Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ichirō Ozawa: Trickster and Guy Thing

Kankichi Ryōzu, Ryō-san to his friends, is hands-down the worst policeman in Japan. For Ryō-san is a selfish, stupid scofflaw and egomaniac, whose every scheme that he hatches on a near-weekly basis* (while lurking in the Kameari Kōen-mae mini-police station where he has been permanently exiled) seems to end in mayhem and chaos, harming everything and everyone in the process.

Ryō-san is also the most popular policeman in Japan. In fact, he is so popular that not only has his antics adorned the pages of Shūkan Shōnen Jumpu (literally, Weekly Boys’ Jump; the Microsoft of manga comic books) uninterrupted since his first guest appearance in its 1976 June 22 edition and subsequent appearance three months later as a regular feature, he has been honored by two life-size bronze statues of him at the JP Kameari Station near his fictitious mini-station, and a group of best-selling novelists got together to celebrate Ryō-san’s 30th year in print by producing an anthology featuring Ryō-san and their own highly popular characters together. And these are just a few of the many ways that his multitude of admirers has chosen to honor him.

Now, Ryō-san is not without some redeeming traits. For one thing, he loves kids. In a way, he is a kid himself. He’s also a sucker for sad sack stories, though his help often winds up being worse than the problem. In fact, it’s probably his saving grace that his schemes almost always fall through. Oh, and one more thing. Ryō-san will say he’s sorry under pain of death, but for not much else. Does that sound familiar?

Kazuhiro Kiyohara is a blockhead. In the straight-laced (some will say hypocritical) world of pro baseball in Japan, the often-boorish Mr. Kiyohara is the guy who stretches the rules till they snap, shows up on game day with a hangover, picks fights with the coaching staff, and lords it over his lesser teammates. Though more successful in his chosen profession than Ryō-san in his, he has never realized the enormous potential he showed straight out of high school, winning Rookie-of-the-Year honors as a .304-31 slugger and third baseman with a cannon-arm; and at age 40, injury-riddled and long past his physical prime, he never will.

Yet teams are still willing to pay him millions (dollars, not yen) to make him come and play for them, or at least DH. For Mr. Kiyohara was and still is one of the most popular baseball players in Japan, one of the biggest draws for just showing up, especially now that the best players (and not a few lesser players) routinely leave in their prime for the Major Leagues, with their bigger stadiums and bigger bucks. The colorful Kiyohara is Japan’s answer to Jose Canseco, a Bizarro Nagashima** if you will.So it will be a sad and sobering day when he leaves the ballpark for good. The weeklies and “sports” dailies will be sorry to see him go too, when he takes his bagful of tabloid fodder and fades into the background.

And we love these tricksters. Ryō-san is an extreme case, but manga heroes (the male heroes anyway) usually follow the same pattern. They are outsiders, rogues, misfits. They don’t need the mainstream alter egos of a Superman or Spiderman, the Amecomi superheroes; they are just being themselves, one-face-fits all characters. And even as the media heap scorn on a Kiyohara, the salaryman, the shop attendant, all of Japanese guy nation seeks vicarious glory in his antics c’mon, you can get away with it, one more time. (Yes, he aims to please.) It's a guy issue, really..

This is nothing new. In fact, an entire genre of classical theater, the Kyōgen, grew up around Tarō Kaja, a non-lethal Loki character if ever there was one. We’ve got to be free, and admire those that are.

Ichirō Ozawa is the Loki of Japanese politics. He was never so Ozawa as when he yet again snubbed his nose at pleas from his domesticated deputy Yukio Hatoyama, for an apology for his absence from the anti-terror bill revote, and the entire media, tabloid and non-. It can be no coincidence that the DPJ polls better among men than women.

Mr. Ozawa being who he is also renewed his pledge to put his career on the line on beating the LDP in the next Lower House election. To that end, he has led the DPJ away from the tightwad fiscal policies of the wonks and has steered it towards a strategy that aims to beat the LDP at their own (bribe them with their money) game. Barring a couple of LDP disasters, though, I’ll be highly surprised if the DPJ gains more seats than the LDP*** (let alone the coalition as a whole). And I’ll be sorry then, because we’ll see the most compelling political figure of our times leaving center stage.

* the Kochikame has featured the same main characters, including superheel Ryō-san, over the years, and the stories usually end with that issue, the longest story arcs lasting a few weeks at most. This contrasts starkly with most other long-running manga such as Dragonball or JoJo Bizarre Adventure. It is more reminiscent of the four-frame daily comic strips than the usual long-running manga. Gorgo 13 offers a parallel of sorts.

** Shigeo Nagashima has always been more popular than the more successful (baseball-wise - he was also the first recipient of the Kokumin Eiyo Shō, or People’s Honor Award) Sadaharu Oh. Although the fact that Mr. Oh is not a Japanese citizen probably has figured in this, it is clear that Mr. Nagashima’s exuberance and glamour (college baseball star, beautiful, accomplished wife, the ability to make the simplest plays look difficult, etc.) and spontaneity on the field in contrast to Mr. Oh’s staid, often dour demeanor and no-pain, no –gain approach to the game were by far the biggeest reason for the popularity gap. You respected Oh; you loved Nagashima.

*** I’ve written about this before, and I would be happy to take a bet, where the loser shaves his head. A bald guy must wear a wig for the time it would take his hypothetical hair to grow back.


Anonymous said...

We are delighted to learn that you are keeping up with your manga and sports.

Although we were a bit confused by your response to our last post to you--it is a guy thing--we thought we should share a bit of our world with you--or at least how it used to be.

As always, trying to keep you ahead of the herd.
Your Global Friends

Jun Okumura said...

Okay then, you are not who I thought you were. Sorry. (I am relieved.)

Is that a different voice saying, "You've got mail" or what? "collegehumor" bookmarked. Thanks.

Julián Ortega Martínez said...

Poor Ryō-san... to be at least a little related with Mr Ozawa seems quite offensive... for the manga hero, of course.

Julián Ortega Martínez said...

[BTW, if this was actually true, do you know what happened with it?]

Jun Okumura said...


Good to hear from you again.

Actually, it would be fun to see Ryō-san seconded to the security at the Diet (by a bureaucratic error course), where he'll mistake Mr. Ozawa for an intruder and beat him up and try to force him to confess. The other policemen rescue Mr. Ozawa, but by then, Ryō-san will have wrecked half the Diet building. The final panel will have Ryō-san sitting in a jail cell, his boss looking on happily. Unfortunately for his boss, Ryō-san will be back in his Kameari ministation the following week to torment him yet again.

Seriously, I don't know how Ryō-san would react. Maybe he'll go to Mr. Ozawa and try to get something out of him.

With regard to the Bloomberg report, all online reports on the incident go back to the same Kyōdō newswire, but it would be surprising if Mr. Ozawa hadn't at least tried. As for the future, your guess is as good as mine, but I don't see the matter coming up again until they actually hold the next Lower House election.