Reactions, Speculation on Matsuoka’s Suicide

As noted before, the beset agricultural minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka committed suicide yesterday. Today I want to show you some people’s reactions:

First off, Matsuoka himself left a whopping eight handwritten suicide notes, addressed to various people including the prime minister and “the people of Japan and everyone in my support club.”

The police have only released a fraction of the notes to the public so far, and they shed little light on why he decided to take the easy way out:

“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.”

Martin Fackler of the New York Times explains for the American audience “Suicides have a long and often romanticized history in Japan, where they have been seen as a face-saving escape from public humiliation.” This sentiment is familiar to anyone living in Japan, and the suicide notes seem to back up that face-saving motivation. However, it should be noted that Matsuoka is the first serving cabinet member in Japan’s postwar history to kill himself, and only the 7th serving Diet member. While some Diet members have killed themselves over scandal (Shokei Arai in 1998 among them, who took his own life over getting caught in several stock scandals), some were due to terminal illness (See Asahi for details). And while Matsuoka may have tried to conjure up images of Japan’s face-saving suicide culture, there aren’t actually so many people who (at least overtly) sympathize with his choice to die rather than face the facts.

To get a quick perspective from both sides of the debate, today’s Asahi editorial notes: “Wasn’t there another way, such as stepping down as MAFF Minister or leaving your Diet seat?” and later “We do not intend to speak ill of the dead, but [revealing the facts and starting over if you are in the wrong] is the right way to take responsibility as a Diet member and a cabinet minister.”

The more right-leaning Yomiuri takes a different tack, portraying Matsuoka’s death as a “tragedy” somehow caused by the “psychological pressure of this string of problems” that could happen again if political fund accounting regulations are not reformed adequately. This sort of argument strikes me as patently irresponsible and implies that Matsuoka’s death was the opposition’s fault for, as they put it, using the political funds issue as a “political football” as opposed to the truth, which was that Matusoka’s suicide was a personal choice and no one’s fault but his own.

And there are still other theories as to why he killed himself. One rumor proffered by freelance journalist Takashi Kitaoka (citing “police” sources) is that Matsuoka was in 1 billion yen in debt, and that even the money he gained from immense utility expenses and political funds from forestry contractors would not pay for the interest.

The opposition parties (including the DPJ, Communists, and Social Democrats) have taken an almost uniform line that PM Abe’s protection of Matsuoka actually contributed to his death. Anonymous blogger Kikko explains the reasoning behind this:

Now the Abe cabinet, with its ministers encountering one scandal after another, is now called “the most miserably bad cabinet in history.” The irresponsibility of Shinzo Abe, who thinks of nothing but protecting his own position, has at last taken a person’s life. Minister Matsuoka, whose scandals and crimes, from the “something something recycled water” office expenses scandal, to his connections with organized crime, to the political funds scandal, and finally the “J-GREEN” government-led bid-rigging incident, had reportedly told people close to him that he wanted to quit. But Abe would not let him quit for the sole reason that “if any more cabinet ministers are made to quit, the prime minister’s responsibility for appointing them will be questioned.” In the Diet, Matsuoka was subjected to a fully-mobilized attack from the opposition, questioned harshly by police on the bid rigging incident, and even people within the LDP were calling for his resignation. Yet he was not allowed to quit even though he wanted to, all to save face for Shinzo Abe.

Pushed into a corner, Matsuoka in the end took his own life. In other words, he was forced to kill himself for the convenience of Shinzo Abe. Despite the fact that Abe’s responsibility for appointing him was obvious, what with the discovery of so much improper and illegal activity, Abe protected his own position by not letting Matsuoka quit, and this is the cause that pushed Matsuoka toward suicide. Abe should be questioned aggressively on this. Many people are killing themselves due to the growing societal disparity caused by bad policies, but for Abe to cause a suicide in his own cabinet just shows how selfish, incompentent, and irresponsible he is, and I’d like him to quit immediately.

Add notoriously corrupt (yet still alive, showing there is another way) politician Muneo Suzuki (formerly of LDP, now of the Hokkaido regional “Shinto Daichi” party) to the list of “it was Abe’s fault” proponents. As a former partner in crime, Suzuki speaks with the perspective of someone who really knows what was going on in his head:

The last time I saw [Matsuoka] was when we met on the night of May 24. I made a suggestion to him: “I am going to question you at the Committee on Audit and Oversight of Administration tomorrow, so why don’t you apologize to the people from the heart? Your explanations that you are following the law and acting properly based on the law are not understood by the public. You should bow low on the ground before them and frankly apologize by saying that you did not fulfill your responsiblity to explain yourself.” But he lamely replied: “I thank you for the advice, but my orders from the Diet Affairs Committee, the top, are to stay quiet for now. I can only follow that.”

I asked him again: “This issue will go on whatever you do, so I think you should hurry up and honestly explain to the people.” He smiled and said: “Suzuki-sensei, you’re the only person who says that.”

I feel like I understand Matsuoka’s heart. Up to the day I was arrested, Matsuoka called me to express his support almost every day.

And some are speculating that there are some members of the farm “tribe” who must be relieved that Matsuoka will never be forced to testify as to what he knows about the various dealings that go one with the network of agriculture-related publicly owned corporations. His cryptic messages also show that he kept quiet to the end.

In all, the man whose career was made on smart, if shady, political decisions seems to have miscalculated the effect his death would have on the political scene. Or perhaps he knew exactly what sort of bind it would put the Abe administration in. Unfortunately, “the people” will probably never find out the truth, partly because Abe has declined to investigate the matter.

14 thoughts on “Reactions, Speculation on Matsuoka’s Suicide”

  1. Now another this morning. Three people dead from the same ministry? Some very, very dark forces at work here.

  2. I think there are two who committed suicide relevant to this case. One was the minister, the other one was from the Midori Shigen Kikou, but not from the ministery.

  3. Good post, but I’d blissfully forgotten about that know-nothing, groundless-speculation-spouting, Yamato-sized-hot-air-balloon Kikko until I read this, groan…

  4. Yes, nice roundup. I don’t have time to read all the papers at the moment so I appreciate the summary. And Kikko did have something interesting to say, even if she was only reflecting popular speculation.

  5. That Asahi article on suicides in modern politics is just wrong, or at least very incomplete. Plenty of politicians have committed suicide after scandal, the first coming to mind being Shokei Arai in ’98.

  6. Sorry, Shokei Arai is on that list, but he by no means commited suicide because of illness. Far from it.

  7. No, the Asahi article is correct–read the first paragraph again. It only says that Matsumoto and Nao committed suicide because of illness. I think Adamu just slightly misread it in his haste. Perfectly excusable.

  8. OK, that was a misreading of the Japanese.. There were two who killed themselves over illness..will fix

  9. Shokei Arai is notable for other reasons, such as that he is the only naturalized citizen (Korean by birth) to be elected to the lower house, and the only naturalized person elected to the Diet who took a wholly Japanese name (contrast with Haku, Renho, and Tsurunen in the upper house).

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