First of all, we’re sorry. Everybody is sorry. This was the year that everyone apologized and everyone was sorry about something. The Asahi Shimbun was sorry so many times (even when maybe they shouldn’t have been) that we’re omitting them from the list. There’s not enough space.
We in the press were sorry to see freedom of speech and freedom of the press vanish in 2014 with enactment of the state secrets law. Goodbye, we’ll miss you! The people were also sorry to see ¥60 billion ($500 million) wasted on elections that no one was really sure were needed.
“There is only one reason to call an election now, and that is the fear that things will be only worse if he waits,” said Gerald L. Curtis, a specialist on Japanese politics at Columbia University, referring to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “The expectation of political stability and an Abe administration unchallenged for six years, that so many thought just two weeks ago was the most likely scenario, is now history.”
History. Let’s move on.
The dismal arts
Supposedly deaf composer Mamoru Samuragochi, once called Japan’s “modern-day Beethoven,” held a news conference March 7 to admit that he was more or less a fake. He wasn’t completely deaf and most of the music he’d claimed to have composed had in fact been penned by a ghostwriter, Takashi Niigaki, including his Symphony No. 1 “Hiroshima” and a piece used by figure skater Daisuke Takahashi for his gold medal-winning Olympic performance in Sochi.
“I apologize for causing troubles because of my lies. I’m so sorry,” the son of Hiroshima A-bomb survivors told reporters in Tokyo.
We were also sorry. We wanted to believe.
Beloved novelist Haruki Murakami apologized for telling the truth — or at least for not using a fictitious name in one of his short stories.
In “Drive My Car,” published in the December 2013 issue of Bungeishunju magazine, the main character watches a driver from Nakatonbetsu, Hokkaido, toss a lit cigarette out of her car window. He then makes the observation that everyone in the town routinely does the same thing.
“I’m thinking about changing it (Nakatonbetsu) to a different name when the story comes out in book form so that I won’t cause any more trouble,” Murakami said in February. Yes, sometimes where there’s cigarette smoke, there’s fire — no ifs or butts about it.
Charlotte Kate Fox, the first foreigner to play a lead role in a flagship NHK morning drama, said in a Nov. 5 news conference that, like the character she plays, she has grown stronger since coming to Japan. The drama, called “Massan,” is based on the life of Masaharu Kameyama, who started Japan’s first whisky distillery in Osaka, and his Scottish wife, Rita.
The drama takes place in the Meiji (1867-1912) and Taisho (1912-26) eras, a time when Japanese society was especially insular, xenophobic and suspicious of foreigners. “Now I’m a much stronger woman, I’m a much stronger actress,” Fox said. “Japan has given me everything.”
Meanwhile, back in real life, some foreigners felt like Japan was giving them nothing and had slipped back into the Taisho Era. On July 18, responding to a lawsuit filed by an 82-year-old Chinese resident of Oita, the Supreme Court ruled that under Japanese law, foreign permanent residents are not entitled to welfare, because they aren’t Japanese nationals.
Hiroshi Tanaka, a professor emeritus of sociology at Hitotsubashi University, said the decision would make Japan a target of global ridicule, noting sagely: “Foreigners pay taxes. If you pay taxes, you should be eligible for the social security system that you’ve contributed to. That’s a common-sense understanding.”
In January, All Nippon Airways said it would modify a TV commercial after apologizing to customers who complained that it used racist stereotyping. ANA said it meant no offense. In the commercial, the comedian known as Bakarhythm wears a blond wig and and a Tengu-like long rubber nose as he apes a foreigner.
“If you are a foreigner and have planned to come to #Japan do not choose an openly racist airline like #ANA! Watch their Japanese commercial,” tweeted @sibylleito.
An ANA spokeswoman said the carrier “has received calls from customers, mostly foreigners, complaining about the ad. We apologized to each of the customers for having caused uncomfortable feelings and also thanked them for bringing up the issue,” she said.
Many longtime foreign residents didn’t find the ad particularly offensive, but they do find paying taxes and not being entitled to benefits very offensive.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made promoting women in the workforce ostensibly one of the priorities of his government, but his underlings in the Liberal Democratic Party seemed to forget this from time to time. He also appears not to have made the best choices in picking female leaders.
He tapped five women for top positions in his second Cabinet, launched in September. Two of them were later found to have associated with members of the Japanese Nazi party, with one of the pair having publicly endorsed a book called “Hitler’s Election Strategy.” Another female minister was closely associated with a racist right-wing group partnered with Nihon Seinensha, the political arm of Japan’s second-largest organized crime group, the Sumiyoshi-kai. (Pay attention, these names come up again.)
Well, maybe Abe was trying to say, “Women can be rabid raving nationalists too.”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government assembly hit a new low in June when, as Ayaka Shiomura, a female member of Your Party, was asking questions about policies related to the nation’s declining birthrate and other demographic problems, her fellow (male) lawmakers yelled out remarks such as “You should give birth first!” and “Can’t you give birth to a baby?”
Akihiro Suzuki, a member of Abe’s LDP, later apologized with a non-apology, saying: “I uttered the remark with a philosophy that I’d like people to get married soon amid the falling birthrate and delayed marriage. I profoundly regret my lack of consideration for people who find it hard to get married even though they hope to do so.”
Suzuki is a rabid nationalist who was one of a bunch that illegally landed on the disputed Senkaku Islands in 2012, alongside several members of a nationalist group associated with Nihon Seinensha. (Maybe the yakuza are kind of sexist.)
Suzuki’s thoughtless remark was almost forgotten, only to be revived thanks to Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who made last year’s quotes-of-the-year article with his infamous gaffe invoking Nazi Germany during a speech in which he discussed revising war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.
“(The Nazis) did it in a let’s-keep-it-quiet manner, and the Weimar Constitution was changed almost before people realized it,” Aso said in 2013. “Why don’t we learn from that method?”
Aso-kun, why don’t you learn to shut up?
On Dec. 8, during the election campaign, he stated, “There are many people who are creating the image that (increasing numbers of) elderly people is bad, but more problematic are people who don’t give birth.”
Hear that, ladies? Get out of the boardroom and back to the bedroom and breed some kids. Of course, that can’t really be the message of Abe’s “womenomics,” can it?
Justice for some but not all
There were some good tidings this year.
Iwao Hakamada, the former professional boxer who spent more than 40 year on death row, was released from prison in March. The Shizuoka District Court decided to reopen his mass murder case based on new DNA tests. The legal team representing him on Aug. 5 announced that the prosecution had concealed critical photographic evidence that might have cleared him earlier.
“The evidence was intentionally concealed and we’re not going to leave it like this,” his counsel said, lambasting prosecutorial misconduct.
Speaking of prosecutorial misconduct:
“The decision not to prosecute the former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (and two other executives) for professional negligence resulting in death and injury is unjust and they should be prosecuted,” ruled the prosecutorial review board on July 23, releasing their decision on July 31. The triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011 may still be tried as a criminal case. However, the prosecutors won’t decide whether to do their job or not until next year.
As for justice, this year Japan’s justice minister, Midori Matsushima, resigned after she was accused by the opposition of violating election laws — something that you would expect the minister of justice to understand and not violate.
Eriko Yamatani, who was appointed to oversee the National Police Agency — even after a weekly magazine exposed her ties with a racist group, Zaitokukai (which is now listed by the same National Police Agency as a security threat) — did not resign. She did, however, hold a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, where she was relentlessly grilled.
At the FCCJ, she refused to admonish Zaitokukai by name and accused weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun of lying in their reporting. The magazine promptly responded by releasing audio tapes of their interview, which appeared to show Yamatani was not telling the truth, and in a snarky conclusion, Shukan Bunshun quoted everyone’s favorite Japanese proverb: Usotsuki wa dorobō no hajimari (“Lying is the precursor to becoming a thief”).
The LDP, noting the warm welcome Yamatani received at the FCCJ, elected to send no one to speak to those foreign barbarians before the snap elections, giving the international media the silent treatment.
Maybe they just wanted to avoid the kind of questions only a 10-year-old would ask.
“I don’t understand at all. Mr. Shinzo Abe said on TV that he called the snap election to ‘hear the voice of the people’ but first of all, what is the main problem that we are facing? ‘Abenomics’ was supposed to make more money, but my pocket money still stays the same. My dad and mom are always worried about family money and we can never go out for BBQ. But it seems so easy to spend ¥70 billion for just a single election. Please, Mr. Abe, members of the Diet, people working in the media, would anyone give me an answer? Why do they have to dissolve the Parliament? Or is this also secret?”
These words were put up on a website that was purportedly run by a 10-year old. He later turned out to be a 20-year-old student. This incensed Prime Minister Abe, who wrote on his Facebook page that impersonating a child “was the most despicable act.”
Hmm. Most people can think of more-despicable acts — like not answering those questions or refusing to take responsibility for your actions as a ruler in a democratic nation.
The reasons for the elections were touted by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Nov. 19 as follows: “The government in power gets to decided what the election is about and this election is about Abenomics.”
How silly of the people and the press to imagine they could even question what was at stake in the elections.
The sounds of silence
And here is the second most important quote of the year:
” …………… “
Yep, absolute silence.
The public response to Abe’s snap (but hardly crackle-and-pop) elections was the lowest voter turn-out in postwar Japanese history. A mere 52.7 percent of the electorate. Yes, 47.3 percent of the adult population, nearly half, remained silent. Maybe because there wasn’t much of a choice. The only protest vote for many was to put in a ballot for the Japan Communist Party, which nearly tripled its strength to 21 members in the Lower House — enough to actually submit legislation.
And finally, this:
“XXXX XXX XXXXX.”
Sorry. That quote may touch upon a state secret, and the state secrets law conveniently went into effect four days before voting. We can’t tell you what government agency arbitrarily declared it a secret or why. There is no way to review it or protest. And please don’t ask too many times why that’s a secret — not to The Japan Times and certainly not to the Japanese government or any public servant — because that would be instigating a leak, punishable with up to five years in prison. Even if you don’t go to jail, you might have the police swarm into your office, take all your computers, documents, and even your cellphone as evidence while they try to determine who your source was in the government. Your source will face up to 10 years in prison. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Anything.
If you wanted the year to end with a cheery quote, we’re so sorry. We’ll try.
Here are some final words of encouragement from an editorial on the front page of Tokyo Shimbun on the day the state secrets law went into effect:
“The Manchurian Incident began with an Imperial Japanese Army plot. The Japanese people were only told the truth during the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. We shouldn’t let history repeat itself. Against this evil law, we must not remain silent, and we must continue to raise our voices in protest.”
Jake Adelstein writes the monthly Dark Side of the Rising Sun column in The Japan Times on Sunday. Your comments and ideas: email@example.com