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Japan: Bloggers on the Nakagawa affair

Over a week has passed since now-infamous footage of Japan's former finance minister Shōichi Nakagawa stumbling through a 20 minute speech at the G7 meeting in Rome made world headlines and hit the top of YouTube charts. While Nakagawa at first blamed his performance on cold medicine, it was later revealed [ja]
by Rintaro Tamaki, director general of the Finance Ministry's International Bureau, that the former finance minister had been drinking wine with female news reporters prior to his appearance (although reportedly only having “tasted [the wine] with his lips”); later reports that Nakagawa had also misbehaved at a subsequent visit to the Vatican only added fuel to the fire.

Nakagawa's eventual resignation and replacement by Kaoru Yosano didn't stop the flood of commentary in blogs and forums. The game industry, meanwhile, jumped at the opportunity and developed a game for mobile phones in which users earn points by getting the minister to answer questions at the press conference in order to boost his approval rating.

Given that there are thousands of blog posts on the Nakagawa affair in the Japanese blogosphere, the best I'll be able to do here is to feature one small sample. One interesting view was expressed by blogger Naoto Yamamoto (山本直人), who sees Nakagawa's performance at the press conference as a chance to show the world that Japanese people are human. Yamamoto writes:

中川昭一は、もはや日本を代表する「グレート・コミュニケーター」と言ってもいいのではないだろうか。
彼の記者会見が問題なのは「飲酒疑惑」とか「しどろもどろ」とか、そういう水準のものではない。
ネタとしてあまりにも「面白すぎる」ということにある。

Seems fair to say that Shoichi Nakagawa has earned the title of “great communicator” representing all of Japan.
The problems at the press conference [where he answered questions] should not be judged at the level of “suspicions of intoxication” or how “incoherent” he was.
The point instead is that, as a story, the whole thing was absolutely hilarious!

しかも、表情も言葉も動画的だ。そしてさらに凄いのは、国境を超えて「面白い」ということだ。
You Tubeでは”Japanese finance minister drunk at G-7”というわけで、他にも結構アップされている。
これは、「グローバルなコミュニケーション」で悩む、マーケターや広告関係者は見習わなくてはいけない。
「日本語だから通じない」という常識を、彼は覆している。とにかく、変なものは変だ。そして、あの眼の危なさ。眼の持つインパクトをあそこまで具現化したケースがあっただろうか。あの鬼気迫るというか幽体離脱したような眼の前では、オバマやヒラリーは「ハリウッド俳優が演じる政治家」にしか見えない。

His expression and words were so visual and animated. And what was so amazing was that [people] from across national borders also found it so funny.
There was a video of it on YouTube titled “Japanese finance minister drunk at G-7″, and a bunch of other ones too.
Marketers and people in advertising worrying about “global communication” really need to learn from this example.
Nakagawa has overturned the common thinking in Japan that “It's Japanese and therefore it won't translate”. Regardless: what is strange is strange. And those eyes. I doubt there's any more tangible example than this one of the impact that eyes can have. Watching those dreadful eyes, those eyes that gave the impression Nakagawa wasn't even really there, Obama and Hillary must felt that like they were watching a politician played by some actor in a Hollywood movie.

そして、所作。あらぬ方向を探して、それをサポートしようとする白川総裁のキャラもあいまって、無声映画でも通用するような振る舞いだ。チャップリンやキートンも、こんな演技はできないだろう。
もしかしたら彼はこの記者会見のおかげで大臣の座を棒に振るかもしれない。だが、彼はそうして身を挺して、「グローバルなコミュニケーションのあり方」を私たちに教えてくれたのだ。
あの会見が元で石もて追われるように、政界の中央から去る可能性もある。でも、しばらくしたら「泣いた赤鬼」に出てくる、「青鬼」さんのような人だったことが分かる日かもしれない。

And then there were his gestures. His faltering in figuring out which way to face, and President Shirokawa's attempts to help him, combined to produce behavior like something from a silent movie. I don't think even Chaplin or Keaton could have pulled that off.
Nakagawa may well have ruined his career as a cabinet minister with his behavior at the press conference. But at the same time, by putting himself out there and doing this, he also taught all of us about how to achieve “global communication”.
He may also be ejected from the center of the world of politics as a result of this press conference. However, the day will perhaps come when he will be understood as a figure akin to the “blue oni” in the tale of the “crying red oni”.

At as subjectively as possible, blogger Tamagawaboat expresses a similarly sympathetic view:

旧来の日本人は、
人間臭い失敗に対し「人間的な可愛らしさ」を憶えるほど
寛容であったはずだ。
日本人を「無表情で何を考えているか分からない」などといった
「エコノミック・アニマル」的ステレオタイプに嵌った外国の人が、
「日本人も俺たちと同じ人間なんだ」と安心できたのでは?

In the old days, Japanese were tolerant of human failure,
to the point of memorizing [the expression] “human charm”.
I guess that foreigners with the stereotype of Japanese as the “economic man”,
“expressionless so you never know what they're thinking”,
are now relieved to learn that “Japanese are human, just like us!”

YouTubeの「中川昭一・G7」の動画への書き込みを読みながら、そう思った。
しいて言えば「日本の恥を晒した」と評するよりも
「身近で等身大の日本人」を
外国の人は感じていただけたのではないか。

That's what I thought when I read the comments posted at the YouTube video titled “Shoichi Nakagawa/G7″.
If you take a look, you'll see that non-Japanese [who wrote the comments],
more so than feeling that “[Nakagawa] brought shame upon Japan”,
actually felt [that Nakagawa came off as] “a familiar, true-to-life Japanese person”.

海外のテレビ局のキャスターが中川の真似をしたのも
卑下を意図をしたものではなく、
「ひゃあー、人間臭くて面白れぇ~」と思ったからに他ならないのだ。
それを「日本の恥を晒した」などとヌカす日本人はよほどキンタマが小さい奴だ。
そうは思わないか?なあ、セニョール。

Similarly, when foreign television newscasters imitated Nakagawa,
they did so not with the intention of humiliating him,
but because they thought to themselves, “Wow, he's really human! That's so funny…”
It's the Japanese who say that he has “brought shame on Japan” who've got no balls.
Don't you think so?

There were also many who criticized the way that Japanese media covered the G7 meeting. Blogger spherescape writes:

何より、G7の会議で、アメリカの保護政策に釘を刺して成果を挙げた中川昭一氏の実績は、ほとんど報道されていません。政治家はその政策と実行内容や成果によって評価されるもので、ハッキリ言って、酒好きかどうか、記者会見で眠くてしょうがなかったかなど、関係ありません。
居眠りが問題なら、仮病による海外要人との会談のキャンセルも同じように問題でしょう。小沢一郎民主党代表には、代表の座から降りていただかないといけませんね。

More than anything else, it was Nakagawa's actual achievements in prying open America's protectionist policy that took backstage in news coverage of the event. Politicians should be evaluated on the basis of their policy, on the substance of its implementation and on results, and so quite frankly, whether or not he is a drinker, and whether or not he was nodding off at the press conference, these things really have nothing to do with it. If dozing off is a problem, then canceling discussions with foreign dignitaries due to feigned illness should also be a problem. If that's the case then you have to get Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) representative Ichirō Ozawa to step down from his seat in the Diet.

Finally, blogger anaguma wonders why nobody stopped Nakagawa from talking at the press conference given his state and his personal history of drinking:

まず、中川さんには前歴があった。
この時点で、リスクがある程度把握できたわけです。
(彼の政治家としての能力云々、とは別の次元ですよ)

First of all, Nakagawa had a personal history.
So at this point, it was understood that there was a degree of risk.
(His skill as a politician is different issue.)

つまり、この人は一種の病気なんだと。

In other words, this guy has a kind of sickness.

じゃあどの程度の頻度で深酒をするのか?
どんな条件で何をどれくらい飲むと人前に出せないほど泥酔するのか?
ふるうのは暴言か、暴力か?そもそも、そんなに酒を飲む理由は?

So then how often does he drink heavily?
Under what kind of conditions, i.e. what and how much must he drink before he becomes so drunk he can't face the public?
Does he make rash remarks, is he violent? Why does he drink so much in the first place?

こういった評価をもとに、対策を検討すべきだったのです。
少なくともこの人を大臣(しかも重要ポスト)に配置した以上、
政府は彼を守るべきだったと私は思います。

They should have considered what action to take on the basis of this kind of evaluation.
At the very least, given that they appointed him to the post of cabinet minister (and a very important post at that),
I think the government should have defended him.

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