A last hurrah at some of the year’s political howlers

by Eric L. Due

Inasmuch as newspapers routinely wrap up their year with top-10 news, sports and other stories, perhaps it would also be a good time to hark back on, say, roughly 10 memorable moments in blunder-speak, when political figures funded by the taxpayer blurt out nuggets guaranteed to show how not to earn their pay.

Take Hakuo Yanagisawa, who, in a January meeting as health and welfare minister looking into the problem of the falling birthrate, called women “baby-making machines.” Gender equality, let alone respect, apparently never occurred to him. Women’s groups and female lawmakers were quickly incensed. He later said he used too “uncivil” a metaphor.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also lashed out at him, but not to the point of dismissal. Rather, Abe waxed surreal, saying he would like, along with the public, to “reconfirm the magnificence of family and of housework.” That surely helped.

Not only the female population, but the population as a whole was easily lumped together in February by then education minister Bunmei Ibuki, who called the nation “extremely homogeneous”.” The remark not only ruffled Ainu feathers but drew a fast rebuke from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism.

Of course, when it comes to slurs, gaffes and outbursts sure to irk, few hold a candle to Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who, also in February, called for Japan to trash the pacifist Constitution and face the China threat squarely. In almost the same breath, the man who can say “yes” to any quick chance to dis foreigners, found them an easy target to blame for crime in the Roppongi district: “It’s now virtually a foreign neighborhood. Africans — I don’t mean African-Americans — who don’t speak English are doing who knows what.”

Abe in March set off his own incendiary with his “no coercion” gambit, putting on a fast track a U.S. Congress resolution demanding that Japan apologize for its forced, “coercive” use of wartime sex slaves. Days earlier, then Foreign Minister Taro Aso had already brushed off the U.S. rebuke, slamming the resolution.

Abe tried to get the hot potato back in the box, but not before Liberal Democratic Party crony Shoichi Nakagawa weighed in and said much the same thing. Newly elected Miyazaki Gov. Hideo Higashikokubaru “Sonomanma” also saw fit to wade into the no-proof-of coercion minefield, perhaps just for laughs. If so, few found humor in the comedian-turned-pol’s remark that, “It is very difficult to confirm as a historical fact that the ‘comfort women’ actually existed.”

Then in April, Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda came out to say the Self-Defense Forces “practice killing people” — oh yeah, but in order to maintain peace. He made this remark during a welcoming pitch to new civil servants. Like other gaffe-teers, he rambled on hard in a bid to explain what he really meant, after causing such “misunderstanding.” He later admitted that what he said was inappropriate but blurted further: “It would have been appropriate if I had said killing and wounding.” Uh, what?

Digging his foot in deeper in that same speech, Ueda also lumped police into the equation, saying they “also have a hard job as they have to assume people who come into view may be thieves and in some cases have to seize them.” That’s reassuring.

Aso, for his part, raised eyebrows once again in July when he pointed out that even someone with Alzheimer’s disease can tell that Japanese rice is more expensive than its Chinese counterpart. Why, just look at the price tag.

Terrorism also shared pride of place in the lame-blurb roster, first when LDP security policy panel chief Gen Nakatani said in October that any political foes of the resumption of the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling operation in the Indian Ocean amounted to “terrorists” themselves: “Only terrorists would oppose the mission.”

This prompted Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Yukio Hatoyama to pipe up: “Given that about 30 percent of the public is opposed to the refueling activities, it means three in 10 Japanese are terrorists.”

His LDP brother, Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, ironically followed that act with his own aside, in support of the new foreigner-fingerprinting regime, by noting that a friend of a friend was supposedly a member of al-Qaida, and that the friend, reportedly a “butterfly collector,” had been given a heads-up on an attack in Bali, Indonesia. Did Japan’s No. 1 law-enforcement official get any investigative or collaborative wheels in motion over this tidbit, or just wait to trot it out to support an unpopular policy?

But the big bombshell hit in early July, when then Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma intimated that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “couldn’t be helped” — a remark that resounded, at least in two cities of historic note, with the huge “thronk” of a lead balloon going over. Who saw that one coming?

Spoken like a man who knew his days were numbered — four to be exact — Kyuma became another of the many members of Abe’s Cabinet to depart in disgrace. Abe, who had been on a quest to make Japan “a beautiful country” (a term that baffled many) was soon to follow him out the door.

Ironically, his successor, Yasuo Fukuda, took little time in distancing himself from his forceful predecessor, calling the “beautiful country” panel Abe set up a waste of money.