CONTROVERSY OVER CHERRY-BLOSSOM PARTY SHOWS DETERIORATION OF OUR POLITICS
Japan continues to be faced with a number of tough international challenges: the threat of North Korea, friction with South Korea, China’s brazen global expansionism, and growing security and trade demands from the US. None of these problems are easily resolved, making it all the more mandatory for our lawmakers to fulfill their responsibilities. It is meaningless for them to be lawmakers unless they can safeguard our national interests by understanding the complex international situation and finding solutions to these issues.
Unfortunately, our lawmakers seem to be focused on more frivolous affairs. During an upper house budget committee meeting on November 8, Ms Tomoko Tamura of the Japan Communist Party took issue with an annual publicly-funded cherry-blossom party sponsored by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Her comments touched off a barrage of fierce opposition attacks such that one would think this was a matter of life or death for our nation. Jun Azumi, chairman of the diet affairs committee of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), has vowed to “thoroughly” pursue the matter.
Five days later, on November 13, Abe announced he would cancel the party next year and review the criteria used in selecting guests for the traditional event, inaugurated in 1952. I think Abe made the right decision, as it would be sensible to temporarily suspend the event for a review now that the number of party guests has ballooned from 10,000 in 2012 to 18,000 this year, which included some 850 Abe supporters. Jin Matsubara, a former member of the defunct Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) who is with a newly formed opposition group mostly comprising members of the CDP and the National Democratic Party (NDP), had this to say:
“We also received quotas from the government, based on which we selected guests to the party in question. But Abe’s local office (in Yamaguchi Prefecture) obviously mobilized his supporters and invited too many of them. That way overdid it.”
Lower house lawmaker Akihisa Nagashima, who switched from the DPJ to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) in July, observed:
“We did the same thing while I was with the DPJ. Each of us received a quota, based on which we invited members of our support organizations. The CDP now demands that Abe clarify the criteria for choosing his supporters as guests (as the party ostensibly is aimed at honoring ‘celebrities’ for their accomplishments.) We have invited many supporters from our constituencies—ordinary citizens with no marked accomplishments. It was our way of thanking our devout supporters. I think the motive would basically be the same for all lawmakers.”
Abe Ready to Explain in Diet
Azumi and other opposition members question the validity of the \5,000 (US$46) each of Abe’s guests allegedly paid for a stand-up dinner at a major Tokyo hotel marking the eve of the cherry-blossom party. Maintaining that a dinner at such a venue ordinarily costs ‘at least \11,000 (US$102) per head,’ the opposition alleges that Abe violated the Election Law by having his office make up the balance. Nagashima doesn’t buy that, pointing out:
“When we hold a party at a big hotel in Tokyo these days, our guests are usually charged \20,000 (US$185) per head including lodging, out of which between \2,000 (US$18.50) and \3,000 (US$28) goes to the hotel for food and beverage. When several hundred guests stay overnight, the hotel appreciates our business very much and gives us a big discount. As a matter of fact, opposition lawmakers including CDP members fully understand that. But they are insisting on pursuing this matter with next year’s national elections in mind.”
Without the support of the JCP, it is extremely difficult for the two major opposition parties—the CDP and the NDP—to be victorious in any elections today. Noting that younger CDP lawmakers would not be able to fight elections effectively without the help of the JCP’s close nationwide network of support organizations, Nagashima sternly analyzed the current situation:
“For most former DPJ members, especially those who have joined the CDP (formed 2017), the Communist Party is definitely more important than the junior coalition partner Komeito Party is to the ruling party.”
Abe’s decision to cancel the party next year and review the criteria for choosing guests failed to satisfy the opposition, which went ahead and tripled its original 11-man team to pursue its inquiry. Azumi’s persistence in pursuing the matter is apparent in his criticism of the remarks Abe made during the two door-step interviews he granted journalists on November 15.
Let us review what Azumi had to say about the interviews in his “CDP Twitter from the Diet.”
The interviews were given in the afternoon and evening of November 15 at the request of the reporters’ club attached to the prime minister’s beat. Asked by a reporter if he was willing to “explain at the Diet,” Abe replied: “Of course I will, if requested by the Diet.”
Winding up the first interview, Abe started walking back to his office when a reporter asked if he would agree to intensive deliberations on this matter before the TV cameras at the Diet. Abe turned around, walked back to the press corps, and said: “I will, of course.”
Clearly, Abe was ready to answer questions during Diet deliberations. The opposition was wrong in accusing him of getting cold feet.
As mentioned earlier, Abe met reporters again in the evening on November 15, explaining that all his guests footed their own bills for the stand-up dinner. He spoke for 21 minutes, which the media reported as “unusually long” for a door-step interview with a prime minister. When the reporters ran short of questions, Abe urged them: “Is there anything else you want to ask?”
Abe ended up answering some 15 additional questions before finally being asked: “As you say you are pressed for time today, would you be willing to grant us another interview some time soon?” To this Abe replied: “If you have questions, I would rather that you ask them now.”
“Some time soon?” a reporter again asked in a hesitating voice, but Abe firmly repeated: “I would rather that you ask me questions now. So, please ask.”
Azumi, Not Abe, Insulting to Journalists
The truth of the matter was that members of the reporters’ club found the afternoon interview too short and asked for a second interview later in the day. Given that, the reporters must have had reasonable time to prepare for the second session. That is why Abe urged them to answer questions “now.” Clearly, Abe was ready to answer questions. But Azumi criticized the exchange:
“I was very surprised…I have a problem with Abe’s high-handed posture. He abruptly told the reporters, who obviously had not been prepared for the interview: ‘Now, listen to me. Ask me questions.’ I find his posture arrogant and insulting.”
How did Azumi ever arrive at such an interpretation? Did he fail to understand the circumstances behind the interviews? At the risk of repeating myself, I wish to point out that it was the reporters who requested the evening interview because they still had more questions to ask after the first interview. Naturally, they did their homework for the second interview. While Abe answered their questions in earnest, he never faced the reporters with a high-handed posture in which he allegedly told the representatives of the press: “Listen to what I have to tell you.” There was nothing in his attitude that sustains Azumi’s allegation that his posture was high-handed and insulting.
Azumi was also wrong in saying that the reporters were “not prepared” to face the prime minister for the second interview on November 15. As I have mentioned, they presumably were well prepared. It is Azumi who was arrogant and insulting to the reporters.
He further made derogatory comments about the reporters who interviewed Abe that day:
“The problem is that the prime minister abruptly came down to speak to those ill-prepared young reporters.” Clearly, Azumi was not telling the truth when he tirelessly went on repeating that Abe made his appearance abruptly before the young reporters who had little basic knowledge of the controversy.
I am appalled that the reporters attached to Abe’s beat were taken so lightly by Azumi. Aren’t they mortified to have been looked down on by someone who is just an opposition lawmaker? If, by any chance, those reporters assigned to cover the prime minister fail to resent such rude remarks, I must ask what has happened to their sense of pride.
Japan is ridden with a host of truly serious problems. Our lawmakers have far more important issues to tackle than who is invited to the annual cherry-blossom party. I honestly shudder at the thought of having to put up with the presence of our opposition lawmakers, who are interested only in attacking the government tirelessly while lacking the readiness and imagination to grapple with our real problems. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 878 in the November 28, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)