“You never know when the Japanese are going to go ape”, said George Ball, undersecretary of state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations (quoted from Pyle). He described the Japanese “as repeatedly unpredictable and irrational”.
It may not have been apish to elect the Democratic Party of Japan to govern the country, with Yukio Hatoyama as the Prime Minister. But Hatoyama and his wife have certainly raised a few eyebrows.
First, a strange and populist article which had been prepared for the monthly Japanese journal Voice was translated and recycled in the New York Times and elsewhere. According to Hatoyama’s views as expressed in this article, “In the post-Cold War period, Japan has been continually buffeted by the winds of market fundamentalism in a U.S.-led movement that is more usually called globalization. In the fundamentalist pursuit of capitalism people are treated not as an end but as a means. Consequently, human dignity is lost.” “The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order and that all countries should modify the traditions and regulations governing their economies in line with global (or rather American) standards.”
It is not clear to what extent this article really expressed Hatoyama’s views. It was apparently penned by a junior staff member of his team. It also not clear to what extent it was destined for international audiences, or just local consumption. But with the globalization of information and communications, anything in the public domain can go global.
Although President Obama may agree with much of the article, it does read like a slap in the face for Japan’s best friend, particularly his siding with the French – “we must return to the idea of fraternity — as in the French slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité” — as a force for moderating the danger inherent within freedom”.
Even more curious are the experiences of new First Lady Miyuki Hatoyama who claims to have traveled to Venus in a UFO in the 1970s. As well as being a musical actress, cookery writer, clothes maker and television personality, she also says that she knew the actor Tom Cruise in a past life when he was incarnated as a Japanese. She also claims to “eat the sun” every morning.
Strangely, in ultra-conservative and conformist Japan, no-one seems embarrassed or perturbed by Mrs Hatoyama’s eccentricities, least of all her husband.
Miyuki Hatoyama must have been recently singing “Don’t cry for me, Kyoto” to her husband. He has just pledged at the UN in New York to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels, while proposing international mechanisms to offer technological and financial support to developing nations as part of efforts to tackle global warming. Japanese industry which is panicked by the initiative will be comforted by his condition that Japan will not be committed to realizing the 25% goal as a promise to international society unless all major emitters agree on an ambitious target as well.
Back onto globalization, Prime Minister Hatoyama will have to inform Japanese consumers more widely of his views. The IKEA shop at Chiba, a symbol of Swedish globalization, is bursting to the seams with Japanese citizens buying its Zen-style furniture and decorations. What’s more, the queues of Japanese families at the IKEA restaurant are a clear sign of their love for Swedish meatballs and other such delicacies, which they seem happy enough to eat without chopsticks.
“Japan Rising: The Resurgence of Japanese Power and Purpose” by Kenneth B. Pyle. A Century Foundation Book. 2007.
“A New Path for Japan”, By YUKIO HATOYAMA. New York Times, August 26, 2009
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