Even before Yukio Hatoyama became Japan's prime minister this summer, his philosophy of yuai, an idea that translates loosely to "fraternal love," had been ridiculed. The conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper worried about the concept's origins, tracing it back to the liberté, egalité, and fraternité of the French Revolution and comparing Hatoyama to a modern-day Robes-pierre, sans guillotine. The moderate newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun doubted something so lofty could be understood, much less applied, on a global level. And despite Hatoyama's assertion that his brand of fraternity is "combative," rooted as it is in revolution, his political opponents have derided it as impractical and "as mushy as ice cream."
But yuai is more than just a tempting target. In October, in his first parliamentary address since taking office, Hatoyama began spelling out how this fuzzy-sounding notion would be applied to policy. Guided by a spirit of fraternity, he said, Japan would seek to temper the turbulence of globalization by promoting the free market while also boosting domestic social safety nets. Japan would take a moral-leadership role on the world stage by aiding poor countries in their fight against climate change. And it would agree to cut CO2 emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 if other rich countries reciprocated. In essence, he suggested, the philosophy would elevate Japan more than ever before into the community of nations that are now tackling transnational issues such as climate change, the financial and economic crisis, nuclear proliferation, and terrorism.
Hatoyama would go far beyond his predecessors, who tried for decades to coin a phrase that would signpost Japan's place in the world. Some of these ideas understood Japan primarily in relation to the world's great powers. Democratic Party of Japan chairman Ichiro Ozawa talked of Japan as a "normal country"—by which he meant that Japan would have a foreign policy of its own, independent of the United States. Other catchphrases were more nationalistic in tone, such as former prime minister Shinzo Abe's "beautiful country" or Taro Aso's "thought leader" of Asia. Still others attempted to position Japan as the premier power in Asia, with Japan dubbed the head of "the flying geese." But all these formulations positioned Japan against others rather than putting it in a truly global context. Yuai, by contrast, identifies Japan as an independent actor that is also part of a larger, integrated global system. Indeed, the universal rhetoric seems ap-propriate for a time of universal problems.
Hatoyama's grandfather Ichiro Hatoyama is said to have stumbled upon the idea in a book at a time when he had been forced out of Japanese politics by U.S. occupying forces. The book, titled The Totalitarian State Against Man, was written in the 1930s by Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi, the originator of the idea of a unified European community. He argued that fraternity was the key to building a peaceful society and striking a balance between freedom and equality. In his view, too much freedom yielded anarchy; too much equality yielded tyranny. The elder Hatoyama was so moved by the ideas that he translated the book into Japanese and, in 1953, began promoting the idea to postwar Japan.
His grandson has tried to translate these ideals into modern terms. Japan's direction on foreign policy is in line with the Obama administration's emphasis on consultation with the community of nations. He aims to position Japan as a "bridge for the world" between the East and the West, between rich and poor countries, and "between diverse civilizations," while also providing leadership on global issues. For instance, the government recently announced it would lend Indonesia the equivalent of $400 million to fight climate change, and urged India to make its own commitment to the effort. Japan has also indicated that it will apply this lofty idea on a regional level by emphasizing sustainable and inclusive growth in the Pacific as Japan's chairmanship of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation approaches in 2010.
Yuai is both less mushy and less combative than critics suggest. It is a philosophy that suggests Hatoyama wants to forge a new identity for Japan in which it will lead as part of a team. But if it is to gain real traction, the prime minister will have to a find a balance between the merely inspirational and the concrete policies Japan demands.