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Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010

COUNTERPOINT

Icon's advice on Japan's plight may not be everyone's cup of tea


One of the immutable principles of cosmology states that wherever you are in the universe, everything appears to be streaming away from you. This certainly seems to be the case with Japan.

China and Russia appear to be streaming away the fastest, though, paradoxically, they are just about Japan's closest neighbors in the geographical firmament. Here are two glaring examples of the old adage that close neighbors don't necessarily make for close friends.

While the government policies of China are distancing their populations from Japan, their boats are streaming right toward these islands on a course well described by a phrase we used to use in elementary school: "accidentally on purpose."

As for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, his recent visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the four islets north of Hokkaido disputed by Japan and Russia, represents the kind of too-close-for- comfort "closeness" that smacks of confrontation . . . smacks right in the face.

The United States, Japan's traditional friend and ally (at least since 1945), is preoccupied on the international front with the perceived threat of terror and on the domestic front with the threat of economic and social collapse.

One in five U.S. diplomats are stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This means that American diplomacy is obsessed with self-generated faux-security issues.

Meanwhile, the real issues that affect the future of the country — endemic unemployment, the rise of developing countries such as China and India, and climate change — have been relegated to the back seat or to the trunk, for "unpacking" at some later date.

Add to all this the deliberate isolation of Japanese interests abroad, the aimlessness of Japanese youth, two decades of vegetative economics — and what do you get? You get a country adrift in a vacuum.

Then, dear reader, it dawned on me. I saw the light!

It happened when Senator-elect of Florida and Tea Party stalwart Marco Rubio appeared on television. With tears of a heady patriotism choking him right in the glottis, he called the United States "simply the greatest nation in all of human history."

OMG, that covers a lot of history, I thought, though, fair enough, it lets out the Neanderthals, who don't entirely qualify as "human."

I desperately wanted to hear a Japanese politician say something similar about Japan. Japanese people don't generally talk themselves up like Americans; but I wish I could just once witness a Japanese politician claiming that Japan is "simply the second- greatest nation in all of human history."

So, I took a hint from Senator-elect Rubio and decided to form a new political party right here in Japan. I am naming it the Tea Ceremony Party, and I am calling upon all readers to give it a whisk.

Frankly, however, I didn't really have a clue what my party should stand for. I mean, you can't run a country on a philosophy and culture that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries — though that appears to be what the United States is doing right now. So I figured that the best way to get some guiding principles for my Tea Ceremony Party was to go to the moose's mouth and Skype the leading light of the American Tea Party, Sarah Palin. I easily got her Skype address from GrizzlyMom.com, and here's a transcript of our conversation.

RP: Hello, is that Sarah Palin?

SP: Sure is.

RP: Oh, Ms. Palin, thank you so much. I am Skyping you from Japan.

SP: Japan? Love it. Y'know, I can see Japan from my living room window in Alaska . . . Well, maybe it's Russia, but heck, I'm sure it used to be Japan.

RP: I need your advice.

SP: You're not the only one.

RP: You see, Japan is in a terrible state. It seems to have no friends anymore, business confidence is at an all-time low, the educational system is falling to pieces and we are paying millions of dollars to maintain bases on . . .

SP: Hold yer huskies! What country did you say you're describin' there?

RP: Uh, Japan.

SP: Heck no. That's the U.S. of A. you're describin' there.

RP: I am?

SP: Yer darn tootin'. Let me ask you a few questions, okay? (All of a sudden, it appeared as if SP was interviewing RP.) You keepin' out immigrants over there?

RP: Oh yes, M'am. We don't even let more than a trickle of genuine asylum seekers in.

SP: Way to go. You cuttin' money to schools?

RP: Absolutely. Especially universities.

SP: Right on. Can't trust what elitists teach. You guys believe that America is, and I quote, "simply the greatest nation in all of human history"?

RP: Oh yes, M'am. If you asked any member of the Diet, except the Communists, of course, they would all agree with that.

SP: You eat commies over there?

RP: Beg your pardon?

SP: You said you got communists in your diet.

RP: Uh, no, it's what we call our parliament here. The Diet.

SP: It's what you call your what? Oh, never mind. One last question, and then we can get on with the interview. Those millions you're payin' for bases: Who ya payin' 'em to?

RP: Why, to you. To the United States.

SP: Then, shucks, what's the problem, amigo? You guys are doin' everything right! But there's nothin' that a few hundred million guns in private hands couldn't help.

RP: Oh, we don't allow guns in private hands here.

SP: You don't? Then you're not a real democracy. You ought to have Americans write you up a Constitution.

RP: Well, actually, Americans already did. Now, I really need your advice on my new party, the Tea Ceremony Party, we . . .

SP: Look, first of all, put God back into your life.

RP: But he was never there in the first place.

SP: Maybe that's your problem. Raise God first, lower taxes second. I mean really lower taxes. Democracy thrives on risk. If you risk a fortune, you gain a fortune. If you don't have a fortune to risk in the first place, you have no one to blame but yourself. And no more freeloading healthcare! America is a free country. People should be free to get better or not. My motto is: "If you can't afford to cure it, live with it." That's what our pioneer ancestors did, and they did pretty darn good.

RP: They killed a lot of Native Americans in the process.

SP: Natural selection.

RP: Funny to hear that coming from you.

SP: Darwin has his uses.

RP: That's encouraging. Now, I have one more thing to ask you. Are you going to run for president in 2012? President Bush's adviser, Karl Rove, said that you lack the "gravitas" to be president.

SP: He did? Well, dog my cats, George W. Bush had about as much gravitas as a cowbell, and he became one of our best presidents ever. Look, America is about caring. We care the livin' daylights outta ya. No heathen left behind, that's the American way. Our wings encompass the globe, my friend, and you should thank God that Japan is forever under that wing. God loves the Japanese too, and we have a lot to learn from each other. . . .

That's where the line cut and I lost her.

Ms. Palin said that Americans have a lot to learn from Japan; and I suppose the Japanese have a lot to learn from Americans. She may be right. I'm just worried that, in the end, they're all the wrong things.



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