Two ministers in the Abe Cabinet quit: showing shame at the right moment

Shinzō Abe had high expectations on Yūko Obuchi. Elected before turning 40, Obuchi was the new face of the Japanese government, the one who, with that cheerful expression on her face, was set to announce the Cabinet’s plan to restart the nuclear plants.


Nonetheless, she resigned on October 20. “It’s unforgivable for my personal issues to cause economic policies and energy policies to stagnate”, explained Obuchi during a press conference. She then added a significant “It’s not enough just to say that I didn’t know about it.” Obuchi allegedly abused of donation funds by treating constituents to theater outings during a campaign in 2012.

Japan’s election law bans candidates from donating goods of a certain value to voters, even if those are just cheap paper fans. . 

The law might sound too strict or even nitpicking, but it is still the law. And when the law is violated, somebody has to take the responsibility for what they did, and resign.

In 1946, American anthropologist Ruth Benedict defined the Japanese culture a “shame culture”. According to her, in Japan, the sense of shame is nurtured even from childhood in order to strengthen social control mechanisms.

Although Benedict’s work has often been criticized for its essentialist explanations and its methodological flaws, it has also had a strong impact in Japan. Throughout the years, indeed, the study on the greatest enemy of the U.S. started to be mentioned in all the speeches about the unity of the Japanese people, in which was highlighted the primacy of the community as a whole over the single individuals.

It is therefore crucial for a Japanese to show the rest of the community his or her capacity to feel a sense of shame for what he/she did or for what he/she is accused of. Even for the sake of his/her own career. …True, there’s always someone who tends to exaggerate, but it becomes an internet meme at worst:


Placing Obuchi as one of the Ministers was a well-thought-out move by Shinzō Abe who, less than two months ago on September 3, appointed Obuchi as head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI, formerly the powerful MITI that achieved the Japanese post-war economic miracle).

"Women are Japan's most underutilized resource”, had stated Abe some time ago. His questionable choice of words (“underutilized”, “resource”) surely casts doubts on the conservative Prime Minister’s opinion of women.

Regardless of that, it is undeniable that Obuchi was the perfect face to embody the new role of women in a still strongly chauvinist society. Yūko, career woman, mother of two and the daughter of former Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi, was quite popular, with some even claiming she had what it takes to become Japan’s first female prime minister.

Abe himself publicly showed his sense of “shame” by announcing his resignation when he was first elected Prime Minister in 2007. Taking some time off and rethinking his political slogans was obviously enough for him to make a political comeback a few years later.

Maybe it wasn’t the right moment for such a rookie Minister to hold such an important task for the country’s future. Maybe, in a few years, this scandal over the misuse of donation funds will be long forgotten. Then Yūko may be able to rise again as the “princess” of Japanese politics.

traduzione a cura di Sayuri Romei

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