MY RECOLLECTIONS OF A SPEECH BY FORMER MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND EDUCATION,
LOWER HOUSE DIETMEMBER MACHIMURA NOBUTAKA
Given at Hokkaido Information University, Monday, December 18, 2006. 10:50AM-12:15PM
By Arudou Debito
December 19, 2006
Machimura is now a big cheese in the LDP and in the ruling cliques. Born into a rich family of farmers based in Ebetsu, Hokkaido (“Machimura” is a very famous brand for milk and dairy products), he has been elected to the Diet seven times, first from 1983 (albeit almost losing his last election in 2003–see http://www.debito.org/2003electionthoughts.html page down to the end). He has a very effective political machine–I even got tricked into donating to his political campaign some years ago (see previous link). Not that it mattered…
Machimura is a thoroughbred elite. We received a resume at the door with a big glossy color pamphlet to prove it: Machimura’s grandfather studied farm science under Dr. William Clark, a legendary Hokkaido historical figure, and according to the promo is called the “Father of Japanese Dairy Farming”. His father was a Hokkaido Governor, a former Lower House Dietmember, and Speaker of the Upper House. Thus born into Kennedy/Rockefeller/Bush Silverspoondom, Machimura, a 1969 graduate of Tokyo U’s Economics Department, has served stints at MITI, JETRO, Monbudaijin, Gaimudaijin, and of course many, many more places we should take note of. Machimura now has his own faction–the largest in the LDP (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20061020a7.html), which he took over from his rugby buddy, former PM and mould for gorilla cookies Mori Yoshiro (probably Japan’s least popular PM in history). The pamphlet also kindly included photos from Machimura’s life: his lavish baby photo (taken in 1944, when the rest of the country was undergoing extreme wartime hardship), his stint as exchange student at Wesleyan (standing next to–literally–a Token Black person named “Tom-kun”), his violin “keiko” discipline under the Suzuki Method, and his “gallant” (ririshii) high school portrait. For good measure were photos of him with designer Hanae Mori, actress Mori Mitsuko, various prime ministers, Yassir Arafat, and various bridges and public works projects (including a bridge near my old hometown which conveniently took years to construct).
Machimura represents my workplace’s electoral district and is a primary patron of my university (he helped it get set up). Thus his speaking here was essentially like welcoming royalty. I was asked to give my students the day off classes so they could help fill the auditorium (I obliged). As the crowd handler at the podium–a pro imported for just this purpose dressed in one of those spotless starched politician’s outfits–gestured students to come out of the back rows and down in the front for the cameras (“This is not yarase” (staging for effect), she openly said before the cameras started rolling), I could see that this was going to be a memorable day.
After suitable warming up of the crowd (with a video showing brick dominoes being knocked over; bricks, you see, are the symbol of this area), Machimura strode in with entitlement and set to work speaking to consume his hour. He opened with a meandering history lesson of how his family is intertwined with Hokkaido history, then threaded in points about how his uncle’s farm makes products people here should eat, how he has a long history of service to our beautiful country, and how we ought to respect our ancestors. They wisely knew to avoid entanglements with what was going in in China pre-Meiji Era, citing a word (and trying to describe the kanji, unsuccessfully) that apparently was a slogan for the Meiji Restoration (he noted it should be “Meiji Revolution”): “fuki honpou” (不覊奔放), to help us understand how learned he is. (Quite. The word is not even in my Koujien.)
Machimura also talked about how proud he is that Japan has finally reformed its Basic Education Law–finally, after no revisions since the end of the war. When he first entered the Diet more than 20 years ago, he wondered why this document foisted upon us after defeat could go so long without changes to reflect our country’s current situations. Now, thanks to his efforts as Education Minister, he saw one of his life’s goals fulfilled two days ago when the Diet passed the bill. Now people can be properly educated about the beauty of and love for our country.
He also tossed out a few gems of advice for our students. My favorite: How we should know Japan’s history or else we won’t be able to talk to foreigners overseas. After all–thanks to his stint being traumatized by classes in English and conversations with people at Wesleyan–he indicated his belief that once Japanese go overseas, they must represent Japan as cultural ambassadors. Anything less is “shameful” to our beautiful country.
He finished up with a riff on why Japan deserves a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. After all, Japan is the second-largest donor to the UN, and the Security Council is essentially a cabal of the victors of WWII. Fellow unfortunates Brazil, India, and Germany all banded together last time to try and remedy this situation. Alas, woe is us: Brazil was opposed by Argentina, India by Pakistan, and we Japanese opposed by that anti-Japan campaigner China. But anyway, we shouldn’t just throw money at situations and expect to be respected. We must get our hands dirty on the world stage.
He then opened the floor for questions. My hand was the first one up. In an ideal world, my questions would have been (unabbreviated, to give readers here context):
1) I saw on TV last week your comments as chair of the taxation committee that your proposals were “tax cuts on parade” (genzei no on-pareido). These are tax breaks for business (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20061202a2.html), not for regular folk. Please tell us what’s happening to Consumption Tax or Income Tax? Please try to avoid answering, “Wait and see until the next election”, as happened next time.
2) You mentioned about the reform of the Basic Education Law. Will this now include evaluations and grading of “love of country” (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20061216a9.html), as has been instituted in Kyushu and Saitama? Please tell me, then, how non-Japanese children, or Japanese children of international marriages, will fare?
3) You mentioned the seat on the Security Council. Could one credibility problem possibly be Japan’s inability to sign treaties (such as the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction), or to follow the treaties Japan does sign (such as the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, or the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination)? Would you support, for example, the establishment of a law against racial discrimination in Japan, now ten years overdue?
But I have the feeling the Imported Crowd Handler knew who I was, and said, “Questions for students only”. A couple of hands went up, one asking what he thinks is great about Japan (Machimura: We have an unbroken line of Imperial dynasty. And that Japanese are a people who speak their minds subtly, not directly.), the other asking what he felt was easy or difficult about being a politician (Machimura: The fact that the Russians attacked Karafuto and the Northern Territories after Japan ceased hostilities [not true], and killed about 3000 Japanese. It was tough, but I got the relatives over there for respects to the dead. Last year, the group which does this disbanded due to the advanced ages of the widows, but they sent me a nice letter thanking me for all that I have done for them.).
There was a little time left, so Imported Handler asked what books Machimura-sensei would suggest the students read. He said any book about Hokkaido history. And as a matter of fact, Machimura wrote a book last year, oh look, the Imported Handler just happens to be holding up a copy of at the podium. “I’ll donate a few to the library.” Then a couple of students on cue brought him bouquets of flowers, and off he went.
I asked my students later (I had two classes afterwards) what they thought of this whole thing. A show of hands indicated that a majority thought it a snoozefest. A few others said they disliked the clear egotism and book pushing. One even laughed and said, “The guy’s a botchama” (Brahmin son of a Brahmin family) . It was clearly to all of us, at this school where no elite would otherwise ever cast his shadow over, the first time they had ever met one with this degree of attitude.
But the surprise of the day was when one student asked me about my questions (basically everyone in the auditorium saw my hand go up first). “We were contacted and told to ask questions by the organizing committee. Those two students who were spoke up were assigned the job.” Well… that’s one way to keep someone like me in check.
“Welcome to adult society,” I sighed. “This is a good study of politicians. Get to know them. You soon will have the right to vote. Understand who and what you’re voting for.”
Arudou Debito in Sapporo
December 19, 2006