It has not been until this autumn, however, that I have come to understand the functions of two nouns -- one a common noun and the other a proper noun -- in Japanese political discourse. The usage of these two nouns has always caused my ears to tingle and my breath to halt. However, until this fall's Potemkin debate on the raising of the consumption tax and the lurching, blood-spewing path the execrable* Official Secrets Bill (my latest read: the ruling coalition will pass the bill amid chaos on Friday, giving the public the reason it has been seeking to hate the Liberal Democratic Party all over again) has taken toward passage, I could not put my finger on why.
Now I can.
Here are the two nouns whose political meanings I have come to understand:
The dictionary defines taisaku as "countermeasures" - the changes you have to make to your operations in order to cope with a new situation. In Japanese political speech, however, taisaku has a more limited meaning. Rather than being "countermeasures" in a general sense, the taisaku drawn up by bureaucrats and politicians should be understood as "dubious government actions intended to countermand the entirely predictable deleterious side effects of earlier and equally dubious government actions, primarily in the sphere of economics."
The escalating rounds of countermeasures leading up to the decision to go forward with the rise in the consumption tax illustrates this special meaning of taisaku. First we had the bungled Bank of Japan response to the Plaza Accords, which led to asset price bubble. After the piercing of the bubble and the consequent collapse of economic activity, elected officials responded with fiscal stimulus package after fiscal stimulus package, each one too puny to halt economic contraction because of Finance Ministry fears of jacking up the national debt. The too puny fiscal stimulus packages and tentative monetary easings of the 1990s, coupled with Japa'’s long-recognized aging, created an unsustainable level of national debt via-a-vis the nation's pension/health care obligations. Meeting these obligations requires more revenues, which means higher taxes. Higher taxes, especially regressive taxes like the consumption tax, decreases economic activity. So the government has to cobble together a stimulus packages, either cutting back on tax receipts from other areas or borrowing money, which further increases the debt burden, which means the creation of expectations of further tax increases in the future, which diminishes the desire to spend, which...
The main reason why Japan's bureaucrats, politicians and even its big businessman have not ever thought of stepping off the ascending spiral staircase of taisaku is that halting the process would force members of the Establishment say, out loud:
"You know, we screwed up. We pretended to be omniscient, transcendent higher beings when what we were really was cowards and frauds. Sorry."
Which establishments never say. Ever.
Except, of course, when they say, "Taisaku."
Yokota Megumi - 横田めぐみ
Yokota Megumi was a 13 year-old girl, walking home from a badminton practice at her middle school in the heart of Niigata City, Niigata Prefecture on November 15, 1977. On the way, she seems to have crossed the path of North Korean agents. For reasons that will likely never be explained, the agents took her as a captive and spirited her away to North Korea, where she grew up a prisoner, employed as a trainer for North Korean spies hoping to pass as Japanese citizens. She purportedly committed suicide in 1994, and is survived by a former husband and a daughter, both of whom are prisoners of the DPRK regime.
While tragic, Ms. Yokota's story is not unique. A couple dozen other Japanese nationals, hundreds of South Korean nationals and a smattering of citizens of other nations have all been kidnapped and held captive by the irretrievably evil government of the DPRK. Ms. Yokota's story and that of Soga Hitomi, a young woman whose was kidnapped from Sado Island in 1978, indicate that her gender and youth were factors in her survival. They also indicate that the kidnapping of Japanese citizens to become teachers of Japanese mores and culture -- Megumi's eventual role in North Korean society -- was an ad hoc justification for what was a fairly pointless and marginal facet of North Korea's ever-evolving program of extortion through random acts of terror.
In Japanese political diction, however, mention of "Yokota Megumi" is the refuge of the intellectually unsound. Like references to Hitler in English-language discussions of politics, the brandishing of "Yokota Megumi" is supposed to stun the listener into silence. Why does Japan need a national security council? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan need such a draconian new official secrets law? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan have to revise Article 9 of the 1947 Constitution? "Yokota Megumi." Why does Japan have to …“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I CAN’T HEAR YOU! YOU SEE MY FINGERS IN MY EARS, YOU CHINA-LOVING, DPRK-CODDLING DUPE? I HAVE NO RATIONAL REASON FOR CURTAILING CIVIL LIBERTIES, TURNING A BLIND EYE TOWARD XENOPHOBIA AND RAISING JAPAN’S MILITARY POSTURE SO YOKOTA MEGUMI, YOKOTA MEGUMI, YOKOTA MEGUMI!!!"
Here is prime example of Yokota Megumi being dragged in in order to supposedly prove a point, drawn from a major political tract by a famous author:
After the Dhaka Incident of September 1977, Kume Yutaka of Ishikawa Prefecture was kidnapped and taken to the Democratic Republic of North Korea. The police authorities of the time arrested the perpetrator. However, knowing that the perpetrator was involved in a covert operations organization of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the police let him go out of fear of a dispute arising with 'peace-loving peoples of the world.'
Because of this, what occurred? Two months later, in November, Yokota Megumi was kidnapped from the seaside of Niigata Prefecture. Had the Government of Japan at the time [of the Kume disappearance] chosen the path of confronting the Government of the DPRK, would not Megumi-san still be living her life in Japan?"
In the end, Japan's postwar system, as symbolized by the Constitution of Japan, could not safeguard the life of a 13 year-old girl. And for us, even now, this problem remains [unresolved].
A flimsy free association of various humiliations of Japan occurring in the autumn of 1977, including the purported Kume kidnapping, which has never been acknowledged by the DPRK, if Kume's disappearance was even a kidnapping. The spinelessness of the Fukuda government toward the Dhaka hijackers leads to the disappearance of Kume in Ishikawa which leads to the release of the police's top person of interest in the Kume disappearance which leads to kidnapping of "Megumi-san" two months later in Niigata City.
The passage includes a sarcastic quotation from the preamble of the Constitution ("We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship, and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world"). The quote seems a demonstration of an adolescent desire for applause for cleverness. While feeling contempt toward Constitution and its naïve faith in the good intentions of peace-loving peoples of the world is a valid emotional reaction, this contempt should be expressed openly, not hinted at by the snide use of quotation marks.
So why should I or anyone else be give a damn about this snarky connect-the-dots bit of weirdness reminiscent of the histrionic performances of American embarrassment Glenn Beck, one culminating in the author's making a maudlin appeal to sympathy for Ms. Yokota in an absurd bit of speculative history? Because you will find it on page 252 of Toward a New Country (Atarashii kuni e) -- a book published earlier this year by a certain Mr. Abe Shinzo, prime minister of Japan.
Now I understand what my body has been telling me all these years: when in an argument with someone over the appropriateness of the Japanese government's taking a new position as regards security, or its plans to adopt an unprecedented new mode of operation, at the very first utterance of "Yokota Megumi" I should relax, smile and go prepare to go home.
The argument is over. Indeed, there was never any argument on the other side at all.
* On November 8, the Tokyo Shimbun reprinted the entire working text of the official secrets bill, highlighting the 36 times the lazy authors of the bill had ended their sentences with "and so on and so forth, et cetera" (sono ta).