AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Meet Kan Naoto–DPJ poster boy

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

KAN NAOTO is one of the founding members and the acting President of the Democratic Party of Japan, the country’s primary opposition party.

He will always be remembered for his term as Health Minister in 1996. At that time he was a member of a small, now defunct party in a governing coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party. To his everlasting credit, he forced the ministry to release documents showing the government failed to stop the use of HIV-tainted blood products for transfusions.

This was remarkable in a country where both politicians and bureaucrats are particularly loath to admit mistakes. It was an honorable and courageous act.

This propelled him into the forefront of Japanese politics, and he was chosen to serve as the head of the DPJ from 2002 to 2004. That means he would have been prime minister had his party won a majority in a lower house election.

He stepped down from that position in 2004, however, when it was revealed that he failed to make payments into the pension fund while serving as minister. Problems with the pension fund are the third rail of Japanese politics, and improper handling of one’s accounts usually means temporary exile (at the minimum) from significant political positions. (Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo resigned as Chief Cabinet Secretary during the Koizumi Administration for the same reason.)

Mr. Kan’s pension problems were exacerbated by a particularly poor performance on a live Sunday morning television program featuring political topics. The excuses he tried to make for his behavior were so patently false that his position became untenable. He resigned as head of the party within the week.

He is still a leading figure within the DPJ, however, making him one of the most important politicians in the country. Even if he doesn’t become prime minister, it is conceivable that he would be appointed to an important Cabinet post if his party were to form a government.

Unfortunately, however, he seems to lack the perspective and sense of balance one expects from a high-ranking government official. For example, Mr. Kan’s website features photographs of him during different phases of his political career. One of them was featured on a poster from his term as Health Minister, which he had created to promote the adoption of a public sector system for long term health care with professional care providers.

Mr. Kan displays the poster, which dates from 1996, on his website, so it would seem he thinks it shows him in a positive light. Here is the poster:

kan-diaper.jpg

This image has not been Photoshopped. (Here is a link to his Japanese-language site.)

Only the large print on the poster is readable. It is not easy to explain exactly what it means, and that isn’t because Japanese is my second language; some Japanese on the web have expressed their befuddlement at the precise meaning.

The phrase on the right says, Omutsu wo suru hito. (People who wear diapers)
The phrase on the left says, Otsumu ni kuru hito. (People who get angry)

The Japanese love wordplay and are very clever at it. Note that the two sentences rhyme, and that omutsu and otsumu share the last two syllables, but reversed. Still, the connection between the two escapes me. (Otsumu by itself is a word for head used mostly by women and children. The phrase, ano hito no otsumu, wa ne…can suggest that the person being referred to is not right in the head.)

Many people in the Japanese blogosphere are aghast when they see this poster, not only for the image itself, but for the fact that Mr. Kan proudly displays it on his website. They naturally wonder how those adults forced to wear diapers would react when they see it, not to mention their family members. They also wonder what this says about Mr. Kan’s attitude toward people with health problems, as well as his overall judgment.

Some other Japanese have noted that had Mr. Kan been a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, he would have been swiftly removed from any party position for creating and distributing such a poster.

And here’s another probability. Many of you, both in Japan and overseas, are seeing this poster for the first time.

Had Mr. Kan been a member of the right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party, instead of the left-of-center Democratic Party, you already would have seen the poster regardless of where you live.

A long time ago.

NOTE: Thanks to Na-san for sending along the link.

4 Responses to “Meet Kan Naoto–DPJ poster boy”

  1. na-san said

    osore iri masu…

    >Had Mr. Kan been a member of the right-of-center Liberal Democratic Party, instead of the left-of-center Democratic Party, you already would have seen the poster regardless of where you live.

    This is absolutely true. I can’t remember how many times I saw Presley Koizumi on western websites.

  2. bingobangoboy said

    I admit I don’t understand the poster either. I presume it’s somehow well-intentioned rather than flippant, but as they say, there’s a fine line between genius and stupidity.
    Some Japanese may have claimed that the LDP wouldn’t tolerate such a poster, but considering it’s the PM (ie, the leader of the LDP) who appoints and dismisses cabinet ministers, I would say there’s good reason to doubt that.

    I’m trying to think of anything comparable from the LDP that became internationally well-known. Yes, if Koizumi had made such a poster while he was PM, the international media might have noticed it. He was the most famous Japanese since Yoko Ono, had cool hair, and also happened to be the Prime Minister. Kan would need to do something rather more significant to become newsworthy, and I doubt it has anything to do with his leftism.

  3. ampontan said

    Yes, if Koizumi had made such a poster while he was PM, the international media might have noticed it.

    Now imagine what would have happened if Abe had made such a poster!

    I sometimes wonder if things like this are genetically determined. Like men who wear pink shirts. Some think they’re spiffy, and others wouldn’t be caught dead in one.

    BTW, about Koizumi. Everyone knows he went to Graceland, but very few people know he is a big fan of the composer Sibelius, and also made a similar pilgrimage to his house in Finland.

    If he struck a Sibelius pose there, I’ve never seen the photo of it!

  4. na-san said

    >Now imagine what would have happened if Abe had made such a poster!

    There was a conspiracy that Abe’s last campaing poster was intentionally pictured to resembel him to Hitler. Saying that there was an undercover agent in the koukoku dairi ten to spoil his popularity.

    Although, this was too much, even for me.

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