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Home » Archives » July 2005 » Kansai's Unique Approach to Politics and Ambiguity

Kansai's Unique Approach to Politics and Ambiguity

Wednesday, July 6, 2005 Posted: 09:24 AM JST

(by Moritatsu Tawara) - Secretary General of the Kansai Press Club Moritatsu Tawara describes the unique approach to politics by people living in the Kansai area, the area around Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. It differs immensely from the "monolithic" Tokyo, argues Tawara. He calls it "cool and detached", like that of an "onlooker".

I covered presidential elections a number of times when I was in the United States. Each time, I felt that there were some gaps between the situations in the place where I lived and the political mood reported from Washington D.C.

For example, in the election in which President George W. Bush was re-elected for his second term, in New York City and Los Angeles, the overwhelming view was that the "there were both positive and negative assessments of the incumbent President, with the overall assessment tilting to the negative." Nevertheless, the outcome of the election was a landslide victory for Mr. Bush.

This is only one of the examples that tell the diversity of American society, but even in Japanese society, there exist situations that are different from the "political mood" reported or transmitted from Tokyo. These are not just regional differences but stem from "aromas of different cultures" that exist in Japan. One of the regions that are emitting a very strong "smell" is the political, economic and cultural sphere that is generally called "Kansai."

Rich, mellow scent
There is no clear definition for Kansai in terms of geography or administrative division. In the old days, it seemed to mean the "areas west of the gate of Osaka". The term "Kansai" is used to refer to a very large area, including the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Wakayama, Otsu, Tsu, Fukui on the mainland and cities, such as Tokushima, on Shikoku Island. When viewed narrowly, Kansai usually means the Kinki region.

According to data from the Cabinet Office, the gross regional product of the Kinki region is big enough to rank among the top ten in the world. However, when we speak of Kansai in contrast to the Tokyo sphere, the term refers to the region, spanning Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nara.

It is safe to say that the political mood or cultural aroma of the Tokyo sphere is somewhat monolithic. In the political perspective, it can be summed up as the sensitivity of Nagata-cho (where the Diet is located) and Kasumi-ga-seki (the center of bureaucracy). From a cultural perspective, it is infused with the aroma of Edo.

By contrast, Kansai is home to a more multi-dimensional political perspective stemming from the diverse sensitivities of the ordinary people. The absence of a principal agency of the national government in the region is a factor, but more fundamentally, the sensitivity of the people of Kansai does not accept a single-dimensional viewpoint on politics. Rather it enjoys the situation full of ambiguities as if it were "watching a drama."

The cultural aroma of the region dates back to ancient times, with Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Nara and other cities blending a wide variety of lingering scents, and is creating rich, mellow and complex scents. The fact that Kyoto was the nation's capital for more than 1200 years gives great depth to the cultural soil of the region. When I view the present political situation of Japan from Kansai with this kind of climate, I find it quite interesting. It seems that on the "political stage" called Tokyo, players from across the nation are running around in all directions. In a sense, the ordinary people in Kansai talk about politics as if they were unconsciously enjoying such a stage.

Ambiguity is an asset
Such an attitude may be said to be that of an onlooker and irresponsible. However, it can also be said that it is cool and detached, and that it allows a lot of leeway. This is the same sensitivity as one expressed by the term "mottainai" (too good to waste). It is not the digital sensitivity in which everything has to be labeled "zero" or "one" and in which one has to choose "left" or "right" or "drop it or keep it."

The residents of Kansai casually share a somewhat "analog" attitude of neither "zero" nor "one." While all political, economic and cultural activities are concentrated in the Tokyo sphere from which all "Japanese" information is disseminated to the rest of the country and the world, the existence of the Kansai sphere, where towns, each with its own characteristics, exist side by side and live and prosper without becoming a single pole, is a scale-model of the global society of the future, which we should aim at.

The Kansai-style stance on politics is exquisite, because ambiguities, such as "It's not 'yes', but it's not 'no', either," or "I don't like it, but I don't dislike it, either," are all cooked together in a pot, so-to-speak. It is somehow like the indecisiveness, for which the Japanese are harshly criticized by other countries as "the Japanese are a puzzle to us," but in fact it is a product of the wisdom of the ordinary people for not hurting one another.

It is a "stance" we should proudly disseminate to the rest of the world.

Moritatsu Tawara is the Secretary General of the Kansai Press Club. He is a former Editorialist of the Mainichi Shimbun as well as the former President of Mainichi International (USA).

(Copyright 2005 Moritatsu Tawara.) This article was also published in the newsletter of the Kansai International Public Relations Promotion Office (KIPPO).


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