Japan school seeks solutions to leadership gulf

Sun May 10, 2009 9:23pm EDT
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By Chisa Fujioka

CHIGASAKI, Japan (Reuters) - In a small room filled with the scent of incense, seven young Japanese men meditate, facing the wall in silence as birds chirp softly outside.

The meditation is part of their training at an institute that grooms political leaders in Japan -- where many say a stream of unpopular premiers and ineffective politicians has clouded the outlook for a country in its worst recession since World War Two.

Experts say Japan must lure more of its best talent into politics, although not all are convinced that schools such as the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management alone can remedy the shortage of strong leaders.

At the same time, calls are growing for influential political families to stop handing power from one generation to the next, a tradition that stifles potential leaders without connections.

For Shinichi Tomioka, a 32-year-old doctor, the institute is a step toward a political career and his goal of reforming Japan's medical system after the frustrations he encountered working in an understaffed Tokyo hospital for five years.

"I felt guilty at first, wanting to deal with the problems in the medical system and yet quitting my job as a doctor," he said after changing into a suit following a morning of meditation.

"But there was a limit to what could be done in the field. To face the problems in the system as Japan's elderly population grows, I thought change was needed from a broader standpoint."

While the recession is the immediate headache facing Japan, perhaps the biggest long-term challenge is reforming policy to deal with Japan's shrinking and fast-aging population.   Continued...

<p>Trainees at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management take part in a practice session of the Japanese martial art of Kendo at the institute in Chigasaki, southwest of Tokyo April 21, 2009. Kendo, the Japanese martial art of swordsmanship, is part of training at the Matsushita Institute to become political leaders in Japan, a country where economic and foreign policies have floundered under one unpopular prime minister after another. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>