A seasoned Asianist sends without commentary this news report headlined “My husband Naoto Kan the PM of Japan: a lightweight with no dress sense,” a straight-faced account of Prime Minister Kan’s latest embarrassment, a book full of unremitting criticism from his wife… or is it? For context is everything—everything that is missing from this report. Let me explain.
The fearless lion in the workplace who turns out to be a docile lamb at home is a popular archetype in Japanese culture, with some foundation in fact. Foreigners often marvel at the control that the typical Japanese fulltime housewife exercises over family finances.
Modesty, and humility, pays in Japan. We’ve mastered the art of the backhanded insult; this book is a prime example, no doubt helped by Mrs. Kan’s reputation as an acerbic, politics-first personality. Tellingly, and typically for her generation, she does not have a political career of her own. Go figure.
The book has admittedly taken the archetype/humility ploy to a new level, a tactic that was not totally without risk. However, that risk is mitigated by the fact that in Japan, what happens in the family tends to stay in the family. Revelations of Hatoyama’s youthful affair with and subsequent marriage to the wife of a friend became tabloid fodder after he became prime minister, but did not have any effect on his popularity (or lack thereof) as prime minister; likewise, the first lady’s wacky New Age persona.
Since the mainstream print media tend to underplay these items, I rely on newsstand and newsprint ads for tabloid and weeklies to get a better feel of how things are going down. My impression is that Mrs. Kan's efforts will be mildly successful at best, sink with little trace at worst.
The writer is the Daily Telegraph’s “Showbusiness Editor.” Seriously. I’m looking forward to her next piece on Shakespeare, where she offers a critique on Marc Antony’s eulogy as a Julius Caesar takedown.