Professor Gavan McCormack is a very frustrated man. In his essay "Koizumi's Kingdom of Illusion" he demonstrates a compelling need to work out—at length—his disquiet over recent political events.
Part of his argument shows signs of coming from essays on rather different topics (a sin, but a venial one in this our age of silicon) but on the whole McCormack offers an expansive look at why it is just so wrong that the LDP did so well in the September 11 election. He also offers a glimpse of the rarest of creatures: a non-Japanese who feels a tremulous nostalgia for the doken kokka.
Sadly for Professor McCormack, Koizumi not only won but won big. He must be doing something right. (Bricolage, peut-être?)
Philip Brasor, who makes his living as a media critic, offers up some juicy sentences but a few too many overripe paragraphs in his Japan Times opinion article "Roll up! Roll up! For a freak show starring Koizumi's children", also available here.
It is not until very end of the essay that Brasor seizes upon what should have been the focus of his piece: the crucial role the morning television shows played in midwifing Koizumi's electoral victory. Instead of repeating what Shukan Shincho said about Katayama Satsuki's prickly personality, Brasor should have examined exactly how the morning shows have become so powerful, supplanting the evening news hours as sources of information for the general public. (Was it simply because the sun rises early in August?)
While McCormack and Brasor write about a country that resembles contemporary Japan, I am afraid David Kang fails to do so in his essay "Japan: U.S. Partner or Focused on Abductees?" in this autumn's The Washington Quarterly.
Kang teaches government at Dartmouth with a concurrent post at the Tuck School of Business. He writes on Korea-Japan relations for the excellent e-journal Comparative Connections produced by the Pacific Forum CSIS.
I am not particularly disturbed this article's relentless reprojection of the Japan-North Korea relationship through the prism of the United States. Kang is, after all, writing for a Washington audience. However, Kang's reliance on English-language sources is somewhat disconcerting. A certain piquancy is lacking in the resulting stew, as key ingredients go missing.
Take for example his account of the derailment of the normalization process that took place after the September 2002 Pyongyang summit (p. 108). According to Kang:
My memory of that stunning September three years was somewhat different. Koizumi came back from Pyongyang holding ashes—not literally, that was to come later—but gray and speechless at the stunning revelation that most of the abductees were dead, purportedly in "accidents," their graves all "washed away in floods." He and Abe Shinzo had debated whether to return during the scheduled lunch break without signing the Declaration. They had furthermore traveled to Pyongyang already briefed about the possible clandestine HEU program, fully cognizant of the likely public outcry that would ensue when the U.S. went public with its suspicions.
Koizumi traveled to Pyongyang for a breakthrough meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the first-ever meeting between the two countries' heads of state. The summit produced a dramatic declaration: after three decades of denials, North Korea admitted and apologized for the past abductionof Japanese nationals and held out the possibility of normalizing diplomatic ties between the two countries...
The summit's concluding Pyongyang Declaration was significant, as both sides apologized for past actions—a precondition for moving forward—and pledged to cooperate in the future.
Unfortunately, this optimism was quickly overshadowed by the nuclear crisis. Within just weeks of Koizumi's trip, all hopes of a rapid improvement in relations faded as North Korea and the United States squared off.
Nothing prepared them, however, for the shock of so many Japanese dead at such a young age. Since they were bringing no one home, there was nothing to cushion the blow delivered to the families...all of which was broadcast live on television.
The HEU accusation was a sideshow, comparatively speaking.