When Asō Tarō Speaks, People Listen


Asō Tarō, deputy prime minister and minister of finance, has become known for his gaffes as well as for his fashion sense.The latest came in a speech he delivered in Tokyo on July 29, which seems likely to attract global attention for its references not just to Yasukuni Shrine, but to Adolf Hitler as well. 

The Tokyo Shimbun has the full text of his comments as follows:





The above translates to:

The international landscape Japan faces today is totally different from that in place when the Constitution was written. The people who are screeching "we've got to defend the Constitution from change" and expecting that peace will come of this are gravely mistaken. The goal of constitutional amendment is to secure the stability and security of the nation. Amending the Constutition is merely a means to this end. But it isn't something we want to do in the midst of a lot of raucous argument. We need to calm down, get a grip on the conditions surrounding us, forge public consensus on the basis of this understanding, and then revise the Constitution. Otherwise we run the risk of making a mistake.

In Germany, they saw the rise of Hitler despite having the Weimar Constitution—the most progressive constitution in Europe at the time. Such things can happen even when you've got a good constitution in place. 

I don't want to debate the future of Japan's Constitution in an uproar. It's like Yasukuni Shrine, too: this is a place where people should worship quietly. It's ridiculous to keep ourselves from expressing respect and gratitude to those who gave their lives for the country. Just quietly go to the shrine. There's no reason to do that on the day that marks Japan's loss in the war. 

Now if you say "let's do it quietly," you need to look back at the Weimar Constitution, whose amendment went unnoticed. It was changed before most people realized it had happened. We need to learn from this. I have absolutely no intention of rejecting democracy. But I don't want to see us make these decisions in the midst of an uproar.

It all hinges on the interpretation of 学んだらどうか (the italicized "we need to learn from this" above). Smart money is on Asō clarifying his remarks, stating that he meant "we need to learn from this [dangerous example in order to avoid it]," but parts of the global press—particularly in Korea—are already running with the "we need to learn from this [and do it the same way]" angle.

However it plays out, one hopes that Asō will learn at least the lesson that bringing up the Nazis and Yasukuni in the same passage of a speech on constitutional reform is not a recipe for favorable press coverage of the LDP's motives. (Check out our look at what the LDP's first amendment to the Constitution would entail right here.) (PD)

LDP constitution politics Aso Taro amendment gaffe