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Friday, Oct. 13, 2000

BILINGUAL

Some people will say just about anything


Ever since the day he took office, our current prime minister has taken it upon himself to entertain the nation. Until he appeared on the scene, PMs were stodgy and stale. They had no verve, no dash, none of the daring spirit that leads Mori to charge headlong toward the Gaffe of the Day like a heat-seeking missile. Leave it to him to pronounce IT as itto, to say things like "Wareware no sedai ni ittokakumei wa muri (The IT revolution is wasted on men of my generation)" and then say in the same breath that "itto" is going to save the Japanese economy if nothing else. Itto. What if someone asks him to pronounce MIT?

Compared to him, other people quoted in the news sound confident, smooth, philosophical. There's soccer player Hidetoshi Nakata, a k a "Nippon no Karisuma (Charisma of Japan)" whose looks and words redefined Japanese Cool. Take the time he flung out at a group of reporters: "Subete no kotae wa pitchi de dasu (All questions will be answered through the way I play the game)."

Another time he said: "Shiroto to hanashite mo shikata ga nai (No use wasting my time talking to amateurs)."

At the beginning, the press was miffed. Later, they changed course and treated him like royalty. There's even a book called "Nakata Goroku (Nakata Quotes)" which one critic said should be read by all public figures before press conferences.

Another athlete with impressive speech skills is Yuko Arimori, who said these words immediately after she finished third at the Atlanta Olympics: "Jibun de jibun o homete agetai (I want to praise myself)."

Translated like this, it doesn't sound like much. But given that public self-praise is practically taboo in this country, especially in the marathon world where tradition reigns, Arimori's words were said to be revolutionary, if not rebellious.

Then along came long-distance runner Naoko Takahashi who picked up the gold medal at this year's Olympics and who changed the image of women's marathon forever with: "Saiko ni tanoshii 42 kiro deshita (It was a terrific and enjoyable 42 km)."

This was the first time any athlete had referred to a marathon in such a way -- indeed, the history of Japanese runners is marked by tragic stories of suffering, sacrifice and suicide. The domestic media gave a standing ovation and much ink was poured over how she and other prominent Japanese women are adept at "pojitibu serufu-purojuusu (positive self-production)," i.e., displaying and directing themselves to achieve maximum media effect.

Whether Takahashi had anything like this in mind is open to debate but there are other femmes whose positive self-production feats have become legendary. Of these, the most oft-quoted ladies are the Kano Shimai (Kano Sisters), whose sole occupation in life seems to be party-crashing. The Sisters can be seen at any gala event or function, to which they arrive in one new revealing/shimmering dress after the other, shaking out their tresses and spouting sentences like: "Utsukushiku naru ni wa kunren ga hitsuyo desu. Watashi wa chiisai koro kara kunren o shite kimashita (One needs to train oneself in order to be beautiful. I've been training myself since I was a child)." So that's where I went wrong!

At one point, the Kanos were the greatest marketing phenomenon since Dior slimming cream. They held that pomegranates enlarged the breasts, lifting weights enlarged the breasts and that silicon implants were painless and had no side effects. The public swallowed it all, and you can thank the Kanos for the fact that the smallest convenience store now carries pomegranate juice.

They also said "Utsukushii onna wa tsune ni utsukushii mono ni furete inakute wa narimasen (A beautiful woman should always be in contact with beautiful things)" and profess to a designer clothing collection worthy of Jackie Onassis. Next time you have a dead party on your hands, call in the Kanos for some real fireworks.

Which leads back to the discussion of Prime Minister Mori. The man could use some positive self-production skills. Why doesn't the government chip in and hire a team of image consultants from L.A.? Or at least get him the Nakata book?

But many say that his case is hopeless. Check out a conversation between him and Bill Clinton during the Okinawa Summit (this is hearsay): PM to Clinton: "Who are you? [intending to say 'How are you?']"

Clinton, in a witty mood: "I'm Hilary's husband."

PM [unable to understand]: "Me too!"

Then they both laughed and shook hands.



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