Sunday, 18 November 2012

Truth about metaphors: JAPAN ELECTIONS 2012 DIARY DAY 3

Click here to go to Day 1 of the Japan Election 2012 Diary.

Our Man would love to know what politicians really think. He has a sneaking suspicion that most of them, certainly the most successful, are simply not self-aware. How could they be and live with themselves? He'll never know the answer for sure, so the best he can do is find a half-decent metaphor that may or may not fit the truth, like a scientist trying to make a formula fit a phenomenon, or failing that, make reality fit the formula, which is a damned site easier.

It certainly worked that way in newspapers. Our Man doesn't have enough appendages to list the times that he was told make the story fit the headline 'Our eternal shame' only to find 10 minutes before deadline he had to reverse the story to fit the opposite headline 'We're so proud'. The truth depended on the editor's feelings that day for what the punters wanted to read. There was a tacit understanding that reality was secondary to the needs of the day, that the truth was fluid. If you didn't like that newspaper's truth, you could always find another that had a more palatable line. This used to disturb Our Man and still upsets True Journalists, but recently Our Man has come round to the view that reality has a way of looking after itself. The truth certainly cares nothing for office politics, which are fluid in even the most rigid of systems.

Take the Daily Yomiuri, where Our Man worked for a couple of years back when prevailing realities were that Yeltsin was a statesman and Y2K was a terrible danger that would push the civilised world to the brink of savagery. The Daily Yomiuri is the English language version of the Japanese Yomiuri Shimbun, the world's biggest selling newspaper, if you believe the company line. The Daily ran turgid English translations of the turgid Japanese articles from a paper that convinced a nation that suffered atomic genocide to adopt nuclear power. And worse. The Daily would run barely edited Kissinger articles as if they were the word of God.

But there were ways to change reality, even there.

As a gaijin, a foreigner, Our Man was only allowed once a week to pick the stories for the world pages (considered lower status than the hallowed domestic Japanese news and domestic business pages) which suited Our Man just fine, as one editorial meeting a week with the bucho was more than enough. The Daily was staffed by foreigners and Japanese folk on the way up or on the way down, either they were practising for the real deal at the Japanese paper or they were put out to pasture here where they couldn't do too much damage.

Bucho was on the way down, but instead of accepting his fate and having fun with it, he felt an urge to prove his worth by acting the biggest dick. Each page editor had to stand around his editor's table with their half-completed pages for him to spew his wisdom. This manifested itself in different ways, but usually it wasn't enough to find fault with everyone's pages, it was necessary to make the female business editor break down in tears with a deft mixture of subtle put-downs and blatant public humiliation, or get the sports editors to seethe by deciding that in fact the golf should be the back page splash, not football. No wait, make it sumo. No, tennis. What's that? You'd planned a spread on the Superbowl? Cut it down to a sidebar and fill the rest with a feature on cycling. That won't take you long to write and edit will it?

But there are ways to subvert his world. My favourite was Spot the Cock-up. To play this game, you had to misspell Kissinger's name, run a pic of folk rolling a cheese down a hill as your main art on the page instead of Mandela raising his fists as he was released from prison, or spell Japan with a silent "gh". Bucho spots the obvious error and publicly humiliates you as an imbecile. You bow your head in mock shame, and agree bucho knows best, which is code for "I hereby publicly acknowledge you have a bigger dick than I." He feels good, you have lost face in public, but you can have the inward glow that while he was humiliating you in public, he was too busy to notice that you had filled the briefs column with innuendos that would make Benny Hill blush and headline acrostics that spelt out "FUCK BUCHO" when read from the bottom up. And you wonder why newspapers are nearly dead.

So much for reality.

No, the metaphor is a far better measure of the truth than the editor's whim. So which metaphor is best to fit the elections for Japan? Ah, it's the Autumn leaf-turning season in Japan. A time when every city-dweller dreams of heading to the mountains to snap shots of the pretty colours and swill great buckets of beaujolais (French for cow's piss). And this year, Our Man was there too. In fact, he still is. He is typing right now these clunky words on an even clunkier laptop in the lobby of the Nikko Lakeside Hotel, 1,200m above sea level. And, he's got electoral metaphors coming out the wazoo as a result. How about: Only after a cruel, barren winter will the green chutes of democracy sprout again? Or perhaps: Japan: A country of dead wood. Or: The winds of change blow cold. Or: Democracy is overpriced French cow's piss. You can pick your own reality, Our Man's too tired to do it for you.

Our Man spent much of today bracing himself against the wind whistling off Lake Chuzenji and visiting the Kogen Falls, a very pretty place infamous as a good spot to commit suicide (dammit there's a metaphor for Japan! - ed.) to give much thought to the elections. He did notice official election signboards around town. These pop up all over the country at times of elections and picture mugshots of all the local candidates running for office. In Abiko, that can mean around eight folks smiling inanely or raising a fist in "guts pose" to show they have what it takes to sort out Japan's myriad problems. Or inseminate a cow, it's hard to tell from their expressions. Our Man has seen huge signboards in Tokyo Wards featuring dozens of candidates. In the mountains of Nikko there were only two. A silver-haired bloke in a black suit and buck-toothed woman in green.

In other election news that actually might mean something, Our Man noticed two adverts for the Democratic Party of Japan on the television within 20 or so minutes of each other. They were sponsoring one of those innumerable Japanese TV shows in which 'B' rate has-been celebs get together to reminisce about the good old days while watching other people eating ramen noodles and exclaiming in orgasmic terms how delicious the pretty standard fare is. You think your reality is bad, walk in the shoes of a minor Japanese celeb for one season. So, the ruling party is advertising on a programme that advertises celebs who advertise food products, between the advertising. Our Man has no way of knowing whether this means anything, it could mean the DPJ is not going down without a fight. Or that they have a mate running a ramen shop who needs a favour. Or maybe they are joining the ranks of yesterday's celebs.

But he does detect a tiny swing toward the DPJ and Prime Minister Noda. Our Woman in Abiko said she caught something on TV about Noda being a smart operator and calling the snap election at just the right time to wrong-foot the minor parties and be in a position to broker power if the LDP wins the election, but not a majority. Again, Our Man has no way of knowing if this tiny piece of political tittle tattle means a thing. It could just be the TV building up the ratings of the election as a fight that either side could win, rather than a boring old shoe-in for the LDP. But it surely must mean something that Our Woman watched a prograrmme about politics on TV.

The hotel concierge has just come over and told me that he has to turn the lights off in the lobby. This is not a metaphor. This is bedtime.
This blog series
 is now a great
 book. Honest.
Cleaned up and
 all presentable,
Guts Pose: Diary of a
 Japanese election
 gone bad
features a previously
unpublished afterword
 by me and foreword
by Michael Cucek.
You can buy it here.

Go to DAY 4


Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Now I know how the Gomiuri misspelt Bart Simpson's name in the famous Macy's parade photo. Thank you for the memories!

Our Man in Abiko said...

Pic please, Our Man needs evidence.

Saitama Steve said...

First up, let me say I enjoyed this diary immensely. I bought it on Amazon and read it on New Years Eve whilst the in-laws were engrossed in the dreary annual Kohaku performance (yes, my wife is Japanese).

That said, I wish to raise a point of order. I take strong issue with your reference to "atomic genocide".
What exactly is it about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that qualifies as "genocide"?
A tragic waste of human life? Without question. But more Japanese died during the March 9th, 1945 conventional bombing raid on Tokyo. Was that also a "genocide"? And if so how should we view the entire air war against the Japan homelands? Should that be classed as "genocide" in it's entirety?

Bear in mind that the city of Kyoto was spared from bombing during the war as it was considered a city of extreme cultural significance to the Japanese nation. It is a strange kind of genocide that spares the cultural icons of a target nation, wouldn't you agree.

Rather, I suggest to you that the air war INCLUDING the two atomic bombings, whilst horrific to the victims, should be seem as ultimately forcing the Japanese High Command to face reality, thereby averting the further deaths of potentially 10 million Japanese civilians.
Alternative history doesn't get taught in schools so very few people know that possibly the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War was the one that was never fought - Operation Downfall - the Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands. The Imperial HQ was readying children, women and old men to banzai charge American machine guns and tanks armed with nothing more than sharp bamboo sticks.

In short, I believe that characterizing the atomic bombings as "genocide" is inaccurate, unfair to the people who actually fought during those times, and demeans the experience of peoples who actually HAVE suffered real genocide such as the Jews, Armenians and Rwandans.

This is my opinion and I sincerely hope that it is published, not as a criticism, but to put perspective on an important historical event which gets misrepresented so often by Japanese and the Japanese media.

Thank you.

Our Man in Abiko said...

Saitama Steve,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment and thanks for buying Guts Pose (and suffering through Kohaku). There's much to say about the A-bombing, its morality and meaning is certainly something reasonable people can disagree about. Give me an hour or two and I'll post something on this blog that is more considered than my "genocide" comment.