Posted by debito on June 29th, 2009
Hi Blog. In case you haven’t heard (the J press has been making headlines of it), we’re amidst a “Hatoyama Boom”. Hatoyama (Yukio, aka Hatopoppo) being the current leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), replacing Ozawa Ichiro (whose old-school J politics still include accepting bribes, directly or indirectly). With the anticipated boost in PM Aso’s approval ratings (after a lot of hay was made of Ozawa’s associates’ corruption) petering out to nothing, and an election required by law by October at the latest, there are a number of rumors floating around that other contenders may rise to fill the soulless golem of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP the party essentially in power in Japan for more than five decades, whose policy platform is essentially just staying in power). A couple of prefectural governors (Osaka’s Hashimoto, Miyazaki’s Higashikokubaru) are rumored to have designs on future local and national governance. But so far, Hatoyama seems to be outdistancing them all, riding the crest of his “boom” on a nationwide whistle-stop tour with stern-faced posters and constant public speeches.
All caught up now? Well, Hatoyama gave a speech at a DPJ rally last Saturday, June 27, in Sapporo’s Odori Kouen. I was there in the front row wearing a lot of sunscreen, enjoying a lot of old people’s company. Let me give you the scene:
The DPJ’s sound truck was parked on the main street bisecting Odori Park, the green spine of Sapporo City, where spectators sat on the grass behind a cordon, and a sidewalk before us allowed foot traffic (policed by security guards with those coiled ear inserts; they had one young, handsome, but stern security woman do most of the cajoling of gawkers to keep moving) to pass by. In front of the sound truck were vertical banners crying for “a switching of government” and bearing various names of elected politicians for all 12 Hokkaido electoral districts (Hokkaido is a DPJ stronghold; every district for a Dietmember has at least one DPJ rep). And they each spoke in turn, three minutes or less. Here’s how it looked before people started speaking:
The DPJ rally was only an hour long (thankfully: it was very hot and the noontime sun was crisping a lot of oldies), but it was quite exciting. People were cheering, the media was out in droves, and there was the frisson of excitement at seeing in person the man who might indeed be our next prime minister:
Up second speaking was perennial gatecrasher (and twice-convicted of corruption; my files on this creep here) criminal Suzuki Muneo; in the Diet only because his case is on perpetual appeal in the Supreme Court; and because some Eastern Outback Dosanko are so desperate they’ll elect anyone making empty promises with conviction and charisma). I saw him speak last May Day in Sapporo (when Ozawa was still DPJ leader; he spoke too), but Muneo’s typical vocal self-immolation was less effective this time because he has to do it every time he speaks; his voice was shot today. He made the same old appeals to local governance and against uncaring nest-feathering national-bureaucrats (which received rapt applause; in any case it’s still rich of Muneo to claim these things). He made sure to pose for photo ops for his staff upon the sound truck, asking for Proportional Representation votes for his (separate) party, and otherwise unabashedly coasting on DPJ’s coattails (Faust would have taken notes). And, I nearly forgot to mention, Muneo made an appearance beforehand along the sidewalk to wave at everyone and bow before select people (including me; he has a thing for people who look foreign, given Muluwaka’s on his staff). I didn’t give him The Finger this time.
The other speakers were all interesting in style and form. Most gave the standard leftist speeches using themes of a society of unequal opportunity and wealth distribution; of unfair taxation and disadvantaged people becoming further disadvantaged; of a ruling party which has long lost its way; and of a need to have a healthy change of government every now and again (meaning, now). Some of the politicians, while all bearing a hearty voice with a sense of passion and conviction, were unable to feel the atmosphere beyond their bunched microphones, meaning they didn’t pause enough between clauses to allow their previous statements to clear — and their speeches blurred into dull, flat white noise.
The best speech within the DPJ was by Hokkaido political legend Yokomichi Takahiro, former two-time Hokkaido Governor and permanent Dietmember. He knew the cadence, he had the caring, orotund voice, he even cited a few facts and figures to give his slogans some meat. He demonstrated why he’s electable.
Finally, up came Hatopoppo. He looked tired and more spoken out than outspoken, but he stood in front of the sound truck by the banners. People walking by shocked by the happenstance soon congregated to shake his hand. He was duly attentive, for he represents Hokkaido 9-ku (Tomakomai and environs), and is a local hero: maybe even Hokkaido’s first PM. If all worked out well next election.
But Hatoyama wasn’t the best speaker. He’s surprisingly intellectual in his style. Fewer slogans than average. A lot of places (thanks to Japanese grammar, where the verb comes at the end) he would say things that the crowd began cheering for, then end it with the negative tense “…de wa arimasen”. Aoh, deflated the crowd. He spoke in paragraphs, not sentences (a no-no for arenas with bad acoustics). And he said things rather oddly, such as, “I am not an Ainu. I am not even a Dosanko [native Hokkaidoite]. I came to Hokkaido 25 years ago. I don’t really belong here. But the hospitality you have showed me has been unforgettable. And I hope to represent you as the first prime minister from Hokkaido.” Thoughtful, yes, but surely that could have been phrased better to get the crowd cheering. He’s not a public speaker, although he is a thinker (unlike his brother, Former Justice Minister Hatoyama Kunio, who has weird ideas about Western and Japanese notions of death; not to mention self-alleged connections to al-Qaeda). And although Yukio came off as uninspiring, he did sound sincere. He had us at “Dosanko”, anyway.
The rally ended with Hatoyama and a few other baskers shaking hands for fifteen or so minutes with onlookers, then he was bundled onto a car, where he rolled down the window and waved to everyone and no-one in particular as the driver waited for the light to turn green.
That should have been it. But taking advantage of the American Idol-style lead in was “Koufuku Jitsugen Tou” (official translation, “The Happiness Realization Party”, seriously), a new group who have a rose-petal woman as their front person to give their party a softer image. It works, until you read their literature (they had no hesitation in giving me a pamphlet, unusually). Their first platform slogan is, “STOP MISSILES FROM NORTH KOREA”, then launching their attacks on what they deem is the empty LDP and the overfriendly DPJ. They want Article 9 of the Constitution (the one that talks about peace) overturned, a remiltarization, and less interference from allies and the UN in Japanese domestic and international policy. Oh, and as a couple of Milk Bone treats, they advocate the abolition of the 5% Consumption Tax and inheritance taxes. Whose happiness is this? Those who fear.
But they had the best speaker of the day. Don’t care to remember his name (their rose-petal front person wasn’t there), but he had that rasp of determination and a perfect pausing style, using all the tricks in the book to play to the crowd and get cascades of applause: “North Korea is going to attack us. A normal country has a military that can defend us. National sovereignty permits this, and our country has become weak. The Chinese are…” you get the idea. I left before things got too xenophobic. But fear not, the other speakers were not as subtle or manipulative, and their screaming white noise as I had lunch in the park left me with the impression that they were the party of fear and anger, not much else, that you see sponsored by far-Rightists all over the world. They might get some votes. But I’ll be surprised if they get a seat in Hokkaido. Let’s see, however. They are certainly pouring enough money, time, and energy into us.
Looks to be a long, hot, electoral opportunist summer. Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo