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Sunday, July 18, 2010
Japan's media laps up poll parade
One of the funniest images to emerge from last week's Upper House election was the row of Liberal Democratic Party bigwigs pointing their forefingers to the sky in unison and flashing big stupid grins. The big stupid grins were a reaction to the party's supposed comeback, since they had just won more seats than the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. The fingers pointed to the sky were in honor of the LDP's campaign slogan, "Number One."
Before the election, Asahi Shimbun media critic Yukichi Amano ran a quiz with the slogans and the party names arranged in rows. He challenged readers to match the slogan with the party. "Can you do it?" he asked. "You can't, right? Don't feel bad." None of the slogans seemed to represent their respective party's image. The Japan Communist Party's — "Preserve Orthodoxy" — was the most confusing of all, unless they were actually talking about communist orthodoxy, which is unlikely.
Amano didn't find the DPJ slogan, "Wash Japan," particularly silly. However, he thought the DPJ's TV commercial, showing Prime Minister Naoto Kan doing laundry, was a missed opportunity. It would have been more effective, he thought, if Kan's wife were in the spot berating him to get those shirts cleaner.
But what did "Number One" signify? Many people think it was a swipe at the DPJ's superstar, Renho, who last fall wondered out loud during hearings of the Administrative Reform Council why Japan couldn't settle for being number two in the field of computer R&D.
The only person I saw who took issue with the slogan was economist Noriko Hama, who was a guest commentator on TV Asahi's "Hodo Station" when LDP president Sadakazu Tanigaki was in the studio. Hama asked him what the campaign slogan meant, since she found it "childish." Tanigaki laughed out loud, but it wasn't a joke. C ommercial TV stations used their nightly news anchors to host election night coverage, though TBS also hired comedian Beat Takeshi to sit in and offer wry comments and ask questions (to Renho, referring to her spouse: "Did he used to have hair?") while another comedian, Shinsuke Shimada, commandeered the Nihon TV coverage with his overbearing personality.
Though the projections were different from station to station, most of the coverage was identical, since the main candidates tended to appear in succession on different channels and the anchors would ask them the exact same questions to which they would give the exact same answers.
TV Tokyo was slightly different, having hired the ex-NHK "news explainer" Akira Ikegami, who has parlayed his rhetorical skills into a successful freelance gig explaining current events to clueless idols and comedians on variety shows. He was also the host for TV Tokyo's Lower House election coverage last summer, but shared the duties with the station's anchorperson, another ex-NHK employee, Maoko Kotani, who often cut short his explanations in order to take care of logistical business.
This time, Kotani's job was hosting a discussion, which was held in the same room where the Administrative Reform Council hearings take place. On hand were pundits who grilled the various politicians making their postelection rounds of TV stations. The panel included former financial services minister Heizo Takenaka and Tokyo Vice Governor Naoki Inose. When Renho showed up, Kotani had her work cut out for her. Everyone on the panel had plenty to say; so much, in fact, that Renho couldn't get a word in edgewise. After Takenaka patronizingly explained how the world worked, Renho said, as politely as she could, "Are you just going to state your opinions, or are you going to ask me a question?" T he main theme of the TV Tokyo discussion was the proposed increase in the consumption tax, generally seen to be the reason for the DPJ's defeat. However, the next day on TV Asahi, veteran freelance journalist Soichiro Tahara observed that all the major newspapers and television stations supported an increase. That's because the major media are headquartered in Tokyo, he said, where the economy is relatively stable. The DPJ mainly suffered in rural areas, where fragile economies may not withstand another tax increase. It just goes to show how out of touch the mainstream media is when it comes to the countryside.
The staff reporter moderating the discussion tried to move on to something else, but Tahara wouldn't let him. "It's true, isn't it?" he asked.
"Yes, it is," the reporter conceded, probably just to shut him up. F illing time during the election coverage, TV stations ran campaign footage that, owing to fairness rules, they weren't allowed to show while the campaigns were taking place. There was former Olympic gymnast Yukio Iketani doing handstands on stage, singer Mayo Shono belting out her one big hit, and former actress Junko Mihara stalking her opponent, judo star Ryoko Tani, who refused to debate her on the question of whether it was fair to citizens that Tani would train full-time for the Olympics while also carrying out her duties in the Upper House (and making ¥20 million a year in the process).
But the two main attractions were Renho, who never had to campaign for herself and spent most of her time stumping for fellow DPJ candidates, and Shinjiro Koizumi, the son of the last prime minister to have spent more than a year in office. Koizumi Jr., a member of the Lower House, was the LDP's poster boy. He was featured in as many commercials as Tanigaki, and attracted bigger crowds wherever he went. Like his father, he uses short, easy-to-understand sentences, and even mimicked local dialects convincingly when he campaigned in the countryside. Unlike his father, he's good-looking.
He also knew his role. "Hello, I'm Shinjiro Koizumi," he said when he introducing himself. "And I'm a panda."