“Mr. Ozawa asks, ‘What do think about Tsushima?’, so I’m like, ‘I’m very worried about Tsushima now. It’s likely to be bought up by the won economy,’ and Mr. Ozawa replies, ‘That’s true. But more than that, if that’s what you’re going to worry about, there’s a great opportunity now.” So I ask him, “Why”, and he’s going, “The yen is appreciated now, so buy Jejudo.” The reason I’m telling [this story] is because such incredible things come out of that seemingly serious and upright mouth of his”.That’s more or less how the conversation went between the two, at least according to Kiyoshi Sasamori (former head of Japan Trade Union Confederation aka Rengo), who related the story on Wednesday at a party for a DPJ Lower House candidate in Nagasaki Prefecture, where Tsushima belongs*. The roots of the conversation lie in a conservative-nationalist campaign that Sankei has been pushing over the influx in recent years of South Korean tourists and investment into Tsushima, a Japanese island lying between the Kyushu mainland and the Korean Peninsula. Some South Koreans like to press territorial claims against the islands, likely in a tit-for-tat against Japanese claims on Takeshima, the uninhabited outcrop that is currently administered by the South Korean government. South Korean claims lend piquancy if not quite credibility to the national security worries of a South Korean invasion on the part of Takeo Hiranuma and his conservative, mostly LDP, Diet-member colleagues. However, given the labor union’s overall support for progressive causes, Sasamaori’s intent was unlikely to have been intended to whip up such nationalist sentiments with this story.
So, against this background, there were at least three possible ways to go with this story:
1. Ozawa is stupid enough to believe that we can/should put together Japanese money to buy up Jejudo.This being an Ozawa story, the Japanese media did not take the sensible route (guess which one), nor either of the other two, and just reported Sasamori’s comments without commentary, most of them initially touching only on Ozawa’s purported words. The last point seems to have confused the South Koreans, who are up in arms over what is most likely an imaginary affront. The LDP and the Communist Party, comrade in arms, have taken this as the cue to pile on. Now I am no fan of Ozawa, but isn’t a politician allowed a little irony? However, Ozawa being Ozawa, he has done a poor job of ‘splainin. Which brings me to my next point:
2. Ozawa had said in effect, Chill out, guys, it’s not as if the South Koreans are going to chop up Tsushima and ship the pieces back to Korea. We could buy Jejudo and that wouldn’t mean jack either.
3. Ignore it.
Nobody is going to cut Ozawa any slack. The media don’t like him in the first place; they’re not going to give a Prime Minister Ozawa the benefit of the doubt. He has few if any friends in his own DPJ beyond the 40-strong contingency personally beholden to him, the opposition alliance is a marriage of pure convenience, and most of the other old-school politicians who might share generational sympathies are back in the LDP. (He has already alienated his erstwhile colleagues in what is now New Komeito.) Perhaps worst of all, Ozawa is ill-equipped to handle this constant public, often hostile, attention to every detail of his actions. Since the Nishimatsu scandal exploded over his head, he has been doing his best to be accessible, and smile at the camera and offer harmless non sequiturs, as his handlers have obviously telling him to. But he’s no Mitt Romney; he has a hard time playacting for a day, let alone forever—which is what the Prime Minister’s job will feel like.
* The Japanese original comes from an excerpt posted here by Sankei, who taped Sasamori’s original talk.
For what it’s worth, Tsushima is a group of islands 708.7 km2 and a population of 41,000, while Jejudo is an island with an area of 1,845.55 km2 and a population of 560,000. Tsuyoshi Shinjo, the former New York Met and sometime underwear model, is Tsushima’s most famous export, and I once had a crush on a girl from Jejudo when the Earth was young and the gods walked among us.