I can’t believe I once said of Japan, “It’s a place of such sameness, such balance and middle-of-the-road ways, that it’s hard to develop strong feelings about it.” Over the years I lived there and it became increasingly familiar, the pendulum swung for me to the other extreme. It’s now a place of intense feelings.
It has a nasty bunch of right wingers. Some of them ride around in sound trucks and shout at you, adding noise pollution to other forms of pollution in the busy areas of Tokyo. It is a bully’s paradise. Its natural beauty is offset by some of the ugliest urban sites imaginable. Big corporations like Tokyo Electric pretty much run the country, and some, like Green Cross, which knowingly killed off hundreds of Japan’s hemophiliacs by giving them HIV tainted blood, are enough to make you believe in Satan.
There’s so much about Japan not to like, if you’re in a grouchy mood.
At the top of my list of things that make me grouchy at the moment is the news that Shintaro Ishihara has been elected yet again as governor of Tokyo. This despite the fact that he represents the far right in Japanese politics, in sharp contrast to the current prime minister, Naoto Kan, who first captured the hearts and the respect of Japanese when he went after those bastards at Green Cross. Now, a couple decades later, Tokyo voters throw their weight once more behind Ishikawa, even in the aftermath of the tsunami and earthquake, which Ishikawa notoriously described as “divine punishment.” It’s as if New York had put Pat Robertson at the head of its power center.
It’s not just the blaming the victim stupidity that makes this guy loathsome. Among his many accomplishments is the charge that criminality in Japan can be blamed on foreigners, that the Rape of Nanking is a fiction, that women are useless once they are no longer capable of reproduction, that homosexuality is abnormal, and that the Japanese occupation of Korea was completely justified. He is also responsible for squandering taxpayer money on a bank scheme (Shinginko) and on a losing plan to bring the Olympics to Tokyo. But voters apparently translate all this as a sign of eccentricity, and translate eccentricity into heroic resistance to politics as usual. Nobody ever said you had to be smart to vote in a democratic election.
Fortunately Japan is so much more than its crummy politicians.
Like this YouTube video, for example.
First Seiji Ozawa.