Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Personal Note on Policy Research Council Chairman Ishihara Nobuteru

Back when I was living in a small apartment in Hamadayama 4 chōme, in Suginami City, Ishihara Nobuteru lived right around the corner.

I do not mean that figuratively.

He and his family lived in an unimposing, almost ugly house, with no garden to speak of and barely a place to park the car. Indeed, it only became clear that the house was his when he became Parliamentary Vice Minister to MITI in 1996. A tiny temporary guardhouse, no wider than a chair, with nothing in it but a telephone, suddenly appeared next to the gate one day, manned by single ancient, tiny, emaciated police officer.

It was a security detail--of a sort.

The only time I ever saw Ishihara in person in all the years I lived in Hamadayama was the day of a mochizuki taikai at the local children's play hall (jidōkan).

The hall was a moldering, concrete aesthetic disaster painted sky blue, with a weird trapeze-shaped microgymnasium, a book reading room, a carpeted children's play room and a music room--all in a stunning state of disrepair. Outside there was a depressing concrete courtyard and a large sandbox.

The taikai was held in the courtyard. Men from the chōkai occupied themselves with the mochi mallet and mortar, with the children taking turns pounding the rice into mochi. Mothers whose children attended the nearby day care center (hoikuen) or elementary school stood for hours making tray after tray of soy sauce, kinoko or sweet bean paste mochi servings for everyone to eat. Children gadded about, helped with pounding the mochi, hammered on the old piano upstairs, played with Lego blocks in the play room--having a grand old time in the not-so-grand surroundings.

Ishihara, who lived about 300 meters away from the play hall, did not come for the festivities. Instead, he arrived after the food and drink were all gone, the mochi mortar cleaned and drying out and no one but six or seven old members of the chōkai still about, sitting in the gymnasium on folding chairs, smoking cigarettes.

He came in, pulled up a chair and sat down with the old men.

I could not hear what he and the men were saying. I was still new to the neighborhood and did not feel comfortable approaching a member of the Diet out of the blue. I especially did not want to make a spectacle of myself before the members of the chōkai.

So my memory of this first and only time I ever saw the new Policy Research Council chief was the sight of him, in silhouette, spending his Saturday afternoon not with his family, not downtown with the Mrs., not with his uncle's stable of actors (the Yūjirō gundan) or his dad's right wing crowd--but instead, sitting in a decrepit gymnasium of a nearly empty children's play hall on a folding steel chair in the company of a handful of sweating, stinking old men.

It was at that moment I was struck by two realizations.

The first was that I am damned grateful I am not a politician. To have spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in such way...

The second was that while his father may be an author playing the role of a politician, Ishihara Nobuteru is a politician--through and through. It was what he knew how to do and what he was willing to do.

So if you should go to his homepage and read his own account of how he became what he is, do not scoff when he says:

Recognizing the importance of establishing personal relationships with voters, I began visiting the district's stations, shopping centers, and street corners. I introduced myself to as many people as possible and handed out business cards that simply read: "Nobuteru Ishihara." More importantly, I listened to the voters' comments, fielded their questions, and shared with them my vision for Japan.
Ishihara is not exaggerating one bit.

I am sure he did all those things, in utter sincerity.

I know he did...because of what I saw one sunny January afternoon.

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