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Monday, June 14, 2010

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Can 'Citizen Kan' take Japan's voters to the promised land?


Special to The Japan Times

The Bible tells us that "those who sow in tears sing as they reap" (Psalm 126).

This was true for the Jews as they returned to Jerusalem after their prolonged exile in Babylonia. However, more recent history has shown us that there can be occasions where those who sow in song shed tears as they reap.

This was the case for the hapless Yukio Hatoyama as he bade a tearful farewell to his eight months of premiership. Tears of joy were much in evidence when Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan finally became the party of government last year.

Their time in the political wilderness may not have been quite as long as those experienced by the Jews in exile, but that did not prevent them from bursting into victorious song as their man entered the prime minister's official residence.

They were all set to go out and sow the seeds of great political change. Hopes ran high of a harvest of unprecedented richness.

Alas, things have not turned out quite as they had hoped, and now a different man sits in the prime minister's residence.

No doubt the DPJ rank and file has found solace in the fact that the new man is at least one of theirs, rather than somebody from the other side of the political divide.

Naoto Kan is a man of many strengths. He is a veteran at the game of Japanese politics. He knows all the ropes. He has charisma. He is a tough fighter and debater. But more than any of these things, his most valuable asset is that he comes from a background of civil activism.

Unlike his many predecessors, Kan is not an heir to any political dynasty. This means Japanese voters can more or less justifiably think of him as "one of us." The extent to which he can retain that link with the electorate will be the test of his durability in office.

A citizen's revolt within Japan's labyrinthian corridors of power would be a most welcome thing. Let us see how the erstwhile street fighter fares.

"Va, pensiero, sullfali dorate" ("Fly oh thought, on wings of gold") is yet another biblically based phrase that comes to mind at this point. This one comes from the opera "Nabucco," which was composer Giuseppe Verdi's first genuine success.

Nabucco is short for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who forced the Jews into exile. The "wings of gold" phrase is the opening passage from the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves for which the opera is renowned. In it, the captives sing of their longing for their homeland; they would have their thoughts grow golden wings and fly there.

Kan would no doubt be grateful to have wings of any kind at this moment, never mind golden ones. Hatoyama ("hato" means dove), the man he replaced, is now wingless, although he gets a consolation prize for clipping the wings of his wily colleague and Prince of Darkness character Ichiro Ozawa before crashing to the ground.

"Goosey goosey gander, whither dost thou wonder" might be a good (nonbiblical) question to put to both Hatoyama and Ozawa at this juncture.

Whatever kind of wings Kan manages to sprout, one hopes that they will keep him aloft on winds of high citizenship ideals. If he is able to achieve those heights, a rich harvest might yet be his. The tearless time of reaping is not yet completely lost.

But the citizens will not want to wait forever. They could use a bit of harvest festivities reasonably soon.

Citizen Kan take note.

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


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