Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Updates on Media Treatment of the High School "Payoff" Scandal and Prime Minister Abe's "Masakaki"

Shukan Shincho and Shukan Bunshun, two popular weekly magazines, are slamming the Japan High School Baseball Federation for its crackdown on the widespread practice of giving scholarships and other incentives to high school varsity baseball players in their May 17 issues with multi-article features.

In Shukan Shincho, "Stupid Idiots JHSBF" shares top billing with "The White House Astounded by 'Wrongheaded Akki' [the media's nickname for Prime Minister Abe's wife] Running Amok". (No, Shukan Shincho is one of the more reputable weeklies.) Shukan Bunshun leads with "The Rasputin Who Lopped the Heads off '8000 Scholarship Students'"; the theme of the feature is "The Interest Groups that Feed off Koshien". (Koshien is where they hold the two national high school baseball tournaments). Interestingly, both launch broadsides against Asahi Shinbun, Shukan Shincho with "The 'Director of the Sports Department at Asahi' Who Wrote an 'Article in Defense [of JHSBF]' Is a JHSBF Board Member", and "Shukan Bunshun with "Asahi Reporter Writes a Suck-Up Article: Actually a JHSBF Board Member" and "The Root of All Evil Was Asahi Shinbun's Claim that Baseball Was Harmful". (You may or may not be aware that early in the 20th Century Asahi Shinbun ran a huge campaign against baseball before it made a turnaround and not coincidentally inaugurated the summer version of the two main high school baseball tournaments that have become the staple of the Japanese sports calendar. You also may or may not have noticed that the Japanese media loves quotation marks.)

Shukan Shincho and Shukan Bunshun are general interest weeklies published by Shinchosha and Bungeishunju respectively, both venerable, major publishing houses. They land somewhere between the sedate, boring magazines published by newspaper companies that you typically find lying around in bank lobbies and the racy, bloodcurdling scandalmongers that rely heavily on photos of young females in states of extreme undress.

What really matters politically with Prime Minister Abe's offering to the Yasukuni is, of course, how Beijing reacts. So, here's a translation of a Yomiuri article, since it looks too small to make it into the English version.

"China Expresses Concern While Avoiding Direct Criticism

"Concerning the fact that Prime Minister Abe had made an offering of 50,000 Yen at the annual spring festival at Yasukuni in late April, China's Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesperson Jiang Yu on 8 May, after mentioning that "the Yasukuni issue is a serious and politically sensitive problem", stated that "both China and Japan already agreed to overcome the political obstacles that affect the bilateral relationship and promote the development of a healthy cooperative relationship. This common understanding should be protected appropriately," thus expressing concern while avoiding direct criticism.

"China would like to continue to put the mutual visits such as [another] trip to China by Prime Minister Abe to China and a trip to Japan by President Hu Jintao on a steady course. It seems that this day's statement by the deputy spokesperson reflects the feeling that they do not want to have the improving trend of the Japan-China relationship to be affected."

Let's hope, for China's sake as well, that Mr. Abe knows what he is doing. I'm sure Mr. Hu does, since China is the grandmaster of this thrust-and-parry mating game.

Hey, even a broken clock gets it right twice a day.


WDS said...

I am thinking that whether we get more than an IHT/NYT and FT article out of this visit now depends on how Abe responds. If they let it go quietly, then it will quickly become old news. If, however, China raises the stakes by complaining more loudly and/or Abe just says something stupid, then it could blow up. Certainly, everyone is watching and waiting.

Jun Okumura said...

Your first sentence says it all. So, what lies ahead?

Remember, Diet presidents have apparently been doing this for quite some time. (One wonders if Takako Doi, former Socialist Party head did likewise.) This robbed Mr. Abe's act of most of its sting, or so he must have hoped. Just as China does when it lets CNOOC tell the world that it is pumping gas in the East China Sea or lets a submarine break the waves precariously near Japanese territorial waters, I think it is likely that the Abe administration will come across other opportunities to see where the tripwires lie, and how powerful the charges they set off.