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Where Japan's next leaders grow

Three candidates to head Japan's Democratic Party are graduates of the Matsushita Institute.

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Today, most of them, including Matsuzawa, believe the problem is how to develop strong, credible, alternative leaders, even if not well known by the public at large.

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Matsuzawa believes the time is ripe for a generational change in Japanese politics. "We used to support older leaders," he said. "But now we see that, if we want change, we have to rely on ourselves."

"Our task is to carry out the kind of thoroughgoing reforms that Koizumi has not been able to achieve," adds Matsuzawa, his face tanned from years of early-morning campaign speeches at commuter train stations.

Veteran journalist Shinichi Yamada of Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper, describes the Matsushita graduates as mainstream reformers, in the sense that they may be conservatives or liberals but not Socialists or Communists. "You're not likely to find them in the labor unions." Generally, they call for smaller government, deregulation, and competition in an open market, instead of the highly centralized government led by bureaucrats that has characterized postwar Japan.

A lot like boot camp

The Institute offers an unusual program. Although it gives each fellow a generous stipend, it grants no degrees and requires only one year of organized studies on its seaside campus south of Tokyo. Those studies include not only subjects such as politics, economics, and international relations, but also cultural disciplines like the tea ceremony and practical subjects like speech-making and debate. Even physical endurance is a requirement, featuring a 60-mile walk within a 24-hour period, or a winter night in the snow with little more than a sleeping bag, a plastic sheet, and five hardtack biscuits.

The day starts with cleaning the dormitory premises, a run on the beach before breakfast, and a joint recitation of the Institute rules, teachings, and "Five Oaths."

"It was a bit like being in a military school," Matsuzawa recalls. Some fellows are fresh from universities and others have several years of business or other experience under their belt.

When he was alive, the patriarchal Matsushita, although in his mid-eighties at the time, often visited the school and spoke informally with the students.

"Politics is really management," he once said. "A successful government should be an outstanding example of management. After all, in business, he who fails in management will have to go out of business. Why not in politics?"

Once the obligatory first year is accomplished, the remainder of a four-to-five year fellowship – reduced to three years today – is tailored to the individual fellow's own interests and aims.

While Matsuzawa spent a year in Washington, other student projects have included investigations of sewage and waste disposal by urban communities and studies of rural communities which have been denuded of working-age people, leaving only grandparents and small children.

Not all Matsushita graduates go on to politics. Of the Institute's 192 alumni (21 of whom are women), 41 percent are in politics, 29 percent are in business, and 16 percent are in the media, think tanks, or nonprofit organizations.