Sunday, October 4, 2009

Nakagawa dies

Shoichi Nakagawa, former LDP finance minister, was found dead in his bed today. He was 56 years old. He is the minister who showed up drunk at a G-7 press conference in Rome last year. Apparently he was an alcoholic, something which had been a long-time open secret among journalists and politicos - including his friend Taro Aso who appointed his to the post despite his condition. He lost his seat in the August election, and with the drubbing the LDP took as a whole, and his disgraceful end as minister he was not likely to rebuild his political career anytime soon.

Now, before anybody starts to speculate, the police has no definite cause of death but they have said there's no evidence of it being a suicide at this time. He'd been using sleeping pills, and an accidental overdose could well be a cause (especially if he took them with alcohol), or it could be a heart attack or some other unrelated thing.

I'm feel sympathetic to him no matter what his political views, and no matter how he died I feel sad that he had to end up like this. I certainly have no warm feelings toward the LDP, but that doesn't mean I automatically dislike its members individually. It is easy to ridicule and despise politicians - and many of them do make it easy for us - but the truth is rather more nuanced than that. Yes, Nakagawa was likely out of his depth as finance minister, especially during a world-wide economic crisis and even more so with a debilitating condition like untreated alcoholism.

Some spectacular exceptions aside, politicians are generally no more evil or wilfully criminal than the rest of us. They usually get into politics from a genuine desire to improve the country and the lives of its citizens - "improvement" can of course mean very different things, but political views don't become criminal or evil just because you disagree with them.

And politicians at higher levels are not incompetent. Being out of your depth - to be promoted to beyond your ability - does not mean you're a dunce. It just means you tried for a bit too much, and that you (and others) misjudged just how much you're capable of. Nakagawa may not have been cut out to be finance minister of the third largest economy in the world. But failing at this level is like failing in the Olympics - you have to be very, very good indeed to even get the opportunity. That he was even seriously considered for the job means he was a more capable man in his field than any of us chattering about it afterwards.


  1. Indeed,watching some of the past footage shown on TV of him, there is something about the man behind the face, that you can see through his eyes, that given the way things ended, made me feel sympathetic to him. A somewhat unnerving feeling that he felt uncomfortable in his own skin. This is how I would feel, if I not only was not capable for a job, but was so in full view of the public. He was predisposed, say by genetics to alcoholism, or by say an anxiety disorder/unipolar depression mental to alcoholism, then he did very well to keep it together in such a tough environment as long as he did. Still do not like what he stood for, but like you say we can still sympathise with the predicament of the man.

    Even if it was suicide it is not very likely that it will administratively be listed as so, given my experiences of people in Japan who have befallen this fate - there will be no judicial autopsy afterall, in which case registration of official causes of death can be "handled" between hospital/police and family. Even friends may be kept in the dark, although there are enough "cultural codes" here around suicide to say it without saying it.

    That said, having had experiences with these kinds of pills, (as opposed to insane stuff like Oxycontin), then even when mixed with alcohol, you do have to willfully go quite a lot past the prescribed amount - the fact he has had years of experience with both seems a little bit suggestive to me.

  2. I despise many of his political views. But I have no hard feelings for the man. After all, the outward face of politicians and other public people have only a superficial connection to their private, personal selves. Hard to dislike somebody when you have no idea who they are.


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