Some politicians make gaffes and then seem unaware that they have done something inappropriate. Not so long ago, a justice minister stepped down after making the following remark: “All I need to say is ‘I wish to refrain from commenting on specific cases’ and ‘I am dealing with matters appropriately based on law and evidence.’ I have dealt with Diet questioning with these two statements.”
It seems Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, too, knows only two ways to answer questions in the Diet. One is incoherently and the other is irrelevantly. In the Upper and Lower House Budget Committee sessions held April 18, he was asked only one question, but answered saying: “With regard to your question on three points.” He had to be corrected by the chairman.
Whenever the minister is unable to answer questions, bureaucrats whisper what to say to him and aides pass him papers. The performance has been likened to “nininbaori” (a traditional comic act in which two people wear the same coat and pretend to be one person) and “senju kannon” (a bodhisattva with 1,000 arms). At first, the sight of aides scurrying to rescue him is funny. However, we soon realize how pathetic it is. It must be hard for Tanaka’s wife, former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, to watch him break into a cold sweat every time he embarrasses himself.
Although he seems to be a very nice person, he seems unfit to command. It is questionable whether members of the Self-Defense Forces, who stake their lives in the line of duty, would be able to motivate themselves thinking of his face. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda defended Tanaka’s incoherence by saying the defense minister knows his ignorance, a reference to the comment by Socrates: “I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance.” But emergencies will not wait for the defense minister to finish his homework.
At last, the opposition has submitted a censure motion against Tanaka. Unlike transport minister Takeshi Maeda, who is also being censured on suspicion of committing an election violation, Tanaka is not accused of unlawful behavior. But just clinging to his post despite his incompetence is in itself a scandal.
In his capacity as the Democratic Party of Japan’s top adviser on foreign affairs, former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama went overseas and did more harm than good. This is another example of the DPJ’s bad personnel decisions. Picking the wrong person for the post and not caring about the consequences is actually worse than a slip of the tongue.
The word I want to put before the prime minister, the man responsible for these appointments, is not “ignorance.” It is “shamelessness.”
--The Asahi Shimbun, April 19
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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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