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Sunday, May 5, 2002
Thoughts of an accidental politician
Kyosen Ohashi was born in Tokyo in 1934 and studied journalism at Waseda University. He enjoyed a long career as a respected jazz critic and TV presenter, before quitting the entertainment world in 1990.
Last year, he shocked his fans by running for the Diet as a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan. He was elected, but resigned just six months later. (His seat is now filled by Finnish-born Marutei Tsurunen, profiled in last month's Close-Up)
Ohashi is also the author of the best-selling lifestyle book "Jinsei no Sentaku (A Choice in Life)," which describes his experience of "semi- retirement." On April 25, Kodansha released another book, "Kokkaigi-in shikkaku (Are you a Statesman or a Politician?), about his brief brush with Japan's political world.
How did you end up entering politics?
I never had any intention of entering politics. But I was traveling in Europe when, in Vienna, I got a call from [DPJ Secretary General Naoto] Kan asking me to stand for the party. I said, "No way!" I told him that becoming a politician was the last thing I'd ever do. He called me again in Budapest, and again in Prague, and again in Dresden. But I wasn't moved.
One night I was having dinner with my wife, and we were toasting our newfound freedom, when she suddenly asked me: "I know you didn't sleep last night. What were you thinking about?" I told her that I couldn't help thinking how I was always writing and talking about how [Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi and Makiko [Tanaka, former foreign minister] boom was such a farce and very wrong. People don't understand who they really are. He is just a talker, a populist who talks about things he can't possibly do. I had written a column [about this] and Kan had read it; that's why he called.
My wife said I might regret not taking this opportunity. She hit the spot. I always knew I wasn't for the world of politics, but I also knew I might regret not taking that opportunity to maybe make a difference. So I called up Kan.
What made you decide to quit so soon?
I made a pledge to the people to do three things. First, to confront Koizumi directly in the Diet and give him questions that would reveal he is nothing but a talker. Second, I would reveal the real Nagata-cho, which has been so closeted and covered up that no one really knew what was going on in there. Third was to help bring up the DPJ and make Japan a two-party democratic system, like in some other countries.
But though the first couple of months were good, the DPJ soon started to change. It began leaning toward sending troops out to the Indian Ocean [to support military operations in Afghanistan]. This was especially true of the party leader, [Yukio] Hatoyama, who was moving increasingly closer toward the Liberal Democratic Party and Koizumi. . . . In four weeks, the party did a 180-degree turn [on sending troops], all because of Hatoyama's influence.
I was told not to go against the party, and I didn't want to. But, I went away on business overseas and when I came back Hatoyama was saying "We're gonna beat the Koizumi government." A colleague challenged him that this was yet another 180-degree turn and shouldn't Hatoyama first announce that the party made a mistake [in supporting the LDP's decision to send troops to the Indian Ocean]? Hatoyama didn't even reply to that.
That day, I thought I'd quit. It seemed the more I tried to keep up those three pledges, the more of a struggle it was proving to be . . . I eventually resigned in January . I was tired of being a politician and of being among politicians.
Did you experience any unfair treatment during your time in office? Were there goings-on that surprised you?
There were so many things, things that have been going on in Nagata-cho for so long that they are now regarded as normal. . . . Back-stabbing, leg-pulling, jealousy. There was a meeting once, to be held between Diet members and citizens to think about the emergency legislation [designed to deal with emergencies directly affecting the security of Japan]. When the DPJ officials saw my name on the list of those attending, they said I shouldn't go because I was against the legislation. Yet it wasn't a meeting to decide for or against the issue -- it was just a discussion! I asked them "Are you going to stop me from thinking?" I was disgusted, shocked. I thought that the DPJ was a more open and democratic party than that.
You have been very critical of certain recent scandals, including the sackings of Makiko Tanaka and former Social Democratic Party lawmaker Kiyomi Tsujimoto.
Tsujimoto did something bad and she paid for it. But many, many Diet members are doing the same thing. . . . When I was elected, I was told by a party official I could have three secretaries, too. I said I didn't need three secretaries and joked that maybe I could hire my wife and then wine and dine off her salary. The official said that yes, I could do just that! About 25-30 percent of Diet members are doing that -- hiring a family member or relative to work as secretary.
I was told not to do it because I was outspoken and therefore an easy target. I took that advice to heart. But Tsujimoto knew nothing of the ways of Nagata-cho -- just like me at the time -- or about the secret of the publicly funded secretary system. She just listened to the older members and got herself into trouble. It's not her fault, it's the system's fault. The secretaries are paid with taxpayers' money, but each politician hires them. It's a big contradiction.
What's more, the media compared Tsujimoto to the likes of Muneo Suzuki, but Suzuki has done far worse things. There will be another 50 or 60 things he's done that will come to light in the near future. But because Tsujimoto is a woman, and weak, and the SDP's guard is so low, it's much easier for journalists to pick on her than to even get near Suzuki. Suzuki is guarded by big, big defenses -- as big as the defense of the Baltimore Raiders.
As for the sacking of Tanaka, that just doesn't make sense. She made blunders before and got away with them. But then she was sacked for something she did that was right.
What do you think of Prime Minister Koizumi?
Koizumi is the worst prime minister we have ever had. He's just a populist . . . and a big liar. Now people are finally beginning to realize what a big liar he was and still is. From day one, he knew he wouldn't be able to implement the reforms he said he would. He said that if the LDP tried to prevent him, he'd break up the party. He can't break up the LDP! If he was really serious about reforms, he should have left the party and formed another one. I believe his days are numbered.
You have criticized Koizumi's recent proposed legislation, including a bill regarding the collection and use of personal information.
This legislation will be very hazardous for the fundamental rights of Japanese citizens, including the freedom of speech. The laws intend to protect the individual's privacy, but the real meaning behind it is to protect the scandals of high-level bureaucrats and politicians -- including Koizumi. I believe he's trying to take us back to the '30s and '40s, when similar laws were in force.
You are well-known as a liberal and an outspoken opinion leader with a wide range of interests. Were their any people, or events, that have inspired you through the years?
I was brought up in the early 1940s as a kid of Imperial Japan. I absolutely believed when growing up that I'd become a soldier and die for Emperor Hirohito, whom we were taught was a god. It was a man's ultimate goal to die for him. Japan would never lose this holy war against the U.S. and its allies -- the wind of god would blow them away.
But on Aug. 15, everything was turned around and Hirohito declared he was human. Since that day, I pledged to myself that I'd never turn around again. A professor, Ki Kimura at Waseda University, taught me how to fight against the establishment. I was a student of the university's journalism division, and [he said] if journalism surrenders, we could end up back in the dark '30s and '40s.
Do you have any desire to re-enter politics?
No, never! Japan needs much younger politicians. I am happy being back as a semi-retiree. However, for the time being, I am obliged to continue speaking on behalf of the 410,000-plus people who voted for me to keep on speaking out loud about the danger Japan is facing. I can't keep my mouth shut.
Interview by Rob Gilhooly, staff writer.