Chapter 26: Where Home Is (2)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
About 10 days later, Kei was returning home by taxi at night. There was maybe 10 meters from the road in front of his apartment building to the auto-locking entryway when he heard the sound of footsteps jogging towards him from behind. Kei turned around sharply. He had developed a habit of always checking his surroundings before exiting taxis, and the sudden appearance of a figure out of nowhere sent his defenses on high alert. Kei had no desire to read an article about himself getting involved in an incident.
“Oh, I apologize for startling you.”
It was a middle-aged man who didn’t look like an armed robber or a bag snatcher, but in his hand was a digital voice recorder, which set off a different set of alarm bells.
“My name is Miyamoto from Sports Daily. May I confirm that I am speaking with Asahi TV Announcer Kunieda Kei?”
What does this sports paper reporter want with me?
Kei hesitated to blow off the reporter and pretend that he had the wrong person. The reporter had already figured out where he lived, and it wasn’t likely to work. Kei replied calmly, “Yes, you are speaking with him.”
“Sorry to bother you at this hour. It must be tough working so late at night.”
Kei wanted to say, Right back at you, but he suppressed the urge and only smiled back at the guy.
“Umm, let me get straight to the point. There are rumors that you will run for a seat in the lower House in the next election.”
Kei was seriously impressed that he didn’t exclaim What the hell? because that was what he was thinking.
“You enjoy a high degree of popularity and name recognition. If the rumors are true, I believe you would be the biggest headliner in the next election. And so I’ve decided to come here tonight to talk to you myself.”
“I’m sorry, but where did you hear these rumors?”
“Will you be running in the next election?”
Tch, the damn bastard.
The guy didn’t look like he’d give up his sources regardless if he actually had them, so asking him was pointless.
“No, I will not,” Kei answered, his response clear and measured. “No one has approached me regarding the subject, and even if someone had, I would immediately decline. I am very surprised to hear this highly unsubstantiated rumor.”
“Oh, so you don’t have any intentions at the present. Anyway, it’s not certain that we will have elections any time soon.”
“All right, thank you very much for your time. I may trouble you with further questions in the future, so I would very much appreciate your continued cooperation.”
Kei gave the reporter an ambiguous nod as he thought, What the hell do you mean continued cooperation? I hope your recorder fucking explodes. He entered his apartment building and rode the elevator to his floor. By the time he reached his apartment, Kei still felt sick to his stomach. He somehow imagined someone across the way hiding behind a curtain with a long-range zoom lens trained on him, and he hesitated to turn on the lights. But even if he tried to hide his apartment number, it was most likely already too late. It was probably a small consolation that Kei ran into the reporter while he was in his formal work mode. The big difference in his private appearance could fool most people, but for reporters who were accustomed to staking people out, if they looked closely enough, they could probably figure it out.
Kei smacked the light switch on, slumped down onto his sofa, and muttered, “What the hell.” Every time there were elections, people would speculate about who might run for office. The papers wrote about whomever they wanted, taking their wild speculation wherever they pleased, and if others dug into the truth a little and found out they were completely baseless, it didn’t matter to them—no one ever took responsibility for any of it. The figures written about in the stories might not have wanted to run in the first place, but they would run headlines like Calls It Quits anyway. Maybe someone at the network or a presenter on a show had gone around saying, Kunieda would be a great politician, and it got exaggerated to grand enough proportions that the moronic reporters decided to come investigate.
What the hell’s wrong with you worthless dumbasses?
Kei took out his cell phone and called Ushio.
“Yes, yes, what’s up?”
“A sports paper reporter showed up outside my apartment just now.”
“So they finally found out about your fake personality.”
“No, you idiot! …They asked if I was running for office.”
“Huh?” Even Ushio sounded puzzled by the news.
“I told them that I wasn’t, but I don’t know if it convinced them.”
Kunieda Kei was a TV announcer. Even if he had an ulterior motive and wanted to run for office, he would have to hide his intentions to run until the last possible second. The moment that he declared any sort of political inclination, he would no longer appear on TV in his current function. The reporter had to be aware of this fact and had no reason to trust his answer in the first place. The more that he denied it, the more suspicious he would look, but he couldn’t say that yes, he was running when he wasn’t, and if he said something like no comment, they would effectively take it as a yes anyway…
Huh? I’m cornered in a checkmate here.
“Hmmm… So why did they ask you the question in the first place?”
“No idea. I’m 99.9 percent sure that they’re shooting in the dark and seeing what sticks.”
“Hmmm… So then?” Ushio prompted.
“Huh? So you know…”
“You can’t come over until things cool down?”
The reporter might come again, and there was no telling when other idiots might come running to try to get an interview. And Kei found it hard to object too strongly as someone who was on the interviewer side of the process. He was far too disadvantaged in this situation.
“All right then, how about I go over to your place instead?” Ushio suggested in a light tone, probably sensing Kei’s anxiety. “They’ll get tired of it eventually, so don’t stew about it too much.”
“What, are you feeling lonely? Want to do it over the phone like that one time?”
“No way in hell!!”
Kei abruptly cut the call. Then he repeated the words, It’ll cool down soon, in his head like he was trying to convince himself of it.
Kei woke up in the morning with the naive hope that yesterday’s little run-in was nothing but a dream, but when he looked at his cell phone, there was a stupid message from his moron junior colleague that said, Senpai, you’re the top story on Yahoo, and reality came crashing back on him. In this information-based society, it only took a couple of hours for his words to appear in a newspaper and then be featured on the Internet news sites. Kei brushed his teeth feeling fed up with everything when he received an incoming call on his cell phone. He rushed to rinse his mouth to answer it. It was the manager of the announcer department, and Kei knew exactly why he was calling.
“This is Kunieda speaking.”
“Right, sorry to call you so early. Have you seen this morning’s Sports Daily?”
“I have not read the article yet, but I understand that it has made headlines in the news. A reporter visited me outside of my apartment last night.”
“I see. Well, it was a highly questionable article without any names, attributing everything to ‘talk around the political world,’ like they were suggesting the ruling party’s election campaign committee was secretly in on it.”
“I deeply apologize. It was quite late at night when it happened, and I decided to hold off on reporting it to you.”
“No, it’s fine. …So, uh, I do need to do my due diligence here. It’s really nothing more than due diligence that I ask you this.”
“I’m not running for office,” Kei replied without waiting to hear the question. “It is inexplicable to me where this baseless rumor came from. I cannot call to mind ever making personal connections with anyone involved in politics.”
“All right, I understand. I’m sorry, but you will probably face the same questions from upper management when you come in today. Just answer them the same as you did now. Even if this commotion fizzles out pretty fast, we need to be sure for caution’s sake, you understand?”
It was reasonable that the network would be nervous about such a story running in the news. They had invested time, money, and effort into developing their announcers; they weren’t going to sit on their hands and let the political world snatch away their best talent. Kei wondered which pissed them off more: this or announcers going independent to inflate their salary contracts.
I don’t feel any particular loyalty to the network, but I’m not dissatisfied by anything either, so you can relax.
“Oh, one more thing. Sorry that it’s almost an afterthought, but February is the awards ceremony for the Commercial Broadcasters Grand Prix. It’s our turn to host, and I’d like to ask you to do it.”
Why do I have to be dragged to a social event for fellow TV industry insiders? There are plenty of announcers with free time on their hands.
“You would like me to host? I thought that it was announced at our year-end department meeting that someone else would be hosting it.”
“Yeah, I’m not too clear on the details, but apparently your name was floated for the job.”
Who the hell opened their big mouth?
But there was the matter with the article, and it was probably wise to be more submissive than usual. Kei politely replied, “I am very honored. I will do my best,” and ended the call.
Kei swallowed his annoyance and headed into work earlier than usual. He proceeded into a conference room where Producer Shitara, the Announcer Department Manager, and the higher-ups from the News and Programming departments were gathered. It was a similar lineup to when Kei was ordered to step in and host The News. The only difference today was the addition of Asou in the room. Kei disavowed all political involvement under their questioning, repeating word for word his answer from earlier in the morning.
“All right.” It wasn’t clear that the Programming Director really believed Kei, but he solemnly nodded and turned to Shitara. “Today’s broadcast will be no different than usual,” he ordered. “There’s no need to mention the rumors about him running for office. Addressing that ruse of an article from the sports paper will only get people talking about it more. If people come asking for comments, just tell them that they’re groundless rumors.”
“The story has really taken off on the Internet though,” Shitara said.
“And if we respond, they’ll only keep writing about it.”
“Then what about our criticisms for Sports Daily? We can roast them until they wish that they never messed with us in the first place.”
Hell yeah, eviscerate the damn bastards, Kei yelled in his head, but the News Director frowned and said, “Let’s not do that.”
“It’s an underhanded article, but it does include Kunieda’s statement. It follows that rule at the very minimum. They have a relationship with our sports department, so let’s try not to aggravate the situation. We’re each doing our jobs here.”
And here we have it, cronyism behind the scenes in the media at its finest.
“What do you think, Kunieda?” Asou had kept his mouth shut until now. “Are you happy not addressing any of the rumors on air?”
“Yes, I will follow whatever the network thinks is best.”
“…All right then.”
After the questioning was over and the room was dismissed, Shitara came up to Kei and said, “What a disaster.”
“I’m not sure I would quite describe it that way… I’m just in shock by everything that has transpired.”
“Do you remember last fall when a reporter at Sports Daily was involved in a sexual assault scandal? There weren’t many stories at the time, so we ran it in the late-night and morning shows, and they weren’t very happy about it. We were the only ones who repeated the story.”
“They didn’t want us to air the story so many times?”
“No, it’s just that the reporter’s superior is well-connected to some pretty powerful people, and apparently he facilitated a number of interviews for us. And now there’s a bit of a crack in that pipeline… That’s probably why the senior management here doesn’t want to provoke them any further than necessary.”
Heh, that has nothing to do with me.
Hearing that inside story only pissed Kei off more. I hope the printing presses at Sports Daily break down all at the same time, he wished, placing a petty curse on them. When he arrived at the announcer department, Tatsuki spotted him right away and called, “Hey, it’s Representative Kunieda!”
I’m gonna kill you, seriously.
“Man, it must be nice to be a member of the Diet~ You get to ride the JR trains for free. And I think you get all your office, document, travel, and hotel expenses covered? I’d like their monthly salary of 1,000,000 yen~3 Bring me to one of the fancy restaurants in Akasaka, okay? Hmm, but if you run, you should run for the House of Councillors instead. You don’t have to worry about it getting dissolved, and the term is longer.”
“Minagawa-kun,” Kei said amiably while thinking, Brat, you want me to execute you? “I’m not running for office.”
“Haha, I know, don’t worry~ I’m just kidding around~”
It’s not funny, dammit.
And when this moron said, I know, don’t worry, he was hinting at other things at the same time, and it irritated the hell out Kei. For the rest of the day, Kei kept running into worthless idiot after worthless idiot asking about the damn article with their curiosity on full display, and it completely wore him out.
In the evening when the staff for The News gathered for their regular meeting, Shitara started off with an announcement to briefly address matters.
“Kunieda is not running for office. Our broadcast today will be no different from the usual. It goes without saying, but please refrain from any words or actions that will make our presenters nervous before going on air, okay?”
Whether his mild warning was effective or not, the team went about their business as usual until 10 pm came around, and operations for the show proceeded as normal.
It was 10:40 pm, and the flash news segment just wrapped up with a series of brief news clips. The floor manager held up a cue card that read, Next topic: Physical abuse statistics for 30 sec. They had already discussed this in the pre-show meeting, and Kei wasn’t worried about this topic at all.
As Kei slightly straightened himself at the table, Asou suddenly spoke up.
“Kunieda-san, will you be running for office?”
Hey, this is a full-on adlib here. No, more like a surprise attack.
The staff in the studio also paused what they were doing, completely caught off guard. Kei immediately recovered his bearings, smiled wryly, and replied, “No, I’m not.”
“Oh, really? I was very surprised when I read the sports paper this morning.”
“I was very surprised as well.”
Asou’s eyes sent him a message that said, Speak more—it was a tacit understanding between on-air presenters that didn’t require words. Kei strengthened his resolved, stared into the camera with the red tally light on, and slightly pulled his head up.
“There are a few news outlets reporting about my possible candidacy for the lower House elections, but I have absolutely no intentions to run for office, nor have I been approached by any political party regarding any such matter. As an announcer, my job is to convey the news clearly and accurately to our viewers, and this will not be changing any time in the future.”
Kei finished what he had to say and drew his lips together. It was a signal to Asou that said, That’s all I have, and now back to you.
“Well, no one knows if the election will even happen when all is said and done. After the commercial break, we’ll bring you sports.”
Asou closed it brilliantly. He followed up Kei’s serious explanation with a light rejoinder, leaving the impression that it was far too early for people to be making a fuss about the rumors. It also helped lighten the mood in the studio. Kei would have liked a damn head’s up beforehand, but Asou probably wanted to see an authentic response from him that couldn’t be manufactured or planned for—whether Kei really had no plans to run for office.
After the broadcast, Shitara entered the studio from the production control room.
“You sure pulled a fast one on us.”
His voice sounded troubled, but he was grinning from ear to ear.
“I wasn’t under a gag order. Kunieda did nothing but answered my question. If he had followed their stupid orders and said, ‘Oh, I’m not allowed to say anything,’ now that would be a bigger mess.”
“I suppose.” Shitara looked happy as he moaned, “I’m gonna get yelled at again.”
“Kunieda, did it inconvenience you?”
“…No, not at all. But why did you do it so suddenly?”
“If we arrange it beforehand, it’ll sound rehearsed like a script. I also knew that you’d be able to stay calm through it all.”
“But Asou-san, won’t the higher-ups be unhappy with you?”
“So what if they’re unhappy? What’s wrong with me asking a presenter a question on my own show? If I was in your position, I would want to tell the viewers in my own words what I had to say. I thought you might feel the same way, so I decided to ask you right then and there. If anyone asks you about it, just say that I acted on my own accord.”
It was always refreshing to hear this man use the words “my show” to assert his power and authority. Asou wasn’t the one writing the scripts. He wasn’t the one putting the news clips together. But it was beyond a shadow of a doubt that Asou Keiichi made The News the show that it was, that this show was Asou Keiichi’s show.
“Thank you very much,” Kei said, lowering his head in a bow.
Asou replied with a wry smile. “It’s nothing. I understand the nuisance that you’re feeling very well.”
“You’ve been written about many times in the papers in a similar way, I recall.”
“For a while, there were crazy rumors about me running for the governor’s office that people believed, and it was a real mess. I also remember them writing about me going independent. Something about a salary of 200 million yen4 not being enough, but in reality, I’ve never received such a nice offer in my life.”
“I wonder how and when the situation can recover from the rumors.”
“I can only say that they’ll eventually die out.”
“At least for elections, there’s a deadline for announcing a person’s candidacy for a seat. Once that passes, everything will automatically quiet down. It’s just that we never really know when we will get the lower House elections. It’s all up to when the media gets tired of the dissolution speculation. When that happens, it’ll go away naturally.”
Dammit, then they should just hold the elections now. Announce the dissolution of the lower House and let the candidacy period be over and done with. There’s no way for me to clear my name otherwise.
“This is what happens when you get exposure on TV. If what they’re saying is nonsense, then my best advice is to live your life as you normally would.”
Um, but for me, living my life normally is the problem here.
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.