That’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.