Thin veneer conceals ugly truth of politics
Plating, or mekki in Japanese, is the word used to describe the method of depositing a thin layer of precious metal on the surface of an object made of base metal. It is a time-honored technique used to coat with gold the large statue of Buddha at Todaiji temple in Nara that was completed in 752.
Over time, however, the word came to be associated with shoddiness. It is used today, for instance, to denote a veneer of respectability or pleasantness that hides something that is actually not desirable at all.
Prime Minister Taro Aso was reportedly admonished by some members of his Liberal Democratic Party. He was told: "Silence is golden. Don't let (your) gold plating come off." This is hardly a nice thing to say to the prime minister who has been struggling with the running of his administration. But Aso is definitely not someone from whom one can expect wise utterances as a matter of routine. On the contrary, given his already impressive track record of verbal slips, I cannot blame his minders for praying he will keep his mouth shut.
The economy is in crisis, but Aso will not present his second supplementary budget plan until next year. He has no intention of dissolving the Lower House and calling a snap election anytime soon. The impression I get is that the government and the ruling coalition have holed themselves up in their "administration castle," while the opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) is laying siege, in a manner of speaking, by filling the castle moats and trying to batter down the gates.
Aso and Minshuto leader Ichiro Ozawa had their first one-on-one Diet debate on Nov. 28. Prior to the debate, they had snubbed each other.
"It is too dangerous to believe what this person says," Aso sneered, and Ozawa shot back, "(What Aso said was) like a false accusation by one of those street punks out there."
I had hoped to see a serious duel, but it turned out to be more like a practice session at a dojo training hall. The combatants merely danced around each other amid constant, noisy heckling from both sides of the aisle.
Mitsuru Uchida (1930-2007) noted in his book "Seiji no Hin-i" (Political dignity) that Clement Attlee (1883-1967), who was prime minister of Britain from 1945 to 1951, held that the basis of democracy rested in one's ability to recognize that someone else might be wiser than oneself.
This means that politicians must be capable of heeding and appreciating the words of others, instead of always trying to argue down opponents.
The spontaneous and rowdy heckling I heard during the Aso-Ozawa debate made me worry about Japanese politics. Has "turning a deaf ear" become routine, even in our supposedly democratic parliament? If our political world is now mekki-plated, that is far more serious and troubling than the prime minister's slips of the tongue.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 29(IHT/Asahi: December 8,2008)