August 30, 2010
Pulling himself out of a self-imposed exile after being implicated in campaign finance shenanigans (but not charged), former Japan Democratic Party leader Ichiro Ozawa tested the political waters last week for a possible battle with Prime Minister Naoto Kan over party leadership. Among other things, he said:
I like Americans, but they are somewhat monocellular. When I talk with Americans, I often wonder why they are so simple-minded.
Nobody's sure what he meant by that--he offered no examples--especially since Japan's financial meltdown during the 1990s was handled even less competently than the U.S. government's efforts now (hard to imagine, but true), and "simple-minded" perfectly describes the previous PM from his own party.
Yukio Hatoyama resigned after failing to close the Futenma U.S. airbase on Okinawa. It was a big part of his campaign platform, but the goal he set was physically impossible, especially as timetables had already been set in 2006, and such a huge logistical undertaking that can't exactly be hurried along.
I agree with him on principle that the U.S. military footprint in Okinawa (and South Korea) should be drastically reduced, but there is this thing called the real world. (Stars and Stripes has a good summary of the issue here.)
Hatoyama seemed to believe that if he was only earnest enough, Futema would sprout wings and fly itself to Guam. Or maybe he thought such promises would be treated as seriously as Obama's to close Guantanamo Bay. Alas, the electorate took him at his word. His Dan Quayle-like public persona didn't help.
However brilliant he might be, he often came across as a space cadet. Kan, his replacement, previously the finance minister, seems better suited for the job. Japanese voters may have grown weary of the ham-fisted, Chicago-style politics of Ozawa, but they do appreciate hard-nosed competence.
At any rate, a little trashing of America and Americans at this time of year is expected of Japanese politicians, especially from "liberal" DPJ types, who are supposed less America-philic than the "conservative" LDP, though we're mostly talking differences without a distinction.
(Incidentally, "LDP" oxymoronically stands for "Liberal Democratic Party." It is best compared to a bunch of country club Republicans, though after a half-century of almost uncontested power, the LDP now risks dissolving into a motley collection of competing Tea Party-like factions.)
Tokyo mayor (best-selling novelist and polemicist) Shintaro Ishihara has a deserved reputation for waving the nativist and nationalistic flags whenever it suits the political mood. Of course, he never lets the fire-breathing get in the way of actual business, and everybody on both sides of the Pacific just rolls their eyes.
As Peter Payne points out, "Japan is absolutely one of the most pro-American countries in the world."