I really enjoyed a (not so) recent post by Ampontan: Logos, pathos, and Japanese politics. I would really like to get my hands on a copy of Koizumi Seiken—Patosu no Shusho wa Nani wo Kaeta no ka? (the subject of the book review which sparked Ampontan’s post), although at this stage it would be little more than extra weight on my shelf.
My research area came from my understanding of the abduction issue as emotion overcoming reason, and thus it was with a happy sigh that I managed to read something addressing these two aspects of politics in the context of Japan… a sigh because I wish I had been able to read something like this sooner.
He quotes from the review:
(Professor Uchiyama) discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a strong prime minister who frequently resorted to pathos (passions, sentiment) and top-down methods of governing. [...] But the author points out the dangers of Koizumi’s incorporation of pathos into politics, which was symbolic of his approach of stripping logos (reason and language) from politics, thereby weakening the logic of responsibility.
Ampontan then suggests that logos has been the preferred political mode in postwar Japan. It is also my preferred mode of politics and the very reason I wanted to take the Japanese government to task for its handling of the abduction issue in light of the very real nuclear threat posed by North Korea. He writes:
After their defeat in the war, perhaps the Japanese developed an antipathy to the use of emotional political appeals as they applied themselves to studying and incorporating the principles of liberal democracy.
This didn’t sit very well with my gut feelings about the abduction issue, although Ampontan’s later comments settle that impression somewhat:
That is not to say that Japanese are not susceptible to pathos; the public were enthusiastic patrons of the Koizumi Theater. It’s just that pathos does not always mix well with politics here.
I had held the view that Koizumi’s conduct regarding the abduction issue was calculated, controlled, and ultimately correct. If he pandered to the Kazokukai and Suukukai, it was in a fashion that kept the politicians largely in control. Certainly when contrasted with the handling by Abe Shinzo which was an absolute barrage on the public sensibilities, arguably stretching their energy in the issue past its point of elasticity. We all know of ‘aid fatigue’, the public’s over-exposure to aid campaigns (particularly in the age of LiveAid); well, I would argue that the Japanese public has suffered ‘abduction fatigue’.
Ampontan sums up my feelings quite well:
Mr. Koizumi used emotional appeals to sway the electorate, but he was an adroit, skillful politician with an engaging personality. In contrast, Mr. Abe lacked political skills, and his personality, while not unpleasant, tended toward the bland businesslike demeanor Japanese expect from men at work.
Every society suffers from hot-button issues, the kind of issues that are used to rally the electorate and identify opponents. The abduction issue, perhaps similarly with its public anti-nuclear principles, are one of Japan’s.
Koizumi used the abduction issue to bring the electorate behind him in 2002 and 2004 (in the latter case so successfully that even the victims’ families could not stand against him). He showed a calculation that Abe just couldn’t wield as a result of being the issue’s champion. Whereas Koizumi could reel the abduction issue’s advocates, Abe simply allowed them to run rampant. It is my feeling that Abe did more for the abduction issue as Koizumi’s Chief Cabinet Secretary than he could have ever had done as Prime Minister.
Finally, the media were a crucial part of the abduction issue’s growth and strength. They helped popularise the issue through the broadcasting of a ‘vicarious trauma’, as Hyung-gu Lynn wrote in ‘Vicarious traumas: television and public opinion in Japan’s North Korea policy’. Ampontan’s comments on the role of pathos in the media are spot on:
Ideals as these, however, must confront the reality that people consume politics through television, and that the demands of television are intrinsically pathos-based and seek the dramatic rather than the sober and the serious.
From this he concludes that pathos is with Japanese politics until the end. I quite agree, although Fukuda’s stance on the issue appears to have brought back some much needed logos. Time will tell how much of that sticks.