The ‘blackface’ political shtick

Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso’s recent suggestion that Japan’s politicians take a play from the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and quietly try to slip constitutional revisions under the public radar have sparked a storm of international indignation.

This situation is ridiculous if you consider earlier words in the same speech: “The purpose of constitutional revision should be the stabilization and peace of the state. … I don’t want [people] to make the decision in an uproar. … The Constitution should be revised based on public opinions that carefully examine the situation.”

In that context, the tongue-in-cheekedness of Aso’s comment is pretty clear. Does the Nazi bit sound bad in sound bytes? Yes. But does it sound like Aso is actually advocating a Nazi-style blitz on Japan’s Constitution? Not unless you’re the Simon Wiesenthal Center, China or South Korea, or unless you believe that Aso is schizophrenic. Instead, perhaps you recognize Aso’s typically long-winded style in comparing the rush to amend Japan’s Constitution to Germany’s rush toward its own series of poor decisions.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center at least had the grace to ask Aso to clarify his oddly organized remarks. But in what has become a ritual of rote denunciation, China and South Korea latched onto Japan’s jugular as soon as the words were out of Aso’s bumbling mouth. That there are reactionary thinkers in the world who would take honest offense to facetious praise of Nazis seems possible. That national governments should take up the cause of those same slow-witted pundits simply reflects badly on those governments. Each time China or South Korea reflexively attacks Japan, their motives appear more and more transparently political.

Real issues such as Japan’s whitewashing of World War II events in textbooks and museums deserve political attention. For others to lash out at phantom offenses, though, is a waste of political capital and headline space. Still, the situation does invite ridicule because, based on Japan’s recent attempts at historical revisionism and its record of international political commentary, Aso’s inflammatory sound byte comes across as simply more of the same from Tokyo. Japan has brought the world’s ignorant indignation on itself.

Readers will recall the monumental gaffe by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto earlier this year when he opined that prostitutes were a necessary evil of wartime (in reference to Korean “comfort women”) and that American troops in Okinawa should utilize the well-known companionship services available to them there. About the same time, Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose jeopardized his city’s chances of becoming the host city for the 2020 Olympics when he suggested that rival city Istanbul was unfit to host the games.

To be fair, there is limited cultural and political exchange between the Middle East and Japan — unlike the strong relationship Japan enjoys with America. But if unfamiliarity breeds misunderstanding, then familiarity evidently breeds contempt. Americans may recall back in 2010 when Democratic Party of Japan shadow shogun Ichiro Ozawa called Americans “simple-minded.” It is no wonder, then, that China’s, South Korea’s and the international media’s knee-jerk reaction to Aso’s byte should be indignation.

Japanese politicians, for all the proclaimed sensitivity of the culture from which they come, have all the international finesse of a tap-dancer in blackface. Japan can condone such blatant cultural ignorance on the part of its politicians, because the off-base comments receive no strong reprimand from the Japanese public. As a result, the offending gaffes continue until undeserved ire is drawn to otherwise harmless comments like Aso’s.

If Tokyo loses its 2020 Olympic bid in September, there will be only one place to point the finger, and that is Japan’s blackface international politics.

sean montgomery
shikokuchuo, ehime

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.