Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mrs. Kan Disses Mr. Kan. Not

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.


Taro T said...

At first I was thinking that writing a such a book was an incredibly stupid, arrogant thing for a wife of a prime minister to do, but in a way it makes Japanese Sense™.
Basically, this is the best moment in terms of getting the widest audience for Mrs. Kan to write a successful memoir Prime Minister Kan and family--Most Japanese prime ministers don’t last one year in the job, so she might as well bring in some money while the getting is good.
I popped onto Japan’s to read the reviews of this book--It seems that Mrs. Kan, Nobuko, is mostly about family history about their marriage and it is written a droll, lighthearted tone. The reviewers on Amazon both said the book was, “very funny.” We can expect to see Mrs. Kan on the vile Japanese talk shows for years to come as an "political expert/talento."
Bottom Line: The book won't hurt Kan's career in the least and it will bring in some extra cash for the family.

Jun Okumura said...

TaroT: To be fair to Anita Singh, she writes for the D---- T--------, and she's the Show Business Editor there. And yes, “lighthearted” is how it’s playing in the Japanese media.

Nice one-liner there:

Most Japanese prime ministers don’t last one year in the job, so she might as well bring in some money while the getting is good.

Jun Okumura said...

and JR denied complicity.