TOKYO, SEPT. 28 -- Can the golden orator of modern Japan work his political magic on an American audience?
Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, whose formidable political skills have won him enormous popularity at home, will learn the answer to that question this weekend when he launches what, for a Japanese politician, amounts to a personal public relations blitz.
Kaifu will be in New York today through Monday to attend the World Summit for Children at the United Nations. But he also has planned a series of media-intensive events -- including a one-on-one with Dan Rather on this evening's CBS News and a press conference with American reporters -- in an effort to convince America that Japan is doing its fair share to help the U.S.-led multinational force in the Persian Gulf.
A college debating champion who is generally considered the most effective orator in his generation of Japanese politicians, the 59-year-old Kaifu is a past master at winning audience sympathy.
Last month, for example, Kaifu traveled to Nagasaki and visited a nursing home for aged victims of the 1945 atomic bomb. Recalling the day Nagasaki was bombed, the prime minister related in spellbinding terms how the news of the terrible new weapon had reached his rural town and spread from one house to the next.
"I can still feel the special horror of that day," Kaifu said quietly, his voice starting to falter. By the end of his 15-minute talk, most of the audience was crying, Kaifu was crying and an unbreakable bond had been created between the politician and the people in that room.
In the United States, of course, a Japanese prime minister may be facing a tough sell these days. Japan has been severely criticized for delay in responding to requests for help in the gulf crisis. Kaifu's trip comes just one week after a newly appointed member of his cabinet, Justice Minister Seiroku Kajiyama, observed that some U.S. neighborhoods have been ruined when blacks moved in.
Kaifu's press conference Monday afternoon in New York could pose a revealing challenge. The Japanese-style press conferences Kaifu is used to are marked by much more decorum and much less spontaneity than the American version.
In Kaifu's Tokyo press conferences, the "club" of correspondents covering him agrees beforehand on the questions to be asked. The prime minister generally gets a copy of the questions ahead of time. He sits at a small table bearing his floral teacup, and frequently responds by reading prepared answers to the prepared questions.
To mark the end of a press conference, Kaifu stands, bows deeply to the assembled reporters and then walks away. And that's really the end. While he is leaving the room, the reporters sit in silence; the idea of shouting an extra question at the departing prime minister is totally alien.