Japan’s prime minister can’t seem to catch a break these days.
Last week, a fashion critic lambasted Yukio Hatoyama for his decision to wear a garish red, blue, green, yellow, and purple checkered cowboy shirt at a recent voter meet-and-greet. “Is anyone able to stop him wearing such a thing?” asked fashionista Don Konishi. “It’s too old. It’s out of date.”
Hatoyama, who led his left-leaning Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to a landslide victory just last year, has since seen his popularity rating sink below 20 percent. While it’s unclear how heavily the premier’s fashion choices are weighing on his popularity, he has come under harsh scrutiny for his rudderless leadership and for dithering over a series of issues, including a campaign pledge to move a controversial U.S. military base off Japan’s southernmost island of Okinawa.
After months of vacillating and missing several of his own self-imposed deadlines, Hatoyama finally announced Sunday that the base would stay in Okinawa after all. Appearing alongside Okinawan Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, Hatoyama said the base “will have to stay in Okinawa,” and apologized, “from the bottom of my heart for the confusion I have caused the people of Okinawa in not being able to keep my promise.”
Nakaima, called the prime minister’s decision, “extremely regrettable and very difficult to accept.” Like many of his fellow Okinawans, he is opposed to keeping the base on the picturesque island. Protestors outside the press conference chanted, “Hatoyama, go home.”
The problem, many say, is not the decisions Hatoyama makes, but the way he makes them. On Okinawa, for instance, he managed not only to break a campaign promise and offend Okinawans and his own supporters, but also irritated his coalition partners, who are opposed to the base, and damaged Japan’s relations with the United States, its closest ally.
Hatoyama faces critical elections for the upper house of parliament in July, and many in his DPJ party are worried their dithering—and increasingly unpopular—leader could lead the party to a disastrous defeat.
Konishi, the fashion critic, had his own predictions.
“It seems the DPJ is over with this shirt,” he warned.
-By Brian J. Forest, Contributing Editor