for free), and hence when the government decides to hold a press conference "5 minutes from now", the press are already there. Journalists who were not in the Press Club were not allowed to join the press conferences in the first place, but even if they were allowed it would've been impossible for them to arrive in 5 minutes.
When DPJ was still the opposition party, they were opening up their press conferences to journalists who are not in the Press Club, and one of their campaign promises was to open up the press conferences to non-Press Club journalists. Believe it or not, this promise was broken on day 1. The press conference by the new Prime Minister Mr. Hatoyama was only open to the Press Club members, despite the fact that before the election, DPJ officially promised it at least 3 times (former leader Mr. Ozawa and current leader Mr. Hatoyama was asked whether they will open up the press conference when they become ruling party and they did confirm that they will). Freelance journalists and bloggers went MAD. They criticized DPJ for not keeping their campaign promises. On 9/18, Foreign Minister Mr. Okada announced that the Foreign Ministry will allow non-Press Club journalists to join the press conferences held by Foreign Minister and Vice-Foreign Minister, and on 9/29 their promise became true. Mr. Okada held a press conference letting the the freelance and foreign journalists join, and streamed it live on the Internet. Some call it a "historical day" for Japanese journalism. Other ministries -namely Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Environment are considering to follow this, although it is not officially approved or announced.
Power of Main Stream Media in the Japanese Politics
What was the reaction of the Press Club (and the main stream media companies behind this)? This article [jp] on Livedoor news states that there were lots of pressure by the MSM to Mr. Hatoyama and DPJ- management of a major newspaper company called up Mr. Hatoyama directly as well as reporters called up secretaries and politicians to keep the press conferences only to Press Clubs. They were said to be uniformly giving pressure that "if DPJ is going to be the enemy of media such as newspaper and TV stations, your government will not last long!"
I have to admit: Japanese people are known to be largely influenced by the main stream media. Before the election of 8/30, newspapers and TVs were discussing so much about DPJ's victory and there you go. Many people states that DPJ's election victory was not the victory of DPJ itself, but it was the victory of the media. And they know it. That is why their pressure has some reality and threat. We need to face the reality, but we can't turn around- we need to find a way to cope with such changes. It's not simply about the Press Club - we're thinking more about transparancy, openness, fairness and trustworthiness by keeping the campaign promises of the new government.
Fixing Public Offices Election Act
I have covered in this post about the Public Offices Election Act prohibiting Japanese politicians to use the Internet during the election period. DPJ was insisting that they will change this. This is a video (Japanese) of the Prime Minister Mr. Hatoyama saying that DPJ will enable Internet election (meaning enabling to use Internet during election period).
In fact, DPJ had submitted this fix 4 times already in the past. Now that they became the ruling party, we really expect this change to happen.
Revealing the "hidden information" from the LDP and bureaucrats
DPJ had a campaign pledge stating that they will make highways free of charge. According to this article [ja] in Asahi.com, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism repeatedly stated in the Diet that they had NOT calculated the impact of that policy - although it was later revealed that they knew that such calculation existed as of April 2008. The Ministry announced that they did have such calculations on 9/10. The result was astonishing- the economic impact of the policy is estimated to be 2.7 trillion yen (approximately 27 billion USD) . Although I am personally against this policy and understand that LDP and various industries are really against this, it does not mean you can hide data from the public and the opposition party and get away with it. LDP and the bureaucrats had been doing that and now the nation knows - which I think is a good thing.
This article [ja] on Nikkei Business Online states that when the same political party is ruling for a long time, bureaucrats and ruling party starts to share the interest. Quote: "Bureaucrats' mistake becomes the ruling party's mistake which will affect the support rate, so they tend to hide those mistakes. Because of the change of political power, such mistakes will be revealed as well as there will be incentive to check mistakes."
Japanese Politics are said to be led by the Bureaucrats
It is said that currently Japan is not really led by politicians- it is led and run by bureaucrats. Politicians are supposded to be "lawmakers" but the people who were "really" making the laws (bills) during the LDP ages were the bureaucrats. So the bureaucrats makes the laws, and enforces it.
The good news - the bureaucrats in Japan are said to be very smart people and even if the new ruling party is not experienced and have glitches, the bureaucrats will be able to run the country without a problem. The bad news - bureaucrats knows that they are leading and running the policies, so it might be difficult for DPJ to push new policies. Well- still, they have to do it. It's their job.
The good news - as DPJ had been the opposition party and they had more time, DPJ's politicians had been making bills themselves to oppose to the former government. The better news - not only do they have the ability to draft bills, now that they became the ruling party, they'd also be able to have the bureaucrats help them make the bills! Well- maybe not so simple as that. We'll see.
Is the Change coming?
Anyways, yes we expect changes to happen in Japan. I am not in Japan right now and can't really feel the change, but read this tweet by LDP politician Kotaro Tamura: "DPJ is doing great! They don't have the Diet Backers (族議員) and the governments will be cooperative to them. Many of these things are what we proposed within LDP and was turned down by the Diet Backers and old politicians... but those old politicians are still ruling LDP... Why do we have to get tired of internal fights even before fighting against DPJ? (cry)"
Given these changes, I was thinking about what I can do. The Most Interesting New Tech Startup of 2009 in U.S. according to Anil Dash is "the government". I've been looking into the Gov 2.0 conference contents, etc and realized that there are so much we can learn from what is happening in Washington D.C., and much of these practices are not known to the Japanese public, so that's what I'm gonna try and do. After arriving in D.C., I started to learn about activities here- from FCC, Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, Department of State and many more. I'm learning everyday, which I will try to write articles in the near future!