Sunday, September 14, 2008

Taro Aso’s Chankonabe Administration

chankonabe (ちゃんこ鍋) is a Japanese stew (a type of nabemono or one-pot dish) commonly eaten in vast quantity by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight gain diet. It contains a dashi or chicken broth soup base with sake or mirin to add flavor. The bulk of chankonabe is made up of large quantities of protein sources (usually chicken (quartered, skin left on), fish (fried and made into balls), tofu, or sometimes beef) and vegetables (daikon, bok choy, etc). While considered a reasonably healthful dish in its own right, chankonabe is very protein-rich and usually served in massive quantities, with beer and rice to increase the caloric intake. Leftover chankonabe broth can also later be used as broth for somen or udon noodles.

It is not made according to a fixed recipe and often contains whatever is available to the cook
From Wikipedia
There will be no better metaphor for the LDP and Taro Aso’s prospective administration than the all-for-all, all-for-all sumo food chankonabe if “people close to Mr. Aso” talking to Yomiuri are to be believed when they say that he intends to include all four of his rivals in his administration. According to the Yomiuri report, Yuriko Koike will get an important cabinet post, Nobuteru Ishihara will be named to Secretary-General or some other party leadership position, and Kaoru Yosano and Shigeru Ishiba will also be appointed to the Aso Cabinet.

Now the media is replete with political ad balloons during these times, so you should take in such reports with more than a grain of salt. But if you think that this incongruous hodgepodge of hawks and doves, misers, reformists and spendthrifts—one of whom has openly speculated about a post-Lower House election realignment—doesn’t make sense, think again. They want to keep the refueling ships in the Indian Ocean and take the Class-A war criminals out of Yasukuni. They want to take more fat out of government before they raise the consumption tax. They won’t issue deficit bonds to finance the stimulus package; they’ll find the money elsewhere, most notably in the special account reserves—the most fungible part of the “buried treasures”. Yes, the reasoning can vary, and there are different degrees of conviction and commitment. But thrown together in a campaign foreshadowed by a looming Lower House election, the candidates are more and more in tune with each other as the process lurches toward an anticlimactic showdown on 22 September. If the resulting “broth” does not wind up in a “weight gain”, at least it will minimize weight loss by providing something for everybody in the Lower House election. Or so the “people close to Mr. Aso”—indeed, the entire LDP—must be hoping.

Ms. Koike, to her credit, still manages to echo the Koizumian battle cry of no pain, no gain. But without a more expressive show of support from Junichiro Koizumi, it will not be easy for her to assume the role of standard bearer for the reformist wing of the LDP. In fact, she continues to draw as much attention as the potential focal point for a post-electoral splittist movement. During the near-obligatory Sunday Project joint performance by the five candidates, she got most of her air time when the septuagenarian emcee Soichiro Tawara badgered her at length on cross-party political realignment, where she had to keep peeking at her CliffsNotes to make sure that she didn’t go off-message*.

* Ms. Koike’s heavy-footed, talking-points-only act comes across poorly in anything resembling a real debate (or cross-examination), but should be quite effective in the whistle-stop main event, when she can whack away in abandon at the unseen enemy. She wields a big stick. I remind you, though, that this is only one, fairly limited, measure of her overall intelligence and aptitude. Barack Obama, albeit in a very different way, has trouble with the rapid-fire, drive-by mode of political discourse, as opposed to his favorite format of big-crowd oratory. If Ms. Koike is doing her own writing, then she is an effective writer. Mr. Obama, of course, is an even better and more contemplative writer.


Unknown said...

Aso, in the midst of an LDP presidential election is making an appeal to all four other candidates' potential constituencies in order to prep for a snap HR election. But who do these five people appeal to? I suspect only Koike and possibly Ishihara bring support that might otherwise swing to the DPJ. That might be enough for the coalition to narrowly escape loss of HR control. But it cements in place a disparate set of policy makers that will not be capable of addressing Japan's problems.

Or does Aso have some secret policy agenda that he's not publicly talking about? Any idea what it is that Aso stands for, besides becoming PM? Shades of McCain. Though it doesn't appear that Aso is a pathological liar.

Jun Okumura said...

When I was a child, I was a very good clay modeler. In fact, I was the only kid in first grade who could express motion. My class teacher loved my work and on one occasion was so impressed that she took one of my ice hockey figurines to the school principal. I was very much encouraged and would experiment endlessly, mixing all sorts of different colors. And I would always end up with a grayish brown mass. In fact, I think that’s where the phrase sh!t happens came from.

Off topic. Cheap whiskey will do that to you.

Unknown said...

And a cabinet that pulls together all the disparate strands of the LDP without a forceful leader will look just like that grayish brown mass.

Jun Okumura said...

Hmm, who'da thunk...