Japan from the inside out

Bottom feeders

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 1, 2011

The dojo, you know
Doesn’t try to play goldfish

– Dojo, a poem by Aida Mitsuo

NODA Yoshihiko, the new prime minister of Japan, realizes that he’s not the type of man to excite an audience to the point of spontaneous combustion. That’s why he used the analogy from the poem above to present himself to the Japanese public. It was nicely done — most Japanese, including people who will never be Mr. Noda’s political allies, seem to have found it endearing. Some are familiar with the calligrapher/poet Aida Mitsuo, the author of the poem, who lived from 1924 to 1991. Everyone is familiar from childhood with the work of calligrapher/poets, especially anonymous ones, because their creations are a part of daily life. Schoolchildren make their own as part of their classroom work.

The poem

Mr. Noda says he’s always liked Aida’s poems, and people take him at his word. The Japanese will also find that endearing and view it as a positive. There are still plenty of people in this hip-hop world who nod in appreciation at Aida’s explanation of what he did: “I merely express the natural way people should be as humans and the true way to live. To accomplish that, I borrow the format of brush-and-ink calligraphy.”

In fact, there’s been a sharp increase in visitors to the Aida Mitsuo Museum in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward since Mr. Noda’s speech. There were 1,500 on 30 August, which is half again the usual number. The anthology in which the poem appears has been sold out in bookstores, and a new edition of 5,000 copies is being printed to meet the demand. The general theme of that anthology, Okagesan, is “Don’t compare yourself to other people”.

The politicians of his party like it too. Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi, the chief cabinet secretary in Hatoyama Yukio’s government, to the important position of Diet Affairs Committee chairman for the party. Promised Mr. Hirano:

I will become the comfortable mud for the dojo.

That presented the fratboy spitballers of the Fourth Estate with a faux problem. Mr. Noda used a fish analogy that everyone in Japan immediately understood. Rather than a physically attractive and eyecatching kingyo, or goldfish, he likened himself to an ordinary dojo that lives near the mud.

But while every Japanese knows what a dojo is, few people in the West are familiar with what is sometimes called the Oriental Weatherloach, or, for the scientifically minded, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus .

So, after their Japanese go-fers at the Tokyo bureau provided them with the English translation, the foreign correspondents pulled a reference book down from the shelf, blew off the accumulated dust, and licked their fingers as they turned the pages. They discovered that:

It is omnivorous, eating a range of food including insect larvae, crustaceans, algae and detritus.

They found what they were looking for. The headline in The Australian the next day read:

New Japan PM Yoshihiko Noda says he is ‘bottom feeder’

It wasn’t just The Australian, either; when I Googled the phrase early yesterday evening in combination with Mr. Noda’s name, there were more than 700 hits.

No, he did not say he is a bottom feeder. He said he was a dojo. A bottom feeder in English has negative connotations that dojo does not have in Japanese. For Mr. Noda, it was an innocent, self-effacing remark to which his listeners responded favorably, if they had any reaction at all.

But the English-language media outside Japan employed Mr. Noda’s comment to make the man look like a dweeb. Of course they did it on purpose. That is what they do.

Journalists become so upset when they are attacked, it’s apparent they have no idea why they are so detested. One reason, of course, is that they are self-important airheads of unparalleled hebetude incapable of stringing together two sentences without revealing just how little they know. Another is that being a smirking, juvenile twat is no way to win friends or influence people — unless your social circle consists exclusively of smirking, juvenile twats.

Imagine that: Japan’s prime minister enjoys the work of a calligrapher/poet in a country with a culture that encourages such appreciation. Now imagine the sort of person who would see that as a prime target for mockery.

Time magazine in the U.S. employs spitballers of a higher caliber, however. Instead of writers who attended red-brick colleges, they prefer graduates of universities where ivy covers the brick, or better yet, stone. Their headline for Mr. Noda’s selection was:

Another Slice of ‘Cold Pizza’? The Man Most Likely to Lead Japan

They were more clever about it by giving themselves plausible deniability. The line doesn’t come until halfway down the page, when they quote Yamamoto Yoshi quoting Westerners about former Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, who died in office of a stroke.

Oh, they’ve been to the finest schools, all right, but the psychological deformity is the same. Obuchi was another dojo, which few Japanese thought was a handicap. People liked him, including his political opponents, as I suspect they will also like Mr. Noda. I remember watching a film clip of Obuchi talking outdoors to people in the Diet district he represented, and the reasons people liked him were obvious. He was friendly, warm, and genuine in a way that can’t be staged as a photo op.

But perhaps we’re being unfair to the journos. Being unfamiliar with friendly, warm, and genuine behavior, they’re unlikely to recognize it when they see it.

The first article I posted on this website in 2007 was the About page on the masthead. I wrote then that Japan does not receive the baseline respect of other countries, and that people who write about it “seem to enjoy indulging themselves in a comic book vision of the country that depicts Nippon as the Goofball Kingdom of East Asia.”

See what I mean?

For contrast, consider the treatment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She denied that the first Greek bailout would happen, she denied that the second Greek bailout would happen, and she denied that the Portuguese bailout would happen. They all happened. In fact, she said “we have a treaty under which there is no possibility to bail out states in difficulty”.

Do you remember anyone from the industrial mass media dismissing her in a straight news story with the likes of “bottom feeder” or “cold pizza”? Has anyone in the English-language media taken her to task — much less flicked spitballs at her — for being incompetent, muddle-headed, or wrong, wrong, wrong, and wrong?

Please! She’s European, not Asian. Even better, she was born a member of today’s privileged and pedestalized gender. They’re never mocked by the media dinosaurs, unless they’re American women who believe in small government. (Or, in Hillary Clinton’s case, unless they’re running against someone from a subset on an even higher pedestal.)

Isn’t all the commentary filled with brow-knitting concern about how Mr. Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years just so precious? (Or seventh, if you start counting with the outgoing Mr. Koizumi). There’s a bit of that in Japan, too.

But then I ran across an article yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, in which Daniel Henninger interviewed former American Vice-President Dick Cheney. Here’s an excerpt:

I asked Mr. Cheney why there isn’t a stronger tradition of firings or resignations in American government. He chuckled, noting that one of the chapters left out of the book was “People I have fired.”

“It’s an important issue in terms of trying to manage an administration,” he says. “My experience generally has been that it doesn’t happen often enough. That’s sort of a general statement of why government doesn’t work.”

So, Mr. Cheney thinks American government doesn’t work because there are too few resignations and firings, while others think the Japanese government doesn’t work because there are too many resignations and firings.

Yet if the American government were conducted under the Japanese version of the Westminster system, Bill Clinton would have been gone at the end of 1994, sparing the nation of six lost years, tales of cigars used as adult toys, and testimony of semen-stained dresses. George W. Bush would have been gone after Katrina, sparing the nation of the first pointless bailout and the beginning of the degradation of the currency. Barack Obama, the Sizzling Hot Pizza himself, with more self-regard than the average journalist with even less justification, might have failed to match Hatoyama Yukio’s nine months in office, sparing the nation of agony akin to having all one’s teeth pulled without anesthetic.

And some people think the Japanese have it all wrong.

Finally, we come to The Economist. As befitting the elite status of the in-flight magazine for Davos man, the ink-stained wretches they employ as journalists rank in the highest percentile for vapidity, laziness, and self-importance in their profession. No other similar publication in the English-speaking world has contributors who bray so loudly so consistently and know so little about Japan. Consider this on the selection of Mr. Noda:

But there is at least one thing to be thankful for in today’s victory: Mr. Noda sidelined one of the main forces of paralysis in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, who continues to head the largest faction within the party though he has been indicted in a money scandal and his party membership is suspended.

Mr. Ozawa backed Banri Kaieda, a trade minister who looked increasingly in danger of becoming a puppet for the backroom fixer. But though the first vote put Mr. Kaieda in front, thanks to the support of Mr. Ozawa’s cronies, it was not enough to win him an outright victory. In the run-off, Mr. Noda’s supporters joined forces with those of Seiji Maehara, another anti-Ozawa candidate who lost in the first round (and whom we had thought would be the front-runner, because of his support among the electorate at large). Mr. Noda won with 215 votes to Mr. Kaieda’s 177. It is the second time this year—the first was a no-confidence vote against Mr. Kan in June—that Mr. Ozawa has failed to impose his will on the party, though that is not to say that he will stop making mischief for the new leader.

Two paragraphs, two errors with a throw weight measured in the megatons. Mr. Ozawa did not try “to impose his will on the party” through the no-confidence vote. The opposition parties introduced the June no-confidence measure and might have done so in March had it not been for the earthquake. They were already discussing it at the end of February. It would have passed, too, with members of several Democratic Party factions voting for it — acting as antibodies against the human bacteria that is Kan Naoto. But Sengoku Yoshito and Edano Yukio, attorneys at law, put off the inevitable by devising a document that everyone except Kan Naoto thought was a commitment to a quick resignation. It took the rest of the summer, but Kan Naoto is solid gone, leaving behind the odor of sulfur and slime.

So: Viewed from a time frame of longer than a fortnight, how was this a failure for Ozawa Ichiro? If his allies had opposed the no-confidence measure from the start, we still might have Kan Naoto to kick around some more.

As for putting Mr. Ozawa out of business, Mr. Noda just appointed Ozawa ally Koshi’ishi Azuma to be the party secretary-general (head of the party in the organizational sense). In Japan’s version of the Westminster system, the secretary-general is essentially the Number Two man of the party. He controls all the money, runs the election campaigns, and conducts negotiations with the other parties. We’ve also seen that Mr. Noda appointed Hirano Hirofumi to be the party’s Diet Affairs chairman, which another important role. Mr. Hirano is a close associate of Hatoyama Yukio, who is also allied with Ozawa Ichiro.

In other words, reading The Economist on Japan wastes even more time than reading the Japan Times. The former is longer than the latter.

Speaking of Koshi’ishi Azuma, his presence and positions of authority within the party are the reasons the DPJ will never have the party unity that the journos keep wishin’ and hopin’ for.

Mr. Koshi’ishi is one of several DPJ legislators to have a Socialist Party background (from the days when their charter included favorable references to Karl Marx), and he once headed the Japan Teachers’ Union-affiliated Yamanashi teachers’ union. The JTU backs the DPJ in the same way that teachers’ unions everywhere back political parties of the left. In the past, they’ve been caught squeezing members to donate to Mr. Azuma’s political campaigns in Yamanashi. They even had teachers working the phone banks to bug voters at home. The teachers themselves admitted the money went into a dummy bank account for Mr. Koshi’ishi, who wound up with JPY 3 million.

The JTU once harassed a Hiroshima school principal to the point of suicide. They think competitive tests are bad for education and singing the national anthem is bad for any reason at all. Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them.

Mr. Koshi’ishi was a member of the JTU when Makieda Motofumi was chairman. Mr. Makieda is the author of チュチェの国朝鮮を訪ねて (Visiting Joseon, the Country of Juche), in which he praised the North Korean educational system. It contains this passage:

“There are no thieves in this country. Thievery occurs in those places where there is a prejudice toward wealth. There is no need for thievery in this country. Since there is no thievery and no murder, there are also no police. There are only public safety personnel standing at the corners and intersections to direct traffic and deal with any injuries.”

He’s also written:

“After my visit to North Korea, whenever I’m asked whom I think is the most respected person in the world, I immediately bring up the name of Chairman Kim Il-sung. That’s because I have met him personally. I believe that he is loved by the people of his country, and is worthy to be revered by them as a father….Kim Jong-il is the duplicate of his father, and he can be trusted without reservation.”

Makieda Motofumi received a medal from North Korea in 1991.

During the Aso administration, there was talk of Japanese participation in efforts to board North Korean ships suspected of transporting nuclear weapons material to the Middle East. Said Mr. Koshi’ishi at a press conference:

Rather than inspecting North Korean ships, we should inspect the Aso Cabinet.

Mr. Koshi’ishi frequently speaks of the relationship between politics and education:

There is no such thing as education without politics.

At a JTU meeting in Tokyo, he once said:

It is not possible to be politically neutral in education…We will change education through politics.

These statements come close to violating Japanese law, and are of course a de facto pledge to indoctrinate students. Mr. Koshi’ishi’s opposition to singing the Japanese national anthem in schools is perhaps because he favors the Internationale instead.

But in a book published in July 2009, 民主の敵-政権交代に大義あり (The Enemy of Democracy: There is righteousness in a change of government), Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko recalled his experience in primary school as the son of a man in the Self-Defense Forces:

It’s often said there are teachers who tell the children of members in the Self-Defense Forces that “Your father’s job is to kill people”. That atmosphere did in fact exist.

Mr. Noda has also insisted on a firm stance against North Korea and for the revision of the Constitution to allow Japan the use of the military for legitimate self-defense. Though he is the sort of man to whom Mr. Koshi’ishi’s comrades enjoy mailing razor blades, he asked Mr. Koshi’ishi to lead the party.

Mr. Noda is still talking about a grand coalition, but this appointment kills that deader than the proverbial doornail.

The boys and girls covering Japan for the English-language media will never tell you this. Instead they keep asking the pointless question of whether this or any prime minister will unify the DPJ in an equally pointless attempt to present themselves as serious people doing a serious job.

The Democratic Party of Japan will never be unified for the same reason a party whose membership included both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin would never be unified. Mr. Noda is trying, but I suspect he himself knows it’s a matter of buying a few more months of time.

You read it here first, but only because the credentialed media either doesn’t know, or can’t be bothered to tell you about it.


Though Mr. Ozawa is an ally of Mr. Koshi’ishi, he most certainly does not share the latter’s beliefs. Explaining that relationship will have to wait for another day, however.

Sorry for the lack of hotlinks, but still having the software problem. It should be easy for people to find what they want to see, however. I recommend the Aida Mitsuo Museum site.

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9 Responses to “Bottom feeders”

  1. Marellus said


    So this Mr. Noda will have a short term as well ? My question is this : How serious an entity is the JTU in the education establishment ? Do you think Japan will ditch competitive examinations, and adopt a more leftist model of education ?
    1. I don’t know. (No predictions!)
    2. Very.
    3 and 4. They’re trying. Success has been mixed.

    When the DPJ took office in 2009, a lot of people were seriously worried that Koshi’ishi would become Education Minister. Even the DPJ knew better, and knew they could do the same with someone less well-known.

    – A

  2. camphortree said

    In the remote village in Shikoku Island my fourth grade Social teacher sometimes hung a world map over the blackboard and told the class that there were no unemployed people, discrimination, tax, and thieves in the U.S.S.R., China, North Korea and North Vietnam. He repeated that the education and hospitals were free and the people did not neet to worry when they became old. Then he let me point where those wonderful countries were located on the world map. I was delighted to do so on the podium. He smiled at me and encouraged me to become a school teacher. My mother called him aka (the Red) at home, but she did so because she was backward, I thought.
    In my junior high school my Science teacher handed me a cylinder case which used to contain his college gradiation certificate to deliver to my old village elementary school once a week. One time I was bored and opened the cylinder case. There was a rolled copy of アカハタ, the Japan Communist Newspaper in it. I was dismissed from that delivery task in the third year thanks to a quarrel between the elementary school teachers’ group and the Science teacher’s group.
    Years later my elder sister met the Science teacher at a social gathering. He remembered me and told my sister that he could
    have married me but lost a contact with me or something. I had met an American gentleman and saved my life.

  3. Marellus said

    @ Camphortree

    What did this American gentleman do that saved your life ?

  4. richard hendy said

    “Another is that being a smirking, juvenile twat is no way to win friends or influence people — unless your social circle consists exclusively of smirking, juvenile twats.”

    Back at ya.
    Bitterness, Saturday night loneliness, and alcohol is not a good combination for people interested in leaving a good impression on the Internet.

    Take any more of your fascinating pictures of crap lately?

  5. richard hendy said

    “But while every Japanese knows what a dojo is, few people in the West are familiar with what is sometimes called the Oriental Weatherloach, or, for the scientifically minded, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus Cantor.”

    Nice try, but you don’t fool me. What’s Cantor doing stuck on the end of a scientific name? Answer: You pulled your spurious erudition from here:

    Without realizing that Cantor was the first person (in the West) to describe it. What a fraudster you are.
    Don’t do primary research in English:

    Thanks for pointing it out, however.

  6. richard hendy said

    “Acting as antibodies against the human bacteria that is Kan Naoto”

    Can’t you grow up? Really? I mean really? How could anybody take you seriously? I know they don’t anyway, but instead of spewing your radioactive filth, please try and calm down and take a lesson from that poet you so glibly and falsely pretend to know so much about, Aida Mitsuo: ひとの批判はかんたんだがなあ。

  7. Greg said

    Hendy, you’re boring.

  8. richard hendy said

    ”Another favorite JTU technique is to mail razor blades to the people that displease them.”

    Fascinating. Care to provide any evidence for that? And by evidence, I mean evidence, not “I read it in the Gomiyuri”.

    Considering your mental state at present, I don’t think it would be wise to present you with the actual razor blades.

    Your pre-selection of which sources you will consider legit and which you won’t means that it would be a waste of time to present it to you.

    I note with interest that you didn’t challenge the Hiroshima suicide, or the North Korean stories. Apparently you’re down with that.

    – A.

  9. camphortree said

    Richard Hendy saram,
    You are キモ〜!
    C: Use Google or Yahoo and search for his name and “Ugly Japan” and see what you find. Here’s the funny part — The Guardian newspaper in England saw that and called him a “Japanophile”.

    – A.

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