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Monday, March 1, 2010

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Message for Hatoyama from his patron saint


Special to The Japan Times

Saint Thomas More is the patron saint of politicians. As a Catholic myself I should have known this before, but the information actually came to me quite recently via the Mainichi Shimbun. So many thanks to the newspaper for this piece of religious education.

What more can politicians ask in the way of a protector? The saint, who is now more generally known as Sir Thomas More,fought for his convictions against that philandering monarch Henry VIII.

Henry was not only a philanderer who wanted many wives, but also a power hunter who wanted to be both head of the Church and head of state. Neither of those aspirations was acceptable to Sir Thomas.

Notwithstanding his position as chancellor and close counselor to the king, Sir Thomas adamantly refused to go along with the ruler's ambitions. That courage won him a beheading. And the beheading won him martyr status from the Catholic Church.

Filmgoers will be reminded of the 1966 picture "A Man for All Seasons," which featured Sir Thomas' ultimate confrontation with his friend and monarch, and the execution of the former by the latter. Famed British actor Paul Scofield starred as Sir Thomas, winning an Oscar in the process.

The film's title is faithful to that of the original stage production written by playwright Robert Bolt. But when it was released in Japan, the Japanese title came out as "My Life at Naught," which is a lot less poetic than the original but much more to the point.

Perhaps this is a good moment to note in passing that Japanese promoters of foreign artworks habitually exhibit incredible flare when it comes to coining the mot juste used to replace the original enigmatic titles. Thus, the rock song "Substitute Lover" was reborn as "Pinch Runner of Love" when it was released in Japan.

Sir Thomas literally put his life at naught to prevent a monarch from having it all his own way. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is also a man who likes to talk about principles. In his first administrative policy speech to the Diet last month, the prime minister drew on Gandhi's seven social sins to emphasize that politics without principle are not to be condoned.

Hatoyama also likes to talk about lives. That same policy speech actually began with the phrase, "I want to protect lives." He went on to say that he wished to "protect the lives of working people," gradually working up to wanting to protect "the life of the world" and culminating in the desire to protect "the life of the planet earth."

The crescendo of life-protecting ambitions was quite rousing. They are all very laudable ambitions, and no political principle could probably rise higher than a quest to save lives at the planetary level.

Yet nowhere in this highly principled speech was there any reference to the prime minister's own life and what he meant to do with it for the sake of his principles.

This is not to say that modern-day politicians should pledge themselves to "hara-kiri" principles before taking up their parliamentary careers. Yet for all his talk about taking the moral high ground, Hatoyama does not come across as a man for all seasons.

No doubt he would make lovely company on a lush summer tennis lawn, but would we find him an equally staunch companion in the rainy season, when the odds are piled against us?

Hatoyama might want to add a biography of his patron saint to his reading list and place it alongside the sayings of the Mahatma.

Noriko Hama is an economist and a professor at Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.


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