The percentage of those who approve the performance of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s government has been rising, reaching 47.8 percent according to one of the media’s opinion surveys. Compared to a similar survey taken at the time of the inauguration of the government, the percentage those who do not approve of it has been halved.

Last June 25, Obuchi celebrated his 62nd birthday with a party at his official residence. He looked quite happy. Many citizens must have seen him enjoying the party as it was televised nationwide. It was a happy occasion for him, but it made me feel somewhat unpleasant.

The nation is at the bottom of a protracted economic recession. Official statistics released by the government have put the number of the unemployed at 3 million, but I suspect that the actual figure is three times that because the government tends to conceal statistics that it considers undesirable, just as the Imperial Headquarters did during World War II.

There is a large number of college and high school graduates who have not been able to find jobs. If Obuchi had been thinking of those who have hardships, I don’t think he could have celebrated his birthday with a cake. Instead, he should have been sitting in his office, thinking of how to alleviate the people’s hardships.

The only good reputation he enjoys is that he has a good personality. Perhaps that is why he is incapable of turning his attention to the terrible hardships facing Japanese citizens. He should learn that this is no time for merrymaking.

The late Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida was known for racking his brains to give hope to the Japanese people as he strove to reconstruct the nation’s economy in the immediate postwar years. Obuchi should learn from history by reading books written by Yoshida.

On June 30, Obuchi was received a summer bonus for the amount of 5,870,000 yen. The Sankei Shimbun reported the following day that he returned to the National Treasury 1,340,000 yen, which represented one half of 2,680,000 yen paid for his position as the prime minister. That means he kept 4,530,000 yen. That sum is equal to 400,000 yen a month.

If all citizens were working in a lively atmosphere, if all college and high school graduates could find jobs they could be proud of, nobody would complain about the prime minister receiving such an amount. This, however, is not the case. A majority of Japanese citizens are being hit hard by the recession. I believe Obuchi should have returned all of his bonus. Although he is reputed to have a good personality, I cannot help but think that the opposite is true.

Now that the Diet has gone into an extended session, the biggest task for the prime minister is to pass a bill granting legal recognition to the Hinomaru national flag and the national anthem “Kimigayo.” When the Diet started deliberations on that bill June 29, Obuchi was said to have eaten a “Hinomaru lunch.” For those who are not familiar with what a Hinomaru lunch is, I will now explain. During the early years of the Showa period, when I was attending grammar school, my lunch consisted of rice packed in an aluminum box with a red pickled plum at the center, because virtually no other type of food was available. Its resemblance to the national flag earned it the name Hinomaru.

Obuchi must have thought that he would get a lot of media coverage if he ate a Hinomaru lunch on the day the bill was submitted to the Diet. The idea is said to have originated not from the prime minister himself, but from another LDP member of the House of Representatives. While it was an interesting idea, it was implausible, and in fact, was as ridiculous as an attempt to attract the people’s attention by making phone calls.

This reminds me of an interesting incident related to the national flag. In 1960 or 1961, the Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda met with U.S. President John F. Kennedy aboard a yacht on the Potomac River. When Kennedy offered to allow the hoisting of the Japanese national flag on New Years Day in U.S.-occupied Okinawa, Ikeda replied that it was absurd because Japan had every right to hoist its national flag on any of its national holidays. Kennedy conceded.

I believe Ikeda did the right thing, as he conveyed the sentiment of his people.

When asked what she thought of a famous golfer, Japanese professional golfer Hiromi Kobayashi replied “he is a nice man.” But being a nice man does not make one an outstanding golfer. An outstanding golfer must have driver shots, approaches and putting that is good enough to put his competitors in awe of him. The same applies to the prime minister. It is not enough to have a good personality; it is not enough to eat a Hinomaru lunch. It is incumbent upon him to put an end to the postwar period by giving official legal status to the national flag and national anthem.

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