Photo/Illutration Reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba listens to a question during a Lower House Budget Committee session on Nov. 25. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto)

What is the opposite of the Japanese word “isagiyoi” (gracious, manly, sportsmanlike)?

While “isagiwarui” is wrong, candidate phrases include “migurushii” (unsightly), “akirame ga yokunai” (fighting the inevitable) and “mirengamashii” (regretful).

A potential four-character compound word is “so-seki chin-ryu” (unwilling to admit one’s defeat or error), which literally means using a stone to wash the mouth and using the flow of a river as a pillow.

Just writing these words and phrases depresses me.

I watched reconstruction minister Kenya Akiba answering questions on allegations about issues of “money in politics” during a televised Diet session on Nov. 25.

His defiant attitude and distorted logic made me feel that he lacked something. The word that came to mind was isagiyoi.

Asked about suspicions that he paid two of his aides for their work to support his election campaign, in a potential violation of the law, Akiba declined to submit relevant records on the matter on the grounds that reporting such information is not legally required.

If this qualifies for what Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called “a meticulous explanation,” the expression’s meaning must have changed without my knowing it.

Akiba also repeated the familiar refrain for politicians embroiled in a scandal: “I do not remember.”

I suggest he taste a madeleine cake dipped in tea. In Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” doing so enables the protagonist to instantly remember lost memories.

In China, people use a more astringent phrase to ridicule those who hold on to power: “to not shed a tear until one sees the coffin.”

It means refusing to give up a futile struggle until one sees the coffin.

“Prepare my coffin” is a killer line a senior Chinese government official uses when claiming to be squeaky clean.

Kishida “dismissed” three Cabinet ministers during the past month.

His decisions to replace them were all badly delayed, and the ministers kept quibbling, causing precious time for Diet deliberations to be wasted.

Are we about to see the same thing happen again?

Now, I have remembered it. The opposite of isagiyoi is “ojogiwa ga warui” (not knowing when to give up), isn’t it?

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 27

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.