Aso to reporters: Knock it off!
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 25, 2008
REPORTERS COVERING the prime minister of Japan are allowed to ask him questions every day in brief press conferences called burasagari, or “hanging on”, as in hanging on to a strap or a person’s shoulders.
The burasagari got its name from the practice of reporters “hanging on” to the prime minister every morning as he walked from his official residence to the Diet building and asking him questions. The press created problems as they hung on the man’s coattails by not watching where they were going, and sometimes photographers wound up stumbling and falling.
Prime Minister Koizumi ended the practice, either to protect them or the public. He resumed the daily informal press conferences in the official residence after the reporters promised to behave, however, and the name burasagari stuck.
For a taste of how the Japanese press conducts itself, here is a quick translation of a burasagari held earlier this week with Prime Minister Aso Taro. Before this exchange, Mr. Aso was asked and answered a few other questions about the six-party talks (and had to caution reporters not to include two different topics in the same question). The following accounts for about 80-90% of the press conference. The questions are italicized.
You’ve gone to evening get-togethers several nights in a row at upscale establishments where patrons spend tens of thousands of yen a night. I think that’s far removed from (what) the common people (feel). What do you think?
Using the definition of “common people”…does the Hokkaido Shimbun often use that word? (N.B.: The word the reporter used was shomin, which can also be translated as “the masses”, as a contrast to the wealthy. Japanese newspapers seldom use it.) Until now, I think most of the time I’ve gone to establishments in hotels. Now you’re trying to change that around into something like, I go to ryotei (exclusive expensive Japanese restaurants) every night. That’s not true.
Those high class—
I told you to stop asking questions in a way that tries to trip me up. Just talk more about the facts, only the facts. I can talk all you want about the day’s schedule.
Since when did Majiri (a Roppongi establishment) become a ryotei? You tell me. That despicable way of talking isn’t right. You have to get organized first, you know, before you talk. You ought to stop the kind of talk where you twist things around any way you can.
All right. When I was talking about high-class establishments, I meant places where the general public would think it was expensive to spend the evening and have a meal.
Right. Use that sort of proper definition. Do that in the future (when you have a question). Sometimes, when you act as a representative (for the reporters) and ask a question, it always sounds somehow like you’re giving it a strange twist.
Yeah. Your questions make me wonder if that’s the kind of newspaper you are.
What do you think about this criticism?
I’ve always thought that hotels were inexpensive, you know? When meeting a lot of people, it’s always seemed to me that hotel bars were safe and inexpensive. That’s the truth. Which places are actually inexpensive and which are expensive is another matter. But I’m going to ask you something. Say for example I go to an inexpensive place. There are 30 reporters around me. Including you. Then there are the police officers. If (the proprietor) tells you you’re interfering with his business, how are you going to answer him? If he tells you that you’re interfering with his business, would you say it’s your right as a newspaper company, and then keep standing around nonchalantly and get in the way of his business? I’m asking you, now. Answer me. (Laughs)
What I want to ask–
No, answer my question. I answered yours. Now I’m asking the question this time. Would you just be unconcerned about it?
We do our reporting so as not to interfere with business.
But they said you are. In fact, they said it to me…so they said, please don’t come. Hotels are the least likely to say that.
Do you understand? So, it sounds to me like you’re just asking things for your own advantage. I think that hotels are the place where people are less likely to complain. That’s been my style so far, and as of now I don’t intend to change.
Of course the money isn’t marked, but I don’t think the reason there are political contributions and political party subsidies (from public funds) is just to have luxurious meals…
I pay my own way. Political party subsidies…if I (used) that money…Fortunately, I have my own money, so I pay my own way.
If that’s the case, (if you) return (the money)–
Return it? (Cuts off the reporter and ends the interview)
For those wondering why a reporter would waste the time of the prime minister—and therefore the people—by badgering him to the point of absurdity, the Japanese news media have lately been trying to create a narrative of Aso Taro as a high-living plutocrat who spends his nights out on the town despite a looming international economic downturn, instead of dressing in a hair shirt and taking a vow of poverty for the duration.
For those wondering whether the Japanese news media are just as capable as their colleagues overseas of acting as if they’re playing in a sandbox rather than doing the job of gathering information and providing reliable reports on current events for the people who purchase their product, you now have the answer.
Afterwords: The text comes from the Sankei Shimbun. The newspaper is held in disdain by the left-wing bien-pensants, who sometimes behave as if merely reading it is a sign of personality disorder. Yet it is the only newspaper in Japan that offers the entire text of not only the burasagari, but speeches and policy debates on line.
These days, unfiltered news is the only option that makes sense.