It Ain't The Jerry Springer Show
Japanese obsession with two feuding old women and a vase

TOKYO -- The economy is still in shreds and the Aum Shrinkyo cult is threatening to make a comeback, so naturally, the Japanese media is abuzz about... the daily routine of a cranky old woman. Every day, TV news programs lead with the "latest" on 67-year-old Sachiyo Nomura, and even prime minister Keizo Obuchi has been forced to add his opinion: Apparently, she's a serious social problem. Of course, she did run against his party in the last election, but the scandal didn't start with politics. The Sachi-Michi War, as it is called, started with a spat over a vase.

See also...
... by W. Blake Gray
... in the Scope section
... from August 27, 1999

Sachiyo Nomura had long been famous for being famous: a former teen beauty queen who traded on her status as a baseball manager's wife to become an outspoken talk show regular. She parlayed this modicum of fame into a run for parliament in 1996 and almost made it; she was listed sixth on the proportional vote list of a party that won five seats. The Möbius-strip celebrity was invited (with fellow golden girl Michiyo Asaka) to appear on the show Michi Sachi no Jukujo Taiketsu, which means "The showdown between older women Michi and Sachi."

Jukujo is an odd word; it means "older woman" in a positive sense, but it isn't often used -- apparently there just isn't much call in conversation for a polite word for older woman. Anyway, the real fighting happened offstage. Michi later complained that Sachi didn't show up on time, and that a vase (greenish, with flowers) had gone mysteriously missing. Astute investigative journalists turned up footage filmed in Sachi's house where you could clearly see the purloined vase (greenish, with flowers) in the background.

That was more than enough to let loose the media pack dogs. Michi's still slagging Sachi on camera when asked, but the war she started has left her behind. Now networks are devoting up to two hours a day to Sachi, whether there's a "new development" or not. Reporters are digging into her past trying to find discrepancies in her resume or people who hated her before it was fashionable. Her brother has published memoirs revealing the heinous fact that, when she was six, Sachi played so loudly the neighbors complained. However, the most enterprising "victim" to date is Emi Watanabe, a retired skater: Sachi once called her a "fat pig" (or it may have been an "ugly cow" -- reports differ).

Every morning, the prim (and chubby) Watanabe appears on a different station talking about her emotional distress, while the newscasters nod with the same narrow-lipped concern they might offer a date-rape victim. Then they typically cut to a scene outside a hall where one of Sachi's self-aggrandizing lectures has been cancelled, where a live reporter interviews the disappointed fans. Then it's back to the studio for a panel discussion of how bad a person she is.

Sachi's fans -- generally disgruntled housewives who have paid for the lecture series -- say that she has been cut down because Japan just can't stand a woman who speaks her mind. There is some truth to that. Sachi claims that, before the "war" got out of hand, she was about to form a women's political party, which would present a formidable challenge in a country where women are grossly underrepresented.

Junko Hanna, features editor at the Daily Yomiuri newspaper, defends the media hoopla: "A lot of people had an axe to grind with Sachi, but they couldn't do anything because she was famous." And yet, as the story drags on, the cult of her personality rises, and there is reason to believe, like many other larcenous, rude and duplicitous politicians before her, Sachi might yet roar forth reborn.

Tokyo/San Francisco nomad W. Blake Gray hopes that his favorite Japanese skater, Midori Ito, is able to maintain her figure in retirement.