Silence and politics don’t mix. Politics is speech – perpetual, ceaseless speech. Small wonder if the tongue slips, or if politicians blurt out more than is good for them. The latest casualty is Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) co-leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.
Wartime “comfort women” – aka sex slaves – are a particularly delicate issue, with bitter feelings simmering internationally to this day. No matter. Addressing a press conference on May 13 at Osaka City Hall, Hashimoto declared, “Under a rain of bullets, their lives on the line, brave soldiers, their nerves strained to the limit, needed their relaxation. Everyone understands that a comfort woman system was necessary.”
Everyone? He was soon to learn, from the uproar that followed, that by no means everyone understands things as he does.
But he was not done yet. That same evening he spoke of a recent visit he’d made to Okinawa, in the course of which, he said, he urged American troops stationed there to make more use of local sex services. “Otherwise,” he said he said, “brave Marines won’t be able to control their sexual energy.”
Nikkan Gendai (May 15) could scarcely believe its ears. “Extinction within the year,” proclaims its headline, constituting the daily’s prediction of Ishin no Kai’s fate.
Formed last September, Nippon Ishin no Kai is an outgrowth of the Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional grouping founded by Hashimoto in 2010. Even in its regional phase it generated national enthusiasm. It seemed a bold, brash alternative to the stale established parties. Is it now falling as abruptly as it rose?
The phrase “extinction within the year” was actually first uttered by Hashimoto himself, two days before the press conference. “At this rate,” he said, “we could be extinct within the year.” His subsequent utterances have Nikkan Gendai musing about self-fulfilling prophecy.
“It’s like suicide terrorism,” the daily quotes an unnamed member of Hashimoto’s party as saying.
What did Hashimoto mean by “at this rate?”
Nippon Ishin’s sagging fortunes have been evident for some time. Nikkan Gendai cites a Yomiuri Shimbun survey of voters’ inclinations ahead of July’s scheduled Upper House elections. The governing Liberal Democratic Party scored 47%, Ishin no Kai 8% – down from 16% a mere four months ago. A Fuji TV poll gives it 4%.
The problem, analysts agree, is Nippon Ishin’s inability to either distance itself from the LDP or else merge with it. How do Nippon Ishin’s policies differ from the LDP’s, whose rightwing nationalist agenda it shares? In no way obvious to voters. Hashimoto’s comments may have been intended as expressing a clear, unequivocal, no-nonsense stand on an issue on which a governing party would have to temporize. If so, it miscarried – to such an extent as to leave some of his own party members aghast. “This won’t go down at all well with women and young people,” Nikkan Gendai quotes one as saying.