Thursday, February 01, 2007

Take Mr. Yanagisawa. Please. But Not Mr. Kyuma, Evidently

Speaking of Hakuo Yanagisawa, the Health and Labor Minister, his gaffe is, policy-wise, far less serious than the Defense Minister's misstatements on the US bases in Okinawa and, of perhaps less import, expression of his opposition to the war on Iraq. After all, Mr. Yanagisawa's inopportune words will not affect what the Abe administration will or won't try to do on the demographic issues, whereas Mr. Kyuma has given resisters in Okinawa ammunition to further complicate the relocation of the bases, as well as cast doubt in the minds of the Bush administration about the seriousness of Japan's commitment on security issues.

But Mr. Yanagisawa managed to enrage half the eligible voters in the July Upper House elections, and seriously embarrassed the other half. Mr. Kyuma's thoughts also happen to reflect popular sentiment here, and the opposition parties have no quarrel there either.

As of this day, Mr. Yanagisawa is hanging on only because the Abe administration believes, with some justification, that it cannot jettison yet another cabinet member without possibly fatally depleting its rapidly dwindling political capital. The LDP itself seems to be divided, with the Upper House, half of them facing elections, demanding his head, while the Lower House is sitting on its hands.

This is a true dilemma for the Prime Minister Abe. Barring a clear victory for the LDP in the July election, it is now hard to see his legacy being anything other than one of a short-lived, not-ready-for-primetime administration.

This, according to the Jan. 31 Yomiuri, is what Mr. Yanagisawa said in Matsuyama, on the 27th:

"According to the science of demographics, in the case of women, the 15-50 age group (blog note: In Japan, a female cannot marry until she is 16, and the age of consent is 18. So, Mr. Yanagisawa, in speaking of a 15-50 age group, strictly speaking, is advocating something illegal.) are the people who will have babies(blog note: Mr. Yanagisawa uses a somewhat awkward honorific locution for "will have babies"). When you consider the people who will be 30 in 2030, they are 7, 8 years old now. They are already born. I shouldn't be using the term child-bearing machines, but the number of such devices is already determined. (blog note: One is left wondering what will have happened to the 15 (16? 18?)-30 year old crowd?) I'm truly sorry for saying machines. I apologize for saying machines. So these people, to whom the child-bearing role belongs, will have to exert themselves of us per head [by bearing a given number of children each]."

This is even worse than John Kerry's botched joke, where he managed to sleepwalk through the opening lines, looked at his cheat card, then flubbed the punch line. At least Mr. Kerry inadvertently told a larger, if partial, truth about war.


Sophie said...

I find it offensive, but I also find it to reflect truthfully how most societies regard women. So it is in fact a larger truth, one that politicians (men) don't usually say in public.
Most societies still behave like if 'the more people we produce, the best'. More cannon fodder, more dutifully consuming entities...
Whereas I think Japan's decreasing population is a unique chance of being more agile in the future, when there will be less energy, less food and almost no fish left, and huge populations will mean bigger problems.

Jun Okumura said...

I wish to thank Sophie for writing. I looked at her blog, and her photos are beautiful. If anybody else is reading this, and you like breathtaking landscapes, go and take a long look. It's worth it, people.

Yes, Sophie is right. A smaller population is not necessarily bad, when you look at the long run. However, there are many ways to go from here here to there, and some of the ways are not very pleasant. (Case in point, as those Anglos like to say: The Black Death.) The Japanese problem (and to a lesser extent, France's) is that, before we reach whatever equilibrium we are fated to attain, we must pass through a period where a relatively small number of able-bodied men and women will be supporting a large number of their elders who will no longer be able to work. Mr. Yanagisawa, in his ungainly way, is expressing this concern.

But, hey, forget about Mr. Yanagisawa. He doesn't matter. If you are a Japanese couple looking to have a baby, pray for a girl. For a girl will have much greater value than a boy. For proof, you need look no further than the farm. It is much, much easier to count the number of roosters, then the hens.

Thanks again, Sophie. Please stop by again, BTW, are you a friend of Robert's, or just passing by?

Sophie said...

Thank you very much for your kind words about my site!

I am a regular reader, I discovered your blog when you were interviewed in Late Night Live a few months ago... I am interested in Japan and am currently studying the language.

Jun Okumura said...


Remarkable. So somebody was listening. It must have been the time you were in Australia, where you took so many of those photos.

I hope that your travels bring you back to Japan again.