The American disease
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 28, 2008
IT’S ALMOST A RITUAL: Newly appointed Cabinet ministers hold press conferences or give interviews after their appointment, one of them says someting impolitic, and the ensuing uproar over the gotcha forces their resignation.
It happened again with the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Aso Taro. The new Minister of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Nakayama Nariaki is now history after criticizing the lack of a sense of public service in the nation and using as a specific example the difficulties in getting a second runway at Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture. He also slammed the behavior of the Japanese Teachers’ Union. (That criticism was not unfounded, but politicians do need to know the time and place for keeping their mouths shut.)
Finally, Mr. Nakayama caught flak for an old chestnut that one seldom hears any more–he referred to Japan as a tan’itsu minzoku, i.e., a single ethnic group or homogenous people. According to this report from AFP:
Transport Minister Nariaki Nakayama apologised after saying in his first interview that Japan was a “homogenous” country. Similar remarks by lawmakers in the past have upset the Ainu, northern Japan’s indigenous people.
“I hear the Ainu people expressed displeasure and that’s not what I intended,” Nakayama said. “I decided to retract my remarks.”
In the not-so-distant past, when Japanese would more frequently talk about being a tan’itsu minzoku, they also used to complain about having become Americanized. That’s another line seldom heard any more, but it if it were, the need to apologize to the Ainu and retract that remark would be Exhibit A in the case for the plaintiff.
There are an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people of either Ainu descent or half-Ainu now living in Japan. The largest Ainu settlement in Japan has just 130 people in 36 households. In fact, it’s an artificial community; the Ainu never used to live on that site, and the people there now earn a living primarily by being professional Ainu. Meanwhile, there are 127 million people in Japan.
Therefore, taking the high end of the estimate for those of Ainu descent and including those who are only half-Ainu, and performing a simple calculation, we find that they account for all of 0.23% of the country’s population.
If it were a question only of the Ainu, that would make Japan more homogenized than milk.
It looks as if Japan has caught a mild strain of the identity politics disease: Amplify an ill-advised comment into an ethnic insult and pretend that it’s offensive. There’s little difference between that and feigning serious injury after a minor traffic accident to get some free money from the insurance companies.
Thanks for nothing, America.
Note: For more on Japan’s professional Ainuism, try this post.