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‘Hidden children’ of politicians no hurdle to success

by Philip Brasor

Democratic Party of Japan kingpin Ichiro Ozawa was acquitted last week of conspiring to file false financial reports for his political group. He can now return full-time to the job he was elected to do, but the sense you get from the mainstream media is that he’s through as a politician. The press has always acted as if he were guilty of the charges, and much of the commentary in the wake of the verdict has centered on the poor quality of the prosecution’s tactics and the fact that the law protects politicians in these matters by not making them responsible for their aides’ wrongdoing — which makes sense, since politicians passed the law in the first place.

The public feels the same way the media does. According to a Kyodo News survey, 76 percent of respondents said they “don’t expect anything” of Ozawa. The only reason the media is forced to pay such slavish attention is because he still wields power within the ruling DPJ. Though the style of money-politics Ozawa practices is already a relic, it holds sway among a subset of lawmakers who have been conditioned to follow whichever leader makes their careers easier. Factional politics will not vanish overnight with Ozawa’s eclipse, but he’s definitely the last of his kind.

Consequently, he’ll be missed by a certain breed of reporter who, like the people he covers, has little patience for actual lawmaking. These journalists, however, have total faith in the belief that character is a politician’s most salient attribute. One of them, Kenya Matsuda, wrote an article about Ozawa for the weekly magazine Bunshun that was published just as the trial ended. The article concerns a common bugbear of great public figures, kakushigo (“hidden children”), meaning sons or daughters born to women these great man have sexual congress with out of wedlock.

Hidden children is a specialty field of showbiz reporting. The press freely exposes male celebrities caught with their pants down. Careers can be made or broken depending on how responsibly a star handles his indiscretion. For kabuki actors it’s a time-honored tradition; for more prosaic performers it can be a real test. Recently it was revealed that popular announcer Seiji Miyane has a now 4-year-old daughter with a bar hostess he met six years ago. Since his wife just gave birth last fall, the revelation couldn’t have come at a worse time, but he fully owned up to the affair and legally acknowledged the child. His career doesn’t seem to have suffered.

Politicians sow their seeds just as recklessly, but reporters rarely disclose any babies in the back room unless it’s just too obvious to ignore. In 1989, hapless Prime Minister Sosuke Uno had to resign after being in office only three months when his geisha mistress revealed what a cheapskate he was. And even then the story wasn’t widely mentioned locally until The Washington Post forced the issue by covering it.

In Bunshun, Matsuda says he first heard about Ozawa’s hidden child in 1994 and wrote about it for a different weekly, but he could not get “complete confirmation” about the boy, so he dropped it. That’s because Ozawa, unlike Uno, made sure he took care of his mistresses.

Earlier this spring, Ozawa’s wife, Kazuko, moved out of their huge Tokyo house, leaving him alone. This action prompted Matsuda to reopen the investigation. Naturally, all his sources are pseudonymous, but the most risible aspect of his reporting is the stated motive behind it. During the recent trial, Ozawa repeatedly said his only “real interest” in being a politician is to “work for the benefit of Japan.” Consequently, says Matsuda, Ozawa is dedicated to improving peoples’ lives, but how can he make such a claim when he has made the people closest to him so miserable?

According to the article, in the early ’70s, when Ozawa was a young politician in the Liberal Democratic Party under the tutelage of Kakuei Tanaka, Japan’s most powerful postwar prime minister and the unchallenged master of money-politics, he wanted to marry the daughter of the owner of a Tokyo restaurant he frequented, but both Tanaka and Ozawa’s mother disapproved. Eventually he married Kazuko, the daughter of a rich Tanaka supporter. Kazuko ended up raising Ozawa’s three sons back in his Iwate Prefecture constituency under the eye of his mother-in-law while Ozawa lived it up in the capital and continued his relationship with the restaurant heiress, whom Matsuda calls Yuko. However, in the late ’80s he also had what the reporter characterized as a brief fling with a TV announcer, who became pregnant. Through his main political fixer, Ozawa pressured her to abort the child, but she didn’t.

The boy was eventually adopted by Yuko. Ozawa didn’t legally acknowledge the child as his own, but he had contact with the boy as he grew up. It’s not clear if the boy knows Ozawa is his father, and while Yuko has since married a younger man, her relationship with Ozawa continues. The biological mother of the boy, who is also married, now lives in what the article describes as an “expensive condominium” in Tokyo. None of these people agreed to talk to Matsuda, which he interprets as meaning they have something to hide. Maybe they just think it’s none of his business. Despite implications that Ozawa has ruined their lives, from outward appearances they all seem to be well off and relatively happy.

Matsuda buys into the enduring belief that how a politician conducts his private affairs is a reflection of how he governs. There is now intense coverage of scandals in the United States and Europe that pays lip service to the same belief, but the only real proof of a public figure’s effectiveness is what he accomplishes, and while Ozawa hasn’t done much in the way of policy, that is simply a reflection of his careerism. All he’s good at is getting people elected. The only thing his hidden child tells us is that men can be jerks, and while it’s occasionally fun to be reminded of the fact, it’s one we already know too well.