- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2007

TOKYO

t has been nearly two years since Minoru Morita, one of Japan’s most requested TV commentators, vanished from the screen.

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Washington late last month, Japanese journalists looked to many analysts, who seemed to agree tacitly not to criticize Mr. Abe despite his weak leadership. But once again, Mr. Morita, chairman of Morita Research Institute Co. Ltd., was bucking the tide.

Clad in a kimono, Mr. Morita used to appear daily on a morning news program of Fuji Television, giving viewers his interpretation of actions and events in Nagata-cho, the heart of Japanese politics, with quotations and proverbs. His style helped the program become one of the country’s most-watched, and his name became a household word.

Mr. Morita says his criticism of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi cost him his well-paying TV job as major news outlets shunned him. Others in the business agree.

Even when Mr. Koizumi basked in an unprecedented degree of public support with approval ratings above 80 percent, Mr. Morita remained one of a dwindling number of commentators who took a harsh view of his policies.

“In my view, Koizumi was the most irresponsible and frivolous prime minister in Japan’s postwar history. The former premier took a stable Japan and destroyed it; and after it had collapsed, he simply walked away,” Mr. Morita recently wrote in his Web site column.

In a country where people avoid confrontations and try to smooth out personal relations, Mr. Morita was seen as “going too far.” His appearances on live television plummeted while Mr. Koizumi was in office.

A forgotten episode

TV Tokyo invited Mr. Morita to a debate with Heizo Takenaka, then Japan’s economic minister and a Koizumi confidant, on its “World Business Satellite” program, but Mr. Takenaka refused to appear with the analyst, TV staff told Mr. Morita.

A public relations official at TV Tokyo says no one recalled the 2002 program. The incident that Mr. Morita described was unlikely to have taken place, said the official.

“It seems the staff member may have given Mr. Morita a false impression. … It is inconceivable that we would avoid inviting someone to our programs just because he or she was critical of the administration,” he added.

In August 2005, when Mr. Koizumi’s plans to privatize the government’s postal service were rejected in the House of Councilors, he swiftly dissolved the Diet’s lower house. Mr. Morita told viewers of a Fuji TV news program that the prime minister had violated Article 41 of the Japanese Constitution, which states: “The Diet shall be the highest organ of state power.” The political analyst argued that the prime minister had to comply with it.

No one challenged Mr. Morita, but his words apparently angered the prime minister’s office, as few major reporters have contacted him since then.

A public relations official at Fuji TV did not say why Mr. Morita had not been invited since, but she said: “As for TV personalities of individual programs, each program decides to employ guests so that its programs can give viewers diversified perspectives.”

Collusion with power

Mr. Morita’s disappearance from television did not surprise many observers because the Japanese press and broadcast outlets are widely criticized for self-censorship. They are “in collusion with those in power,” said Yasushi Kawasaki, a retired journalism professor and former political reporter for NHK, Japan’s public television. “The problem is the media’s weakness rather than the strength of authority figures.”

The biggest problem in Japan, Mr. Morita argued, is that the major outlets “look the same and sound the same, and they, in effect, have become integrated with political power” just as they were a World War II propaganda machine for the Japanese Imperial Army.

His elder brother Tadashi, whom he described as hardworking and respected, was killed in combat in China at age 21 during the war.

Mr. Morita also criticized Dentsu — the country’s largest advertising agency, widely called “Japan’s sacred cow” — for its undue influence over the press. His criticism of the company prompted some anonymous journalists to send him a letter saying: “You will never work in the major media because you criticized Dentsu. Nobody has ever done that.”

Author and lecturer

“While attending Tokyo University, Mr. Morita was at the sharp end of student activism. He is still upbeat and shows no regret for being shunned by television.

“I’ve been much busier these days,” said the 74-year-old political analyst, who is still interviewed and quoted by Western press and broadcast outlets. Mr. Morita, who has two grown sons, writes columns every day on his Web site, on which he and his staff have been working for a decade. The number of those who visit the site per day ranges from 4,500 to 12,000, he said.

The other day, an 80-year-old man who lives alone sent me an e-mail, saying: ‘Today’s Japan is deplorable,’ ” he recalled.

Mr. Morita is a prolific writer, having written 40 books. He recently published one titled “Japan: America’s disposable nation: Take Japan’s truth to the public.”

He now works with Chin Music Press, a Seattle-based publisher, and his column is posted in English every week on his Web site.

Mr. Morita gives about 300 lectures a year across Japan. He prefers to talk to audiences in the provinces rather than in Tokyo because he does not feel comfortable without knowing the lives of people there, his office said.

A polarized Japan

“More people in the provinces, even in strongholds of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), are turning their backs on the government, said Mr. Morita, who has been reporting on the widening economic gap between Tokyo and the provinces.

This is primarily a result of the Koizumi Cabinet’s policies. They drastically tightened its fiscal control over the provinces,” he said.

Big corporations have abandoned the provinces and converged on Tokyo, which has more business opportunities. The provinces are being hollowed out, said Mr. Morita, whose father was a master carpenter and chairman of a building contractors association in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture, in central Japan.

“The Koizumi Cabinet has polarized Japan into the prosperous megalopolis and the struggling provinces — haves and have-nots in a country where most people used to rankthemselves as middle class,” he said.

More people eke out a precarious living these days,” he said. “Japan needs political change. The LDP is corrupt. Many Japanese politicians and bureaucrats used to be willing to work for society, but now many have me-first attitudes.”

Window to atrocities

Mr. Morita criticized Mr. Abe and other nationalists for denying the Japanese military’s role in forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II. “This is an issue that directly affects Japanese people’s dignity and integrity,” he said.

Countered an LDP public relations official: “That is absolutely impossible.”

Some political leaders and opinion makers, most of them born after World War II, seek to hide Japan’s wartime atrocities or deny its war responsibility, Mr. Morita said. “That is plain rude to the international community.”

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