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Column: The making of the Yano article in Bungeishunju

  • October 18, 2021
  • , Mainichi , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Yamada Takao, Special Senior Editor

 

The opening article in the November issue of Bungeishunju, “Vice-Minister of Finance says what’s on his mind,” which criticized the pork-barrel campaign pledges of the ruling and opposition parties, has garnered attention because it was a political event.

 

Ministry of Finance (MOF) officials, who are in charge of the government’s purse strings, were behind-the-scenes actors in Abenomics, which touted “flexible government spending.” People were interested in whether the daring article by the Vice-Minister, a top MOF official, was an indication that former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s influence has diminished and Abenomics is undergoing a transformation.

 

There are many commentaries on the article that smack of conspiracy theories, because it was published in a period of the transfer of power between outgoing and incoming prime ministers. As far as I can see, the article has no complicated background story.

 

The top finance bureaucrat, the administrative vice-minister, was Yano Koji (58), and the editor-in-chief of the Bungeishunju is Shintani Manabu (57). That is probably all it was.

 

Shintani was known to be a shrewd and capable editor-in-chief of the weekly “Shukan Bunshun.” A dozen years ago, he was an editor of a special Bungeishunju column named after an anonymous political critic writing under the name “Akasaka Taro.” Shintani met Yano through his engagements with politicians and bureaucrats.

 

In July 2021, Shintani was appointed the editor-in-chief of the Bungeishunju. Yano became the Vice-Minister of Finance around the same time. Yano has a soft demeanor, but preaches financial reconstruction to everyone. It is well known that Yano holds steadfast beliefs.

 

Shintani asked Yano to write the article. After the two met for a discussion, they decided on Sept. 14 that the article would appear in the November issue (published on Oct. 8). Sept. 14 was three days before the LDP presidential election was announced.

 

Yano’s claim that “national and local debt total 1,166 trillion yen” and that “this country will become bankrupt if spending increases while ignoring financial resources and taxes are cut” is common wisdom in the MOF.

 

The reason why people were surprised to read this manuscript, which is a rehash of the government’s reference materials, is the editorial judgment and timing of the article.

 

Shintani placed Yano’s article as the lead article of the issue in two columns (instead of the usual three columns).

 

When I asked Shintani for the reason, he replied, “Shukan Bunshun is a medium that scraps (demolishes), but I want Bungeishunju to be a medium that builds (constructs). I wanted to provide material for discussion.”

 

The Abenomics faction took issue with the article. Sanae Takaichi, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Policy Research Council chair, called Yano’s article “very rude” and “a ridiculous story that insists on fiscal balance and does not help people in need.” Abe was reportedly angry, saying that the article “takes the wrong view” and “(Japanese government bonds) are denominated in the national currency, so there will be no default. It is absurd to publish such an article”

 

The so-called reflationists, who emphasize financial and fiscal stimulus, have vigorously criticized Yano online.

 

Bungeishunju (circulation 32,500) is increasing its sales. The article may be a delicate issue for MOF, which seeks cooperation with political parties prior to compiling a budget after the Lower House election. Finance Minister Suzuki Shunichi defended Yano, and Kishida has also refrained from criticism.

 

Yano was noted for being a vice minister who is a graduate of the Faculty of Economics at Hitotsubashi University, not the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law. Yano’s hometown is Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the same as Abe’s. Yano and Abe are both fascinated by Yoshida Shoin, the hero of the Choshu clan, but have opposite visions. It seems to me that Abe’s voice has become somewhat muted. (Abridged)

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