“Fevers” come and fevers go. Japan is especially prone to them, says Shukan Shincho (Jan 30). Still fresh in the collective memory are: “Makiko Tanaka fever,” “Junichiro Koizumi fever,” “Toru Hashimoto fever” – the once frenzied, now forgotten or much deflated adulation surrounding these individuals (a former foreign minister, a foreign prime minister and the current Osaka mayor, respectively).
Japan’s latest fever? “Caroline Kennedy fever.” Her surname counts for a good deal, of course. She is heiress to “John F Kennedy fever,” an unusually enduring variety, still burning 50 years after JFK’s death.
Her gender is significant too. She is the first woman to serve as U.S. ambassador to Japan. A brisk easy charm rounds out the picture of a woman poised to symbolize and accomplish much. Her appointment in November kindled instant enthusiasm. Some 6,000 people lined the streets to gawk at her horse-drawn carriage as it rumbled by en route to the Imperial Palace for formalities.
Shukan Shincho casts a cool eye on all this. It is underwhelmed. What, it asks, has Caroline done two months into her tenure? Played much and worked little, is its verdict.
There was an early visit to Tohoku areas still suffering nearly three years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear meltdowns of March 2011. That impressed, as did Kennedy’s statement soon afterwards to the effect that Japan is the one country in the world she most wanted to work in.
That Japan can be fun has indeed, in Shukan Shincho’s view, been the main theme of her tenure so far. Concerts, skiing. Paul McCartney in November; the Japanese pop trio Perfume in December; Niseko, the Hokkaido ski resort, in January.
Dec 26 found her in Kyoto on a private sightseeing tour. Even ambassadors have private lives, and the concerts and skiing, so long as they’re outside working hours, are her own business – though the extended length of her New Year’s break did draw some arch comment. The trip to Kyoto, however, poses a problem.
Kennedy arrived at Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine at 12:30 p.m. on Dec 26. This was decidedly not outside working hours. Barely an hour earlier, another notable figure had arrived at another Shinto shrine. The figure in question was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The shrine: Tokyo’s Yasukuni.
A prime ministerial visit to Yasukuni shrine, center of the religious aura Japan gave its early 20th-century imperialism and militarism, has enormous repercussions. It provokes fear and loathing in Asia – in China and Korea especially – to which the U.S., bound by treaty to protect Japan, can hardly be indifferent. Abe’s visit was in defiance of repeated American requests that he abstain. Later, the U.S. registered its “disappointment” – a strong word, in diplomatic parlance.
As Shukan Shincho points out, Abe’s intention to visit the shrine had been widely rumored, with Dec 26 noted as a likely date – it marked the first anniversary of the electoral triumph that brought Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party back to power. Was that a time, the weekly asks, for the U.S. ambassador to indulge in private sightseeing? As it happened, it adds, the embassy’s No. 2 official was away that day too – skiing.
“An insult to Japan” is how Winston Lord, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under President Bill Clinton, characterized Kennedy’s appointment, according to Shukan Shincho. How long, the magazine wonders, is “Caroline fever” likely to last?