“Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone. For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, but has trouble enough of its own.”
So wrote American Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919) in an oft-quoted poem titled “The Way of the World.”
If Wilcox had seen Ryutaro Nonomura, a 47-year-old member of the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly, in his incoherent crying jag on YouTube, she might have revised her verse to, “Weep and the world laughs at you.”
The sob story began on June 30, when the evening edition of the Kobe Shimbun had reported that Nonomura had claimed approximately ¥3 million in expenses for 195 day-return business trips to a hot springs resort during 2013.
When he met the press on July 1, Nonomura initially appeared well composed. He entered the room, bowed, took a seat before a bank of microphones and introduced himself. Then suddenly he completely lost it.
“I ran for office for the world … the world … to change the world …,” he babbled. “And so I gave everything I had to appeal to the public … and the people of Nishinomiya elected me even though I was a stranger to them, and finally I became a lawmaker.”
His semicoherent exclamations were interspersed with hysterical weeping and pounding on the table, described in Japanese using two verbs: One was gōkyū suru (to weep or cry bitterly; moan; wail; bewail; lament aloud). The other was nakisakebu (to scream; cry; shriek; screech; wail; yell).
On YouTube, where his rant was provided with foreign-language subtitles, Nonomura quickly became an international sensation. Spa! (July 15) included a selection of excerpts from the foreign media, including America’s CBS News (“Japanese politician melts down on camera”); Britain’s The Independent (“Video of Japanese politician Ryutaro Nonomura crying hysterically at press conference goes viral”); France’s Le Figaro (“Au Japon, les excuses surrealistes d’un depute font le buzz”); and El Mundo (Spain) (“Video de politico japones llorand es exito online”).
In Japan, playful bloggers harnessed Photoshop to attach Nonomura’s bawling countenance to a diapered infant’s body.
Shukan Shincho (July 17) devoted five whole pages to the “bawling councillor’s monster case book,” which researched his personal life back to his primary school years. After graduation from Kansai University’s Faculty of Law, Nonomura first pursued an undistinguished career as an employee of the city of Kawanishi, until his resignation in November 2007. During this time his co-workers noted his erratic, emotional behavior.
Some citizens expressed wonder at how Nonomura managed to get elected to public office in the first place.
It seems that in the April 2011 election that put Nonomura into office, 10 candidates vied for seven seats, and Nonomura finished in seventh place.
“He ran on the ticket of the Nishinomiya Restoration Party, and I suppose a lot of voters assumed, wrongly, that it was affiliated with the Osaka Restoration Party headed by Toru Hashimoto,” a local news reporter explained to Weekly Playboy (July 28). “But actually there’s no connection at all.”
Nonomura, a bachelor living in a small apartment, had run for elected office on four previous occasions, finishing at rock bottom in every case. But the 2011 polls that put him in office were held just three weeks after the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region, and voters were probably swayed by his low-key campaign, which fit the prevailing mood. Also, the ticket was split between two conservative candidates, enabling Nonomura — at the time age 44 — to slip in with a margin of just 409 votes.
As a member of the Hyogo Prefectural Assembly, Nonomura received an annual salary of ¥11.6 million, plus a monthly stipend of up to ¥500,000 to cover so-called political activity costs. Reports in the mainstream media estimate that over the past three years, Nonomura may have spent more than ¥15 million, of which ¥8 million was claimed to have gone toward travel expenses, almost none of which could be verified with receipts.
During the 2013 fiscal year he reportedly claimed reimbursements for such outlays as ¥1,760,000 in postage stamps, plus purchases run up at a local supermarket that he paid for using his credit card.
A fellow legislator noted that Nonomura was not able to provide evidence that he’d used the stamps, and the credit card receipts only gave the name of the shop and amount spent, with no other details.
Nonomura submitted his resignation on July 11; but more revelations may be forthcoming. Yukan Fuji (July 12) reported that three citizens’ groups in Hyogo have joined forces to press for a full investigation, raising the possibility he’ll be charged with criminal fraud.
But why only blame a single legislator when the entire system is riddled with abuses? Asahi Geino (July 24) turns its thumbs down at the entire institution of prefectural legislators, who totaled 2,686 nationwide as of 2012.
“Compared with representatives in the National Diet, members of the prefectural assemblies are less conspicuous to the media and voters,” explains political affairs analyst Atsuo Ito. “Because of the lack of oversight, record-keeping tends to be rather slipshod. Of course, when a crisis erupts, the sloppiness can’t be overlooked.”
“Lots of the assembly members get by doing practically no legislative work,” Ito remarks, adding, “The total number of seats ought to be reduced.”
Asahi Geino agrees that such legislators are nothing but vampires sucking out taxpayers’ blood money. “And the fewer there are of them, the better,” it concludes.