Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 26, 2010

HECKLING DURING QUESTION TIME in Britain’s Parliament is a tradition that I sometimes wish were possible in the United States, if only for the demonstrations of spontaneous wit. The classic exchanges in Britain were between Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill, with both giving as good as they got. Churchill once told her that having a woman in Parliament was like having one intrude in the bathroom. Astor shot back: “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears”. The most well-known was Churchill’s reply to Lady Astor’s statement, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.” Said Sir Winston, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

Japan’s Diet also has question time, which is broadcast live, and heckling (yaji in Japanese) is also allowed. The wit of most of the MPs, alas, more closely resembles a butter knife than a rapier. The sharpest blade in my experience was wielded by former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro, who provoked my spontaneous laughter more than once, but that was as much out of surprise for his bluntness as for his humor.

Question time is now underway in the Diet, and though there’s plenty of heckling, it’s often difficult to hear what the back benchers are saying. Second-term MP Ozato Yasuhiro of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party wrote a short post about it on his blog in Japanese focusing on the heckling from the ruling Democratic Party members. Mr. Ozato’s objective was to show how the DPJ was trying to avoid the hard questions, but the examples he presents are little more than schoolyard taunts.

For example, when Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio was being pressed on the party’s reaction to the scandals enveloping Ozawa Ichiro, their de facto boss, Finance Minister Kan Naoto yelled out, “Show us the proof!” That’s the best he can do?

Mr. Ozato also reports some of the comments made sotto voce by a first-term DPJ legislator sitting behind him during the questioning. They weren’t very inspiring:

  • “Stop these stupid questions.”
  • “You’ll be sorry for this.”
  • “How about it? We’ll reveal (your scandals) too.”

The best I’ve heard so far this year is the dry comeback from former Health Minister Masuzoe Yoichi of the LDP during his questioning of both Mr. Hatoyama and Mr. Kan about the budget. The prime minister deferred to his finance minister for an answer that was evasive at best.

Deftly skewering both the DPJ’s reliance on the Finance Ministry civil servants despite their pledge to minimize Kasumigaseki influence, as well as Mr. Kan’s well-known lack of expertise about financial matters, Mr. Masuzoe commented, “That sounds like a bureaucrat wrote it,” and then asked the question again.

It worked because it did sound as if a bureaucrat had written it.

We’re probably not going to get much better. As I write, there’s so much shouting the NHK radio announcer had to break in twice to explain to the listeners what program was being broadcast. The noise is understandable–the questioning turned to Mr. Hatoyama’s excuses for his own fund-raising scandals. Now that’s laughable!

One Response to “Heckling”

  1. Kaeru said

    This Is great. I don’t know enough Japanese to understand politics on the news so this is very refreshing. I wish there was a full time English program dedicated to it!

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