Aso’s fish slip gives game away

Prime minister adds to his image of wealthy, aloof politician out of touch with common people

by Reiji Yoshida

Amid dismal approval ratings, Prime Minister Taro Aso is trying hard these days to shed his public image as an aloof, rich politician from an extremely wealthy family, perhaps with an eye toward appealing to voters when the time comes to call an election.

In the past month Aso has visited a supermarket to check food prices on shelves, gone to “shitamachi” working-class areas wearing a traditional happi coat and talked about “manga” comics before youngsters in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, all the while smiling broadly for the TV cameras around him.

But he probably revealed his true colors Monday while talking about meals at cheap “izakaya” pubs in Tokyo, drawing strong reactions from thousands of pro- and anti-Aso users of 2channel, the country’s largest Internet forum.

“Meals (at the pub) were something like ‘hokke no nitsuke,’ ” Aso told executives of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party during a meeting Monday, according to major daily Mainichi Shimbun and Kyodo News.

“Hokke” is a kind of mackerel that is rather cheap but quite substantial, and therefore a favorite of those trying to fill their stomachs with low-budget pub fare.

“Nitsuke” means fish simmered in soy and sugar, a home-style dish for common folks.

But at a pub, at least in the Kanto region, hokke is usually grilled and never nitsuke style. Thus the combination of hokke and nitsuke that Aso mentioned sounded very strange to many people, and gave the impression that, while pretending to understand the cuisine of common people, Aso has no actual experience of eating such food at inexpensive pubs.

“Now I know Aso acts as if he knew, shooting off his mouth,” read an anonymous message posted Tuesday on 2channel.

Others, many of them apparently supporters of Aso, strongly argued back that hokke is sometimes served nitsuke style in some regions, particularly in Hokkaido.

“I was born and grew up in Kansai but ate hokke no nitsuke yesterday. It’s really good,” a Wednesday message read.

After thousands of messages were exchanged in heated online debates over how hokke is cooked in pubs, some also pointed out that the media focus too much nowadays on the prime minister’s private doings.

“Do you judge (the value) of a prime minister by hokke no nitsuke or bars at hotels? It’s stupid,” said another anonymous message on 2channel posted Tuesday.

Aso has recently been criticized by the media for his frequent nighttime visits to bars at luxury hotels.