Sunday, July 01, 2007

Solsbury Hill

To the readers of Shisaku:

This blog was born out of a dispute I had had with an influential and rather self-important Japan Hand over Koizumi's prime ministership. The dispute spiraled out of control rather quickly, requiring me to pull out of the public arena for a while, keeping my irreverent opinions of Japanese politics (and of Japanese politics experts) to myself.

In 2004 I began writing messages to some journalist acquaintances about the 2004 House of Councillors elections. In 2005, after attending a series of meetings of independent scholars, diplomats, bureaucrats and politicians I began to circulate, via email, my views about what was discussed the meetings and other political issues. As my circle of acquaintances grew, so did my mailing list.

Finally, in 2005 I broke down and began blogging, back loading some of the old email messages in as blog entries.

(Looking back at my 2004 election prediction and the results, I have no idea how I got so close on the final party vote tallies)


Shisaku is a child of the Koizumi Era - feisty, bawdy, ad hoc, effete, argumentative and always incorrigibly light in tone.

On Friday night, however, I made the unusual choice of watching the 9 p.m. newscast on NHK...and realized the hour of joyful play was perhaps over.

I knew not to expect much from the current iteration of the NHK 9 p.m. news. I have always dismissed it as "News for Stupid People" due to the penchant of the program's creators to repeat the same set of facts three times in succession: once in a video segment, once in painfully stilted banter between the personality-deficient co-hosts, and a finally in an uninformative "view of an expert"--usually some middle-aged guy with glasses from the Editorial Section.

But on Friday night, as final votes of the Diet session were being bulldozed through in a session that was to last into the morning, NHK ran a review of Prime Minister Abe Shinzō's half-year.

It was a glimpse into darkness.

The review of the last 5 1/2 months was not merely feeble, it was mendacious. (Non pas faible, mais faux...ou pire encore, fable). Vast chunks of the past were left out, allowing a complete rewrite of the narrative of the last six months--without even a hint of shame.

The public's anger at the beginning of the year at the readmission of the rebel eleven to the LDP - gone.

The Yanagisawa "baby-making machines" incident - gone.

The Matsumoto utility bills circus in the Diet - gone.

The international furor over Foreign Minister Aso Tarō's and Abe's statements on the comfort women - gone.

The poll number bounce back after the warmly-received visit of Wen Jiabao - gone.

The image improvement from the Camp David visit - gone.

Instead, the NHK segment listed the steamrollered pieces of legislation - without ever mentioning that the legislation had passed only because Prime Minister Abe had had a House of Representatives supermajority GIVEN to him by Koizumi. Not one mention that Abe's ideas had never ever been put to the test before the voters.

In this new narrative, a young leader in a hurry marched his party from triumph to triumph, winning by mid-May an approval rating of 50% for his brave leadership. It was then that fate--cold, malicious fate, struck the young man a pair of cruel blows--in the form of the discovery of the separation of 50 million pension accounts from their owners and the suicide of Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Matsuoka Toshikatsu.

Since suffering these indignities, Abe has fought back, extending the Diet session to win back the people's confidence, certain that he could win the battles for his program and would not rest--yeah that he would even suffer withering criticism--in order to get his bills passed--again without the barest hint of the fact that with his supermajority, Abe could have forced the passage of legislation declaring Urdu the national language if he had wanted it badly enough.

And all through this false retelling of the past--not the distant past, THE LAST SIX MONTHS--the repeated image shown was Abe's face as he watched the DPJ try to fight back with parliamentary procedures--censure motions, a no-confidence motion--all doomed to fail.

The half-smile on the face of a man who had never had to fight for a single thing in his entire life--who had had everything handed to him by others - wanly looking on as the Lilliputian opposition wailed and flailed about helplessly.

The smug, self-satisfied smirk on the face of Abe Shinzō, prime minister of Japan.

The joke was on us...and it wasn't funny.

Shimonida Township, Gunma Prefecture
June 30, 2007

Sitting in a patch of sun atop Ōtakesan, a hill above the decayed and dying former mulberry cultivation and silk-worm raising town of Shimonida (in Obuchi Yūko's district they are, the poor buggers. Daughter of a former PM though she may be, she has no more pull than a rubber band at budget compilation time) I decided that my Shisaku persona was probably no longer appropriate for the times.

I will be taking a leave of absence from posting here--perhaps a permanent vacation. It is absolutely the wrong time to be making this decision, with the elections coming up and all. But there is nothing to be done.

I will still be writing, probably under my real name, probably in more formal settings about some rather more serious subjects.

And if you should ever make your way to Shimonida (you would have to be utterly, completely lost) stop by Maruhei on the Nishi Joshū Yamabiko Kaidō. The folks there do amazing things with konyaku.

- MTC

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You will be sorely missed.

Lionel Dersot said...

Your dismissing is painful. Intelligent reading about Japan takes a direct blow.

Garrett said...

Shisaku, this post - and your ability to decide when to keep things light and when to take a more serious tack - is the precise reason you should continue blogging. It sounds to me like you're letting your furstration with NHK's insufficient, insipid coverage of events change what you're doing. I don't understand the rationale behind that decision.

Anonymous said...

I also hope that you reconsider. Yours is some of the most incisive analysis of Japanese politics given in English anywhere. The vapidity of NHK etal. is a reason to continue, not to stop.

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed reading your post. I hope you reconsider.

Jun Okumura said...

You will certainly be reaching a much wider readership, if much less frequently. But let me know when you return, okay?

You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave

Anonymous said...

please, if you have to, and I do believe that one must, from time to time, go to the beach, and yell at the waves, or make love in your heart to the stars and the moon - but, do continue writing, please

Ochka

Anonymous said...

Already one week without Shisaku.
Ahrr... So painful.
Please, give me a little shot of Japanese politics. Some few words. At least, a short analysis of the cartoon of the day.
Here in Paris, we are just left with The Economist stupid comments. Don't even talk about the national press.
Without a Shisaku in your day, Japanese politics is so boring.
=The French Reader=

Anonymous said...

Akagi in utility scandal. This is getting crazier by the day. Please don't stop now..!