Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Field Trip to Kumamoto Province of Japan and its local Issues, 26-28 January 2010

Utasebune boat in Yasushiro sea, Japan

The sea at the background is the place of Minamata incidents which had seriously been polluted by mercury dumping from a nearby factory.  Even now, compensation to the Minamata victims is still continued.

Kumamoto prefecture is an agricultural base in Southern Japan in which farming and fishing, and big hypro-power dams are its main economy. In addition, manufacturing industry also has its stronghold in this prefecture with large electronic factories such as Sony which make the Kyushu Island the “Silicon Island” producing semiconductors for electronic products. Tourism is also the main source of revenues for this prefecture with the attraction of Utasebune boat in the Yasushiro sea. In development perspective, Kumamoto is a prefecture with great potential of development in terms of agriculture, fishery, manufacturing industry, tourism, and electricity produced by hydro-power from rivers, especially the Kawabe river and Kuma river. However, as a result of economic development, it has also suffered from serious pollutions such as the Minamata pollution case and other controversial issues such as the Kawabe Dam project. That is why the Governor of Kumamoto prefecture, Mr. Ikuo Kabashima, said that Kumamoto may not be the most developed region in Japan, but it has the potential to make giant strides in the years ahead. 

I.                   Dream for Kumamoto (Presentation by Governor Ikuo Kabashima)     

By believing that Kumamoto’s potential is infinite, Governor Kabashima is the leader who wants to practice a politics that make farming, forestry, and fishing industries the top priority for his prefecture. With this strategy, he wished to see Kumamoto as an environment-friendly prefecture. As a charismatic leader, he has a popular vision “dream for Kumamoto: in adversity lie dreams” and we must go into that dream to realize it. With his high vision, Mr. Kabashima has made three significant achievements such as Kumamoto’s recovery from financial crisis, the suspension of Kawabe Dam Project, and Minamata disease case, in a period of one year and a half since assuming his office. Regarding the Kawabe dam issue, he is the first Governor who made bold decision to ask Tokyo to suspend this megaproject and received approval from the central government. As a governor, he shares his experience as being a decision-maker and as a politician in two perspectives: politics of decision and politics of goals. The former is the importance of making the right decision over controversial issues such as Kawabe dam project. The latter is the politics of goals by making economic development, better education, happiness for older people, and prosperity for Kumamoto prefecture.  In addition, being a governor, he sees the importance of  decision which needs the freedom of spirit and time in doing so.   

Personally, I really admire his campaign strategy in the gubernatorial election in 2008 by using his expertise in political science. I think he is the first winning politician who has claimed the use of political science theory for his victory. Although he may be considered to be too proud in his unfamiliar presentation of “Downs theory” that contribute to his success in this election, it was very useful to me to expand my knowledge on Comparative Politics. However, I have asked him an academic question that made him confused. In application, Downs theory and strategic voting are used to seek to more vote for the candidates and to avoid waste votes for the voters. Although the terms “strategic voting” was not familiar to him, I think that he already combined this concept with Downs theory for his success in the election. Let me explain his combination of the two theories. According to Downs theory, most voters are concentrated at the center of ideological line (progressive or conservative) while a few extremist voters stay at the left (too liberal) or the right (too conservative). So, to gain more votes, election candidates have to move to the center. He have made the right decision to stand at the center of ideological line independently and refused LDP’s proposal to adopt him as an LDP candidate which would have made him drifted to the far right of ideological line. That is why he got more votes than other candidates. Let say if he had decided to take LDP’s nominations. Since he came late in preparation for the election’s campaign, he would have been at the farthest right of ideological line among LDP candidates. In voters’ calculation, by applying strategic voting, there would have been a few votes for him since he had been at the bottom of the list of LDP candidates or farthest right of ideological line. So, by avoiding the fact that their votes will be wasted since no chance for Kabashima to win, most voters would have decided not to vote for him. This is the point of strategic voting. Hence, Governor Kabashima clearly understood this concept (strategic voting). This might be a reason behind his refusal to be an LDP candidate. So, avoiding waste votes and being at the center of ideological line (Downs theory) is his combined strategy.

II.                Kawabegawa Dam Project

This mega-construction project with a budget of 3.6 billion USD was started in 1969 to build a huge dam which will be used for flood control, generation of electricity, and maintaining normal function of flowing water. Over 80% of relocation work (road and houses) has been completed and dam construction was impending. However, currently the central government decided to suspend this project in response to the proposal of the newly-elected Governor of Kumamoto prefecture. After winning his gubernatorial election, Governor Ikuo Kabashima is the first Governor in Japan to request Tokyo to suspend this public work project. Clearly behind this request is the resentment and objection to this project by most residents in Kumamoto. However, this controversial issue reflects the new development of decentralization in Japan where the local government can resist with the central government. It is a good evidence to argue that Japan’s intergovernmental relation is decentralized now.

However, on the dark side, as a consequence of suspension of this project, Kumamoto will face with the problem of flooding in the future since it major cities have been already inundated by two largest floods in 1965 and in 1982 and other several flash floods. This will pose a major threat to major cities in the future unless the local government and the national government find other way to deal with this issue. In addition to a huge cost of completed relocation work, the annual possible power generation of 85,000 mwh is lost by suspending the dam construction. So, Kumamoto is losing its economic development’s potential in terms of electricity-needed industry and water-required agriculture. At the final day of the fieldtrip, the Mayor of Itsuki village which is located at the heart of the dam construction site already expressed his concern about his village’s economy and serious financial difficulty. Furthermore, the population of his village is declining sharply. I think Itsuki village has received double sufferings from Kawabe construction project. First, after the beginning of project, the normality of life and village’s economy was disrupted as people and their houses have been relocated and some people has migrated to other places. Then, relocation work continued and the prospect of economic development in Itsuki village and other cities from electricity generation by Kawabe dam was expected. Unfortunately, the construction project is suspended by the government and the hope of Itsuki village’s development was destroyed. So, this village has received double setbacks.

III.             Conclusion

In conclusion, Kumamoto prefecture is at the centre of controversial issues in Japan such as the Minimata disease case and Kawabe dam project. However, “in adversity lie dream (Governor Kabashima)” and that is why Kumamoto can make giant strides ahead, not only economic development, but also in terms of decentralization and other new issue due to the brilliant leadership of its governor. For the fieldtrip itself, I think it was very useful and substantive to all YLP students. Although the program of the fieldtrip was very tight since there were many places to visit, everybody still enjoyed and the fieldtrip was a success.

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