Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 9, 2011
HERE’s an anecdote about Hatoyama Yukio that I ran across yesterday. It typifies the pettiness of the political class everywhere.
In 1999, Mr. Hatoyama was involved with a group that included Sakaiya Taichi, then head of the now-defunct Economic Planning Agency. One of the members came up with the idea of issuing a JPY 2000 bank note to coincide with the new millenium, and Mr. Hatoyama thought it was a capital idea. He had the Democratic Party, then in the opposition, conduct a study about issuing the bill and its potential economic effect.
In the meantime, the same light bulb went off in the head of someone in government. He brought the idea to then-Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, and the bill was issued. Mr. Hatoyama was upset that the LDP beat him to the punch and wondered how word of his plan leaked out. He told the press during an October 1999 news conference that he should have publicized the DPJ study sooner.
It didn’t turn out to be such a good idea after all. No vending machines or ATMs had the capability to handle the new note, and it soon became became the subject of media mockery. Sensing which way the wind was blowing, Mr. Hatoyama told the monthly Bungei Shunju in 2000 in a discussion of the Obuchi government:
They’re going to have a lot of weird ideas, like this one about issuing a JPY 2000 note.
With the world’s governments in the hands of kidults, it’s no wonder we’re all up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Another of the Obuchi government’s ideas was to issue the bill in conjunction with the G-whatever summit in Okinawa that year. The obverse of the note has an engraving of Shureimon, one of the gates at the Shurei Castle in Okinawa. It is the only Japanese banknote without a person’s face on the front. (Then again, there are only three other notes.)
The problem with ATMs has been resolved to an extent, though most of the banks operating those ATMs are in Okinawa. Some banks in foreign countries won’t handle the bills when changing money. I can’t remember the last time I saw one of them, and there are now fewer of them in circulation than there were of the old 500-yen note, which they eliminated in 1985. There’s a good reason for that — they stopped printing 2000-yen notes in 2003, though the Bank of Japan has a lot of unissued bills in storage.
Nishiyama Yutaka, a mathematics professor at the Osaka University of Economics and an expert in boomerang research, wrote this short paper in Japanese suggesting one of the reasons the 2,000 yen note didn’t catch on is that Japanese are more likely to prefer odd numbers and people in the English-speaking world even numbers. He of course mentions the meaning of the word “odd” in English.
Prof. Nishiyama went to the trouble to count the number-related words in Japanese and English dictionaries. He found a much higher incidence of vocabulary items related to one and three in Japanese, while there was a much higher incidence for two in English.
Before you dismiss this as so much silliness, consider one more point. The professor correctly notes that the Japanese equivalent of the proverb “two heads are better than one” involves three people.
Oh yeah, here’s one more: In 1995, the same Bungei Shunju profiled a list of “Leaders for the 21st Century”. Number one on the list was Hatoyama Yukio. Some Japanese now argue that Mr. Hatoyama was Japan’s worst prime minister ever.
But then that’s the pitfall for publishing lists of that sort, isn’t it?
Once upon a time, a two-dollar bill bought some big fun.