In American newspapers, wire services, cable TV and blogs, U.S. President Donald Trump is beset by a host of recurring brickbats, from complaints over his refusal to make public his income tax returns and alleged Russian connections, to his reputation as a male chauvinist and propensity to cite conspiracy theories and “alternative facts,” which he taps out via Twitter at all hours of the night.
While these topics did pop up occasionally in Japanese media during last year’s election campaign, they were not overly scrutinized, probably because of the seemingly heavy odds against a Trump victory.
Once Trump was inaugurated, however, they attracted even less attention. Why?
For one thing, while Japan may make occasional references to a new prime minister’s “honeymoon” period, the analogy of a political leader’s first 100 days — which in Trump’s case fell yesterday — has no basis for comparison.
It goes without saying, moreover, that media coverage of any given national leader is dominated by statements, policies and actions most likely to affect Japan’s security and economy. Trump’s order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement received heavy coverage here; his plans for a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and enforcement of immigration policies, less so.
Even the most lowbrow and malicious of Japan’s tabloids are more comfortable digging up dirt on the peccadillos of their fellow Japanese than devoting space to a foreign politician — unless he or she does something supremely outrageous. (It also helps if they’re on Japanese soil, but even then it’s still fairly uncommon.)
Following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s meeting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago in early February — at which time Abe purportedly offered to make massive investments in America’s infrastructure — a worried Weekly Playboy (Feb. 27) asked, “Will our pension funds disappear into Trump’s hands?”
Shukan Gendai (March 18) ran a feature about the term “kan,” which can be described as insights, feelings, intuition, ability to judge character, etc. People adept at harnessing such abilities, for example, tend to have a psychological advantage in games like scissors-paper-stone.
The article pointed out that “Successful individuals have exceptionally sharp perception.” Among examples of historic figures endowed with such traits were 16th-century warlord Oda Nobunaga and Admiral Heihachiro Togo, who defeated the Russian Baltic Fleet in the 1905 Battle of Tsushima. Japanese business leaders known for their intuitive skills include Toyota executive Hiroshi Okuda and Toshiwo Doko of IHI Heavy Industries and Toshiba. In a similar vein, Trump’s shrewdness was lumped with those of financial wizard George Soros and the late Steve Jobs of Apple Computer.
Writing in his column in Shukan Bunshun (April 7), popular TV program moderator and journalist Akira Ikegami — who is probably Japan’s closest thing to a Dr. Know-it-all — raised the topic of Trump’s propensity to accuse the media of reporting “fake news.”
Ikegami specifically referred to Trump’s allegations that, during last year’s campaign, his predecessor had authorized electronic eavesdropping of his residence in Manhattan. Trump’s source appears to have been Breitbart News, which cited a right-wing radio commentator named Mark Levin.
Trump continues to stand by his accusation, despite it having been shot down at a public hearing by the head of the FBI, among others.
As Trump’s accusations of foul play also came to involve the U.K. government, the scale of controversy, said Ikegami, was considerably greater than the recent kerfuffle over the ¥1 million that Japan’s First Lady Akie Abe supposedly donated to the head of the right-wing Moritomo Gakuen kindergarten in Osaka.
“Trump has frequently attacked reports on CNN and The New York Times as being ‘fake news,’” Ikegami concluded. “But didn’t he himself deploy fake news?”
Past coverage of Trump’s eccentricities may soon become moot, as the word “X-Day,” meaning the day on which some anticipated event occurs — such as the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula — is being raised with increasing frequency.
During the week of April 10, for several days running, the Yukan Fuji’s front page headlines speculated that the U.S. would make a proactive move to “decapitate” Kim Jong Un — perhaps using bombers, or Tomahawk missiles launched from submarines, or even a Bin Laden-style surgical strike by special operations troops — and thereby deprive North Korea of its top leadership.
Would armed conflict on the Korean peninsula, asks Shukan Post (April 28), bring about a revival of Nihon tokuju (literally, “Japan special demand”), which in the 1950s served as launchpad for the postwar Japanese economy? Beginning with shipment to the U.S. military of burlap sandbags and uniforms, Japan expanded supplies to include steel for bridge construction, trucks, car batteries and even toothbrushes and soap. Sales during the Korean war accounted for approximately $600 million in 1950-51, and $800 million in 1952 and 1953, figures equivalent to some 30 percent of Japan’s national budget.
Engaging perhaps in wishful thinking, Shukan Post suggests that a reunified Korea would have the potential to become a “huge market” for Japanese exports. “The more unpredictable the era of a Trump presidency becomes, it’s important to consider all potential scenarios without exception,” the magazine advises.
But then, who knows? Japan’s destiny might be in the hands of divine providence. According to Shukan Bunshun (May 4-11), Abe’s trust in Trump may stem not only from the two men’s good personal chemistry but because it corresponds with Abe’s deep-set beliefs in various types of prognostication, such as the ancient Yijing (Book of Changes) and numerology related to people’s birth dates. The article claims his making of decisions based on such unscientific means have extended to both his economic policies and personnel appointments.
Can it be that the world as we know it is on the threshold of new Age of Unreason?
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