AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

“I read about 10 pages”

Posted by ampontan on Monday, March 15, 2010

SOME IN JAPAN hold that the Liberal Democratic Party has been ineffective in presenting arguments in opposition to the ruling Democratic Party. That might be true of the mudboat wing of the party, represented by the new president Tanigaki Sadakazu, but that’s by no means the case with the reform wing and those associated with former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro.

There are many examples, but here’s Exhibit A: An English-language article written by former Defense Minister Koike Yuriko, which has appeared in two Australian publications. Here’s the first sentence:

When asked if he had ever read the classic text Economics by Paul Samuelson, a book most first-year students in the subject are familiar with, Japanese Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Naoto Kan replied: “I read about 10 pages.”

Ms. Koike is no shrinking wallflower. That first punch sent Mr. Kan sprawling to the canvas on his back, but she didn’t retire to a neutral corner–she jumped on top and started working him over.

She also knows how to stick in the knife and twist it:

Kan is often mentioned as a potential successor should Hatoyama leave his post – a live possibility, given the prime minister’s plummeting approval ratings and strained relationship with Ichiro Ozawa, the kingpin of Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Ms. Koike spends most of her time dealing with the economic mismanagement of Japan and the DPJ’s financial scandals.

Such scandals have tainted Japanese politics for decades. But, just as Kan is planning only to “discuss” raising taxes, the supposedly clean DPJ is planning only to discuss the problem of money in politics by establishing a new non-partisan commission to investigate the problem. Japan, however, cannot afford to waste time building a new apparatus to prevent party-financing scandals. The country already has laws to handle the matter. They simply need to be enforced.

Japanese politics and its alliances can be inscrutable, as a look at Ms. Koike’s background will demonstrate. She was at one time close to Ozawa Ichiro, now the DPJ secretary-general, in two different parties before joining the LDP at the start of the Koizumi era. She became an Ozawa ally after reading his book, Blueprint for a New Japan. She was attracted by his call for greater individuality and less big government, but split when she realized that the Ozawa electoral technique was to adopt as an ideology whatever he thought would fly at the time.

Whenever a politician’s name appears on something in print, it’s a fair question to ask whether they wrote it themselves. It’s also fair to wonder about the English language ability of Japanese politicians when something they wrote appears in that language without a translation credit. It’s not possible to answer that question with any certainty, but the chances are good that she wrote the article herself and is responsible for most of the English (though it was probably shown to a native speaker for cleaning up before publication). She began her career as a print journalist and then moved on to the broadcast media, and that training seems to be reflected in the structural tightness of the piece.

Further, I’ve been pleasantly surprised more than once at the ease with which many Japanese journalists can switch into English when the occasion demands. That’s in contrast to most politicians. The late Miyazawa Kiichi was said to have excellent English, but his fluency deteriorated noticeably when he departed from set pieces. And one of my clients in the translation business, a Japanese man whose English is superb, was appalled when he heard Prime Minister Hatoyama speak in English. When I pointed out that he studied engineering at Stanford, he dismissed that with the comment, “Just another rich boy sent abroad to study.”

Ms. Koike was also the first woman to run for the post of LDP president, which means she had ambitions to become prime minister. (She finished third behind Aso Taro and Yosano Kaoru, but was in second place well ahead of Mr. Yosano when only the LDP Diet members’ votes were counted.) Whether she still intends to act on those ambitions remains to be seen, but there is no question she can be an effective voice in opposition, albeit one overlooked by the Japanese media at present.

Afterwords:

When I first came to Japan, the sex industry had many establishments at which females were paid to play rub-a-dub-dub in the bath with men. They were known as toruko, or Turkish baths. A Turkish student at Tokyo University, Nusret Sancakli, led a successful movement to have the name changed. “Soapland” is now the term of choice. It was not commonly known at the time, but Ms. Koike was Mr. Sancakli’s behind-the-scenes advisor in that campaign.

2 Responses to ““I read about 10 pages””

  1. kushibo said

    Ampontan wrote:

    When I first came to Japan, the sex industry had many establishments at which females were paid to play rub-a-dub-dub in the bath with men. They were known as toruko, or Turkish baths. A Turkish student at Tokyo University, Nusret Sancakli, led a successful movement to have the name changed. “Soapland” is now the term of choice. It was not commonly known at the time, but Ms. Koike was Mr. Sancakli’s behind-the-scenes advisor in that campaign.

    About when was this? Similar facilities (some “legit” and others more soaplandish) were called t’ŏ•k’i•t’ang (Turkey-tang, the suffix referring to a hot soak) in Korea until the Turkish embassy began to push the issue. Now I don’t know what the soaplandish ones turned into (a lot of them just disappeared).
    ——————
    1984. I came in March that year, and I was here when that happened.

    – A.

  2. kushibo said

    Oh, the Turkish embassy getting involved in this in South Korea was at least ten years later then. There may have been something in 1984 (South Korean papers may at least have reported what was going on in Japan regarding this), but I don’t know directly.

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