Japan from the inside out

Hatoyama Yukio, AKA Klaatu

Posted by ampontan on Monday, October 12, 2009

I think of my husband as a man from outer space.
– Hatoyama Miyuki, the wife of Japan’s prime minister

GOING BY the shorthand version in the English-language media, Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was given his nickname “The Man from Outer Space” because Japanese think the shape of his eyes make him look like an alien.

Those looking for a more satisfactory explanation than the ones found in the English-language media might refer to the recently published Hatoyama Yukio no Uchujin Goroku (Roughly, The Collected Sayings of Hatoyama Yukio the Spaceman) for more background.



The book explains that the moniker started to gain traction back in 2001 when Mr. Hatoyama’s party, the Democratic Party of Japan, was desperate to create an identity for itself among the electorate after Koizumi Jun’ichiro of the Liberal Democratic Party became prime minister. Mr. Koizumi’s support in the polls transcended the stratospheric and touched the lower levels of outer space itself. The LDP tried to capitalize on the phenomenon by selling key chains, cell phone straps, and other merchandise that featured likenesses of the PM, whose unique hair style made him a natural for caricature.

Meanwhile, support for the DPJ was teetering at the bottom end of the seesaw. The party wanted to raise the visibility of Mr. Hatoyama, who was then serving as party head and came off a poor second in comparison to his LDP counterpart.

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the party decided to create a cartoon character of Mr. Hatoyama that they called Yukio-chan. The caricature exaggerated the shape of his eyes and placed them somewhere below cheekbone level. It does make Mr. Hatoyama look non-human and otherworldly, and it’s easy to see how people made the spaceman connection. In fact, the shape of the eyes and the jawline somewhat resemble those of the alien drawn for the cover of the 1985 Whitley Strieber book Communion, whose subject is alien abductions. (Whoa, now…I’m not going there!)

The DPJ was so pleased with its creation that they put it up on the home page of their website, used it to sell their own character goods, and hung a life-size poster of the caricature at party headquarters in Tokyo.

One wonders what the office ladies thought the first time they saw it.

As often happens, the law of unintended consequences came into effect. Instead of raising the profile of either the party or Mr. Hatoyama—neither of which happened for several years—the caricature cemented in the public mind the image of the DPJ boss as a bug-eyed visitor from another galaxy.

To be sure, this was all done with Mr. Hatoyama’s approval. In fact, he seems to rather like the spaceman idea. He’s on record as having said:

“I want to transcend (being) an earthling.”

Isn’t that as good an explanation as any for the basis of his political philosophy and policies?

Streiber's alien

Streiber's alien

The caricature was a natural target for the LDP. One of the first to spot the potential was then-Foreign Minister Tanaka Makiko, who always led with her dokuzetsu, or poison tongue. The book quotes a political journalist who says that she and Mr. Hatoyama often became embroiled in what he referred to as “strange disputes” in those days. Whenever a reporter would bring up the subject of Hatoyama Yukio, she’d dismiss it with the reply, “Ah, that spaceman!”

(Ms. Tanaka had quite the knack for nicknames, by the way. The late Hashimoto Ryutaro, who served as prime minister in the 90s, had a full head of slicked-down hair that he combed straight back. She referred to him as Uncle Pomade, or Pomado Oji-san.)

For an interesting twist, and example 35,472 of how politics makes strange bedfellows, Ms. Tanaka and her husband are now officially Space Cadets as members of the Hatoyama-led DPJ.

So, if the Japanese public thinks Mr. Hatoyama looks like a spaceman, perhaps that’s because they were encouraged to do so by both the man and his party.

And if you think the DPJ has unusual ideas for the visual promotion of its candidates, wait’ll you see how Deputy Prime Minister Kan Naoto sold himself once upon a time.

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