Feb 18, 2016

News: Japanese Politician Links Obama to Slaves - The Latest in a History of Blunders


Sometimes the news rags just can’t believe their luck when some poor fool serves up a headline softball, begging to be hit out of the park to the sound of braying public calling for someone’s head. Yesterday delivered.

In a session of the House of Councillors Commission on the Constitution, house member Kazuya Maruyama (丸山 和也) put ‘Barack Obama’ and ‘slave’ into the same passage of speech.  D’oh!  

The quotes (or translations) vary:

"Now the United States has a black president. (He) is of black origin. That means slaves," The Mainichi

"In the United States, a black man has become its president. I mean, he is in a bloodline of black people, who were slaves," JIJ PRESS

The context of Maruyama’s remarks isn’t abundantly clear, although he seems to have been talking about the prospect of Japan becoming a 51st state of the United States (I wonder how many countries are competing for that title) and that, constitutionally, this could allow people from the “state of Japan” to become U.S. president.  He then went on to talk about President Obama and slaves.  Sounds like they were having a productive session then.  

Today, news sources are reporting that Maruyama has apologized for his remarks, hilariously, after reviewing the minutes of the session.  


Who is Kazuya Maruyama?

A member of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), Maruyama is a former lawyer and graduate of Waseda University.  He went to law school at University of Washington (Seattle) and spent three years living and working in Los Angeles.  Politically he has (or is) sat on the Committee on Education, Culture and Science, the Political Ethics and Election System, and the aforementioned Commission on the Constitution.

Looks to be a pretty well rounded CV then, so terms like ‘Ethics’ and ‘Culture’ only add to the troubling nature of his remarks.


Commission on the Constitution

The Commission on the Constitution was set up for the following purposes (according to the homepage):

(1) to conduct broad and comprehensive research on the Constitution of Japan and fundamental legislation closely related to the Constitution of Japan.

(2) to consider Preliminary Draft Amendments to the Constitution, bills on the initiation of Amendments to the Constitution and/or a National Referendum thereon, and other matters.

The Commission is made up of 45 members.  Meetings or open to the public.  Great!!  Unless decided otherwise.  Troubling!!


A History of Stupid Remarks

Kazuya Maruyama is the latest in a line of Japanese politicians guilty of making shocking blunders.

Yoshitaka Sakurada (former state minister of education): On Korean ‘comfort women’ (widely regarded as forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II):  “We must no longer be hesitant to say that those women were prostitutes by occupation,” THE ASAHI SHIMBUN Jan 15, 2016  Sakurada since retracted his remarks.

Then there was the time Ayaka Shiomura from Your Party was subject to sexiest (verbal) abuse by male politicians during a Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly meeting.  On speaking to the issue of delayed marriage and childbirth she was interrupted when someone shouted, “before you make accusations like that, you should hurry and get married yourself.” The Japan Times, June 19, 2014.

Polarizing political firecracker, and former Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto hit world headlines when he said of the system whereby women were forced into prostitution for World War II troops, "If you want them (troops) to have a rest in such a situation (war), a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that." BBC May 14, 2013.  Hashimoto went on to acknowledge that the women were acting against their will.

Former Prime Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, has on more than one occasion had the media wetting themselves with glee.  On elderly residents of Japan and the country’s financial resources: "Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die. I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government,".  Furthermore,  "The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die." The Guardian, Jan 22, 2013 Aso acknowledged that his comments had been inappropriate.

In the same year Aso also appeared to suggest that the government could learn from the way that Nazi Germany changed its constitution: "Germany's Weimar Constitution was changed into the Nazi Constitution before anyone knew," going on to say, "It was changed before anyone else noticed. Why don't we learn from that method?" CNN Aug 2, 2013  The remarks were retracted.


A Slip of The Tongue

Of course, taken out of context, it’s more than easy to make something said look inflammatory, ill-judged, a slip of the tongue, or anything that fits your agenda.

To give things a broader context you can find interesting reading in a paper entitled, Political Outcomes of the Slips of the Tongue of Japanese Ministers by Noriyuki Kawano and Masatsugu Matsuo (both of Hiroshima University).  In this paper they highlight that,


a cabinet minister is expected to respect the Japanese Constitution and the official view of the Japanese Government. If a minister betrays that expectation in his speech, therefore, it may become a slip of the tongue.


Kawano gives further details about political factors constituting slips of the tongue of a minister, saying, among others,


(1) it justifies Japan’s military activities in the Sino-Japanese War and in the Pacific War, (2) casts doubt upon the necessity of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, (3) comments favorably on the nuclear armament of Japan, or (4) discriminates against Asian people or minorities in the United States.


Not quite sure why only the United States is mentioned in point (4), and not, err, Japan (or any other nation for that matter).  Either way, yesterday’s remarks by Maruyama can be considered a slip of the tongue by this definition.  And he’ll have to bear responsibility for it, as he appears to have done.


What does all this mean though?  

The term a slip of the tongue seems to have that kind of easy to throw away nature, Oh it was just a slip of the tongue!  But, are these people actually racist and/or sexist?  Did they just get a bit nervous in front of the cameras?  Are they so fed up with the bland nature of modern politics that they thought,  To hell with it.  I’m going cause a stir!  Do they actually mean what they say?

We can’t be sure, I suppose.  But these people have usually received the finest education money can buy, so should we not take them for their word, however unpleasant that may may be?

If there is any good to come out of all this, though, it’s that at least we know what these people are capable of thinking and saying.  This gives us chance to better be aware of what they might be capable of doing.


Twitter: City_Cost_Japan

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Other sources: Lib Dems / Wikipedia

Image (cropped and text added)

Kim Ahlström Flickr License


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