National / Politics

Shinjiro Koizumi's 'sexy' fight against climate change is untranslatable, Japan's government says

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

The Japanese government has officially determined that environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi’s recent use of the English word “sexy” in a reference to climate change is “difficult to accurately translate” into Japanese, avoiding issuing an official rendering of the young scion’s tricky choice of vocabulary.

The government was forced to make sense of Koizumi’s recent vow to make Japan’s fight against climate change “sexy” after an opposition lawmaker requested an official interpretation of his remarks.

In a statement approved by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday, the government said the word “sexy” and its nuances make a difficult translation due to its multiple meanings that “vary depending on the context.” In what appeared to be a measure of last resort, it settled for merely offering a dictionary definition — citing a Longman version that, for example, says the word can be used to describe ideas as “attractive.”

The statement, which was made in response to questions asked by Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Hiroto Kumagai, also revealed that there have been no instances in the past five years where a Cabinet minister had used the English word to publicly describe or assess government policies.

The government defended Koizumi for having attempted to explain away his use of the term soon after the remark made global headlines. When asked by Japanese reporters to clarify what he meant by it, Koizumi had said, “The mere act of me explaining it would not be sexy to begin with.” The Cabinet-approved statement said the government “does not think (Koizumi’s answers to reporters) were illegitimate.”

While speaking at a news conference in New York on the eve of the U.N.-hosted climate summit last month, Koizumi said, “On tackling such a big-scale issue like climate change, it’s got to be fun, it’s got to be cool. It’s got to be sexy too.” He implied the term had been used during an earlier conversation with former U.N. climate negotiator Christiana Figueres, whom he was speaking alongside.

The “sexy” incident earned the popular junior politician, a son of former charismatic Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, widespread ridicule on social media, with many having parodied his bardlike rhetoric on Twitter.

Opposition lawmakers have pounced on the trend to bombard him with questions at recent Diet sessions, apparently in hopes of tripping him up, which in turn has made Koizumi tread carefully and deviate — at least for now — from his typically outspoken demeanor.

On Friday, CDP lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto asked Koizumi at a Lower House committee meeting whether he still remains of the opinion that last year’s document-tampering scandal within the Finance Ministry was “one of the biggest scandals in the political annals of the Heisei Era,” as he once phrased his views in bold criticism of the Abe administration.

Koizumi dodged the question, and in response to subsequent questions mostly stuck to boilerplate answers such as “I will continue to fulfill my duties as a member of the Abe Cabinet” — or refused to answer altogether on the basis that Tsujimoto hadn’t given him a list of questions in advance.

“I think you should state your opinions clearly, Mr. Koizumi, otherwise you’ll end up merely being used as a ‘deodorant,’ I should say, to conceal the unpleasant problems of the government,” Tsujimoto quipped.