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Wednesday, March 2, 2011
The language of revolution unspoken in Japan
By MICHAEL HOFFMANN
Special to The Japan Times
Mohammed Bouazizi never lived to see the history he made. He was a Tunisian, young, educated and unemployed, and on Dec. 17, out of sheer rage and frustration, he set himself on fire. He died on Jan. 3. He was 26. Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, seiten no hekireki (晴天の霹靂, a bolt out of the blue, expected by no one) was consummated within 10 days of his death. Gaitō no demo (街頭のデモ, street demonstrations) were organized via yobikake (呼びかけ, appeals) on Facebook and other intānetto no kōryū saito (インターネットの交流サイト, Internet social networking sites).
Throngs tens of thousands strong demanded minshushugi (民主主義, democracy) and an end to the chronic shitsugyō (失業, unemployment) for too many young and able people lacking only personal connections to a fuhai shita (腐敗した, corrupt) seiken (政権, regime).
With muchitsujo (無秩序, anarchy) looming, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a dokusaisha (独裁者, dictator) who had ruled all but unchallenged for 23 years, jinin shita (辞任した, resigned) and fled to Saudi Arabia.
That in itself is a great deal, but it proved merely the opening act of a drama unscripted, unforeseen and unpredictable. Within days it had altered the Chūtō (中東, Middle East) out of recognition.
Hanran (反乱, revolt) spread to Jordan, Yemen, Egypt and beyond. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, day after day, filled Cairo's Tahrir Square chanting slogans. "Wakamono ni shigoto wo! (「若者に仕事を！」, "Jobs for young people!"); "Oshoku tsuihō! (「汚職追放」, "Purge graft!"); "Dokusai seiken datō!" (「独裁政権打倒」, "Overthrow the dictatorship!"). How would this play out? Like Tiananmen Square in June 1989, when China's army crushed a demonstration by students with similar demands? Or like the breathtaking fall of the Berlin Wall five months later?
President Hosni Mubarak adamantly refused to resign. Demonstrators dug in. "Ejiputo ga hontō ni jiyū de minshuteki na shakai ni naru made bokura wa tatakau," they said. (「エジプトが本当に自由で民主的な社会になるまで僕らは闘う」, "We'll fight until Egypt is a truly free and democratic society"). What is surprising is how little fighting there actually was. A Mubaraku-ha (ムバラク派, pro-Mubarak) counter-demonstration led to some shōtotsu (衝突, clashes), but was shortlived. It was a remarkably peaceful revolution that, in three weeks, ended three decades of seemingly unshakeable despotism — an astonishing achievement.
It leaves the American-led West in a ticklish spot. The superpower that in 2003 Iraku wo shinryaku shita (イラクを侵略した, invaded Iraq), supposedly to bestow upon it the gift of democracy, shiji shita (支持した, supported), for strategic reasons, the taoreta dokusai seiken (倒れた独裁政権, toppled dictatorships) — a mujun (矛盾, contradiction) that won't be easy to explain to their (hopefully) democratic successors.
What of Japan, meanwhile? Will the Jasmine Revolution leave it untouched?
At first blush the question seems almost silly. Japan and the Middle East are close to being diametric opposites. Everything one is, the other is not, and vice versa. Japan is democratic, stable, not given to mass uprisings. It has no oil, and nothing to do with religious genrishugi (原理主義 fundamentalism).
What it does have is swelling fuman (不満, discontent). Look at Prime Minister Naoto Kan's latest shiji ritsu (支持率, approval ratings) — 19.9 percent. This is a democratically elected government, and yet it is hardly more popular than the ones deposed in Tunisia and Egypt. Its funinki (不人気, unpopularity) is not due to chinatsu (鎮圧, repression) but to the impression it gives of utter munō (無能, incompetence), while urgent problems fester unattended to.
Democratic nations give their citizens the right to "throw the bums out." If the yotō (与党, governing party) proves unsatisfactory, elect a yatō (野党, opposition party). But Japan has just done that. It took long enough — the Jimintō (自民党, Liberal Democratic Party) governed almost uninterruptedly for more than 50 years before finally, in 2009, being given the bum's rush. The currently governing Minshutō (民主党, Democratic Party of Japan) played to and embodied a simmering hope for change. The hope soon flickered and is now dying, as the 支持率 show.
What now, Japan? Back to the 自民党? The fukeiki (不景気, recession) drags on, nihonjin no wakamono (日本人の若者, Japanese young people) are almost as hard pressed, if for different reasons, as Tunisian and Egyptian young people.
Perhaps only this little fact stands between Japan and revolution: Egypt's median age is 24. Japan's is 45.