Sunday, May 5, 2013

Abe in the Tank

Americans snickered this week at the viral photo of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a tank wearing a helmut. It recalled a similar image of failed presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.

Above is the full event of Abe boarding and then disembarking from the tank. TBS has already removed its video, but there are many personal videos of the visit. The still does not do the event justice.

As you can see, the Abe photo was not taken at a military base or at a JGSDF tank exercise. On April 27, he was visiting Nico Nico Douga, Japan’s popular video-sharing website's, second Nico Nico Chokaigi fan event at the Makuhari Messe center. Geeks, gamers, and cosplayers came out in record numbers.

click for synopsis
Near the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. Forces booth, a Type-10 MBT tank was on display for fans of the new tank-based anime Girls und Panzer. Teenage school girls apparently service and command tanks as a required school sport. In this alternative universe, Sensha-dō (戦車道, lit. "Way of the Tank"), the art of operating combat tanks has become a traditional martial art. Third Reich imagery pervades.

Abe's minister without portfolio for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Tomohiko Taniguchi, although familiar with American politics, ignored one of its critical rules. Never, ever let your candidate wear a hat, any hat, ever. But geek (otaku) culture is part of today's Japan and it is among these disaffected that Abe is turning to for support in his quest for constitutional change. Play-acting is natural for those potential voters.

This not the first time that Abe appealed to Japan's otaku. On election eve in December 2012, Abe gave a speech from a van in Akihabara. As reported on Kotaku, an English-language website for serious gamers, some found the flag waving amidst the displays for video games and girl bands disturbing.

The other golden PR rule in American politics is not to be seen with clowns. But Japan is not the United States.

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