Raw Japan

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Ozawa wipes away tears, but not doubts

March 25, 2009

When Ichiro Ozawa, leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party, became teary-eyed as he announced his intention to stay in his post despite a funding scandal plaguing his bid to become prime minister, he may have won some sympathy.

Whether he gets to keep his job, though, is another matter.

The pugnacious political veteran has been trying to oust Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party since he bolted the long-ruling party in 1993, helping replace it briefly with a reformist coalition, only to see his former conservative colleagues return to power the next year.


But just as his opposition Democrats looked set to win an election this year and end more than 50 years of almost unbroken LDP rule, prosecutors arrested a close Ozawa aide and on Tuesday charged him with breaking a political funding law by accepting corporate donations.

Speaking at a nationally televised news conference on Tuesday, a subdued Ozawa — wiping tears from his eyes as he spoke — denied any wrongdoing, adding he wouldn’t quit for now. He left the door open to resigning if public support for the Democrats slides and endangers his long-held dream of defeating the LDP at the polls.

Japanese politicians and other high-profile figures have been known to shed public tears, even blubber, when they found themselves in a pinch. But an excess of emotion can backfire and women, as well as men with less macho images, are best advised to keep their eyes dry, some pundits say.

“Women crying is not a very good idea because it adds to the perception that they are weak and using their tears, so it doesn’t usually help,” Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano told me.

 In general, “tears should be used sparingly.”

Ozawa’s tough-guy image means a few tears probably went down OK with voters, who may have judged they were sincere, not scripted.  Asked at the news conference why he had grown weepy, Ozawa replied: “I have received so many words of encouragement, I just got choked up and cried without realising it.”

But readers of Japan’s biggest mass circulation newspaper, the Yomiuri, will have their doubts.

The paper said a political ally had advised Ozawa that giving voters an impression that he was earnest was key — and that a misty-eyed look would help.

 Maybe so, but how much?

“It seemed natural and not a performance,” said Sophia University’s Nakano. “It might make people more sympathetic… but I don’t know if that’s enough.”

Photo credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato

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