The Lethal Stench of Japanese Power

by Leilla Matsui
April 26, 2004

Send this page to a friend! (click here)



In Japan, "oyaji kusai" describes the peculiarly unpleasant odor that emanates from "oyaji"; the pejorative term for elderly men, especially those who favor a particularly pungent pomade to arrange their thinning hair into  "bar code" stripes across their scalps.  To get the real essence of "oyaji kusai", just imagine a suit, un-drycleaned for several decades, and doused with bug repellant to cover a feint, yet lingering, latrine odor.  Cosmetic companies have even devoted a significant portion of their research and development budgets towards inventing the deodorant equivalent of  "Smells like Oyaji Spirit".  If their progress could be measured by my mercifully brief ride on an 'oyaji' packed rush hour subway yesterday, then success has so far eluded all pharmaceutical efforts to wipe 'oyaji kusai' off the olfactory map. 

In broader terms, "oyaji kusai" can also describe the English language equivalent of "fuddy-duddy"; something staid, dated and hopelessly stale.  A friend recently described her new paramour's style as "oyaji kusai" which tells me in two words that he reads the sports tabloids and frequents the kind of places where simperingly cynical hostesses ply him with "mizu wari" (diluted whisky) while inwardly reminding themselves to change the air freshener. 

In light of recent political developments here, “oyaji kusai” has a particular resonance since it also describes the stench coming from Kasumigaseki, the general vicinity of the Prime Minister's official residence. Ironically, it was Koizumi's perceived lack of “oyaji kusai” that endeared him to voters in the first place and got him elected by his party elders of the ruling and anything but “Liberal Democratic Party.” With his tousled, leonine coif (the oyaji equivalent of Jennifer Aniston's second most famous asset) and an alleged fondness for the gothic power ballads of “X” Japan (a popular dress up band from the '80's), Koizumi's much heralded victory gave rise to the assumption that he was the fresh air antidote to the old boy stench malingering over Japan's post-war political landscape.

Koizumi's image as a maverick reformer taking on the crony bureaucrats of the LDP old guard has been enthusiastically embraced and indeed embellished by the Japanese media. To their delight, they had signed on a rock star to sex up the political and financial pages. His intentionally vague mantra of “structural reform” struck a power chord with pundits who were quick to jump on to the groupie bandwagon. The fact that Koizumi's economic stimulus proposals were on direct orders from his immediate superiors in Washington have done little to diminish his popularity. On the contrary, Japan's parasitic alliance with the U.S. is grudgingly accepted as an unfortunate but inevitable price to pay for its eventual emancipation from the constitutional constraints which prevent it from becoming the region's nuclear superpower.

In a country where appearances count for everything and stagnation is a virtue, it's enough for Koizumi to strike the pose of the swashbuckling alternative to the “corruption as usual” pork barrelers within his own party. Never mind that beneath it all he's dabbling in the dark arts of re-establishing a military state apparatus modeled after Japan's pre-war Imperial one. His decision to send Self Defense Forces to Iraq in spite of Japan's war-renouncing constitution (which expressly forbids Japan's participation in overseas conflicts) is hardly surprising considering his long record of flouting the law when it fails to serve his interests in pursuing an ultra-nationalist agenda.

To his supporters, Koizumi's frequent and “unofficial” visits to the controversial Yasukuni shrine is just evidence of his unpredictable, rogue stance on issues ranging from his choice of hair salons to North Korea. China and Korea, who suffered under Japan's vicious colonial rule, have criticized the Prime Minister for his insensitivity to Japan's wartime atrocities by paying tribute to the class “A” war criminals enshrined there as “gods”.

Disregarding a recent supreme court ruling which has deemed his Yasukuni visits unconstitutional and in violation of the principles which separate religion from politics, Koizumi has gone on record to say he will ignore the judge's ruling and continue paying his respects to the war dead at the ultra-nationalist shrine.

Thanks in part to Tokyo's demagogue Governor, Shintaro Ishihara, (who is presently enshrined in Tokyo's Metropolitan Government building and revered by “oyaji” across the nation) anti-Asian sentiment here runs high. The hawkish Ishihara has popular support for his loose cannon tirades against “immoral” Chinese, whom he has publicly referred to with an offensive slang word revived from the pre-war era.

When rightwing terrorists detonated a bomb outside the residence of Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka, Ishihara condoned what amounted to a terrorist act since the targeted official had favored a quiet diplomatic solution to secure the return of the Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents more than two decades ago. The governor favored a more deadly form of diplomacy; one which Japan's one time pacifist citizenry shockingly and overwhelmingly support.

For outraged Japanese citizens too timid to assault Korean schoolgirls and slash their distinct “chima chogori” uniforms that identify them as belonging to a pro-Pyongyang high school (there were four such incidences in the past two weeks alone), there is always a quieter, more socially acceptable way to harass poorer Asians in your own neighborhood. The government has set up a special website where concerned residents can report “suspicious foreigners” to the local police; a move which local advocate groups and Amnesty International have condemned as a human rights violation.

Flush with their recent success of turning the tide of Japanese public sentiment towards removing the war-renouncing Article 9 of the American written post-war constitution, rightwing law makers have fixed their sights on the nation's school rooms. By forcing students and teachers alike to hoist the flag and sing “Kimigayo” (the Emperor worshipping national anthem once thought to be an unfortunate relic of Japan's embarrassing Imperial past) during official school ceremonies, Koizumi and his ilk hope to instill patriotism into the still forming heads of future hawks. Failure to comply with these strictly enforced regulations now result in “offenders’ being officially reprimanded. With one foot already in the grave, “ultra-nationalist” politicians are racing against the clock to secure their malodorous legacy into the next generation.

Identity politics play well in a nation adrift in the rising swell of American influence which has resulted in a skewed and contradictory sense of “self” based on how one is perceived by “outsiders”. Resentment builds in the burden of seeking approval from an invisible yet ever present “other”, without whom, one does not really exist. In other words, you can't really be “Japanese” unless a Westerner is present to assign you that role accordingly. Should anyone be surprised then if the Japanese define their “uniqueness” based on a nostalgic yearning for a common ancestral link to the powers embedded in the state? The absolute moral certainty wielded by stern authoritarian figures like Koizumi or Ishihara have a soothing tonic effect on those unable to forge an identity beyond what is reflected in a reversed mirror.

This may explain why the public stood behind Koizumi when he condemned the three Japanese hostages whose were recently released by their captors in Iraq. Understandably, the international community was taken aback by the virulent, ad hominem attacks on this courageous and well-intentioned trio by their fellow countrymen for no other reason than inconveniencing the Prime Minister during their ordeal.

In light of Japan's gradual and deliberate dismantling of the checks and balances embodied in the constitution it's become easier to see how dissent can effectively be diverted to serve the interests of the state. Considering that the Japanese were overwhelmingly against the U.S. led invasion of Iraq and Koizumi's decision to join the Anglo-invaders in the first place, just proves how lethal “oyaji kusai” can be when it's concentrated and bottled as power.

Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at: catcat@s3.ocv.ne.jp.

Other DV Articles by Leilla Matsui

* Bob Dylan: Victoria's Dirtiest Secret Yet
* The Passion of the Donald: Getting in Touch With Your Inner Psychopath
* Sofia's Critics Lose it in Translation
* Dances With Crucifixes
* Das Kanibal
* The Patriarch Act: Who Wants to Marry a Welfare Queen? 
* Planet Lunch Attacks Mars
* Sex, Lies, Murder, and Videotape
Presidential Placebos: Sugar-Coated Alternatives to Empire-as-Usual

* Give a Hand to the Governor E(r)ect
Incubator Babies Bite Back: The Ballad of Uday and Qusay

* Regime Change Begins at Home … Literally




FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com