The meaning of a word or an expression can change over time. For instance, describing someone's action as "sessoku" is no compliment today, as it implies the person is being slipshod or hasty. Originally, however, "sessoku" had the positive meaning of getting something done laudably fast, even if a bit clumsily.
Another example is "ka mo naku fuka mo nashi," which translates as "neither good nor bad." But this was not what Confucius meant when he first used this expression. As I understand it, the Chinese sage meant it as a warning against inflexibility in planning one's actions. According to a book I consulted, the expression denotes "being flexible in one's thinking" in present-day China.
Ever since assuming office, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has taken great pains to play everything safe. He makes me want to compare the past and present meanings of "ka mo naku fuka mo nashi."
Take his policy speech of Oct. 28 before the Diet. Given how careful he was to avoid saying anything unsafe, I imagine even ruling Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers didn't quite know when to applaud. I must say I was quite impressed by his smooth delivery, but his speech was long on cliches and quite short on words of his own.
It was actually pathetic that when he got to one of the highlights of his speech--apart from where he mentioned his post-3/11 reconstruction efforts--all he could talk about were the salary cuts for himself and his Cabinet ministers.
His comments on the highly controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Futenma relocation issue were cursory at best, and he did not even go into the issues of social security and increasing consumption tax. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?
Confucius preached the virtue of moderation. Noda is obviously a seeker after this virtue, but moderation can sometimes be synonymous with opportunism and the absence of "self." I hope this doesn't apply to Noda, but I do wonder if he is capable of standing up to Washington, the bureaucracy and the business community.
I recall that the great yokozuna Taiho was said to have "no style of his own." This was intentional on his part, as it gave him the flexibility to take on any opponent and win.
Is Noda like Taiho? I sincerely hope his lack of his own style will not prove to be his undoing.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 29
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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