The Japanese have a place in their hearts for politicians who say outrageous and stupid things. There is a long history of it. First, the Japanese seem to confuse constitutional freedom of speech with the freedom to say absolutely anything with impunity. Hence there is a disposition to admire leaders who say stupid — even factually wrong — things as heroes of integrity and conviction, and champions of constitutionally protected free speech.
In addition, the Japanese host a streak of stubbornness, and when leading Japanese like Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto and former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara are seen to be under attack, their stubborn recalcitrance is redeeming in public opinion insofar as it coincides with the native stubborn streak. The public fancies that it sees itself reflected in its leaders, which is appealing.
While foreigners see leaders like these bringing great shame and discredit on Japan, the Japanese see them as heroic defenders of the homeland. Hence they are re-elected.
Currently Hashimoto is getting his because he refuses to shut up and cease saying stupid things. Before him, former Gov. Ishihara regularly gave similar performances, especially with his persistent use of the derogatory word “shina” when speaking of China and the Chinese.
I remember when former Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita suggested that in order to curb sex crimes by American servicemen in Japan, the servicemen should be restricted to their bases where they could “give each other AIDS.” And I remember when former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in a speech confused the information technology abbreviation “IT” for the English word “it.” I remember when Hokkaido lawmaker Muneo Suzuki was arrested, later convicted, and later still incarcerated on bribery and perjury charges. And don’t forget the abomination of former Liberal Democratic Party bigwig Shin Kanemaru (who was indicted in the Sagawa Kyubin corruption scandal).
These are the kinds of people who occupy Japanese politics — like the cast of a television show. Except that scriptwriters would be hard pressed to make up stuff like this.
What worries me most about Hashimoto is not the idea that he may rise to the prime minister’s office some day as much as the knowledge that he is currently only in his 40s, and he can reasonably be expected to live another 40 years. So we have to keep hearing his crap for a long time to come.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.