In another publicity stunt, Aso Taro made an appearance at a bookstore in the Yaesu district of Tokyo on Saturday evening.
Yomiuri reports that Mr. Aso bypassed the manga section and went straight for the economics section, pausing only to admire his books on display. He supposedly bought four economics books, including Hasegawa Keitaro’s Reading the general situation 2009 and How good a country is Japan? by Kusaka Kimindo and Takayama Masayuki (the latter a conservative freelance journalist, known for broadsides against both Japan’s neighbors and the US, as well as the usual suspects domestically, in the familiar roster of conservative publications).
What does Mr. Aso’s decision to read these books tell us, and why does Yomiuri feel the need to share? Is the Japanese public supposed to be impressed that Mr. Aso is foregoing his usual manga for heavier fare (and foregoing his usual evening entertainments to visit a bookstore)?
There is something to be said for political leaders taking time out of their schedules to engage with big ideas — but not too much time, and the choice of book matters.
Let’s look at one of Mr. Aso’s choices.
Messrs. Kusaka and Takayama’s book is a discussion between them. Judging by the table of contents, this book is typical cultural conservative twaddle; Mr. Aso did not, in fact, purchase four economics books.
The section headings offer a collection of the Japanese right’s favorite arguments: “The perverse media that discharges ‘false images’ of Japan;” “The good fortune of a collective endowed with ‘wisdom'” (this section’s subheadings reveal that this section refers to the blessings of the Japanese people, and they don’t just mean Japanese culture — one section addresses America’s “inferiority complex” and “trauma” from being a country of immigrants); “The Great Illusion of ‘Asia is one'” (one sub-section suggests that Japan should “fear ‘slavery’ more than ‘isolation,'” while the rest of the section appears to celebrate Japan’s role in bringing about racial equality in Asia, especially in the first half of the twentieth century); the next section continues the theme of the previous one, arguing, “Japan’s power ended the era of ‘absolute white [rule];” “Again, becoming ‘a country that bears the fears of the world’;” and finally, “Japan decides the countries with which it keeps company.”
In short, this book appears to be representative of the most belligerent, the most narrow-minded, and the most revisionist segment of Japanese conservatism. I don’t want to read too much into this, not having read the book, but it is a farce that Mr. Aso is somehow illustrating his interest in economic problems by reading this book (as Yomiuri suggests).
But more importantly, shouldn’t we — or more properly, the Japanese media — be asking what Mr. Aso finds of value in a book with content so different from the confident, forward-looking conservative internationalism that Mr. Aso himself espouses?