Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Japanese have a place in their hearts for politicians who say outrageous and stupid things. There is a long history of it. First, Japanese seem to confuse constitutional freedom of speech with the freedom to say absolutely anything with impunity. Hence there is a disposition to admire leaders who say stupid - even factually wrong - things as heroes of integrity and conviction, and champions of constitutionally protected free speech. In addition, Japanese host a streak of stubbornness and when leaders like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara are seen to be under attack their stubborn recalcitrance is redeeming in public opinion in so far as it coincides with the native stubborn streak. The public fancies that it sees itself reflected in its leaders, which is appealing. But while foreigners see leaders like these bringing great shame and discredit on Japan the Japanese see them as heroic defenders of the homeland. Hence they are re-elected.
Currently Mayor Hashimoto is getting his because he refuses to shut up and cease saying stupid things. Before him former Governor Ishihara regularly gave similar performances, especially with his persistent use of the derogatory word “shina” when speaking of China and the Chinese.
I remember when former Prime Minister Noburo Takeshita suggested that in order to curb sex crimes by American servicemen here the servicemen should be restricted to their bases where they could “give each other AIDS.” And I remember when former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in a speech confused the Information Technology abbreviation “IT” for the English word “it.” I remember when the criminal Muneo Suzuki was arrested, later convicted, and later still incarcerated on bribery and perjury charges. And don’t forget the criminal abomination of former Liberal Democratic Party bigwig Shin Kanemaru. These are the kinds of people who occupy Japanese politics like the cast of a television show. Except script writers would be hard pressed to make up stuff like this.
What worries me most about Mr. Hashimoto is not the idea that he may rise to the prime minister’s office some day as much as the knowledge that he is currently only in his forties and he can reasonably be expected to live another forty years. So we have to keep hearing his crap for a long time to come.
Published on Sunday, June 2, 2013 as “A history of political stupidity.”
Of course, Japanese politicians do not have a monopoly on stupidity. Right off the top of my head I imagine the shenanigans of former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry who was convicted of and jailed for cocaine possession and use while in office in the early 1990s. (He was videotaped using it in a hotel room with a girlfriend. Then after serving time in prison he was re-elected for one more term as mayor.) And the current mayor of Toronto, Canada, Rob Ford, who is a horrible buffoon by anyone’s measure. The list can go on and on.
The difference, though, is that whereas foreign politicians who speak like this are generally punished for their faux pas Japanese ones are rewarded. Maybe another confusion here is the confusion of stubbornness with strength and Japanese voters reward leaders like Hashimoto and Ishihara who stubbornly refuse to back down when they are censured for speaking and acting stupidly by re-electing them because they are viewed as strong leaders.