There is opportunism and then there is plain misunderstanding.
A politician from the newly christened Democratic Party have seized on an overseas cartoon to support their belief that the other G7 leaders could not wait to get away from Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
Assessment of the summit so far has been muted. Very little concrete seems to have come out of it other than the massive expense footed by the Japanese taxpayer (including a very costly venue that will be demolished, the process of which will also cost a small fortune). Moreover, the summit itself was overshadowed by the intense police presence in the Ise area and disproportionately increased security in Tokyo, not to mention the murder case of a young woman in Okinawa by a contractor for the United States military and then President Obama’s landmark visit to Hiroshima.
In the face of such a prosaic summit with so few tangible results, local media and opposition lawmakers have been parsing the overseas response for clues as to international opinion of Prime Minister Abe’s mostly derided economic policies.
At a meeting on May 30th, Kazunori Yamanoi proudly held up the cartoon, which depicts a giant wave with a large mouth while a small boat with the G7 leaders precariously floats nearby. It shows, Yamanoi pronounced confidently, that the overseas media was mocking Abe and his lack of influence with foreign leaders.
Unfortunately, Mr Yamanoi completely missed the point of the original.
The cartoon by Peter Brookes, which appeared in the May 27th edition of The Times where he is resident political cartoonist, actually depicts a “horror scenario” of Boris Johnson as a wave about to swallow the G7 leaders. The British prime minister, David Cameron, is saying: “So good to get away from that bloody idiot!” He means Johnson, not Abe. The face in the wave is instantly recognisable to British people as Johnson, with the crest cleverly standing in for the politico’s trademark blond mop.
Clearly inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa as a nod to the location of the recent G7 summit in Japan, the cartoon is actually very specific to the current British political climate. The country is embroiled in a massive political debate over membership of the EU ahead of a national referendum on the subject later in June. Boris Johnson, erstwhile mayor of London and hairdresser’s despair, has come out as one of the most prominent voices on the “Brexit” campaign advocating, which has alienated him from his quondam ally David Cameron, who is heading the campaign to stay in the EU.
Many see Johnson’s stance as a cynical tactic by the well-educated Conservative politician (and former representative of the most international city in Europe) to appeal to his party’s grassroots in the run-up to a challenge for the leadership. This is geared to happen some time before the next election in 2020 as David Cameron has said he will not stand again, leaving the path open for several candidates. Boris, as he is affectionately known to the British public, is one of the expected heavyweights vying for the top job.
Yamanoi very much got the wrong end of the stick with this one. The “G7 boat”, if you look closely, even includes Shinzo Abe among its passengers, along with Cameron, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, and Francois Hollande. Context, as they say, is everything.
Nice try, Kazunori. Better luck next time.