Coverage of Hyogo prefectural assemblyman Ryutaro Nonomura’s July 1 televised tantrum is finally winding down in the mainstream media. But on the Internet, where a YouTube video of his press conference registered over 2 million views in just two days, it’s still going strong.
“The visual of him crying had a powerful impact, and at first it gave those who saw it a lighthearted sensation, like ‘Wow, that guy is weird,’” Toshiyuki Inoue, an IT journalist, tells Shukan Asahi (Aug 1). “Then as they came to understand Nonomura’s illegitimate use of their taxes, the mood changed, spawning infuriated remarks such as ‘He’s a disgrace to Japan!’”
“While holding the respectable status of a prefectural assembly member, Nonomura’s behavior was immature,” explained a psychiatrist who goes by the name Licca Kayama, and who is often quoted in the media. “Since this made for such a striking gap, it became all the more easy to criticize him. And because such blatant misuse of taxes is intolerable, those who go after him feel a sense of righteousness. That’s really what set off the relentless bashing.”
One creation that has so far received over 1 million hits was a video in which the bawling Nonomura is inserted into scenes from last year’s hit TV drama “Hanzawa Naoki,” about an upstanding young banker who is forced to contend with venal superiors.
Nonomura, portrayed screaming with hands over both ears, has been parodied as the subject of Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting, “The Scream.” He’s also given similar treatment in a scene from Studio Ghlibi’s animated film, “Mimi wo Sumaseba” (Whisper of the Heart).
“If you compare petty misdeeds by a prefectural assembly member with an issue that affects the entire nation, like the problem of collective self defense, it’s trivial,” concedes columnist Takashi Odajima. “In the past, such an incident would have been relegated to the level of local news. But the scene of him wailing piteously was so outrageous, it made me laugh too. People who saw it wanted to know more, and it eventually became entertainment.”
Perhaps surprisingly, a few people have come to Nonomura’s defense.
“Even at my age, it’s considered shameful to cry in front of others; but he was bawling like a little kid,” remarked a 22-year-old female university student. “Many adults only care about people’s ‘tatemae’ (official position); but there’s something endearing and naïve about a person who bares his feelings the way he did.”
A few entrepreneurs have also made moves to exploit the controversy through sales of spin-off goods.
Daito, a confectioner based in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, was all set to go with “Gokyu Manju” (bawling buns) to commemorate Nonomura’s crying jag, but in the end decided to refrain.
“We had Nonomura’s face on the outside of the box, and the surface of each bun was branded with the numbers ‘5-9’ (a homonym for ‘go-kyu,’ to weep uncontrollably),” said Daito’s president Toshio Okubo. “But some people in the company objected, saying it was a bad idea to make money off the humiliation that people in Hyogo Prefecture must be feeling. So we pulled the plug on the idea.”
But “Jiji,” a T-shirt marketer that responds quickly to items in the news, is under so such constraints. It launched sales of a “HYSTERIC NONOMURA” T-shirt within four days of the press conference. (Price including tax: 3,132 yen, plus an addition 500 yen for XXL size.)
“In two weeks, we sold about 250 T-shirts, and the demand is strong enough that it may eventually surpass our current bestseller, a shirt featuring [discredited biochemist] Haruko Obokata,” says designer Susumu Kikutake, who admitted that he’s received phone calls from people complaining the shirt was “disgusting.”
So far, 2014 has been a banner year in Japan for all types of frauds: a not-so-deaf music composer who pretended to emulate Beethoven; a biochemist whose scientific claims flopped; and now, a politician caught with his hand in the till.
“As long as targets keep popping up for the public to bash, the trend toward this kind of concentrated bombardment will become stronger,” said psychiatrist Kayama. “Once the attacks on a particular target have been exhausted, people can be expected to react like an avalanche and pile on to whoever’s next in line.”