An Idiot’s Tale

PRIME MINISTER HATOYAMA RESIGNS. Last fall during the early days of the Hatoyama Administration, I asked students in one of my reading classes at Keio University to try using the word “incandescent.”  This word had come up in a Paul Auster essay we were reading and had been used to describe Willie Mays.  “Who would you describe as ‘incandescent,'” I asked, and one group of students answered “Yukio Hatoyama.”  At the time, I didn’t quite see his incandescence–other than the gold-colored ties he was in the habit of wearing–as he was already coming across to me (via the media, of course) and just about everyone else as wishy-washy and indecisive, not exactly the sort of qualities one associates with incandescence.

This morning (June 2) I turned on the TV intending to record a suspense drama for later viewing, but there was Mr. Hatoyama, standing pale-faced in gleaming gold-striped tie in front of a microphone and TV cameras announcing his resignation as Prime Minister of Japan.  So I watched his drama instead.

He faced the cameras without flinching and spoke without notes and seemingly without guile.  There was nothing wishy-washy or indecisive in anything he said.  He spoke passionately and powerfully of his hopes for the future of his party and for Japan, and of his deep regret at not being able to fulfill his promises, particularly the one made to Okinawans to rid their island of American bases.  His voice cracked, and he looked on the verge of tears as he called for a Japan that would one day no longer need the American military presence to maintain its peace for them.  For a few moments he burned fiercely, and then when his speech was over, he bowed and quietly left the podium, “his hour upon the stage” ended, his brief candle extinguished.  His term as Prime Minister was over, but on this his last day in office, and in the middle of his ignominious failure, Mr. Hatoyama had finally achieved incandescence.

It was impossible not to think that he was showing his true colors at last, and that after all, he had been sincere in his desire to renegotiate the Futenma agreement with Washington so that Okinawa would no longer have to host the air base.  Why, then, had he not spoken this forcefully before?  I cannot answer that question because all actual political activity takes place behind the scenes here, and I am only a member of the audience watching the play.  The media colludes in this make-believe by reporting only on the play, what is presented to the public, and not on what is going on back stage.  One can therefore only speculate about what is making a particular actor out front speak the lines he does, or behave the way he does.

One possible explanation for Mr. Hatoyama’s ineffectiveness as prime minister is a flaw in his character that prevented him from acting decisively when decisiveness was called for.  In this case, the drama we have been watching would qualify as a tragedy where a leader with noble ideals is brought down in the last act by his own internal shortcomings.

Another possibility is that Mr. Hatoyama, though bearing the title of Prime Minister, was never really in control of his government, but a mere puppet manipulated by other more powerful forces hidden in the shadows behind him.  In this case, one of those forces would be Ichiro Ozawa, until today the Democratic Party of Japan’s Secretary General, whom a recent issue of The Economist (Jan. 23, 2010) calls the DPJ’s “fixer-in-chief.”  If Mr. Hatoyama accomplished anything in his last act, it was to insist on taking Mr. Ozawa down with him when he resigned, so that the Democratic Party of Japan could start all over again with a clean image.

But a third, more troubling (to me as an American) possibility suggests itself:  Mr. Hatoyama could not be effective because Washington, including our Commander in Chief, did nothing at all to help him.  The U.S. position, unlike the muddled Japanese one, is clear:  We have our bases all over the Japanese archipelago (especially concentrated on Okinawa), and we don’t want to give them up.

Other than to maintain inflexibly throughout the Futenma uproar that only the agreement already made in 2006 was acceptable, and then to sit back and watch while Mr. Hatoyama twisted in the wind until he fell, Washington did nothing to contribute to a satisfactory resolution of the issue.  Washington seemed to know that if it simply waited, and did not cooperate with Mr. Hatoyama, his government would fall soon enough and the threat that his campaign promises posed to our Okinawa strongholds would disappear with him.  Apparently nothing is more important than keeping these bases: not the sovereign rights of a supposedly equal partner, not the opinion of the people whose land has been usurped, and most certainly not democracy itself.

What keeps getting shoved aside as if it were of no importance in the media coverage following Mr. Hatoyama’s resignation is that this is not just about the failure of one man, but the failure of what he represented:  a chance for a government elected by the people to wrest power from an intractable, unelected bureaucracy; to stop the spread of concrete that is covering up Japan’s once-beautiful natural environment; to respond to the cries of the Okinawan people for relief from the 65 years of noisy and noisome foreign military presence in their midst.  It is this agenda which has now failed, not the individual Yukio Hatoyama.  And it is this agenda which America, by not working actively to meet Mr. Hatoyama halfway, helped to defeat.

With Hatoyama out of the way, Washington expects smooth sailing into the waters off Henoko in Nago, Okinawa.  Where Naoto Kan, the new Prime Minister, stands on the issue of the Futenma air base relocation is not yet known.  We do know, however, where the Nago mayor stands:  adamantly opposed to the relocation to Henoko.  And unless he can be bought off, an ugly confrontation lies ahead.


Kore wa nani? Answer:  recycled chopsticks.

At the entrance to the Igusa Hachiman shrine, the short drive from the street up to the torii was lined with these small lanterns on the night of the Noh performance.  The lights are battery-operated bulbs, and the shades, each one different, were made by school children from the elementary school next to the shrine.  At lunch they use disposable wooden chopsticks, which are seen as a waste of resources, so the children saved the thrown-away chopsticks and recycled them as lanterns to guide our way in the darkness.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

[from Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5]


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