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Japan: Should a Famous Comedian's Mum Be Allowed Social Aid?

In April 2012, a Japanese magazine reported that the mother of a famous wealthy comedian Jun-ichi Komoto had received social aid. The payments are understood to have began when his income was still unstable; the amount gradually decreased as his income grew and have now been terminated.

Nevertheless, he became the subject of massive outrage in the media and online, due to the misconception that he did not support his mother despite having a large income – even though legally he did nothing wrong.

Satsuki Katayama, an upper-house politician from the first opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP – conservative) revealed the comedian’s name on her blog [jp], and insisted that the criteria for receiving social aid should be tightened. She repeatedly asserted this on her Twitter [jp] account [aggregated here] and in media interviews, resulting in further online disputes.

Here are tweets favouring Ms Katayama’s position:

@kikko_no_blog [jp]:

お腹を痛めた子どもが2人もいて、そのうちの1人は吉本興業の人気芸人で、毎晩のように後輩たちを引き連れて飲み歩いてたって言うのに、お腹を痛めたお母さんは生活保護を受けて暮らしてたなんて、これほど酷い話はない。世界でたった1人のお母さんにこんな思いをさせるなんて最低のクズ野郎だよ。

There is no sadder story than that of a mother having lived on welfare while one of two sons is a famous comedian with Yoshimoto Kogyo [famous entertainment agency] and went drinking almost every night with his junior colleagues. What a disgusting guy to render his mother so miserable.

@wranglerrefugee [jp]:

@SekoHiroshige ブログ拝見しました。年老いた母と病弱の姉まで扶養している私からすれば、次長課長河本氏の問題は看過できません。正直者が馬鹿を見ることは許してはならないと考えております。

@SekoHiroshige I have read your blog. For me, supporting an elderly mother and an unwell sister, I cannot ignore his case. We should not allow for dishonesty to pay.

@masaki_26 [jp]:

@katayama_s 生活保護を受けられなくてお亡くなりになられた方も多数います、今も受けられなくて生きるのにギリギリの方がいます。そう言う人が助けられる日本であって欲しいです。金持ちが自分の出費を減らす為の生活保護では無いのです。見て見ぬ振りをする今までから変わりましょう。

@katayama_s Many have passed away and not been able to receive social aid. Many are not able to receive it now and are in a critical life-or-death situation. Hope Japan is a country where such people are to be helped. Social aid is not designed to reduce the expenses of the rich. We must change this conniving society.

@tsukurin51 [jp]:

@katayama_s 私も片山議員を支持します!そう、生活保護は生きるか死ぬかの選択なんです。国や行政はこの境界線を明確にするべき。それが難しいなら生活保護を受けている人にはボランティア活動や何らかの義務を科すべき。
ただで月20万円近くもらうなんてあり得ない!

@katayama_s I too support you! Yes, social aid is the line between living or dying. The nation and government should make this line clearer. If it’s difficult, they should obligate recipients to do some civic volunteer activities. There’s no way to receive about 200,000 yen [of social aid] for nothing.

While Ms Katayama stated she does not intend to pursue liability [jp] of a person or a company, quite a few supportive comments blame the comedian himself, as shown by quoted tweets here. Others raise questions regarding her action.

@chervbim [jp]:

生活保護叩き。叩きやすいところを見繕って激しく叩き、見せしめにする。今後失業者が激増するのに憲法で保障されたセーフティーネットである生活保護の受給が白眼視され、罪責感を強要される社会になる。一度落ちたら死ぬしかない社会だ。大人しく我慢してたら死ぬまで小突き回されるぞ。

Social aid bashing. They search and rush harshly to whoever is easiest to blame and make them an example. Even though the jobless rate will increase from now on, the safety-net of social aid will be considered a stigma and society forces you to feel guilty for receiving it. It is society who sentences you to die once you drop off. You’ll be nudged until you die if you keep silence.

@oginonatsuko [jp]:

生活保護費の漏給は餓死や孤独死だけではなく年間3万件を超える自殺、その十倍以上といわれる自殺未遂の大きな要因でもあると思う。この状況を打開するために政治家がやるべきは個人情報をリークして生保受給経験者の家族を叩かせることではないはず。やるべきことをやっていないのは政治のほうだ。

Slipping out from receiving social aid is a major cause of not only hunger deaths and solitary deaths but also suicides that are said to number 30+ thousands cases per year and suicide attempts that are said to be more than 10x of that. What politicians should do is not leak personal information and make people to blame the family of recipient.

@qianbianwanhua [jp]:

保護受給をしている「一部のひと」の苦しみや痛みは、無視されてもいいものなのか。誰がそれを決めるのか。生活保護を切り下げて、一体誰が得をするというのか。生活保護然り、「一部のひと」を切り捨てて「多数のひと」を幸福にする、などという発想は、いったいいつ、止まるのだろう。幻想なのに。

Could the agony or pain of “one of those” who receive the aid be ignored? Who decides it? Who the hell will get any benefits from cutting social aid? When the hell will the idea of cutting “one of them” off to make “most of them” happier be finished, such as social aid reduction? That’s a delusion.

As a result of this overheated dispute, the comedian lost more than one commercial appearance. He held a press conference [jp] to apologise on May 25, 2012. While he emphasized no law was broken he apologized for his lack of awareness and expressed he would like to return the aid she received.

He actually returned [jp] the amount quoted by the local government on June 26, just one month after the press conference.

On the other hand, some netizens are getting anxious over actual effects on people's lives by this chain of events. Hearing a comment [jp] by the Head of LDP’s panel on social aid [jp], Mr. Hiroshige Seko, to aim for the modification of the social aid system, @yukipaon tweeted [jp]:

つまり、弱者は死ね、と。 → 親族の扶養義務徹底…自民、生活保護法改正案を提出へ…

“LDP to submit Social Aid Reform — Thorough Duty of Support by Family –” In short, the weaker should die.

Mikata Takahashi, a user of blogos, left a humorous but sarcastic comment [jp]:

無理だよ。賛成・反対の前に、3親等に扶養義務を持たせる法律なんて作れっこない…(中略)…それよりも「困っている叔父さんは助けなさい」と国家に言われる事に違和感あるね。そのうち法律で「婚姻を結んだ男女は、週2回以上セックスをしなさい」と定められそうだ。

Impossible. Before you thumb [like] up or down, you can’t make a law which obligates one to support relatives within third-degree of kinship [...] I rather feel unreasonable to be ordered “to help your uncle in need” by the state. It may be legislated that “man and woman in marital relationship shall have sex twice or more in a week” soon.

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