Tonight, I did something different for a change, which was to go and listen to a talk from a Japanese government official.
[Update: Nagatsuma-san is now the former Labor and Health Minister given another portfolio. The English language press hasn’t really reported that.]
Around Tomigaya and Yoyogi Hachiman, I saw the posters advertising the “hanaseru kai” going up, so today I decided that I would stick my head in and see Mister Nenkin in person.
Well, first off, I ended up taking a nap, and so I got up later than I expected. And, Christ, it was raining, as it has been all day. But I was still early for the event.
This time the meeting was in Yoyogi Uehara. I think because Nagatsuma represents the Tokyo Seventh District in the Lower House, these events are always held somewhere around Shibuya-ku or Nakano-ku. It made it convenient for me.
The above picture just really frustrated me, because the plastic covering (again, due to the rain) made it look like Nagatsuma-san has this laser bolt coming out from his forehead in the above picture–like from the Tommy Sparks video for the Apple I-Pod song earlier this year.
I couldn’t get around the reflection from the camera flash, and it made it look like Nagatsuma-san was sending a zap to someone who was getting in the way of pension or health care reform.
The problem was around facial features. What I didn’t realize is that it’s very hard to do eyebrows; and I didn’t want the head of the Labor and Health Ministry of Japan to end up looking like Imoto Ayako.
So after some considerable effort, that was the best I could do.
If you have seen Minister Nagatsuma’s pictures around, he has a very serious demeanor, and for good reason: basically Minshuto dumped all of Japan’s serious domestic problems on his lap. It may be, as I’ve said months ago, because he’s one of the younger cabinet members, so the other ones figure, hey, give him all the work. But also because of Nagatsuma’s background. He came into politics in large part because of Japan’s pension crisis, having reported on the screw-up with the 50 million missing records and general bad administration.
Now, he’s charged with fixing that, PLUS help reform a health-care system that is world class but suffering from financing strains. PLUS, reform the country’s labor laws to give all workers a fair shake in the economy. That’s a lot.
Like with President Obama back home, the people who take pot shots at Nagatsuma are almost always the ones who don’t want to see any changes in Japan’s domestic mess. They like it just fine, because they themselves are getting an advantage out of it. So they will do what they have to to put boulders in Mr. Nagatsuma’s way.
So he’s in the underdog position, and I just root for him.
Back to the meeting:
It was at the Uehara Kuminkan, (which I finally found out where it was.) As I said, I was early, and so when I got to the meeting, there were only about seven people in the room. I guess the people couldn’t figure out what gaikokujin was doing in the room, especially a T-shirt and jeans gaikokujin. But, you know, I probably paid enough nenkin contributions in, in the last five years, as the typical Japanese worker, so I figure I earned a seat. Even though it was all going to be in Japanese and I really was only going to understand 30% of it.
My intention, frankly, was just to pop my head in. But I was instructed to go sit up “mae” (front), so I picked a seat in the midpoint, toward the windows. As the 7 o’clock hour approached, the chairs started to fill up. It must have gone to 90 people from the seven or so I saw at 6:35. At 7 sharp, the meeting began.
I was impressed by some things:
– there is no pledge of allegiance to the flag;
– before the meeting, a pair of political officials in local government roles made the rounds. One gentleman, Haruta Manabu, introduced himself and spoke to me a bit in English, (which was great since that’s my native tongue;)
– people don’t rise when the Minister comes in; nobody announces the Honorable Minister so-and-so. Like in the states, people would be going, “the honorable Secretary of Labor” maybe. I honestly don’t know if cabinet secretaries actually get that rigamarole, but it woudn’t surprise me.
– the meeting got right down to business. The Minister came right in and began.
The Minister, as I understood the main topics in Japanese, discussed the various issues that have been in the press. This went to the pension records improvement project; the money that is pledged by Minshuto to go to help families with children (kodomo teate); and I think some part about anecdotes of working with constituent services and the expectations the citizenry has about the government and what can be delivered. I heard ex-Minister Masuzoe’s name mentioned several times, and got the sense that Minister Nagatsuma was saying that he does not have a magic wand; that, basically, certain problems just don’t get fixed in 14 months.
There was a break at 8:15 pm, and then there were 45 minutes for questions. About 10 people spoke, by my count, and I didn’t quite understand all the comments, but some went to particulars of Labor and Health policy, and others to general comments about the Minshuto government and the issues in current events like Senkaku Islands.
At the end of the event, I tried to snap a picture that would show the Minister Nagatsuma, but not the other participants in the event like myself—because people are ordinarily shy about attending public events that have to do with the government, even though these are events open to the public. So this was my best one:
The Minister appears in the back of the photo, greeting the people who had listened to him during the two hours, which I think was really everybody in attendance . . .