TOKYO -- A professor's satiric comments using a play on the Japanese word "gohan" -- which generally refers to meals but literally means "rice" -- to effectively explain government officials' evasive statements is drawing attention.
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An opinion poll that the Mainichi Shimbun conducted on the weekend shows an overwhelming majority -- 70 percent -- of the respondents said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's explanations of a favoritism scandal involving school operator Kake Educational Institution are not trustworthy.
Behind the public's growing distrust in the Abe administration apparently lies the government's manipulative shift of points of contention and evasive remarks over the case, as well as another favoritism scandal involving the school operator Moritomo Gakuen.
The so-called "gohan (meal) logic" has drawn attention as a method to clarify how the government has tried to dodge opposition parties' questions on the scandals and other matters including labor issues in such a way.
Mitsuko Uenishi, professor at Hosei University who is well versed in labor issues, introduced this logic in her tweets, where she played out a political satire by comparing Diet deliberations to breakfast:
Q: Did you eat asa gohan (breakfast)?
A: I didn't have gohan (rice). (I did eat bread but I'd rather not say that.)
Q: So you mean you ate nothing?
A: Nothing?... Well, it's not necessarily clear what can be called a meal.
Q: Then did you eat anything?
A: I don't clearly see the point of your question. But generally speaking, having breakfast is important for your health.
Her post has been retweeted by 3,000 others and many people expressed empathy with her original tweets, with one of them saying, "I feel as if a fog has lifted."
Let's apply this logic to Diet deliberations on the favoritism scandals.
Statements made by Tadao Yanase, former executive secretary to Prime Minister Abe, in the Diet in July 2017 are a good example.
He told the legislature that "I have no recollection of meeting" Ehime Prefectural Government officials in April 2015 over the Kake institution's veterinary school plan. He did meet Kake institution officials at the time, but failed to mention that during the Diet meeting.
This is similar to saying, "I have no recollection of eating gohan (even though I ate bread)."
"Even if he had no recollection of meeting local government officials, he should've said he met (Kake) institution officials. I believe he intentionally didn't mention that he met with school officials," Uenishi said.
The Kake institution, run by a close friend of Prime Minister Abe, opened a veterinary school in April 2018 in the Ehime Prefecture city of Imabari that has been designated as a national strategic special zone with reduced regulations. Suspicions have been raised that the government may have done the institution a favor because of the prime minister's relations with its head.
Prime Minister Abe has also made evasive statements on these scandals on numerous occasions.
One example is his response to the disclosure of an Ehime Prefectural Government document, which states that Kotaro Kake, head of the Kake institution, met with Abe at the prime minister's office on Feb. 25, 2015. The prime minister told reporters on May 22, shortly after the document surfaced, that "I didn't meet him on that day. I checked the records of visitors to the prime minister's office but wasn't able to confirm his visit." The prime minister made similar statements in response to questions by two opposition legislators in the Diet later in the day.
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the records of visitors did not exist. "The documents are supposed to be discarded immediately after the relevant business is completed, so they weren't preserved," said Suga, who serves as top government spokesman.
Kentaro Motomura, a legislator who raised the Kake issue three times in Diet deliberations, grilled Abe over the inconsistency between the prime minister's statement and Suga's explanation.
"You've said you couldn't confirm (that Kake visited the prime minister's office on that day), but the reality is the records didn't exist. I'd like you to provide an honest explanation," Motomura said.
Prime Minister Abe finally gave an accurate reply saying, "Since such documents are supposed to be discarded immediately, I was unable to confirm."
Uenishi believes that the prime minister attempted to give the public the impression that he examined the records but they did not show Kake visited the prime minister on that day.
If this is compared to the gohan logic, it might be as follows:
Q: Prime minister, you had breakfast, didn't you?
A: No, I didn't. I examined my records of breakfast, but wasn't able to confirm I had breakfast. (In reality, the records didn't exist and I was unable to confirm that, but I'd rather not say that clearly.)
Nobuhisa Sagawa, former head of the Finance Ministry's Financial Bureau, told the Diet in February last year that the ministry's records of negotiations with Moritomo Gakuen over the sale of a state-owned land had been discarded.
"We found they've been discarded after confirming the matter," he said.
After the records turned up subsequently, he said, "What I meant was that I confirmed that such documents are supposed to be discarded under the document management regulations."
Compared to the gohan logic, it would be as follows:
"I tried to confirm whether I had breakfast, and found I threw away the food without eating it."
"What I confirmed was the food's use-by date."
An angry Uenishi said, "Some criticize opposition parties for spending too much time on grilling the government over the Moritomo and Kake scandals, but the public should be aware that the government, which has wasted time giving insincere replies to questions on these cases, is at fault."
(Japanese original by Hiroyuki Wada, General Digital News Center)
The original headline of this English article incorrectly read "Professor's satiric tweet on gov't's evasive statements on favoritism scandals a hit." The original lead paragraph also incorrectly implied that the professor's tweets were specifically referring to favoritism scandals. We apologize for the error -- Editor.