JIN-270 -- Hostage Who? Right Wing Silence Amid Crisis

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Issue No. 270
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Hostage Who? Right Wing Silence Amid Crisis

>> Nissin Knows China

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Hostage Who? Right Wing Silence Amid Crisis

FOR NEARLY a week the Japanese hostage crisis has been in full swing,
but you wouldn't know it from the media coverage. We are starting to
wonder how this business is really going to play itself out.

It is interesting, for example, that it took only four days for the
hostage crisis to be shunted off the front pages of the heavyweight
newspapers. Four days of no news and no new footage are apparently
enough to persuade the mass media that interest has waned and that
the danger for the government is over.

Last Thursday, on the night it began, we were sitting in a little izakaya
in Aoyama. The hostages, the threats and the ultimatum were enough to
persuade us -- like so many others -- that we were looking at a genuine
challenge to the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi. It is Koizumi, and
Koizumi alone, who has staked his career on the act of bringing
Japan onto the international scene as more than just America's ATM
machine, and therefore it is Koizumi's neck on the block now that the
grim old realities of playing with the big boys is hitting home.

But, wait a minute: Where is all the public outcry and horror at Koizumi's
sang froid? Yes, we've sat through endless hours of wailing and fretting
by the poor families of this unfortunate trio. But 600 chanting protesters
outside Koizumi's office does not, in any possible contortion of sense,
represent a "compelling threat to Mr Koizumi's prime ministership."

A glance at any decent chatroom reveals plenty of conspiracy theorizing:
Were the three part of the proposed "human shield" before the war? Did
they get themselves caught deliberately to get the SDF out of Iraq and
embarrass the PM? Are they commies? The list is endless.

More sinister, though, has been the reaction of the mainstream Japanese
press. The big newspapers and TV stations are now very clearly playing
the government's game -- making the three look like outsiders and wierdos
so that, should their charred bodies be the next thing anyone sees on Al
Jazeera TV broadcasts, Japanese sympathies will be dulled. And many have
had the gall to start implying that the three were "stupid" to have gone
to Iraq in the first place.

This hostage crisis is vastly important, of course, but not yet for
the reasons many originally said it was. If the three young abductees
had not been impassioned idealists but were instead high school girls
plucked from the streets of Shibuya, the extent of Japanese popular
hand-wringing would have been spectacular. More significantly, it would
have been the right wing acting as demagogues and articulating the
national anguish -- much as they have always done for the families of
Japanese abducted by North Korea -- in a "How dare any filthy foreigners
mess with our people?" sort of message.

But with this crisis, the true face of Japanese nationalism is bared:
The right wing are never going to get behind the plight of three lefties,
whether Japanese or not. This time, that job has been relegated to those
on the left of the political spectrum.

And here is the critical conclusion: Many Japanese are no longer even
faintly interested in the broad conceptual issues that, once upon a
time in Japan, were articulated clearly and most emphatically by the
nation's socialists.

-- The Editors

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>> Nissin Knows China

NISSIN FOODS, the worlds biggest noodle manufacturer, has acquired a
controlling 33.4 percent stake in a major Chinese rival, Hebei Hualong,
China痴 second-biggest instant noodle maker.

The deal, secured at a cost of 20 billion yen, represents the biggest
investment in China by a Japanese food company.

Nissin, which introduced Japanese noodle fans to the concept of the
instant 鼎up Noodle・more than a decade before Batchelor's Pot Noodle
was launched, wanted Hebei because of its network of 16 factories and
120 sales offices throughout China.

Last year, the Japanese ate 50 cups of instant noodles per head of
population. The Chinese managed fewer than one serving each; Nissin
is determined to improve that average.

Nissin wants to introduce the concept of takeout noodles in polystyrene
cups to China's rural communities, who buy noodles in bags and cook
them at home.

Hualong, which has 20 percent of the Chinese noodle market, will use
capital from the deal to build five more factories to boost capacity
by a third. The approach tallies with a comment last year from Koki Ando,
Nissin痴 president, who hinted that such deals would be the only way to
enter the Chinese market quickly.

"We cannot afford to take time to expand our Chinese operation," Ando
said last June.

Looming over Ando's plans for world noodle domination is his 94-year-old
father -- the founder of Nissin, Momofuku Ando.

A marble statue of the man who first realized the market for freeze-dried
noodles stands in the center of his hometown of Ikeda, just outside
Osaka. The plaque simply refers to him as "Lord Noodle."

-- The Editors

For More on "Lord Noodle," check out JI's Kansai column:

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Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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