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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:


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!

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。

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.


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:


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!”


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”.


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:


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:


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.)


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


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?


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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