Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Improper Thoughts on the Death of Nakagawa Shōichi

I was packing for an afternoon hike on the Ne no Gongen-Takedera route, listening to the economics experts slanging away about the new government's economic policies on Nichiyō Tōron.

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.


Tornadoes28 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tornadoes28 said...

It would be nice to start to hear Japanese leaders and others step up and start talking about the horid suicide death toll in their country. The amount of people taking their own lives in Japan is sickening. There is something seriously wrong about that.

John Mock said...

Nicely done. It is always difficult to know how to deal with someone like Nakagawa-san in any case. With a sudden death, options are even more limited. I do see a tortured man functioning in a corrupt world but certainly not one of his own making (or, as you point out, not one he tried to fix). Born on third base is an excellent analogy, my own thought is perhaps half way down the baseline toward home but there doesn't seem, really, to be a home plate. Looking at the past four prime ministers, it is hard to say three of them were even playing ball (Koizumi is the exception, whether or not you agree with him...insofar as one can tell).

One hopes that with the regime change, there may be the chance of substantial change but...yet again, the prime minister was born on third base.

Janne Morén said...

The suicide rate is nothing to laugh at, but the image of Japan as exceptional in this respect is wrong. Depending on the list it's somewhere around 8-15th country in the world, one in a cluster of countries well below the highest ranked ones.

But then you have to take into account the relatively permissive societal and legal attitude to suicide in Japan (and some other of those highly ranked countries). It means both that people are not as likely to try to disguise their suicide as something else, and that the police and other officials are less likely to obfuscate the details for the sake of the family.

You have to wonder, for instance, at many of the mysterious single-car accidents where a lone driver "lost control" and slammed their vehicle into a highway bridge support for instance. Or "accidental overdoses" of sleeping pills and alcohol (of which it's certainly possible that Nakagawa was a genuine victim) and so on.