Slices of Japanese business, politics and life
Foreigners who’ve spent years trying to learn how to read the thousands of ‘kanji’ ideograms used to write the Japanese language might well sympathise with Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has come under fire in the media for his public bloopers in misreading the written word.
The 68-year-old Japanese leader, whose popularity has slid due to policy flip-flops and other gaffes, has been ridiculed in the media for misreading kanji, first imported from China in the 6th century or before and adapted to write Japanese.
There are more than 70,000 kanji in larger dictionaries, although only about 2,000 are generally used, and the pronunciation of each must be painstakingly memorised.
To make matters worse, many kanji are pronounced differently when combined with other ideograms and take on still other readings when used with the Japanese language’s two phonetic syllabaries, hiragana and katakana.
Japan’s opposition Democratic Party is often seen as a fractious bunch prone to policy and personal feuds, but with the scent of election victory in the air, party leaders are preaching a unified message to their troops: don’t let down your guard.
“We have decided not to make predictions about the election,” Naoto Kan, a senior party executive told me last week. “The important thing is to keep on our toes and make preparations, because we are the ones who are asking the people to choose us.”
Almost four months after being sworn in, Japan’s unpopular prime minister has moved into his official residence, but many pundits are betting he’ll be packing again soon.
Taro Aso had intended to move in after an election he was expected to call soon after taking office last September, but sagging support has made the premier wary of going to the polls sooner than necessary.