AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Priorities

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 21, 2012

THE Japanese are more aware than anyone else of the deficiencies of their national political establishment. It’s often said that the bureaucrats are the real politicians, and the politicians are really just lobbyists for the interests of the ministries they’re associated with or other private sector interests.

Here’s a demonstration of the severity of the problem. The following is a Tweet today from Matsuda Kota, an upper house representative from Your Party:

“The South Korean pop star PSY is very popular in the U.S. and Europe. They say he’s also going to collaborate with Justin Bieber. PSY talks to the international media in fluent English. We must learn from South Korean artists in this regard. South Korean female groups popular in Japan also mastered English first to establish a global presence.”

There were Chinese naval frigates in Japanese territorial waters this morning in a deliberate provocation, people throughout the world are wondering if war will break out between China and Japan, relations with South Korea are in a deep freeze, the economy is in the doldrums, the government just passed a bill to double the consumption tax in the teeth of deflation, the devolution of authority to regional governments is stalled, and Matsuda Kota is Tweeting about disposable chewing gum culture.

This would be understandable if he were a chinless wonder along the lines of Hatoyama Yukio, whose political position derives entirely from the fact that his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were prominent national politicians, and his mother illegally bankrolled his fledgling party with money from the Bridgestone family fortune (for which the back taxes and penalties alone totaled $US six million).

But Mr. Matsuda was an entrepreneur who founded Tully’s (coffee) Japan, cashed out, and turned his attention to politics. He’s handsome enough to have been in show business. He’s also a member of Your Party, which is the only party now in the Diet that takes reform seriously.

Why is he even talking about this?

To be fair, he probably wants to encourage young people to learn English so they can be more active internationally. There’s nothing wrong with that, but most of the people who are fans of Korean girl groups are not reading his Tweets. I know Japanese high school and college students. They’re not going to get excited about English just because PSY is fluent enough to appear on the Today show. Do you want to speculate on how many people are thinking about PSY this time next year?

Now you know why the Japanese electorate is so frustrated — every election, they keep kicking the bums out, only to be disillusioned by their replacements. There’ll be two national elections by next summer at the latest, and that trend will continue until the electorate gets what it wants.

Gangnam Style

Speaking of PSY, if you haven’t seen his video, consider yourself to be in cultural hibernation. It has more than 200 million views on Youtube alone. While it’s a massive international sensation, it’s really just the combination of a danceable novelty tune with an entertaining, eye-catching video. Like other novelty acts, PSY is unlikely to come anywhere near that success again, particularly outside of South Korea. He’s probably set for life there, however. (He’s already establishment himself; he’s released six albums in South Korea already.)

But unbeknownst to the ravers and teenyboppers outside the country, there’s a lot going on in that tune lyrically. The blind squirrels at AP found an acorn with this article explaining the back story:

The district of Gangnam, which literally means “south of the river,” is about half the size of Manhattan. About 1 percent of Seoul’s population lives there, but many of its residents are very rich. The average Gangnam apartment costs about $716,000, a sum that would take an average South Korean household 18 years to earn.

Gangnam…is new money, the beneficiary of a development boom that began in the 1970s.

As the price of high-rise apartments skyrocketed during a real estate investment frenzy in the early 2000s, landowners and speculators became wealthy practically overnight. The district’s rich families got even richer.

The new wealth drew the trendiest boutiques and clubs and a proliferation of plastic surgery clinics, but it also provided access to something considered vital in modern South Korea: top-notch education in the form of prestigious private tutoring and prep schools. Gangnam households spend nearly four times more on education than the national average.

The notion that Gangnam residents have risen not by following the traditional South Korean virtues of hard work and sacrifice, but simply by living on a coveted piece of geography, irks many. The neighborhood’s residents are seen by some as monopolizing the country’s best education opportunities, the best cultural offerings and the best infrastructure, while spending big on foreign luxury goods to highlight their wealth.

“Gangnam inspires both envy and distaste,” said Kim Zakka, a Seoul-based pop music critic. “Gangnam residents are South Korea’s upper class, but South Koreans consider them self-interested, with no sense of noblesse oblige.”…

…PSY does something in his video that few other artists, Korean or otherwise, do: He parodies the wealthiest, most powerful neighborhood in South Korea,” writes Sukjong Hong, creative nonfiction fellow at Open City, an online magazine.

If you’re one of those who’ve been in cultural hibernation and haven’t seen the video, it’s embedded in the AP article. It really is a hoot once or twice, and even better, a lot of the women in it are hot!

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2 Responses to “Priorities”

  1. toadold said

    Ampontan, stop, I’m still catching my breath from the Chinese carton showing Godzilla cleaning the top of a skyscraper with a spray bottle and a wipe.
    Lately,more than ever, politicians are talking about anything rather than the economic situation.

  2. trapped in brazil said

    Like Toadold said, the politicians are not addressing the important issues. That’s because they don’t know what to do or worse, can’t do it because of the present international and national political order. Sometimes I wonder if the only way out is a new Bakumatsu.

    If that bozo (Matsuda Kota) wanted people to learn english, it would be best to justify it as “learning more about the World”, because the only way to know what importance does your country holds and what to do about it is by learning the ways of the World and interacting with other people.

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