Monday, September 19, 2005


Cute Koizumi-kun

I used to see Koizumi bobble-head dolls in the stores. Even so, beyond his cuteness and lionesque hair, people had their doubts about him. He was divorced. As finance minister he wore a green velvet suit to a trade meeting with his US counterpart. Come to think of it, that may have given a hint to the strain of incipient nationalism we now see in him, with his annual visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Though I intend to write in praise of Koizumi, I'm not blind.

By the way, Yasukuni (Warning - Digression!) is a favorite cherry blossom viewing place in the city, and in my first year with my Japanese company, 1989, I was sent in the morning with a big blue plastic tarp to reserve a space for our department's after-work annual drinking and cherry viewing.

Once the veteran workers showed up, we drank heavily and looked at the blossoms, valued as much for their evanescence as for their beauty. That kind of transitory ripeness is a part of the Japanese aesthetic, lending poignancy and causing some Japanese men to be just a bit hung up on very inappropriately young women. A young male worker prankishly sang an old war song he'd learned from his grandfather to the near-embarrassment of my supervisor. A department head and I went looking for the bathroom and discovered that its condition had long since come to rival the superdome a week after Katrina. We followed the crowds to a group of trees that had been enlisted for the purpose, finding as we approached that our shoes were rapidly being sucked into the increasingly sodden soil.

So I'm familiar with Yasukuni, having peed on it. The interesting thing about the shrine, though (I will ultimately get back to Koizumi) is that those controversial war dead, or their enshrined spirits, were moved into the shrine from another shrine in the early 1970's by a bunch of monks with little clear authority to do so. Buddhist monks in Japan are extremely inconsequential people, it should be noted. Japan's Buddhism is merely formal, not like the living, breathing Buddhism of for example Thailand.

So whenever the subject of the shrine came up I would ask my Japanese friends why they didn't just move those war criminals' souls on out of there and fix the problem, so that the other two million soldiers who gave their lives to their country, even if at the behest of a brutal and brutalizing militaristic regime, could be honored without embarrassment by their countrymen. Nobody ever answered me. Politics wasn't something there was ever much point in talking about in Japan.

But that just may be changing. (Ah, a segue back to Koizumi! This is working out!) With this last election, for the first time I feel the Japanese people selecting a set of ideas and a direction for their future, and Koizumi is to be commended for offering them the choice. Through every election I saw over 17 years, people voted primarily for faction. Komeito was the party of a large Buddhistic sect, Jiminto (the LDP, the major Lib Dem Party) was the party of farmers and a certain set of entrenched interests, with other parties representing other interests.

Only the commies, truth be told, represented a clear set of ideas, and since they were also the only party cut completely out of graft-sharing and unlikely ever to take national power, the occasional municipality would put them in to provide temporary clean government.

Well, they won't have to vote for commies to get good government now. Koizumi stood on a platform, which was a novelty, and even sponsored his so-called "assassins," special candidates designed to take on and take out the 27 members of his own party who had voted against his reform program.

Democracies mature. More to my point, in Japan, democracy seems to have coaxed the Japanese themselves to mature. ">


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