Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 16, 2012
THE easily flabbergasted who are always surprised that a powerful politician would risk everything by trying to pull a woman half or one-third his age make me wonder about the planet of their origins. The lessons of evolutionary biology suggest that the reason men get into politics in the first place (or seek any kind of power) is the excellent opportunities it presents to engage younger women at close quarters. The flabbergasted have it backwards. An idealistic desire to serve the public? Well sure — Youth must be served, right?
Biological imperatives override age and presumed wisdom, and the process of riding often results in peculiar behavior. Take the recent example of Sengoku Yoshito.
The only position Mr. Sengoku now holds in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is the acting chairman of the Policy Research Committee. Officially, he is subordinate to Chairman Maehara Seiji, who is also co-leader of the party faction to which the former belongs. Most political observers assume, however, that he is one of the most influential and powerful men in the party (or at least his wing of it), and shapes policy and events from behind the scenes.
He began his professional career as an attorney specializing in human rights cases. Before he turned to politics, he turned to defending people with yakuza connections. Among its other attractions, money sometimes compensates quite nicely for a shortage of masculine appeal.
When Kan Naoto became prime minister, he appointed Mr. Sengoku to be his chief cabinet secretary. The duties of that position change with each prime minister, but in most cases he is the second most important person in the Cabinet.
The combination of his unpleasant behavior when dealing with the political opposition and the Kan Cabinet’s conversion of the Senkakus Incident into a colossal cockup led to his censure by the upper house. That led to his replacement in January 2011, just seven months into the job.
The Casanova of the East
One month before that, a reception was held at the Kantei (Japan’s White House or 10 Downing St.) for reporters covering the prime minister. As the story was later told, Mr. Sengoku stood next to a female reporter for the Nikkei Shimbun during the reception, and gave her a rub from her neck to the small of her back and a running account of his reactions: “I’m old, but I think (it) will still stand. Oh, it stands, it stands. I’m still fine.”
The verb to stand (tatsu) in Japanese is a common euphemism for an erection.
It didn’t take long for the story to circulate, and it was published in the 13 January 2011 editions of the Shukan Bunshun and the Shukan Shincho, both weeklies. A week or so before that, one of those magazines had already brushed aside the threat of a Sengoku lawsuit by publishing a story about his business connections with people associated with the yakuza, some of whom were zainichi Koreans.
He apparently thought the second charge was the more detrimental to his reputation than the first, so he sued them both for defamation of character and sought JPY 10 million yen in damages from each. He went so far as to say their stories represented a “crisis for journalism”, but then again, he is a lawyer. The print media talked to the woman in question before the case went to court, and she confirmed the story.
At first, Mr. Sengoku denied everything in the magazine articles and said he brought suit because the main points of the stories were incorrect. But his description of events took on greater nuance as the trial progressed. He finally allowed as how it was partially true, but that he wasn’t speaking to the female reporter exclusively. He was talking to all the people within earshot.
“There were a lot of female reporters there. I wasn’t addressing one specific reporter.”
He also claimed:
“I remember saying ‘(It) won’t stand’, but I did not say ‘(It) will stand’…I regularly use the expression ‘(It) will not stand’ on a daily basis.
One reporter present said there was laughter in the courtroom after this remark.
That was enough for Judge Miyasaka Masatoshi. He asked:
“If you did say that much, why didn’t you put it in your brief?“
Judge Miyasaka found that Mr. Sengoku did rub the woman’s back and used an expression clearly related to his “male function”. His Honor held that the magazines got some of the details wrong, but in the main, Mr. Sengoku’s “words and actions” were such that they could be perceived as sexual harassment. He added that even though the plaintiff thought he was offering banter with sparkle and wit from a male perspective, many women would not agree.
He dismissed the lawsuit.
And that brings us to the interesting stuff.
* While this story is all over the Internet (starting with some print media outlets), it doesn’t seem to have been reported at all on the television shows that would be expected to fast track a sexual harassment incident with a politician into the lead story. Many of those programs are broadcast on weekdays during the day, so their primary audience is female. In other words, the network execs turned up their nose at a ratings geyser.
Some suspect Mr. Sengoku’s political affiliation is the reason. If he were an LDP pol, they say, the television networks would have been all over him like a politician on a pretty reporter at a reception.
Others suspect a different reason. There are rumors that Mr. Sengoku is himself from a family of a naturalized zainichi Koreans (some say Korean of Chinese descent), and that television avoids stories such as these for the same reason that news outlets in the West can’t bring themselves to mention the ethnic and religious origins of rioting Muslims in Europe.
* In contrast with her Western sisters in similar positions, the woman subjected to Mr. Sengoku’s attention didn’t make an issue of it. She didn’t care for the attention, but limited herself to confirming the stories for reporters when word got out. Her identity has still, as far as I know, not been reported, and she was identified in reports only as “M”. No righteously indignant preening before the cameras, no urge to turn it into a teachable moment, and no use of it as a boost to climb the career ladder.
* Here’s another contrast: J. Strom Thurmond, the late American senator who lived more than a century and served in the Senate into his 90s, was a highly accomplished swordsman of legend. In South Carolina, the story goes, he accompanied a woman to her execution, and while in the back seat of the car, gave her something to remember on her journey to the other side. (To be sure, he had been involved in the case as a judge/law enforcement officer and was already having an affair with her.) After helping judge a Miss South Carolina contest at the age of 45, he employed the winner as a clerk in his office and married her within the year. After her death, he married again at age 66, this time choosing a 22-year-old aide, with whom he had four children. During his retirement speech from the Senate at age 99, he told the other senators, “I love all of you, especially your wives.”
But Thurmond exercised an hour a day every day, seldom drank, and had strict dietary habits (no beef or pork). He did pushups on the floor of his Senate office for reporters in his 90s to demonstrate that he was up to the physical demands of the job. He also is said to have had the charm and the manners of a Southern gentleman.
Mr. Sengoku, however, is a cancer survivor who no longer has a stomach, still drinks, looks a decade older than his 66 years even after the liberal application of hair dye, and has never been known for his winning personality.
* Sengoku Yoshito is by all accounts an extremely intelligent man, yet he actually thought he couldn’t lose with the stuff he used? Was he reverting to second childhood…using that approach because he doesn’t know any better…or have I been too respectful of Japanese women all these years?
* Speaking of intelligence, Mr. Sengoku was widely rumored to be the real power in the Kan government. Some reports said that he told associates he had no choice because Kan Naoto was so incompetent as to be hopeless.
Well, maybe that’s not a demonstration of Sengoku smarts. It didn’t take long for everyone else to figure that out, either.
Sengoku Yoshito, Esq.