Japan from the inside out

Here, take this cash, I don’t need it

Posted by ampontan on Friday, June 5, 2009

WHEN SOMEONE wants to give you something, goes the Japanese proverb, you should take it, even if it’s a warm jacket in summer. (That’s Itadaku mono nara natsu demo kosode in the original. The jacket they’re talking about is a kosode, shown in the photo, which is the last thing anyone would want to wear during Japan’s sultry summer months.)


The sentiment seems to be universal, considering the English-language warning against looking in the mouths of gift horses (to check their age by inspecting their teeth).

Meanwhile, the wildly popular Miyazaki Gov. Higashikokubaru Hideo (click the tag for more stories) is surfing on public approval ratings northward of 80% after more than two years in office for his strong stands on devolution and responsible local government. Are his ratings about to climb even higher now that he wants to turn down a taxpayer-funded kosode in June?

Yesterday the governor said he wants to halve the 40 million yen in retirement benefits he’s entitled to receive for serving a four-year term. (That’s about $US 415,000.) He plans to introduce a bill cutting his own benefits at the next session of the legislature this month.

One of the governor’s campaign pledges in January 2007 was the introduction of an accomplishment-based evaluation system that included returning retirement benefits if the Miyazakians weren’t happy with his performance. He cited that pledge as the reason for his decision.

Mr. Higashikokubaru’s popularity is so high that the citizens might be tempted to increase his pension rather than cut it, if given the chance. Nevertheless, that’s nearly a quarter of a million dollars the prefectural treasury doesn’t have to spend. You’d think the legislature would be delighted.

Nah. They’d rather pry open the horse’s mouth instead. One delegate said, “I don’t understand the justification for a 50% cut.” Another suggested it was rash for the governor to cut his pension only halfway through his term.

Mr. Higashikokubaru then allowed as how it would be difficult to establish objective standards to judge his accomplishments to date. Instead, he said, he would use the difficult financial situation of the prefecture and the harsh economic climate to justify the reduction.

Of course everyone knows—and he knows we know—the real reason for his Gandhi-like self-abnegation is that he’s thinking of running for a Diet seat in the upcoming election. It’s just another way for the governor to remind the voters he’s always been their pal. An additional benefit is that he can use that reminder as a trump card any time he wants in the future, regardless of the office he’s seeking or the voters he’s trying to woo.

But why should any legislator want to question his motives? Why try to prevent him from saving the taxpayers money? Do the delegates want to explain to the public and the media why they’re encouraging him to dip deep into the public till? Even if all of them are thinking: You don’t want free money, you crazy boy?

Their thought process doesn’t end there, of course. Everyone knows—and they know we know—the real question they’re asking is this: What are you trying to do, kill this job? If the popular governor does it, they might be forced to do the same. Politicians can get very sulky when someone downsizes the public trough.

Here’s another question: Why can’t they figure out it’s in their best interests to jump on the bandwagon with a smile, even if they have to fake it? The political winds in Japan have been blowing so strongly for so long that it shouldn’t take a weatherman to know from which direction it’s coming. Voters throughout the country have long made it plain what they’re looking for, so one would think the basic political survival instinct should have kicked in by now. To paraphrase another proverb, half a pension is better than none at all.

Politicians buying votes by giving money back to the people–what a novel concept! With any luck it’ll become a fad.

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