Japan’s script-worthy turnaroundJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s first outing of the year was to a movie. He and his wife, Akie, went to a theater in Roppongi, Tokyo, and watched “Les Miserables.” Abe is a well-known film enthusiast.
A reporter from Mainichi newspaper asked, “Did you cry during the movie?” Abe responded, “Well, my wife cried. I have grown emotional as I get older, but ‘Les Miserables’ didn’t make me cry. Actually, tears welled up when I watched ‘The Iron Lady,’ a biographical film about Margaret Thatcher.”
“What scenes made you cry?” the reporter asked. “The first was when she came out of Parliament and asked the people of the United Kingdom to unite after the victory in the Falklands War,” he replied. “Another was when she adhered to her plan when the expenditure cutback was harshly attacked.”
“Abe’s tears” illustrate his tendency and direction. He is not so interested in resisting social irrationalities and standing up for the weak. He is rather impressed by Thatcher’s building of a greater and more powerful nation. Instead of looking sideways and backward, he aims far ahead and dashes onward. He resembles his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who signed the U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Treaty despite intense domestic opposition. Abe’s tears are preludes to his drive to revise the pacifist constitution after winning the Upper House election in July.
On the other hand, “Abe’s smiles” are still in progress. Japan’s stock market went up by 30 percent in the two months since November and the value of the yen dropped 15 percent. It is the first time in 42 years that the stock prices have risen for 11 consecutive months. Japanese companies that had set the exchange rate at 78 yen to the dollar now enjoy great profits since a dollar is currently exchanged at 91 to 92 yen. So everyone cheers for Abe. The prime minister is very happy with the economic rebound.
However, Western countries are wary and concerned about ruthless Abenomics, twisting the central bank’s arm to release money into the market. But such voices don’t get much attention among the Japanese. They claim they did not complain to America and Europe when the yen was high, and they are eager to get out of their 15-year-long deflation.
Neither Abe’s tears nor his smiles should be taken lightly. It is not a matter of a few revisions of the Constitution or adjustment in the exchange rate of a neighboring country. The point is that Japan, as a nation, and its people are rapidly regaining confidence. Last weekend, NHK aired a drama titled “Made in Japan,” about a large electronics company on the verge of bankruptcy making a comeback against Chinese and Korean rivals. I am not sure if the company in the drama was modeled after Sony or Panasonic, but the timing is interesting. The Japanese government, market, media and citizenry seem to be working together. We haven’t seen such collaborative efforts for the past decade or so. So we are nervous. You may think Japan is a country past its prime, but you should think again.
*The author is the chief of the JoongAng Ilbo Tokyo bureau.
by Kim Hyun-ki