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Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2005
THE ZEIT GIST
Hidden wisdom of 'the guv'
A re-assessment of Tokyo's controversial governor is overdue
By BARRY BROPHY and CAI EVANS
Adored by large sections of the Japanese public, reviled in equal measure by the foreign community and courted tirelessly by the domestic media: There are few more divisive figures in Japan today than Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
The septuagenerian populist can rarely open his mouth without offending at least one section of society.
Over the course of his career, Ishihara has incurred the wrath of (among others) the Chinese, Koreans, the French and old women everywhere, and written a musical version of "Treasure Island."
He has consistently used his position as a bully pulpit from which to unleash random tirades on issues encompassing reproductive science, history, crime, the U.N. and rocket science.
But does the fact that the former novelist and keen sailor is always blunt necessarily mean that he is always wrong?
After all, history is full of examples of visionaries who were regarded as rather eccentric by their peers, only to have their uncanny prescience celebrated by future generations.
Notable examples include Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci and B-movie director Russ Meyer.
This week we examine a selection of well-publicized Ishihara-isms in an effort to shed some light on what the governor might really be trying to tell us.
* ON OLD WOMEN: Old women present the greatest obstacle to the progress of civilization.
The issue of Japan's aging population has been much discussed of late, though only Mr. Ishihara has had the vision to recognize the real threat it poses to the Japanese way of life.
As the number of old women grows, so too does Japan's pension burden.
This will leave less money to invest in the kinds of bold cultural projects Japan has become famous for, like TV antennas, motorways and statues of comic book characters.
Moreover, as the number of hunchbacked old women roaming the streets with shopping carts increases, so too do the chances of getting stuck behind them. This will cause Japanese to be late for everything and thus no different from the slovenly foreign community.
* ON INFERTILE WOMEN: It's pointless for women who have lost the ability to reproduce to keep on living.
Better child-care facilities, more generous corporate laws on parental leave and significant tax relief for married couples who have children; these are just three irresponsible measures that have been mooted as potential remedies for Japan's crippling birthrate problem.
But Mr. Ishihara may have paved the way for an ingenious alternative solution that carries few of the prohibitive cost burdens associated with the above.
If all Japanese women who claim they "can't" (for many, read "won't") have kids are simply threatened with immediate extermination, we reckon they'll set aside their frivolous quest for parity in the boardroom soon enough, and start paying more attention to their true purpose on Earth: having lots of babies.
And frankly they should be happy they're even allowed to do that.
* ON FOREIGN CRIME: The types of crimes committed by foreigners are something that in my opinion Japanese would absolutely not do.
The foreign community was outraged by Mr. Ishihara's suggestion that foreign criminals were somehow more evil than their Japanese counterparts.
But his logic is flawless.
A look at the types of crimes committed by foreigners in Japan shows that the vast majority are those that no Japanese could or would do -- visa violations.
* ON THE WAR: If Japan hadn't fought the white people, we'd still be slaves of the white people.
Sorry -- even we can't see what he's getting at here.
* ON THE WAR AGAIN: Japan and Korea agreed to the annexation of the Korean Peninsula according to the unanimous will of the Korean people.
ON IMMIGRATION: Japanese don't want to do the dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs anymore. Why not have foreigners do them?
We couldn't agree more -- and we think this initiative should start with the dirtiest, most dangerous and most difficult sector of all: politics.
Mr. Ishihara previously acknowledged the risks inherent in Japanese political life when he shrugged off the planting of a bomb at the home of Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka in September 2003 by suggesting he might have deserved it.
Therefore, he is absolutely right that no Japanese person should have to risk life, limb and ignominy by being forced to run the country.
We hereby declare that all of the top political positions in the land should be filled by foreigners, starting tomorrow.
* ON THE U.N.: When real decisions have to be made, money crosses palms and people disappear to the toilet.
Mr. Ishihara clearly knows more than we do about the curious internal workings of the U.N., though why events occur in that order continues to elude us.
Nevertheless, we must take him at his word, and insist that deliberations on issues of global import be moved from the lavatories to the debating chamber from this day forward. To be honest, we are surprised that this idea hasn't occurred to anyone before.
As for the question of money crossing palms, we feel that Mr. Ishihara's fears are misplaced, at least as far as Japan is concerned.
The Japanese government has taken great pains to stress that an ongoing debate in Japan over whether the nation should cut its annual contributions to the U.N. is entirely unconnected to its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.
We feel, therefore, that Mr. Ishihara can rest easily at night: Japan, at the very least, knows that political favors cannot be bought and sold at this venerable institution.
* ON HISTORY: Japanese people know historical facts deeper than the media, so they are not clamoring against my remark.
It is difficult to dispute this line of argument; few other countries spend as much time and energy discussing the content of their official school history textbooks.
It stands to reason, therefore, that the resulting printed matter must be of the highest educational quality and value, imbuing Japanese schoolchildren with a deep historical knowledge of events in the country's past.
The media, on the other hand, is dominated by treacherous liberals who never went to school and whose filthy propaganda is designed to distort the truth, destabilize the government and erode national pride.
* ON THE NANJING MASSACRE: Nanjing is a story made up by the Chinese.
* ON THE FRENCH: It's no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because it's a language that can't count numbers.
But why stop at the language? French bread is a weird shape, French cheese smells funny, and the people can't even say the letter "r" properly.
It's a wonder we let them join in anything at all -- and quite right that a French school in the capital was hit with a tax bill of 100 million yen by Tokyo a week after a French-language teacher sued Mr. Ishihara over his remark.
* ON THE SPACE RACE: The Chinese people are ignorant, so they get excited about (launching a manned rocket).
We agree entirely with the assertion that it is absurd for an emerging industrial power to get overly excited about its first ever launch of a manned space rocket.
It says a lot more for a nation's cultural sophistication that a story centering on the mystifying appearance of a charismatic sea lion in an urban river ends up dominating that nation's airwaves for weeks on end.
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