MUSINGS / April 14, 2017

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe following is a translation of the Henshu Techo column from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s April 14 issue.

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In old yakuza movies, you hear particular words that describe the power balance among gangsters in terms of who ranks higher or who has more clout. For instance, “those brothers are 7 to 3,” they would say, or “they’re 4 to 6,” or even “the brothers are gorinsagari.”

They say gorinsagari is a 5.5 to 4.5 relationship in which the senior and the junior gangster are actually equals, but the latter concedes half a point to the former, who gains half a point, for some reason, making them “almost equals.” How should the relationship between the two be regarded today? The columnist is now talking about North Korea, which has been behaving like a rogue, and its senior partner China, which has been backing it.

The United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier to waters off the Korean Peninsula, and military tension in the area over what Pyongyang has been up to is mounting. China has let the situation escalate to this point by safeguarding North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s administration, which has been obsessed with its nuclear development. As a result, Beijing has, in fact, been helping the North act recklessly, and for this, the blame China must bear is considerable. China does not find it hard to employ its technique of “threatening and coaxing,” so it should apply this and other methods to urge its junior partner to restrain itself.

There is an odd theory regarding the origin of the Japanese word suppokasu, which means to leave undone what needs to be done. According to the Butsuruishoko dictionary from the Edo period (1603-1867), the word derives from a set of three kanji which literally means, “to dump in the Bohai Sea.” Connect Beijing and Pyongyang with a straight line on a map. The Bohai Sea is the body of water you find spreading across the line.

China can’t possibly dump its duties and responsibilities into the Bohai Sea. It’s time for the big brother to exhibit his clout.

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