Mr. Honda goes to Tokyo
Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 24, 2008
HERE’S A STORY that flew under everyone’s radar—in the English-language media, anyway. That wasn’t the case in Japan, where it’s all over the Web.
American congressman Mike Honda—perhaps Japan’s least favorite son after he pushed the comfort woman resolution through the U.S. House last year—jetted into Japan earlier this month. Did he come to see the Tokyo Tower, the temples in Kyoto, or the first sumo tournament?
He might have done all that, but he didn’t release his schedule to the media while he was here. The one stop that did become public knowledge, however, caused more than a few eyebrows to rise. Mr. Honda paid a courtesy call on Eda Satsuki (photo) of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, a former socialist who was elected last year as the president (presiding officer) of the Diet’s upper house.
The weekly magazine Shukan Shincho reports the two men met at about 5:30 p.m. on the evening of 8 January. Also present were two other upper house members from the DPJ and two from the Communist Party of Japan.
The magazine quotes a participant as saying the two chatted pleasantly in English for roughly 15 minutes (Mr. Eda has a law degree from Oxford) about the comfort woman issue and Japan’s death penalty, with no sign of acrimony. Mr. Eda also explained some of the artwork in the room.
Why would the two meet? The magazine offers the comment of an unnamed reporter who points out that the DPJ has submitted a “Bill Promoting the Resolution of the Comfort Woman Problem” to the Diet seven times since 2007. The legislation would provide for a formal apology and compensation from the government. The bill has had six sponsors, one of whom is Mr. Eda.
The upper house president also attended a gathering last March at which one of the comfort women was present. (That might have been Lee Yong-soo, who admitted to the House in her testimony last year that she went with a comfort woman recruiter voluntarily, but who told the Japanese while on a speaking tour here that the Imperial Army abducted her from her home at gunpoint.)
Mr. Eda’s office explained that some Diet members and people associated with NGOs asked the upper house president at yearend to take the time to meet with the American lawmaker. The upper house president himself offered the bland platitude that he agreed to see Mr. Honda because he thinks it is important to hear a wide range of opinions on different issues.
The journalistic style of most Japanese weekly magazines is in-your-face sensationalism, and they often have trouble with the truth. That wasn’t the case this time, however; Kamimoto Mieko, one of the DPJ parliamentarians present, posted two photographs of the meeting at her website, which you can see here. (The second and third links from the top, for non-Japanese readers.)
Considering the approach of the weekly newsmag medium and Shukan Shincho’s tilt to the political right, it was no surprise to see the publication indulge in some lurid speculation. They think Mr. Honda is in the pocket of the Chinese and quote a Washington correspondent speculating that he came to Japan to dig up some more dirt on the Nanjing Massacre and Unit 731, the notorious biological warfare research team. Naturally, said the reporter, meeting an influential Japanese politician would be good PR.
The article concluded by expressing the wish that Mr. Eda had taken the opportunity to raise some objections with Mr. Honda about his behavior, rather than having a pleasant chat.
The strident, second-rate prose notwithstanding, Shukan Shincho does make a valid point. The perquisites of Mr. Eda’s job as upper house president include an official residence, a salary 1.7 times that of an ordinary upper house member, and the probable receipt on retirement of a medal in the grand cordon rank.
A man in such an important and visible position might have been more discreet about meeting someone as controversial in Japan as Mike Honda, even if they are ideological soulmates. A private conversation with no cameras allowed would have been easy to arrange.
On the other hand, if Mr. Eda is such a strong proponent of compensation for the comfort women, why shouldn’t he display the courage of his convictions and discuss his views more openly? Indeed, why not appear before the cameras in Japan with Mr. Honda to make his case to the Japanese public? If the issue means that much to him—and evidently it does—he should be willing to take the political and electoral heat for his beliefs.
The last thing he should do is pretend it’s no big deal—when it so obviously is.