Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Paging Alanis Morissette

It depends on what you think "irony" means, I guess.

I was reviewing editorials on the Miyazaki scandal as background to a longer post I hope to write about the impact of the rural-urban divide on next year's elections and Japan's future, when I came upon this perplexing passage:
Governor Ando resigns
The Asahi Shimbun

In 1993, when the Diet passed a resolution to promote decentralization for the first time, the nation's political community was rocked by a corruption scandal involving general contractors. The scandal led to the arrests of the governors of Ibaraki and Miyagi prefectures. This time, the arrests of the governors have come just when a bill to promote reforms for decentralization is about to be passed.

What an irony that in both cases the revelations about corruption and collusion in local governments surfaced when a political move toward decentralization was under way.

Yet there is no stopping the trend toward a more decentralized society where decisions on local affairs are made by the local communities. In such an age, it is only natural that governors and mayors must be prepared to be more harshly held accountable for their actions. All these revelations about crimes committed by governors should trigger serious efforts to root out the deep-seated culture of collusion in local politics.

Far be it from me to point out the fragility of another person's logic, but is it not possible to stop the trend toward a more decentralized society by just keeping society the way it is? No change is "inevitable", especially when you have to pass a series of laws to make that change happen

But I digress.

What really bothered me was the highlighted sentence. I sensed I understood what the editorialist was trying to say. That he or she did not in fact say it left me troubled.

"What an irony..."?

How is it ironic? In which direction?

So I consulted the original.

宮崎知事辞職 談合体質の一掃こそ



Now this all makes a lot more sense--even the bit about the heretofore "unstoppable trend" which, it turns out, is merely "the trend that will not be stopped."

The difference between "can be stopped" and "will be stopped" is important, folks.

The English "irony" section is furthermore a concoction, a splicing together of sentences best kept apart and the insertion of phrases not in the original.

The section terminates with a question, aluding to--but not stating-- the possibility that members of the bureaucracy/prosecutor's office expose the venality of politicians at precisely the moment when the Diet considers legal changes that will increase the control politicians will exercise over funds. "Nanto hiniku na meguriawase ka" is less "What an irony!" and more "Isn't it ironic?"

A better translation of the critical paragraph might be:

"Looking back...the first time both houses of the Diet passed legislation encouraging the decentralization of authority, which was in 1993, the governors of Miyazaki and Ibaraki were arrested in the "General Contractors" (Zenecon) scandal. This time, right as the Diet is trying to pass the Reform Law Encouraging the Decentralization of Authority, governors are being arrested one after the other.

Are corruption and collusion tied, through some kind of cynical twist of fate, to the decentralization program?"

By "corruption and collusion" the Asahi means, of course, "discoveries of cases of local government collusion and corruption."--something they could never come straight out and say.

Because that would accuse public prosecutors of proceeding on cases with a political agenda.

And, of course, it would not be a twist of fate, either. It would be human will.

Well, anyway, chalk this up as one more contribution to the National Bureau of Asian Research Japan Forum's dormant (but never quite expired) debate on "If you want say anything worthwhile about Japan, do you have to be conversant in Japanese?" *

[Editor - It seems to me you are making a huge assumption about the value of your work here, MTC.]


* To find out what the experts think, search the following Japan Forum topics:

- Japanese language research
- Karel
- Wolferen
- Dore
- Ronald Dore

but only if you want to lay waste to a few hours.

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