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Inhae reads the news: January 2020

Welcome to a new article in my series “Inhae reads the news (in Japanese)”. I am still trying to figure out the best way to make this series interesting and useful…

Until now, I used to choose several topics and write about them, using what I read in the Mainichi Shimbun. The problem is that it took me a lot of time to write this kind of posts. From now on, I will study only editorials, but I will try to compare several newspapers. For example, I will choose a certain date and see what newspapers from different political wings have written on that day, or I will choose a topic and see what they say about it.

I will mainly use the national newspapers the Mainichi Shimbun (left), the Asahi Shimbun (left) and the Yomiuri Shimbun (conservative), but I might occasionally look at other sources too like the Sankei Shimbun (right) and the Tokyo Shimbun (left).

NOTE: I am just a Japanese learner trying to read the news in Japanese. Reading news articles and understanding Japan politics are still very challenging tasks to me. I hope that writing this kind of posts will help me to improve my Japanese, my English and my understanding of political and social issues in Japan. Keep in mind that there might be mistakes in my translations and my understanding of the social and political issues I am talking about. To me, this post is a kind of personal digital notebook, but I do hope that it can also be useful for Japanese learners who want to start reading the news in Japanese, so I try giving as much vocabulary as I can for studied parts. I also try to keep my translations as close as possible from the original. I know that I am not good at translating, but as I said, I am writing this series to improve my language skills!

January 1st: First editorial of the year

First, let’s look at the editorials published on January 1st:

Mainichi: 拓論’20 民主政治の再構築 あきらめない心が必要だ
Asahi: 2020年代の世界 「人類普遍」を手放さずに
Yomiuri: 平和と繁栄をどう引き継ぐか…「変革」に挑む気概を失うまい

Mainichi: 拓論’20 民主政治の再構築 あきらめない心が必要だ

For the New Year, Mainichi’s editorial warns against the rise of populism in the world and says that Japan should not give up rebuilding democratic values. It also criticises Abe for not listening to the opposition and even treating the opposition as the “enemy”:

12年に自民党総裁に返り咲いた安倍晋三首相は国政選挙で6連勝中だが、野党の異論に耳を傾けないどころか、敵視する姿勢さえ際立つ。

  • 自民党総裁・じみんとうそうさい: President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
  • 返り咲く・かえりざく: take up one’s old position as… (politics). Abe was President of the LDP from 2006 to 2007 and return to this position in 2012.
  • 国政選挙・こくせいせんきょ: national election
  • 連勝・れんしょう: consecutive victories
  • 耳を傾ける・みみをかたむける: listen to, give careful attention to
  • 際立つ・きわだつ: be prominent, be outstanding, stand out

Prime Minister Abe, who returned to his position as President of the LDP in 2012, is enjoying 6 consecutive victories in the national elections, but far from listening to the opinion of the opposition, his way of treating [the opposition] as the enemy stands out.

それで強固な支持基盤を獲得する手法は、ポピュリズムの潮流に沿う。

  • 支持基盤・しじきばん: one’s support base (in an electorate)
  • 獲得する・かくとく: acquire, obtain
  • 潮流・ちょうりゅう: tendency, trend, current

And his method to obtain a strong support base is following the trend of populism.

The article concludes that we should resist our tendency to give up on democratic values.

Asahi: 2020年代の世界 「人類普遍」を手放さずに

Asahi starts 2020 with similar concerns. The article opens with the sustainable development goals (SDG), and says that these are universal goals. The article is worried to see nationalism rising and democratic values criticised and weakened. They also mention that in a draft for a constitutional revision, the LDP had suppressed the term “universal principle of mankind” (人類普遍の原理) from the preamble.

Like Mainichi, they look at Abe’s government and utter a similar critic: the ruling party avoids public debate, criticises the media, puts pressure on free speech, and discriminates minorities:

国会での論戦を徹底して避け、権力分立の原理をないがしろにする。メディア批判を重ね、報道の自由や表現の自由を威圧する。批判者や少数者に対する差別的、攻撃的な扱いをためらわない。

  • 論戦・ろんせん: debate, verbal battle, controversy
  • 避ける・さける: avoid
  • 権力分立・けんりょくぶんりつ: the separation of powers
  • ないがしろにする: ignore, treat … as though they didn’t exist
  • 威圧・いあつ: coerce, overpower

[The ruling party] absolutely avoids debates in the Diet and ignores the separation of powers. It coerces freedom of speech and freedom of the press by criticising the media again and again. It does not hesitate to treat aggressively and in a discriminating manner the minorities and those who criticise [the government].

The article ends by citing the SDG, calling for action against poverty and to protect the environment.

Yomiuri: 平和と繁栄をどう引き継ぐか…「変革」に挑む気概を失うまい

The article shows how well Japan is doing since the war, reaching a rare period of “peace” and “prosperity”. The article goes on saying that the Abe government has brought stability and that there is no populism or political/social divisions in Japan: 

安倍首相の長期政権下で政治は安定している。諸外国が苦しむ政治、社会の深刻な分断やポピュリズムの蔓延もみられない。

  • 分断・ぶんだん: dividing, splitting
  • 蔓延・まんえん: speading, diffusion

Under the long government of Prime Minister Abe, politics have been stabilised. And we cannot see the spread of populism or the deep social and political divisions that a lot of other countries are afflicted with.

The articles then talk about the United States and China before developing on the need for technological innovation.

I find very interesting to read that Mainichi and Asahi on one side and Yomiuri on the other have very different approaches for the New Year. Both Mainichi and Asahi start by talking about global issues and make pessimist but realistic observations: populism and nationalism are growing, democratic values are being threatened. Only after that do they turn their eyes to the situation in Japan. On the contrary, Yomiuri starts with Japan and adopts a very optimist tone. While Mainichi’s and Asahi’s call for the new decade is to hold on universal values, democracy and sustainable goals, Yomiuri wants to continue the peace and prosperity that Japan is enjoying…

Particularly interesting is what they write about Shinzo Abe and his government. Mainichi and Asahi criticise Abe for not listening to the opposition, putting pressure on free speech and discriminating minorities. Yomiuri says that there are no social or political divisions since Abe is in power… well, maybe it’s just two different ways of saying the same thing!

January 13th: Coming of Age Day

Now let’s see what these three newspapers published on Coming of Age Day 成人の日:

Mainichi: 新大学入試の検討会議 まずは制度破綻の検証を
Asahi: 成人の日に 社会は動く、動かせる
Yomiuri: 成人の日 挑戦する気持ちを忘れずに

Mainichi: 新大学入試の検討会議 まずは制度破綻の検証を

Mainichi is the only paper that did not explicitly write about the Coming of Age Day, but it chose a topic that concerns young people directly: the “New University Entrance Exam”.

The title refers to a conference between members on the Ministry of Education to discuss the New University Entrance Exam. The article says that first, we need to identify why the system collapsed. The government has been working for a long time on the reform of the university entrance exam, but it had to postpone two major changes recently: the introduction of a private English test, and the introduction of essay questions for Japanese and Mathematics.

As far as English is concerned, the new system was supposed to help students build the four skills (speaking, reading, listening and writing). Speaking is especially important for Japanese companies that want to compete internationally. But the Ministry of Education had to postpone the reform concerning the way English is tested in the University entrance exam because it would have created disparities and inequalities among test takers.

だが、根本的な原因は、改革が政財界主導で始められ、高校、大学という当事者の声をじっくり聞く姿勢を欠いたまま進んでいった点にあるのではないか。

  • 改革・かいかく: reform
  • 主導・しゅどう: the initiative, the lead

But isn’t the fundamental reason [for the postponement] the fact that the reform has been started by the initiative of the political and business worlds and carried on without carefully listening to the voices of the persons concerned in universities and high schools?

Mainichi also says that the government should listen more to actors in the education fields, and find ways to implement changes in high school programs too, to help students prepare for the new exam.

Asahi: 成人の日に 社会は動く、動かせる

Asahi states that young Japanese do not believe that they can have an impact on society:

「自分で国や社会を変えられる」と思う若者の割合が、日本は他国に比べて低い。

  • 割合・わりあい: proportion, rate

The proportion of young people who think “I can change my country and the society” is lower in Japan than in other countries.

The journalist wants to tell the Coming of Age participants that they can change the society by voicing their opinion. They give the example of the New University Entrance Exam, where high school students raised their voice and influenced public opinion, which forced the government to review its policy.

But then, the article adds that adults should change the way they treat students. Instead of establishing strict rules inside the school, they should let the students decide for themselves. If they cannot even express themselves at school, no wonder that they don’t believe they can change the society:

ルールの意味や必要性を生徒自身に考えさせ、決めさせている学校はどれだけあるだろう。身近な教室や学校の中でさえ、自らの考えを表明し、結果に反映された経験をもたなければ、「国や社会を変えられる」なんて思えるはずもない。

  • 身近な・みぢかな: near oneself, close to one
  • 反映・はんえい: reflect

How many schools are there that let the students think about the necessity and meaning of the rules and let them decide the rules [by themselves]. There’s no way that they can think things such as “I can change my country and the society”, if they cannot even express their thoughts at school or in the classroom and cannot have the experience of what results [their decisions/choices] brought.

Yomiuri: 成人の日 挑戦する気持ちを忘れずに

The article cites a survey conducted by the government according to which, more than 80% of the 18- to 29/year-olds feel a sense of completion in their actual life (現在の生活に充実感を感じている).

But only 60% of the 13- to 29-year-olds say that they have hopes in the future (将来に希望を持っている). The article then concludes that it must be because a lot of young people are worried about pension benefits, the continuation of the social security system, and how to raise children while working.

The article says that young people are worried because they don’t know how the system of taxes and social security works:

基本知識を持っていないことが不安を助長しているのではないか。まず、税や社会保障といった、生活する上で必要な知識を学ぶことから始めてはどうだろう。

  • 助長する・じょちょう: encourage, promote, contribute

Isn’t their lack of basic knowledge encouraging their anxiety? How about starting with learning the necessary knowledge like how taxes and social security works?

The article ends saying that young people should take challenges, but contrary to Asahi, this article does not ask the young generations to change the society. It is more on a professional and economical level.

It is interesting to compare Asahi and Yomiuri. Asahi encourages the young people to think by themselves, voice their opinion and act in the society. It wants them to believe that they can have a meaningful impact on society. But when they do voice their opinion through surveys, Yomiuri dismisses their answers by saying that they lack basic knowledge. Instead of taking their anxiety into consideration to question the actual system, Yomiuri prefers to say that the problem lies in the people who feel insecure…

January 15th: Cherry Blossom Party

The problem of the Cherry Blossom Party is one of the major scandals of these last months. To sum up very briefly the issue, The Cherry Blossom Party is a public event traditionally held by the Prime Minister in Spring. The party is held to honor and acknowledge people from various sectors who have contributed to the society or made great achievements.

The problem is that, since Abe returned as Prime Minister in 2012, the number of guests has steadily increase. I had read previously in Mainichi that not only were many supporters of Abe invited to the Party, but it was also easy for members of the LDP to copy the invitation and give it to their own supporters. Some of Abe’s speeches during the event were also controversial, showing that he addressed people who supported him. Finally, some guests were also invited to a private dinner party and while it was said that they all paid for it, the price they were asked for was ridiculously low for such an event.

As the Cherry Blossom Party is held on public funds, this became a huge scandal. The event was supposed to honour people who contributed to the society, but it looked like it had become an event to entertain Abe’s supporters.

Another problem is that the lists of guests of the preceding years have been destroyed without following the rules of the Japan public records law (公文書管理法). On January 14th, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga gave a press conference, acknowledging that the handling of the documents violated the law on public records.

No wonder that left-wing journals devoted their editorial of the 15th to this issue. It is also no surprise that Yomiuri does not talk about the issue in the editorials, so I have chosen she Tokyo Shimbun instead.

Asahi: 桜を見る会 国民を欺く公文書管理
Mainichi: 「桜を見る会」の名簿 政府説明は破綻している
Tokyo: 「桜」の名簿 違法廃棄の背景に迫れ

Asahi: 桜を見る会 国民を欺く公文書管理

I find that Asahi’s article is the easiest to read. It explains that, according to the law on public records, official documents that are to be kept at least one year should be listed in the public “管理簿” (I don’t know how to translate it). The lists of guests of the Cherry Blossom Party from 2013 to 2017 fall into this category. The documents have been destroyed, but they were never listed in the 管理簿.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga gave two contradictory explanations for this mistake, which of course arouse critics from the opposition. As Asahi says, “one cannot readily be convinced [by this explanation]” (にわかには納得できない).

Since 2018, the lists of guests are classified as documents that are to be kept less than a year. This allowed officials to destroy them right after the Cherry Blossom Party. What is strange is, of course, that the list of guests of the previous years should be a useful document to prepare the Cherry Blossom Party of the upcoming years, so why be so prompt to destroy it? This is what Asahi writes:

この会の招待者は、第2次安倍政権発足以降、年々膨らみ続け、首相の後援会関係者や妻の昭恵氏が推薦した知人らが大勢含まれていた。こうした実態を公にしたくないという思惑が、公文書管理のあり方に影響してはいなかったか。

  • 発足・ほっそく: starting, inauguration
  • 膨らむ・ふくらむ: swell out, rise, expand
  • 後援会・こうえんかい: support group, association of supporters
  • 昭恵: Akie, Abe’s wife
  • 推薦・すいせん: recommend, endorse

Since the start of the second Abe government, the [number of] guests at the party kept swelling from year to year, and it includes a great number of acquaintances recommended by Akie Abe and people related to Abe’s support groups. Hasn’t the concern that they did not want this situation to be made public influenced the way the official documents were managed?

Mainichi: 「桜を見る会」の名簿 政府説明は破綻している

Mainichi also sums up the issue concerning the gestion of documents and the contradictory explanations made by Yoshihide Suga. It goes on:

記録がなければ名簿を本当に廃棄したのかどうかさえ裏付けできない。政府は招待者が急増した点に対し、「既に名簿を廃棄したので分からない」と明確な回答を拒んできた。その弁明が根底から揺らいでいるということだ。

  • 名簿・めいぼ: a name list.
  • 廃棄・はいき: disposal, throwing away
  • 裏付け・うらづけ: a guarantee, proof
  • 弁明・べんめい: explanation, justification
  • 揺らぐ・ゆらぐ: shake

Without any records, we cannot even prove that the lists of guests have been destroyed. When asked about the sudden increase of guests, the government has always refused to give a clear answer, saying that “we don’t know because the lists of guests have already been discarded”. This justification is being shaken from its basis.

 結局、首相との関わりを否定しようと、その場しのぎのような説明を重ねてきたからではないのか。

  • その場しのぎ・そのばしのぎ: makeshift, stopgap, temporary measure

In the end, wasn’t it an explanation that they used to use as a makeshift to deny any relation with the Prime Minister?

Tokyo:「桜」の名簿 違法廃棄の背景に迫れ

The Tokyo Shimbun similarly sums up the issue and concludes that by changing the way that documents are managed the government made it possible to discard them legally. First the documents had to be kept at least one year and be registered in the 管理簿 (they weren’t, which is illegal). Then, the documents moved to the category “has to be kept less than a year” and these kind of documents do not need to be registered in the 管理簿, (they weren’t, which is legal).

つまり、「違法な名簿廃棄」から「合法な名簿廃棄」へと変わっただけではないのか。共同通信の世論調査では、この問題に首相が「十分説明しているとは思わない」とする回答が86・4%にも上っている。

  • 違法な・いほう: illegal, unlawful
  • 合法・ごうほう: legality, accordance with the law
  • 共同通信・きょうどうつうしん: Kyodo News

In other words, we only changed from an “illegal disposal of the lists of guests” to a “legal disposal of the lists of guests”. A public opinion survey conducted by Kyodo News shows that 86,4% of people “don’t think that the Prime Minister gave sufficient explanation on this matter”.

If I understand correctly, Asahi and Tokyo only say that officials have destroyed the documents illegally, and that this attitude only arises suspicion concerning the relation of the guests to Abe and his wife. But Mainichi goes a step farther and suggests that the lists of guests have not been destroyed but secretly kept by officials…? From what I understand, saying “the list has been destroyed” was just a way of avoiding to give concrete answers, but I don’t understand how exactly Mainichi came to that conclusion.

UPDATE: Apparently, documents concerning the parties held from 2011 and 2013, that were said to have been discarded, have been disclosed! On the 22nd, Abe answered questions from the opposition at the Diet and Mainichi, Asahi and Yomiuri’s editorial of the 23th all report about it.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to study them, but I did notice differences in how they treat the problem of the Cherry Blossom Party. Of course, this topic is one of the major issues of the moment, and both Asahi and Mainichi’s editorial largely develop on this question. On the contrary, Yomiuri’s editorial only mentions it briefly towards the end of the article, in a very factual manner. If you are interested in reading them, here they are:

Mainichi: 代表質問への首相答弁 肝心な点になぜ答えない
Asahi: 国会代表質問 信頼回復には程遠い
Yomiuri: 代表質問 野党は将来展望を明確に示せ

Conclusion

Comparing several newspapers on the same topic was really fun and interesting! I find it much more interesting to compare what newspapers from different political wings have to say on the same topic, than to make in-depth studies of the same topic from the same newspaper (like I used to).

It is also much easier for me to prepare this kind of posts as I only need to look at the editorials instead of having to read as many articles as possible on a given topic!

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