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Aso, too, blunders supreme

December 1, 2008

by keito

Breathe a sigh of relief, American readers: on September 24, 2008, we got a little more company in the world. Another faux pas-prone leader has bumbled onto the global scene.

Taro Aso, who officially became the Prime Minister of Japan on September 24, 2008, was called “charismatic but gaffe-prone” by the BBC News in their September 22 profile of him. The Beeb goes on to say that “[in August] he reportedly likened opposition tactics to those of the Nazis in Germany,” and that “during his previous leadership campaign he was criticised for making a joke about Alzheimer’s disease.” Not an auspicious start for the new PM.

The Japan Times also reported on October 18, 2005, when Aso was still foreign minister, that he stated in a speech that Japan was unlike all other countries because it is linguistically, culturally and racially homogeneous. The trouble with that is that Japan’s indigenous Ainu population, as well as the ethnic Koreans who have lived in Japan for multiple generations, among other ethnic groups, beg to differ. Linguists still debate the question of whether the language varieties found across the islands of Okinawa are languages or mere dialects, but look up Japan on the linguistics resource Ethnologue ( and you’ll find that its languages range from Japanese (naturally), to Korean, Ainu, English and Chinese. Throw in the issue of mistreatment of Ainu in ages past and you’ve got yourself a bit of controversy, or at least a remark worth apologizing for.

Another issue with minorities in 2001: according to The Guardian’s Justin McCurry (, March 23, 2007), Aso said that a burakumin could never become the country’s leader, the burakumin being a group descended from what could best be described as the outcastes of Japan due to their “unclean” professions (butchers and the like).

Continuing with McCurry’s article, in 2007, during a speech concerning Japanese investment in the Middle East, Aso was quoted as saying that “Japanese are trusted” due to their history of no conflicts with Middle Eastern countries. Ok there so far. But, then, in reference to the United States, Aso said that “it would probably be no good to have blue eyes and blond hair. Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces.” Not so good.

As if we have no people from the Middle East in the U.S., and certainly not anyone without blond hair and blue eyes. Nor has a faction of our government ever been represented by anyone who did not fit the blond-hair-and-blue-eyes description, by the then foreign minister’s logic.

Has Aso even heard of Condoleezza Rice? Or, perhaps, seen any other Americans?

I won’t even touch the “yellow faces” part.

Other failures to communicate with political correctness include:

· Aso “said he wanted to turn Japan into a country where ‘rich Jews’ would want to live” (McCurry in The Guardian). This line was also noted in Time Magazine and other sources—I stress that these quotes are not a matter of exaggeration.

· 2003: praised Japan’s colonial rule over Korea (prior to and up till the end of World War II). (Source: McCurry again.) Some of those Koreans living in Japan, mind you, are there as a result of forced labor camps. The Japanese army had a reputation for brutality, as illustrated by the Rape of Nanjing.

· 2006: stated in a speech that “a visit [to the Yasukuni Shrine] by the emperor would be the best,” regarding the controversial religious site in which class-A war criminals are enshrined, including General Hideki Tojo. Though the Emperor has not visited since 1978, former Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi faced a lot of flack from China and South Korea for visiting in the 90’s (source: China Daily, A visit from any leader in Japan to Yasukuni is always controversial; such visits are viewed by countries invaded by Japan in the first part of the 20th century as condoning the behavior of the Japanese military at the time and, at the very least, being politically insensitive.

Compared to the “the left hand now knows what the right hand is doin’” remark by George W. Bush, Aso’s mistakes are quite grave. Aso has yet to say “bring ’em on” in reference to terrorists or invade any countries, but both leaders have caused their fair share of embarrassments. In a November 14th article, Jun Hongo of the Japan Times wrote that, “resembling some classic gaffes by U.S. President George W. Bush, Aso has recently been failing during speeches to correctly pronounce certain words, many of them commonly used in daily Japanese.” I’m sure the citizenry of Japan now feel some of our pain of the last 8 years.

All this being said, nobody can be perfect. Despite this, however, some people need to work a little harder not to be noticeably, almost outrageously imperfect, especially when they’re at the helm of major industrialized countries.

To his credit, Bush was recently quoted in Newsweek as expressing regret over some of his larger verbal gaffes, “bring ’em on” among them. “My wife reminded me that, hey, as president of the United States you better be careful what you say,” said Bush. “I was trying to convey a message. I probably could have conveyed it more artfully.”

As to whether Aso will engage in any significant backtracking, only time will tell.


Letterman Top 10 George W. Bush Moments (White House Correspondents’ Dinner, April 2007, courtesy of CSPANJUNKIEdotORG on YouTube)

Taro Aso confirmed as Japan’s PM (BBC News, September 24, 2008)

Ethnologue report for Japan

Profile: Taro Aso (BBC News, September 22, 2008)

Aso says Japan is nation of ‘one race’ (The Japan Times, October 18, 2005)

Aso raises eyebrows with nonwords and wrong words (Jun Hongo, The Japan Times, November 14, 2008)

Blue eyes, blond hair: that’s US problem, says Japanese minister (Justin McCurry, The Guardian,, March 23, 2007)

Aso rapped for emperor shrine visit remark (China Daily,, January 29, 2006)


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