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Sunday, July 20, 2003

MEDIA MIX

Life's a drag for all those 'guilty' parents


State Minister Yoshitada Konoike's comment July 11 that the parents of the 12-year-old boy accused of murdering a 4-year-old in Nagasaki should be "dragged through town" and "beheaded" shocked a lot of people. He later apologized, but added that he did believe in the "principle" behind what he said, as did many supporters who e-mailed him through his home page.

Some would like nothing better than to change the laws so that the boy can be locked away for life (or worse), but it's more commonly assumed that the fault lies with the parents for having created such a child.

Responsibility is in the eye of the beholder. Based on what's been reported so far, the boy was apparently very close to his mother. It's hard to know what specific blame can be pinned on a mother in such a situation, except to say that maybe she should have kept a closer eye on her son, but last Tuesday there was a very frank discussion on Asahi TV's "Super Morning" about the kind of sexual anxiety the boy seemed to be suffering from. It opened up into a useful conversation about how parents can cope with this tricky stage of life.

The discussion was a rare instance of the media taking a difficult subject and treating it with the balance and care it deserved. Elsewhere, it's been the same old hysteria: Parents are destroying the next generation of Japanese with unsound childrearing practices. Forget that this is a bizarre, isolated tragedy that indicates nothing except a child's capacity to be cruel and thoughtless and a parent's tendency to be distracted.

The joys and agonies of being a parent cannot be properly quantified, just as a parent's "responsibility" for the actions of his or her child are not readily defined. But even after a child becomes an adult, people want to define the responsibilities of his or her parents.

Former Saitama Gov. Yoshihiko Tsuchiya faced such a dilemma July 10 when his 53-year-old daughter, Momoko Ichikawa, was arrested on suspicion of hiding more than 100 million yen in contributions to Tsuchiya's political fundraising organization. Tsuchiya at first distanced himself from his daughter by saying that he had no involvement in her business and no idea what she was doing. Coming from a parent of a child whose misdeed was seemingly done for the benefit of that parent, Tsuchiya's denial sounded like a betrayal.

But if one sifts carefully through the story, Tsuchiya's tragedy takes on Shakespearean dimensions. As an arrogant, ambitious member of the Liberal Democratic Party, who was a Diet member prior to his 11-year stint as governor, Tsuchiya was certainly no saint when it came to political contributions, but in terms of his daughter's alleged wrongdoing, his main crime was too much love.

The press has reduced the scandal to dekiai, a word that describes the blind affection a parent has for his child. Momoko Ichikawa was the classic spoiled daughter of a well-to-do family. She spent time in Paris living on daddy's dime and later was involved in an art magazine, presumably using her father's name to collect backers. Years before the term "parasite single" was coined to describe a certain kind of person who lived with their folks despite the fact that they were nearing or past the age of 30, Momoko was essentially living off her politician-father, investing recklessly and establishing nonproductive companies, and she wasn't even single. Her designer husband wanted to run a Bauhaus-like school in Saitama and she got the prefecture to pay for a feasibility study.

Momoko's problems first came to light when authorities were investigating the cleaning equipment company Duskin and found irregularities. An affiliate of Duskin that made premiums for the Duskin-owned Mr. Donut chain was channeling money to one of Momoko's companies, a consultancy called Peach ("momo"), whose address is now the same as that of a Saitama courier service called Maruwa. The money was then transferred from Peach to Tsuchiya's fund-management company, which Momoko also ran.

Duskin supposedly wants to build a factory in Saitama, but was having trouble securing the land, and it's believed that Duskin thought the president of Maruwa, Masaru Wasami, would persuade the governor to help Duskin. Wasami denies the allegation.

Momoko and Wasami's relationship is not clear (though consider the name of Maruwa's delivery service: Momotaro), but the fund also received money from Maruwa. According to investigators, the money that went into the fund then went out of it to pay off Momoko's huge pile of debts.

The money is supposed to be earmarked for Tsuchiya's political activities, so if they got into his fund-management company illegally, he should take the blame. But what he's really guilty of is bad parenting. "If it's true," he said of the allegations when they first surfaced, "then I will really scold her," a threat that didn't convince anyone, but which, in light of what was later revealed, sounds especially pathetic. Here was a father coming too late to the realization that the daughter he spoiled had finally gone too far.

The boy accused of murdering Shun Tanemoto has also been described as being spoiled; his relationship with his mother also described as a dekiai relationship. It is not a crime to spoil your child, but in the case of the Nagasaki murder, people like Yoshitada Konoike imply that it should be. Tsuchiya was forced to resign as governor, a victim of his own pride and parental love, which blinded him to the fact that his daughter was taking advantage of his name for purposes that were not only selfish, but also against the law. In that regard, he is certainly guilty of something, just like any parent.



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