The "surprise resignation" of Fukuda Yasuo as Japanese PM isn't that much of a surprise. Who's next? You ask. Or rather you don't, since Japanese politics interests you about as much as it interests the Japanese electorate. Not much at all. Anyway, high temperatures and early morning coffee had me writing the following a few weeks ago.
I was quite arrested by the above photograph from this month's Brutus magazine, featuring the politician Aso Taro. Who's that next to him, I though, oh, apparently it's Aso Kumiko. Must be his daughter then. Well, I thought, Japan's political system is rather hereditary, if not feudal. Should Aso ever make it to Prime Minister, he might get assassinated by some Chinese nationalist or similar and then his daughter could ride into power on the sympathy vote. They'd be the best cheekbones in Japanese politics since I don't know when. Kumiko sounds a bit like Himiko as well, a semi-mythologised female leader... Since the Imperial Household appear unwilling to allow a Japanese empress to accede to the throne in the near future, a female Japanese Prime Minister could well fill the eminent vacancy for a mother-figure at the heart of the nation. Yup, I thought, world economy slumps, ecological collapse imminent, violent struggle for resources, mass extinction on everyone's mind. Japan might just want a woman at the helm. Fighting for the Motherland always sounds more attractive to my ears than fighting for the Fatherland. Not sure where/how/why that split occurs in European history. Well, she's got her work cut out for her...
Of course, a closer reading of the text on the opposite page would have stemmed this line of thought as she's not his daughter. Oh well. They may well be related, but I've since packed the magazine into a box and posted it home. Never mind. [Kumiko is primarily a film actress, with a reasonable line in tv adverts. Aso is a stage name it appears]
I did some reading about Aso. Well, I can imagine the field day that the English-language press could have with a name like that. I'm sure he's heard it all already. There's a fair few things about Aso I didn't know. For a start, he's a Catholic and christened Francisco. He's from Kyushu and, more or less!, the living embodiment of the Satsuma clan. He's the great-great-grandson of the Satsuma leader Okubo Toshimichi, the great-grandson of the civil rights leader Takeuchi Tsuna, the grandson of Japan's post-war PM Yoshida Shigeru, his wife is the daughter of former PM Suzuki Zenko, his sister is married to Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (think Prince Michael of Kent). Indeed, had the Americans not removed the Meiji system of peerage, he'd most likely be Baron Aso or similar.
Asshole. There, I've said it.
Aso studied at Gakushuin, then Stanford, although according to the Wikipedia entry, his allowance was cut off as the family feared he was becoming too Americanised. Without reading this in Japanese, or rather a better account, it's hard to know quite what this means. Born in 1940, this puts him in the US around '62 or so. I imagine Aso cutting loose, some ill-considered affairs, a smoky bongo session or two, that sort of thing. Goes back to Japan, obviously has it out with his parents in some way, comes to London and goes to the LSE. Possibly his parents thought London the safer choice. Of course, when Aso's life is written into manga form, he can be bumping into John Lennon and Mick Jagger, necking purple hearts and/or visiting his tailor. [Aso is well-known as a keen reader of manga. Nothing uncommon there, but it's not clear how much he plays this up to get down with "the kids"]
Yes, Aso's suit in the picture is an interesting choice. For a start, it's not regulation dark blue. Okay, he's off duty, but still, it's an intriguing choice of cloth. Despite the stylist not quite sorting out the kink in the arm and neck of the jacket (okay, coat, if you must!), it's an expensive looking piece of work. He might actually have some style, a rare commodity amongst Japanese politicians. Bespoke tailoring is a more common option in Japan for people of Aso's class than it is in the UK at present. A small number of Japanese tailors travelled to the UK from the early 20th century onwards, studied in/around Savile Row, travelled home and disseminated the arts. Hirohito was a customer at Poole's. Hats from Locke's. Etc.
Anyway, Aso then goes off diamond mining in Sierra Leone for two years and comes back to join his dad's company (Aso Mining, worth a read). Goes into politics in 1979. He also squeezes in shooting for the Japanese team at the '76 Montreal Olympics. For some reason, I suppose I'm impressed, all this history and elan begins winning me over. Sure, I think, that Aso has made some stupid comments, but hell, he knows how to expose a shirt cuff. Of course, backing politicians on the basis of sartorial competence is a dangerous risk.
One of Aso's comments I read from Wikipedia is "he was quoted as saying he wanted to make Japan a country where "rich Jews" would like to live." No internet at home, so I can't look the actual quote up. How does Aso say "rich Jews" in Japanese? The more I run the possible phrase around my head, the less I'm sure what sense to make of it. Sensitivity suggests that the phrase "rich Jews" is the issue here. By conflating Jewish identity with financial advantage or acumen, Aso is being anti-semitic. Well, I think, which is the worse:
a. I want to make Japan a country where rich Jews would like to live.
b. I don't want to make Japan a country where rich Jews would like to live.
Err, (b), it would seem. Of course, what Aso does not appear to be saying is:
c. I want to make Japan a country where rich Jews will live.
Either way, Aso does not appear from this 2001 quote to be conscious of is that attracting rich Jews to Japan, regardless of whether you give them permanent residency or not, would require the establishment of a Jewish infrastructure of synagogues, schools, restaurants, shops and the rest. Well, I think, sleep and possibly reason evading me, good on Aso, giving all that work to other less rich Jews in the process. It's the sort of stimulus the Japanese economy could do with. Surely, he can't intend to set all this in motion and then not allow these said rich Jews in. It would be another white elephant of Japanese construction. The abandoned Jewish theme park. Which is a rather chilling thought, reminding me of my visit to the rather unpopulated Huis Ten Bosch, where there was a nominally Jewish street. Of course, a Japanese Jewish theme park probably wouldn't serve kosher. What a grotesque idea such a place would be. Anyway...
Well, I try to read Aso's comment as a philosemitic remark, if maybe insensitive. After all, there are rich Jews! As there are poor Jews and Jews of middle income and so forth. The political sensitivities of such a remark might just (I am being very charitable in this early morning interpretation) escape him. Maybe Aso really wants to say:
"I think Jews are great! It's a shame that Japanese people don't spend more time with Jewish people as there is a lot that we could learn from one another. It would be wonderful if more Jewish people came and lived in Japan. So, if you fancy coming over, we are happy to give you residency here. If you happen to rich, so much the better, the more money you can put into our stagnant economy! If you're poor, don't worry, Japan is a land where you don't have to be rich to be happy! Let's live and love together in peace and harmony! Banzai!"
Except he doesn't, does he, I think over coffee later. Fuck Aso and his "rich Jews" comment, that stinks off all that is rotten and ignorant. He's not uneducated, he speaks English, he knows what he's saying. Maybe anti-semitism is better preserved in Japanese Catholicism? I hope not.
[Aso's comment can be found in this Guardian article, where Justin McCurry writes: "While economics minister, he said he wanted to turn Japan into a country where "rich Jews" would want to live." The original quote, at least in English, appears to be "Maybe I'm saying this from my dogmatic prejudice, but the way I see it, the best country in the world would be a country where the richest Jewish people would want to live...Or it could be Armenians, or overseas Chinese, or any group around the world criticized for being rich... [and I may as well add this quote from the same interview]... Maybe foreigners think referring to Jewish people as an example will backfire on me, but in Japan there's little chance it will become a problem... Japanese cannot distinguish between Jews, Italians or Spanish. But by the same token, foreigners cannot tell the difference between Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and South Koreans." Also: "But he added that many of the foreign entertainers who appear on Japanese television programs were ``Jews with a good command of Japanese.'' I think he means Dave Spector (recent Dave here, a younger Dave here). So Aso's comment would appear to be "I wanted to think of a non-Japanese group who are very rich. Obviously, Jews were the first thing that came to mind, given their control of world banking. And the rest." Ahem.]
My hopes for Aso are of course utterly negated by his 2005 comment when (Wiki again) "he praised Japan for having "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race," and stated that it was the only such country in the world". Hmm, not much sign there that he thinks getting more Jewish would be a smart move for Japan. It also indicates Aso's woeful misunderstandings of Japanese history, despite all that education. If I started, I'd be here another two hours at least.
Well, of course, now I'm back in London, with its reasonable temperatures and luxuriant rainfall. What I intended to write following that was how much I liked the photograph for showing us his desk with all that stationery on it. If only he'd spend his time buiding Pitagora Suitchi playsets:
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STOP PRESS! No need to worry about the next Japanese PM, a new era of peace is about to envelop the world: