Tokyo's next leader isn't likely to please reform-minded Japanese voters or put relations with the U. S. on a better footing. The two leading candidates to succeed Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu--Kiichi Miyazawa, 72, and Michio Watanabe, 68--are both faction bosses. Miyazawa, who was implicated in the Recruit scandal, may have the edge, since he's senior to Watanabe and is more presentable abroad with his fluent English. He still has to overcome the dislike of the leading power broker, Noboru Takeshita, who could anoint the crusty Watanabe. Miyazawa might also wangle Watanabe's support by promising to hand him the reins in two years. That arrangement would mean at least four more years of turn-taking rule. It would also distress the many Japanese who say they'd be ashamed to have their country represented by someone with as salty a tongue as Watanabe.

But whoever wins, Japan is retreating from the whiff of change offered by the 60-year-old Kaifu and turning back to an older generation of leaders. Thus, at a time of increasing friction with the U. S., Tokyo will continue to be dominated by back-room faction leaders who focus on keeping their local constituents prosperous rather than on meeting American concerns.