Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mr. Abe's Ostensibly New Book

In preparation for my talk at Temple University Japan next week on the Abe Cabinet (announcement) I have been reading Abe Shinzo's Atarashii kuni e ("Toward a New Country") the 2013 update of Abe's famous Utsukushii kuni e ("Toward a Beautiful Country").


"Toward a New Country" is a deeply disturbing and frustrating work.

First and foremost, the expanded edition of Abe Thought does not explain the "new" of "New Country" anymore than the 2006 version explained the "beautiful" of a "Beautiful Country" did. It does not even backtrack and fill us in on what the "beautiful" was.

I am left with my own idiosyncratic understanding of Abe's aesthetic sense, which is to equate Abe's "beautiful" with "fine" in as it is found in Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls:
The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and and I hate very much to leave it.
A beautiful Japan is one worth the fighting for -- a formulation which incepts Abe & Company's maundering about the citizenry's lack of hokori (誇り) and dispenses with the contradiction in between "a beautiful Japan" and the incredible destruction that has been wreaked upon Japan's traditional natural and man-made environments.

Second, the new version of Abe Thought is as reliant on British and American examples as the old one. How can a man be a prime minister of Japan yet in his major opus on his views on how to run his country constantly be talking about Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher?

Abe's reliance on non-Japanese illustrations for his approach to politics must be a feature, not a bug. My guess is that if he used Japanese figures and historical incidents as his touchstones, readers and commentators would have a greater capacity to contest his version of events and lessons learned. By going outside his own tradition, with "Winston Churchill said this and meant this" propositions, Abe is free to make stuff up without anyone calling him on it.

Third, Abe is unreconstructed. Five years after his collapse, three of which were spent as a member of the opposition, and all we get that is "new" is a two page introduction and 19 pages of appendices regarding the December 2012 election manifesto.

As to everything in between, Abe proudly states, "Nothing has changed."

Ah, but the world has changed in the interim...


Anonymous said...


Sorry to be totally off topic but below item may be of interest and may or may not get much press in Japan. Bob Brown wearing the pirate colors is new, and for the movement, probably a much better front man than that crazy Watson guy. What the government needs to do is to start to weigh the merits of keeping a handful of whalers employed versus not having such lousy international PR. On this basis alone whaling needs to stop.

No need to post this comment YY

Bryce said...

"Third, Abe is unreconstructed."

Thanks for letting me know. I'd just started reading the old version again, and was kicking myself when I found out there was a new one that I'd have to buy. Now I know it can wait. Or is it really so unreconstructed? Does he update the references to "Million Dollar Baby"?

Anonymous said...