Different Leaders, Common Themes – U.S. and Japan


Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso may have more in common with outgoing U.S. President Bush than with President-elect Obama – at least for now.

First of all, they are both in the same generation – Bush is 62 years old and Aso is five years older, which could make 47-year-old Obama look like their nephew, if not a son. Both Bush and Aso come from political and wealthy backgrounds. Bush’s father, George H. W. Bush, made it to the White House, while Aso’s grandfather Shigeru Yoshida served as Japan’s post-war prime minister. Both men joined family businesses before venturing into the political arena. Bush worked in his family’s oil business and Aso was involved in the cement and mining business of Aso Corp.

The recent “accidents” by Aso have created another addition to the Bush-Aso similarity list – gaffes, namely the mispronunciation of words. Bush’s pronunciation of the word “nuclear” often has been pointed out during his terms although he has not seemed to change the way he reads the word. Within his first two months in office, Aso, an avid reader of Japanese comics or anime, has failed to correctly pronounce more than a few Japanese words during his speeches – all written in kanji, modified Chinese characters that are used in the modern Japanese writing system.

When asked by reporters about his unique readings of the words, Aso responded, “Those were just reading errors, just mistakes.” Some critics made swift suggestions to Aso – to study kanji rather than read comic books.

During his meeting with a group of college students this month, Aso complained that he had not had enough time to read his favorite weekly comic books.

The Japanese Ministry of Education lists 1,945 characters as “joyo kanji,” the characters used on a daily basis. Japanese high school graduates are supposed to be able to read and write all of them.

But the widespread use of computers in classrooms and at home may be compromising students’ ability to write and read kanji characters as the built-in software does the work for them.

Perhaps their comic book loving prime minister is suffering from the same?

Read more blogs from Noriko Namiki

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