Not content to be led by two cartoonishly accident prone leaders, the Japan Restoration Party enters the Upper House elections today fielding a candidate whose appearance is rather like that of a Batman villain.
Antonio Inoki, is a former wrestler and wrestling promoter. He also has the biggest chin in showbiz!
In a country where fame attracts almost no distractors, the pronouncements of celebrities carry weight and people listen whether he is talking about historical revisionism in front of Shinjuku station, as above, or shopping bargains on daytime TV.
Inoki is one of the most famous and best loved personalities in Japan and a self-made man whose life story has to be respected even if he is not exactly the smartest man around or the hype surrounding him is rather overblown. He is a valued product of the media and as such he always gets an audience.
Opinions in celebrities are not common. In the west his current ideas would also not be popular and rightly ridiculed. The politics of the Japan Restoration Party are extremely unpleasant being a nationalistic, racist party that wishes to return Japan to the hollow pride of the Showa Era empire builders. They equate respect with fear and are in a dangerous game of keeping up with the Joneses regarding China and Korea. But he is allowed these opinions and beliefs because they are “on message” with those that control the media. He still has has a platform to express his views on immigration, patriotism, or the best shampoo, and continues to enjoy his celebrity. Indeed it is his star power that has JRP co-founder and one of the aforementioned leaders, Shintaro Ishihara hoping his presence will undo some of the damage caused by the other leader, Toru Hashimoto‘s comments on the comfort women issues.
“[Inoki is] here to give us new life, and help us fight through this trying time.” Ishihara said at a press conference to announce Antonio Inoki’s candidacy in June.
Contrast the indulgence Inoki’s conscientious stand is given with that of actor, Taro Yamamoto‘s who decided after the Fukushima nuclear accident on March 11th 2011 that he could not agree with nuclear power generation policies in Japan and has had to essentially give up his acting career.
It is not sure if even someone as popular as Inoki can reverse the JRP’s fortunes however. Their support rates have plummeted since the Hashimoto faux pas. Inoki has run and won seats in the Upper House of Japanese politics before and might just be able to give some much needed muscle to the campaign. But the JRP brand, though once quite popular, has become toxic to many.
To me though the machismo of the JRP is also something that really doesn’t need adding to. These dinosaurs of belligerence need to learn that Japan is a very different place to the one they wish want to return it to and its place in the world is not going to be secured by acting-up. Japan is an important country that is widely respected for exactly the reason these paranoid men see ridicule. Yet it is actually politicians like Ishihara, Hashimoto and if he is successful, Inoki that make people not take Japan seriously. As governor of Tokyo, Ishihara insulted almost foreign visitor. Hashimoto re-energised Osaka as its mayor to be true, but Osaka people have a great sense of humour and can swallow most idiocies; on the national stage he has looked seriously provincial and out of his depth. And inoki just has that chin! He also has a wrestler’s skills at debate and rhetoric, i.e. none. The second image is him performing his trademark slap on a young supporter. Basically he is indulged in any argument to win by being stronger so we are really not going to get any useful discussion if he enters politics.
Like the others he confuses having political view and enough power and wealth to run an election campaign with being a politician. There is more skill and nuance to the job than any of these people can muster. Indeed in politics in Japan there are precious few that have those skills that could guide Japan to take its rightful place globally.
Including the current Prime Minister.
UPDATE JULY 22nd
Inoki San won a seat for the Japan Restoration Party in Sunday’s poll. The JRP did badly however losing their widely declared “third force” position after the lower house elections in November to something much lower and less influential.