Reading kanji characters can be treacherous, and it seems even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe isn’t immune to the pitfalls.
Abe has become the butt of online ridicule after misreading a kanji while delivering a speech from a script at an Upper House plenary session earlier this week.
The incident occurred Tuesday as he was responding to questions from Democratic Party leader Renho, who took issue with the way Abe, in his annual policy speech at the onset of the legislative session last week, had publicly chided DP lawmakers for misbehaving in the Diet.
“Nothing good comes if all you do is criticize, such as by holding up a placard in the Diet,” Abe had said last Friday. His rebuke was apparently aimed at the animated protests of opposition lawmakers, particularly those from the DP, against a string of contentious bills steamrolled through deliberations by Abe’s ruling coalition during last year’s extraordinary Diet session.
On Tuesday, Renho fired back at Abe’s accusation, reminding him that LDP lawmakers, too, had similarly jeered and wielded placards in the Diet during their brief hiatus from power.
A smirking Abe then responded with what was meant to be a clever rejoinder, saying he never criticized the DP by name and that Renho’s counterargument only amounts to an admission that DP lawmakers indeed misbehaved last year.
It looked as if Abe had the better of her — until, that is, he made a critical kanji reading error in the next sentence.
“Your insistence that we need to make teisei (correction) denden misses the point,” Abe said confidently.
The sound denden doesn’t make any sense and is in fact not a word, and speculation has since erupted online that Abe misread the kanji unnun, meaning “and so forth,” which consists of twin kanji characters that visibly resemble the single character, den, which has its own distinct and unrelated meaning.
Abe’s blunder has amused so many people that by Wednesday afternoon the hashtag “teisei denden” had briefly made it onto a list of top-10 buzzwords on Twitter.
The incident recalled similar gaffes that dogged former Prime Minister Taro Aso, who, during his stint in power from 2008 to 2009, publicly made several kanji errors, sparking doubt about his caliber.