Could Obama be born in Japan?

4569707874That’s the question Kumi Yokoe asks in her most recent book, which you can buy at amazon here. And it’s an interesting topic that I’m sure many readers of Mutantfrog have thought about. The Upper House of the Diet has naturalized Japanese citizens Ren, Tsurunen and Park serving Japanese constituencies, and there are naturalized citizens serving on municipal assemblies in towns in Ibaraki and Aichi prefectures, but the real “Obama” model would be for a zainihi Korean or similar non-native Japanese native, growing up in tough circumstances, to run in the lower house election, win a seat, and rise through the LDP ranks to lead Japan.

To my disappointment, not only is that not the topic of Yokoe’s book, she doesn’t even mention this aspect of what a “Japanese Obama” could be like. Rather, Yokoe — who’s a professor at the same “politics juku” that launched Seiji Maehara — has spent most of her academic career over the past decade promoting the campaign styles and speeches of American politicians in Japan. She’s been a key advocate to encourage Japanese politicians to speak from the heart and inspire the electorate. Yokoe uses Obama’s success story to launch into that topic, and that topic only.

The publisher-provided book excerpt is just as jaw-dropping as the book in its interpretation of the Obama win:

According to the American media, the foreign country with the most interest in the US presidential election is Japan. The truth is, the Japanese aversion to politics is what brings Japanese eyes to the administration change theater in the US. A leader as charismatic as Obama, to change the current status quote, is what Japan desperatly wants. When will Obama come to Japan, and what type of politician would such a person be?

Youtube and blogs were the key to Obama’s internet strategy. In Japan, there is currently a debate on the reform of the public election law to permit the use of the internet. Once the internet is free, policy can be posted on the internet, young people can get involved in politics through their own volition, and Japan could then have its own Obama be born.

Yokoe does recognize the importance of the race factor in Obama’s election, and the hurdle that he had to clear. Consider this quote in a recent interview she gave to Nikkei Business magazine:

I lived in the US for about seven years from 1994 to 2001. I didn’t feel this way in DC, but going just a little into the countryside I had experiences where I felt the deep roots of American racism. At a home party of a friend, I was warned “that guy’s a racists so don’t talk to him.” Also, I had experiences such as in a restaurant in a small town, where an old lady said to me, “it’s so unusual for us to have Asian people in this store.” … [snip]

That this America chose Obama as president is evidence of the growth of America and the American people… Obama’s presidency is a development that will remain in the history books.

Those are pretty shallow instance of racism, if the best key example that comes up is a granny in west bumblefuck vocalizing the unusualness of Yokoe’s race in an apparently non-hostile if ignorant manner. But putting that aside, does Yokoe not recognize that race is a factor in Japan as well, and that this is a major question that, if not the topic of her book, should at least be addressed? Does she not see how powerful development it would be for Japan to elect a Zainichi politician to Japan’s highest office? Sadly, Yokoe makes not one peep to recognize Japan’s racial issues, despite the fact that this is the inevitable question that would come up when the Obama model of winning electoral victory is applied to any other country.

At the end of the day, Yokoe’s book is a one-trick pony that merely restates what she’s been writing about for 15 years — Japan should mimic US electoral politics. And that she can’t even manage a token recognition of race issues in Japan in a book titled “Could Obama be born in Japan?” tells me that, circa 2009, the resounding answer to the title of her book is “no.”

P.S. The book also has a chapter titled, “Could Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin be born in Japan?” That’s just too terrifying to think about.

6 thoughts on “Could Obama be born in Japan?”

  1. Shouldn’t the title be “Could Tony Blair be born in Japan?” as the British parliementary system is much closer to Japan’s than the US’s is. Anyway, compare the fuss over JFK being the USA’s first (and still only) Catholic president versus no-one bothering (as far as I am aware) about Aso being of the same religion.

    “it’s so unusual for us to have Asian people in this store”: when I went home to Bumfuck, Scotland we went for a cup of tea at a wee tea shop and the woman there (who, as an English person might very well get more shunning than the average Western gaijin in Japan, but I digress) said we were her first ever visitors from Japan. Should we have sued for mental distress?

  2. PHP Shinsho mostly does two things – crappy books about charisma and rightwing stuff. So here we get a crappy charisma book that reflects the rightwing world view. Shinsho are usually written at the request of the publisher and come with a fat cheque and there is no way that the PHP editors would let anything close to Zainichi comparisons into a book like this.

    在日 from super mainstream publisher 集英社 is a good contrast. Despite having been written over a year ago, it is still leading the Obama book by quite a bit in the Amazon rankings. 姜 尚中 has become something of a darling with the reading public and the media lately. It is not a big stretch to see him going into politics, especially if the DPJ breaks things open a bit. Maybe first as a governor, but after that, who knows?

    “Shouldn’t the title be “Could Tony Blair be born in Japan?” as the British parliementary system is much closer to Japan’s than the US’s is.”

    I think that the better question, given population percentages and obsessive multicultural back patting, would be “Could Obama be born in the UK, Canada, or Australia?” The answer is probably “yes”, but I have a feeling that by the time we actually see it, the prospect won’t look so outlandish for Japan either.

    Those racism stories are lame – my wife has been spit on, invited to cross the road by a driver who then sped up at her, called a “chink”, told to “go back where you came from”, and “just be sure you remember who owns this country” (I was there for that one and judged it not quite bad enough to crack the guy’s head open), and someone threw a rock at her that hit me in the leg and $&^#ing hurt. So boo hoo for the Asian people in the store thing.

  3. Sorry, I can’t see 姜尚中 as anything but far outside the mainstream, with Chomskey-esque fringe views that only get recognition by the media and the academic ivory tower.

    M-Bone, those incidents sound horrible — where were they taking place? The irony of Yokoe’s incidents of “racism” is that they basically express the reality of daily life for many foreigners in Japan. If people were complimenting Yokoe on her excellent English it would be spot on.

  4. OK, I have somewhat unconnected comments on this, so here they go:

    I have recently come into contact with similarly mistitled books (watch for my upcoming review of “Ramen shops vs McDonalds”, a book that barely mentions EITHER!!). Then you have the books that are reprints of magazine columns with no additional editing or updating, or books that are written by people too well-respected to go through a proper editing process resulting in a grossly disorganized book the point that you wonder what the author was trying to say in the first place.

    Also, the Nikkei BP signup process is MURDER… they want BOTH my home and work addresses, my detailed job description, phone numbers. Come on! I already GAVE most of this info to the “Nikkei NET PLUS” site, why can’t they just share it with Nikkei BP? (minutes pass) OK I lied through my teeth on the application. That makes me feel better.

    Back on topic… For one thing, I can definitely understand the frustration to see someone try and repackage the same tired ideas again and again, to the exclusion of real and perhaps more obvious insights. Even the Nikkei BP interviewer seemed to detect that the topic of her book was far too narrow and ignored the yawning differences between the circumstances of the two countries and a whole host of other factors.

    At least judging by this interview, you are right that her title has next to nothing to do with her actual point. Her tactic seems to be a long narrative describing why Obama was successful, and then completely shifting gears and talking about the best way to develop political leaders in Japan… And her conclusion? Copy the UK (campaign on manifestos, have good debate skills and internal party management), not the US. Apparently, as Japan approaches a two-party system, the country’s politicians need leadership that can both manage internal party issues AND the pariliamentary function. And the way to get more smooth-talking leaders is for the media to hold more TV debates and long-form interviews (she actually thinks that the idiotic “gaffe police” media coverage serves an important role since it revealed Palin to be a dope. And she somehow thinks it isn’t even more prominent in Japan).

    Sure, politicians could stand to give better speeches, but her ideas of how this benefits democracy read like a bunch of superficial arguments based on the already superficial idealized picture of each political system. Could she be speaking in code or something?

    But despite her wacky presentation, I can kind of see where she is going. There’s not much that would be particularly historic about a zainichi prime minister exactly, certainly not on the level of a black president. That’s part of why that NYT article shoehorning Nonaka Hiromu into the “Japanese Obama that wasn’t” role was so unnatural. What she seems to be implying is that Japan is willing to settle for someone who can at least give people some sense that the country is in good hands.

  5. 姜尚中’s 悩む力 has sold 600,000 copies and pretty much introduced him to the mainstream. It was a brilliant move – he works in some of his Zainichi stuff and really helped to build his brand.

    This kind of thing sometimes goes in ebbs and flows – for some reason (and I suspect reasons but don’t have a lot of time now), despite the beards of bees and whatnot, Japanese views of Korea have gotten much better in the past 2 or 3 years – even as Kanryu has declined.

    I also think that Matsuda Ryuhei would clean up with female voters.

    The incidents indeed sucked and took place in 3 different English-speaking countries, none of which were America. We are not really bothered by them, however, and chose to see them as random @$$hole stuff rather than a “trend”. In retrospect I’m quite glad that none of them ended with me being arrested or breaking a hand or something.

    Yokoe is obviously out of touch. In my wanderings across Japan, I once wound up in a shop in a really, really small town where the shopkeeper informed me quite dramatically that they had bread for sale. The lady had obviously heard that foreigners like bread. I bought Oolong-cha and Pocky. I don’t think that Yokoe’s examples are racist any more than this was.

  6. Shinsho in general are very hit and miss, especially lately. I recommend skimming it in the store before wasting money on it. So many shinsho have alluring titles, usually written in question form (e.g. Why do Japanese have an inferiority complex?; Why do young employees quit after 3 years?; Why is spiritualism popular these days?) but depending on the author can be a big waste of time, with very little behind their argument.

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