The story is now over a week old, and yet the sensational suicide of Agriculture Minister Matsuoka Toshikatsu, who hung himself in his apartment on May 28th and later died in hospital, is continuing to ripple through Japanese society. As others have noted elsewhere, while the rate of suicide within Japan is high, this is the first serving cabinet member in Japan's postwar government to commit suicide, and is one of the most high-profile cases in Japan's history. Adding to the sensationalism of this case is the series of scandals tied to Matsuoka himself (notably related to a project by the so-called Japan Green Resources Agency, or J-Green), which almost certainly played a key role in driving him to take his own life. Also notable is the subsequent suicide of the former executive director of a predecessor of J-Green, Yamazaki Shinichi, as well as the (less widely reported) suicide of Matsuoka's former classmate Uchino Yukihiro, also possibly related.
The news of Matsuoka's suicide was covered extensively by mainstream news and also picked up and discussed in numerous blogs within the English-language blog scene in Japan (see for example the roundup posted at Liberal Japan). Blogger Adamu at Mutant Frog Travelogue quotes from portions of two of the eight suicide notes discovered thus far:
“People of Japan and everyone in my support club… I am very sorry and take the blame for everything. I apologize for causing so much trouble. Please take care of things after I’m gone.” And another note states: “My wife knows the circumstances behind this. Please don’t look for the whys and wherefores. Please be gentle.”
Commentary on the suicide by Japanese bloggers was diverse and, given the sensationalism and heavy coverage of the story, very extensive. It is fair to say that many Japanese bloggers, while certainly shocked by the news, were none too sympathetic with the beleaguered Minister of Agriculture. Blogger nike_mild expresses the frustration of many in this passage:
This incident in which, to prevent himself from leaking information about various crimes that he knew about, he “silenced himself”. (Silenced himself by committing suicide.)
The people have a right to know. He committed suicide in order to prevent us from exercising this right. Is it not fair to call this a mean and cowardly act?
Blogger kazu discusses reactions to the suicide, highlighting certain strengths of the former agriculture minister while also condemning the many scandals in which he was involved:
Blogger kikkuri, in a post which garnered a large number of comments and trackbacks, concludes by pointing to the opposition parties and the media in finding an explanation for what happened:
Some bloggers were sympathetic, and many even paid their respects to Matsuoka. Blogger banmakoto writes:
He was a politician who represented the old-style Liberal Democratic Party.
This style of politics is [referred to as] “patronage-driven [politics]”.
When a person who has lived their life to the best of their ability suddenly comes up against a situation in which they lose everything, they become seized by an overwhelming “sense of emptiness”.
Mr. Matsuoka left this world with everything on his back.
And then today, Yamazaki Shinichi (Japan Green Resources Agency), who, it is said, was the brains behind the bid-rigging scheme, also committed suicide.
Was Mr. Matsuoka trying to support companies in underpopulated areas, or was he trying to steal our tax money…
His suicide ended things on a sour note.
I am praying for the souls of Mr. Matsuoka Toshikatsu and Mr. Yamazaki Shinichi.
And yet, other bloggers were not quite so sure that Matsuoka's soul deserved to be prayed for. At Tomorrow is Another Happy, one blogger reflects on the question of “praying for the soul” of politicians like Matsuoka:
My husband mumbled to me: “A lot of people write that they are praying for [Agriculture] Minister Matsuoka, but are they really praying for him?”
For me, this kind of hit a nerve.
Among the group of bloggers who I have respect for, many began [their blog entries] with the sentence: “I am praying for [Agriculture] Minister Matsuoka to rest in peace.” My husband's question, while confronting these types of comments, also touched on feelings of inferiority that I had.
Later in the same post, the blogger reproduces a conversation between herself and her husband about the idea of praying for the soul of Matsuoka:
Me: “Not praying for him, are they? In terms of the loss of one life, of someone being driven to commit suicide, as another human being, it's hard not to feel compassion for him, isn't it?”
My husband: “Is it really? Can you really pray for the souls of people who commit suicide?”
Me: “Yes I pray. Children who commit suicide because they are bullied, for example.”
My husband: “That's true. So, Mii-chan [the author of the blog], if I committed suicide, what would you think?”
Me: “I would get angry and be like: What were you thinking!!”
My husband: “Oh really? So you would get angry — if someone that you knew committed suicide, with no clear reason.”
Me: “Yes. But about Minister Matsuoka, I am angry with him.”
My husband: “Because he's a Cabinet Minister, right? Because he's involved in all of our lives.”
Me: “Ah right, I guess so. But you know, even though I am angry at him, I think I can say that I am praying for his family.”
My husband: “That's a good point. [Pray for them] as people. But he himself is far from individual people — as a Japanese citizen, the anger comes first.”
Me: “But perhaps Minister Matsuoka was a just a victim. Maybe he really wanted to quit, but was not allowed to do so, because the government wanted to maintain its approval rating. In that context, as someone who was driven to commit suicide, I have to feel sorry for him.”
My husband: “If that was the truth of the matter, then yes. But right now, we really don't know anything. In the end, as a result of his suicide, many things are being hushed up. He was being chased down, but maybe if we had, for the first time, actually learned something, then we would feel like praying for him, no?”
Me: “Yes, maybe so. But if you take a sympathetic position with respect to Cabinet Minister Matsuoka, then it is possible to take a position condemning Prime Minister Abe, I think.”
My husband: “So are you saying that you should strategically pray for him? That is something that I can't do. I didn't want some “Japan Banzai!” farewell note, I wanted him to uncover the whole truth!”
She then concludes the post with the following note:
After this, the conversation turned to various topics such as Suzuki Muneo [Liberal Democratic Party MP who talked to Matsuoka a few nights before he died] and Ishihara Shintarou [Mayor of Tokyo], then the talk somehow quieted down and we went to bed. But for some reason, this [talk of] “happiness in the next world” stuck in my head, and I even had dreams about it. I finally gave in, got out of bed, and wrote this text.
But even I, who could not bring myself to write the sentence: “I am praying for him to rest in peace” — I don't really hate myself that much for [not being able to do] that. However, I still want to be someone who can write: “I am praying for him to rest in peace.”
If I became someone who was able to insert the line “I am praying for him to rest in peace”, then what would I get for it, and what would I lose?