Monday, 12 July 2004

This week in Japan

So two stories have really dominated the news and views of Japan this week, at least as far as I'm concerned. The first follows on from something I wrote about before, that of...

Krazy Kim's People Mart - reprise

So as we all know from reading the august reportage of this great tome, Japan has been having a spot of bother with North Korea over the nicking of Japanese nationals for nefarious purposes in the 1970s and 80s. No one belived the Japanese until Krazy Kim said it was all true and let some of them go, but not the kids etc.

Anyway, there is another part of this story that you in Japan may not have followed, the strange case of Robert Charles Jenkins. Now he was an American GI who fought in the Korean war back in the 1950s on the side of the US and the South. So he finishes the war without being shot, a pretty good feat if you ask me, so the powers that were decided it would be a jolly wheeze to ship him off to Vietnam to fight another bunch of God fearing Asian types who obviously hadn't learnt their lesson at the hands of the wishy washy frog eating French. Now as you can quite imagine, trooper Jenkins (sorry, don't know his rank) thought this to be a less than enticing prospect and so, no doubt in a fit of pique, deserted from the US Army and went over to the North.

Now you may think this was not a good career move, but you would be most wrong. He was exactly what the north Korean propagandists were looking for and so he spent the next 30 years making films like 'The Devilish American Baby Eating Monsters from Des Moines", or something like that, and having a pretty life, by all accounts. But in that time he met Hitomi Soga...

Soga-san was one of the Japanese abductees. They met, they talked and in the cliched and over used American-GI-deserts-to-the-most-closed-tyrannical-state-in-the-world-meets-girl-who- has-been-abducted-from-nearby-US-influenced-democracy style, they fall in love, marry and produce offspring who are brought up to believe they are one big happy North Korean family in Kim's world.

Then Hitomi Soga is given the chance to return home to Japan, and she takes it.

And as soon as she gets here she starts complaining loudly to anyone that will listen (and that is everyone in Japan) that it's a terrible thing that she's had to leave her husband and kids in North Korea and that everyone, especially Koizumi should be trying to get them back and if that includes going to war to get them, so be it. No one (or no one that I have read about) seemed to say 'why did you leave them there, you selfish person?' or 'stop moaning and go back' or anything remotely negative (and I do realise the gravity of it all and that it is a highly emotive issue, but one dissenting voice would be nice).

But the crux of this little problem in thus. She can get the kids, no real problem, but as soon as Jenkins sets foot on Japanese soil he will be arrested and extradited back to the US to face a court martial for desertion. Now this guy is about 60, no real harm to anyone so the US can do themselves a big PR favour by saying "ok, we waive the charges, enjoy yourselves" etc. But do they?

Of course not, not the present administration in this day and age. So again poor old Koizumi is up against the wall. Everyone is shouting at him to do something about it all, but he can't let Soga return to Korea (that would lose face), he can't let Jenkins come here (the Americans would shoot Jenkins, he'd lose face) and he can't do nothing as everyone is getting really het up about it all (and he'd eventually lose face)...

So thank goodness for Indonesia. Out of the blue they say "you guys can meet here - for we are the groovy Indonesians, a bit like the Swedes of South East Asia without the blond hair, so, like, chill out man, yeah (oh, and, like, don't worry about East Timor, they're kind of like the Danes, yeah, so what do you expect?)". Or something like that.

So they do, last Friday, in a tearful reunion. And so Koizumi is saying 'curses, missed a PR op. there', and the US are saying 'curses, missed a chance to execute someone there', and the Japanese people are saying 'curses, that should have been here', and the North Koreans are saying 'curses, hotel security won't let us back onto their floor', and Krazy Kim is saying 'curses, they've forgotten about me already'. And the Swedes, sorry, Indonesians are saying 'groovy guys'. But at least the Jenkins-Soga family is happy, though I suspect the kids are a little overawed by it all as it is the first time they have been out of Krazy Kim's Krazy Kingdom so they don't have to eat grass and boiled shoe leather anymore.

But what happens next is the big thing. The US has extradition treaties with quite a few nations, which limits where Jenkins can go (though not the cool Indonesians, of course, so staying there is an option). But of course Soga wants to come back here with all her family intact, but unless the US relents, this will be impossible (of course we could be preparing for a George Bush Jnr electioneering PR coup by pardoning the nefarious Jenkins, you never know). What they really want to settle down away from the glare of publicity, which would be nice for them, though seeing as Soga used the media so shamelessly to get what she wanted, a bit of payback is probably due.

Anyway, further bulletins as events warrant. Which leads us onto...


Sunday was the Upper House elections here in Japan, and, luckily, Japanese elections are just as boring as English ones. Now Koizumi, as Prime Minister, is head of the Lower House. The Upper House is full of other people who mill about and shout a lot when they feel the need to. I assume they are a bit like the House of Lords, except they are elected and are not Lords (strange, we have a Royal family in Japan, with Emperors, Princes and Princesses, but none of the cool titles like Earl and Baron, or even Samurai - seems such a waste).

Now from what I remember about electioneering in the UK, prospective people who want your vote drop leaflets through your letterbox and then come and annoy you on your doorstep (not that any MP came to my door in Brixton). But in Japan someone once decided that this was for too much of an invasion of privacy (or too much like hard work more like, what with all the apartment blocks), so they decided that noise pollution was a far better ploy and not nearly as invasive of your privacy. Yeah right.

So we got, for two weeks, vans with exceptionally loud speakers on the top cruising around spouting their 'message' to every block. And the message was always the same. "Tanaka! Yes, Tanaka! That's his name! I said Tanaka! Vote for Tanaka! Tanaka! How many times do I have to tell you? TANAKA! YES, TANAKA!" etc etc etc. A curious fact of Japanese life is that women should have high squeaky voices, it makes them more sexy to Japanese men (Japanese men, conversely, no matter how wimpy, should have a deep, gruff baritone (you may think I am sweeping in my generalisations here, but if you ever worked with a Japanese women, you will know this to be true - talking to you they will use a perfectly normal voice, as soon as the phone goes they will answer in pitch usually reserved for etching glass). But these high voices, when put through a sophisticated PA on top of a moving van, can penetrate the thickest of concrete and hit that bit of your inner ear that registers pain. The walls of Jericho were not flattened by horns, it was one of these vans that got lost...

And if you ever get to see one of these vans at street level it is even worse. Not only are you physically assaulted by the noise but then inside the van are the electee and all his little wizards, smiling serenly as it they are doing you a favour by cleaning out you ears. So I gestue to them rudely, not that it makes any difference. But I'd like to meet the person who thought these vans were less of an invasion of privacy than knocking on doors.

The other thing that the electees do is gather around the local train station, or other open area, stand on top of their van and then shout at the top of their voices about the terrible state of Japan/the world/their fillings/litter/insert own rant here. They don't seem to do much of the 'if I were elected I'd...' more the negative 'what has the [incumbent] ever done for us...?'. And they get quite agitated about it all, shouting, frothing at the mouth and gesturing a lot, suggesting that if anyone got in their way at that moment they might not be responsible for their actions.

And today it is all over. Thankfully. Koizumi and the LDP didn't get the 51 straight seats that he wanted in the upper house, but with his alliance partner, New Komeito, they seem to have done OK. Minshuto, the main opposition party did much better than expected and took a decent chunk out of the LDP - people seem to have been a little unhappy with Koizumi over North Korea (can't think why), sending the GSDF to Iraq (can't think why either) and the pension scandals (nope, got me there) - in fact all things that have been extensively discussed on this site, how very topical...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commenting is encouraged, just so I know that someone reads all this stuff