A leisurely, happy morning.
Suddenly, with about 5 minutes remaining before the hour, the program was interrupted by the news flash: former Finance Minister Nakagawa Shōichi had been found dead in his Setagaya home.
The participants were a bit taken aback. However, with the prodding of the announcer, they got back to their discussion, and in the final seconds, were even laughing at a witticism.
It was a sorry, sad failure of propriety...but what could the guests do? Since they were talking about the economy, they would have to bring up the point that Nakagawa was the former finance minister...and the last thing anyone wanted to remind viewers (or in my case, listeners) of his great humiliation.
And then, with Nakagawa only 56 years of age, an alcoholic and the son of suicide, the inevitable first thought was that he had died at his own hand.
What could they do, in the circumstances? What would I do?
I hesitated to turn on the laptop, to type out some message or brief blog post. The day was already getting late, however...and I really did not have much to say more than what I had said in Reflections on these Men Broken.
So I too just let it go.
* * *
A man has died, one became at one point the butt of jokes around the world. He worked his way up to the position of Finance Minister despite being seriously ill for much of his adult life. In terms of his inner world, he likely suffered greatly, his personality not suited for the responsibilities thrust upon him.
We should be careful to not go overboard in self laceration or attributions of possible merit, however. While it is right to feel sympathy for the sick man and his family members, we should not lose sight of the twisted system in which Nakagawa Shōichi operated and which he did too little to change.
Like so many of the LDP leaders in its years of precipitous decline, Nakagawa was born, as they say in the United States, "on third base, thinking he had just hit a triple." He was the son of a powerful LDP politician who, in meeting his end at the age of 57, gave Shōichi an early start on his climb up the political ladder. Keizō Obuchi's and Ryutarō Hashimoto's fathers also died prematurely – making it possible for these two men to amass sufficient seniority to become prime ministers at the ages of 58 and 61, respectively. Obuchi's Keizō death in office in turn opened the door for his daughter Yūko to become the youngest minister in history.
Nakagawa and his fellow hereditary politicians had an immense head start on their countrymen.
In terms of his politics, Nakagawa may have just happened to be at the right place at the right time. A staunch, dogmatic nationalist, he would have been anti-mainstream in the late 60s, the 70s and the 80s. However, after the march of Japan's economic prowess had come to a shuddering halt, leaving many citizens groping for answers on how to better their lives, he and his fellow hardliners found themselves aboard an escalator to high office.
(I must credit Tobias Harris for suggesting that the relationship between the economic slump and the rise of the nationalist right was serendipitous, not determined. The bursting of the Bubble did not compel a rise of nationalist feelings among the citizens. It merely blew open a hole in the national narrative into which fantabulist nationalism could insinuate itself.)
As Okumura Jun has noted on numerous occasions, Nakagawa was a sight better than his most of peers in the brains department. Yes, but then his peers....well...
We can recognize that Nakagawa Shōichi rose to the highest positions in political life. We can also be candid and admit that he did so within an institutionalized, hereditary, exclusive, seniority-based, hierarchical structure that, because it was charged with the rule of a democratic country, also had to be corrupt.
Was he a prisoner of heredity and social expectations? No doubt.
Had he been wiser or perhaps luckier in his choices of friends and mentors, though, he might have liberated himself.
Resquiescat in Pacem.