Teaching In Socks

Honor or Madness
June 3, 2010, 4:44 pm
Filed under: Japan | Tags: , , , , , ,

I had a bad day

This morning, Japan had their semi-annual holiday event where everyone wakes up in the morning, reads their paper, eats their breakfast and then goes to work only to find out that at some point during their commute the Prime Minister has resigned. I say semi-annual because this is the third time it has happened since my arrival just twenty months ago. Furthermore, in the last twenty-two years there have been sixteen Prime Ministers (that crazy Elvis-loving cat, Koizumi stuck around for four years, skewing the average). At this point, I’m surprised they haven’t developed a special kind of roll cake or pastry to commemorate the day each time it happens; retailers, you are a missing an obvious cash cow.

Prime Minister Hatoyama–I’m sorry–Former Prime Minister Hatoyama resigned this morning after only eight months in office. I’ve lived in Japan long enough to not be surprised by his decision, (and as I mentioned previously, it only took less than two years) but it doesn’t mean I understand why he decided to resigned, and why others before him have also resigned so abruptly after fairly short terms. The obvious deduction to make is that this is vicious cycle of copy cat quitters, but I think this runs deeper than that. The frequent changing of the guard has evolved from a developing habit into fuzzy area between tradition and ritual

The general consensus in regards to the current case seems to be that the motivating factors behind Hatoyama’s resignation include, his mishandling of relocating an American Airbase in Okinawa (locals wanted it moved away, Hatoyama flip-flopped on issue and then kept it in Okinawa), pressure from a hostile Japanese press corps and his general inability to deliver promises on made in his party’s Manifesto published in the fall. I wouldn’t dispute any of those contentions, those things all happened. However, if we compare Hatoyama’s situation to the failures and tribulations of other world leader, the obstacles he faces seem minute–and certainly not circumstances worth resigning over.

is that a shirt or a magic eye?

To take a shot at my own motherland, Obama, for instance, has (at the time of this writing) unequivocally failed on his explicit promise to close Guantanamo Bay, he hasn’t ended “don’t ask, don’t tell”, he edged in a heavily compromised Health Care reform bill that the general public still doesn’t fully understand, and let’s not even begin to discuss Wall Street or Afghanistan or the fact that he hasn’t mastered the ability of flight or telekinesis (that we know of). And Bush, through his eight years…well. Despite all of this, I don’t think Obama should resign, and I never thought Bush would resign. The problems they face (or created) are large the solutions required are generally equally large, challenging and to the consternation of everyone, slow. Americans, get this though. Yes, we whine, scream and do silly silly stupid things, but a general consensus seems to be that we value persistence higher (or at least equally) than the notion of honor (cough cough Mark Sanford).

Japan seems to differ in this opinion. One should be persistently honorable, rather than honorably persistent.

The big rallying moment against Hatoyama came during a series of protests in Okinawa–the biggest of which attracted a crowd of 90,000. That is a large number of people, and they were very passionate and loud about their dissent. Still, Japan is a country 123,000,000 people, it’s not like the protesters were a powerful and overwhelming majority. I’ve been ot football games with bigger crowds.

string pullers

Hatoyama’s approval rating was low (I don’t have the actual numbers, but I recall at one point last week a Fuji News Network reported them somewhere in the 20% range) but there’s no constitutional imperative for a Prime Minister with bad approval ratings to step down*. Also, last time I checked, approval ratings seems to be things that fluctuate based on a variety of variables, many of which the person being approved of has control over. In Japan, the political parties seems to hit the panic button when the ratings hit below 40%, after that it’s political quicksand.

I believe I said this before, when Fukuda resigned in the Fall of 2009, but I believe this pattern has something to do with Japan’s concept of honor. We are after all talking about a country who traditionally has no qualms about ritual suicide. Seppuku has all sort of connotations. Still, it seems to me this obsession with doing the honorable thing has started to cost Japan. In January when Obama was receiving foreign dignitaries to a dinner at the White House, Hatoyama, despite being the leader of a G7 country, was notably not given face to face time with Obama. The reports at the time were that people close to Obama had suggested that it would be a waste of Obama’s time–and frankly they were right. How can Japan remain a major player in the Global economy if no one is sure who to do business with or if the current leader will be around to enact the promises he or she has made?

soooooo honorable

I know champions of democracy often talk about the importance of term limits, but Japan may be the first developed country in need of term minimums. Enough with the pleasantries, if you mess up, do something terrible, to bad, you have to keep showing up to work for another year, it’s your duty.

I should note, that the Highlight of the Hatoyama administration has been his fashion choices. Many people have criticized that too much has been made of this, but the guy really just has too much money and not enough taste. Sometimes, when I was watching the news it would to try and concentrate on what they were saying, his outfit was just too mind-blowingly weird. As you can see, he takes Cosby to a whole new level. (Also, it should noted that you can pick up that prime colored checkered shirt from some fashion designer in China, it’s only $500. The designer called Hatoyama visionary but I think he’s just a guy who accidentally traded suitcases with DJ Jazzy Jeff one day and hasn’t noticed.


*That I am aware of– I have not read Japan’s Constitution