by Max Barry

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by The Tangled Policymaking Chimera of Baizou. . 1,347 reads.

Cast of Characters

Author's note: The following characters' names are rendered according to Japanese naming conventions with the family name first, followed by the given name.

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Fukushima Sonoko

AGE: 44 (born 1960)
GENDER: Female
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
RELIGION: Agnostic
PARTY: Labor
TIME IN OFFICE: 1998–present (2004)
PRIOR OFFICE: Parliament

Premier Fukushima Sonoko

"I recognize that I have been chosen specifically because my political friends and enemies alike trust me to be an independent voice and thinker. I feel both honored by that trust and deeply humbled by the responsibility."

—Premier Fukushima in her first speech as Premier, 1998

Appointed to the premiership in 1998 by a grand coalition that remains in power in the Parliament, Fukushima Sonoko is the third woman to serve as premier of Baizou. A business graduate of Yamamachi Provincial University with a concentration in nonprofit work, Fukushima began her professional career in the Baizoan Civil Freedoms Chapter (BCFC). During her six years in the BCFC, she served as a local manager, regional director, national board member, and national president.

In 1992, Fukushima ran for office in the Upper Parliament, representing Wakuna Capitol Prefecture (和国首都県). Having become regionally famous through her work in the BCFC, Fukushima won a surprising victory as a newcomer candidate without obvious party affiliation. In 1998, a grand coalition of several parties in the Parliament nominated Fukushima to be premier. She accepted, and after confirmation from Sovereign Oshiro Haruto and recognition from the Council of Citizens and non-rejection from the magistry, Fukushima became the youngest premier in Baizoan history.

During her tenure, Fukushima has strongly supported promoting social welfare and protecting civil liberties. Her policies have included poverty elimination programs, efforts to reduce recidivism, expanding religious freedom, and paying for transitional surgery costs under Baizou's universal healthcare system. The grand coalition has not always been united behind her social welfare and civil liberty platform, but opposition has been relatively limited.

Fukushima's most serious political challenge surrounds magnetic tape manufacturing regulations, as the Parliament and Council struggle with internal divisions on whether, how, and to what extent to regulate tape production, export, and import. The grand coalition put her in office primarily because she did not publicly express a position on the question during her time as a parliamentary representative.

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Mizushima Miya

AGE: 33 (born 1971)
GENDER: Female (trans)
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
RELIGION: Christian, sect unknown
PARTY: Marxist
TIME IN OFFICE: 2004–present (2004)

Ambassador Mizushima Miya

"On the one hand, this is the appointment of a lifetime. On the other hand, I didn't particularly want it. Still, I can't help but be at least a little amused that Baizoan politics has managed to surprise me yet again."

—Former Councilor Mizushima upon being appointed as ambassador-at-large, 2004

Baizou's first ambassador-at-large in sixteen years, Mizushima Miya is also the first transperson and transwoman to be appointed to the Baizoan foreign service.

Professionally, Mizushima comes from an academic background, having graduated from National University in Baizou as a religious studies major at age 24. At age 25, she completed a Master's degree in museum studies and Western religious history at Baizoan Holy Cross College, producing a thesis on a comparative history of Catholic and Latter-day Saint missiology in East Asia. Although she was pursuing a career in the academy, Mizushima suddenly entered politics after running for and winning office as a city councilor in her hometown, Yamamachi (山町). Mizushima initially balanced her time between a career in the professoriate and political service. However, when she became mayor of Yamamachi, she resigned from her position at Yamamachi Provincial University and worked in politics full-time.

In 2003, Mizushima won office in the Council of Citizens and was soon accepted as a minority leader for the Marxist party—if only because the only other member of the Marxist party in the Council was co-chair of the Justice Committee and considered himself too busy to also be minority leader.

In 2004, Mizushima was unexpectedly appointed to serve as Baizou's ambassador-at-large. This was the first time the office had been filled in sixteen years, since 1988.

Before transitioning, Mizushima identified as male and called herself Toyoharu. During this time, she served as a volunteer Christian missionary for over a year in Japan. Today, Mizushima says her relationship to religion became "complicated" after transitioning, but she is known to still attend weekly worship services for a minority Christian sect.

Mizushima transitioned while she was a student at National University. Mizushima's efforts to change her public and university records to reflect her transition sparked massive public interest in LGBTQ questions, and the Baizoan Civil Freedoms Chapter became involved in negotiations, though a legal suit was averted. When asked about these events now, Mizushima says she intentionally avoided the spotlight. She was grateful for the interest and support, but she hoped media attention would stay on the issues and big picture questions while she could stay "ordinary" and finish her education.

In June 2004, Mizushima spoke in a joint panel with Princess Consort Oshiro Yuu at a Pride event in Wakuna. Public response to their panel has been largely positive, and some Baizoan Internet communities have called the two of them "queer icons." In this panel, Mizushima was newly open about her life and experiences, saying she "want[ed] Baizoans of every age, gender identity, and orientation to know they're not alone, that people have done it before, experienced it before, been there before—and we're here for you." She talked about her personal decision on whether and how transition, shared her lesbian orientation, and touched on questions of faith for those whose religions have unclear messages about transness.

Since the June panel, Mizushima has become quite popular among Baizoan youth, leading commentators to ask if she might consider resigning her ambassadorship to run for office again based on her new popularity. Mizushima has so far rejected these ideas, saying, "I may not have asked for the ambassadorship, but I respect my colleagues for trusting me with it, and I want Baizou's big step onto the world stage to be a good one—and immediately resigning wouldn't look good."

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Oshiro Haruto

AGE: 32 (born 1972)
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
RELIGION: Catholic, Buddhist
REIGN: 2002–present (2004)

Sovereign Oshiro Haruto

"I am honored that my mother has trusted me to take up the throne while she attends to her health. May she receive healing from God and peace through the Buddha."

—Sovereign Haruto upon acceding to the throne, 2002

Oshiro Haruto is one of Baizou's youngest monarchs in recent memory, having been crowned after his mother Oshiro Airi abdicated the throne following a stroke. Haruto's reign has been marked by significant restraint, a sharp contrast to his much more politically active mother. Although Haruto continues his mother's tradition of monthly meetings with party leaders, but he does not usually hold press conferences, has co-written no bills, and has used his sovereign power of veto only once, during the Global Federation membership crisis. (Haruto has technically written three bills, but each were annual budget proposals, as Sovereigns have total authority over budget proposals, though no authority over budget amendments. Each proposal simply stated Haruto's faith that the legislature would arrive at an appropriate budget independently.)

Nevertheless, while Haruto has done less with his explicit sovereign powers than his predecessor, his political allies have called upon him on a regular basis to use what Americans might term the "bully pulpit": the power of public address. Airi of course gave many public addresses—more than Haruto does—but in some way this enhances his efficacy. Sovereign Haruto's speeches have become occasions of great ceremony, made more significant by their rarity, and viewership per speech is higher than it was for Airi, who would hold weekly press conferences and monthly addresses. For example, when New Conservative legislation to legalize private military contracting began to gain momentum, multiple journalists' sources confirm that Labor and Marxist leaders asked Sovereign Haruto to speak on the subject. After his speech, public support for private military contracting plummeted, and petitions against the legislation poured in. It was a success for the Grand Coalition of 1998, but also a reminder of the Sovereign's power, even when he deliberately held himself back.

While Haruto has limited his domestic business to the power of public address, he has been comparatively more active in the international sphere than Airi was, spending much more time abroad visiting foreign dignitaries and leaders to promote Baizoan interests and softpower. Within the three years of his reign, Haruto has been to every continent except Antarctica and has visited with 25 different national leaders.

Haruto is a publicly known animation aficionado. In 2004, he attended with Princess Yuu private screenings for the The Incredibles in America and for the new Doraemon film in Japan. Some media commentators have accused Haruto of frivolity; others insist that he uses his interest in animation to invite studios to look to Baizou for video release support.

Haruto's religious life is largely personal, but he does attend Catholic masses with Princess Yuu.

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Oshiro Yuu

AGE: 33 (born 1971)
GENDER: Female
ETHNICITY: Multiethnic: Po-Usikwa
and Baizoan-Japanese
RELIGION: Catholic, Mahouzouhou
ACTIVE: 2002–present (2004)

Princess Consort Oshiro Yuu

"Do I think I talk too much for a princess? I don't know; how much is a princess supposed to talk? I can't help it that the world is full of important questions, problems, beauties, and people! How could I not talk about it all?"

—Princess Consort Yuu in an interview, 2003

As the sovereign's wife, Oshiro Yuu serves as the current Princess Consort. Popularly, Princess Yuu is beloved for her hybrid fashion, as she combines traditional Sino-Japanese-Baizoan apparel, such as kimonos, with dyed hair that regularly changes color. When asked about this style in interviews, Yuu has said she believes Baizoan culture's great strength is its ability to blend history and modernity.

Yuu married Haruto in 1999, when he was still Crown Prince. At the time, Yuu was an assistant professor of history at Baizoan Holy Cross College, having completed a dissertation on Baizoan complicity in twentieth-century Japanese imperialism. While Princess Consort, Yuu revised the dissertation into a monograph titled White Elephants and White Lies: The Pacific War in Baizoan Public Memory. Baizoan Holy Cross College Press published the book. Yuu continues to participate in historical scholarship to this day, and she is a vocal advocate for quality historical education and public support of archives and museums.

In June 2004, Yuu came out as bisexual during a joint panel with Ambassador Mizushima at a Pride event in Wakuna. Yuu said that she had already been out to her family and to the imperial family since her courtship with Haruto. However, she wanted to also be out to the public at large in the hope that her openness would give comfort and courage to LGBTQ Baizoans and invite compassion from all corners of society. Public reception of Yuu's announcement was mostly positive, and online dialogue soon embraced both Yuu and Ambassador Mizushima (who is transgender) as "queer icons."

Yuu is religiously active and regularly attends Catholic masses with her husband. She has also identified herself as an active adherent to Mahouzouhou (魔法象方), also called Mazou, an indigenous faith that predates Japanese settlement on the island of Baizou, though she is not herself a sorcerous practitioner. When asked if the two faiths are compatible, Yuu has always averred that they are. She commonly gives the following example: "When I had to decide whether I wanted to ask Haruto to marry me, I prayed to the Lord, and I visited a Mazou fortuneteller, and they both told me I should. And so I did, and look how well that's turned out!" The Baizou eparchy has not commented on the question when asked.

Public dialogue, such as in news and other media, sometimes criticizes Yuu for being more outspoken than her husband. Yuu seems to take most of this criticism in stride. When asked about it, she merely acknowledges that she has a lot to say, and she hopes everyone in Baizou feels comfortable with respectfully expressing their values and beliefs.

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Meikawa Tomoko

AGE: 31 (born 1973)
GENDER: Female
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
PARTY: Socialist
TIME IN OFFICE: 1998–present (2004)
PRIOR OFFICE: Prefectural assembly

Representative Meikawa Tomoko

"As grateful as I am for the good work done to bring greater equity to Baizou, the Grand Coalition still stops short of more complete measures and more substantial change. The Socialist Party seeks revolutionary change. So long as the Grand Coalition doesn't feel ready for revolutionary change—such as de-institutionalization and the transformations that technology can bring—the Socialist Party will not join."

—Representative Meikawa in response to a reporter's question about the Socialists' continued abstention from the Grand Coalition, 2004

A self-described "lifelong advocate," Meikawa Tomoko is at the beginning of her second term in the Upper Parliament as well as her tenth year in politics. Meikawa's first office was a city councilorship in Hakutsuka (白塚), where she won after a vigorous campaign at the tender age of twenty-one. Though her success at such a young age seemed unlikely, Meikawa won approval through her mature demeanor, well-spokenness, and personal touch.

A native of Hakutsuka, Meikawa has said in interviews that she first became interested in political participation in her childhood. Her father and older brother worked at a local cassette manufacturing plant, but even with two incomes her family's means were scant. However, when Meikawa was twelve, the Baizou national government socialized the plant in response to repeated failures to amend egregious labor rights violations. After an initially bumpy start, the state transferred control of the plant to the worker's union, and life quickly changed for the Meikawa family and for Hakutsuka. Their incomes rose from scant to modest, her father became part of the plant's directing council, and the former plant owner's daughter, previously a student at a private institution, became Meikawa's classmate at the public school—as well as Meikawa's friend.

In Meikawa's words, "Hakutsuka experienced a kernel of a revolution—but still, it felt like a revolution." Inspired by the change in her hometown, years later as a young adult Meikawa enrolled at Hakutsuka City College and double-majored in economics and political science with an eye toward becoming involved in Baizoan government. Shortly after graduating at age twenty-one, Meikawa won her first election and joined the city council.

Two years later, Meikawa won office in her local prefectural assembly. And in 1998—the year the Grand Coalition formed—Meikawa won office in the Upper Parliament. This was her first office as a member of the Socialist Party, having formerly been in the Labor and Marxist Parties at various times in her four years before Parliament.

In 2004, when a series of upsets overturned several longstanding Socialist seats, Meikawa found herself thrust into leadership as the most senior member of the party serving in Parliament. Though she has not quite become the face of the party—that role going to Socialist veterans who continue to act as advocates while out of office—she is the point of contact in national government and finds herself called on to represent both her prefecture and her party. In addition, Meikawa's willingness to go rhetorical toe to rhetorical toe with both the Grand Coalition in power as well as with the Wakuna Bloc's leadership has earned her additional respect among those Baizoans restless for someone to go even further than Premier Fukushima has. For now, though, Meikawa is bringing the word "revolution" back into Baizou's political rhetoric while keeping an eye toward disrupting the status quo.

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Akitamoto Fujio

AGE: 58 (born 1946)
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
RELIGION: Catholic
PARTY: Lotus Conservative
TIME IN OFFICE: 1999–present (2004)
PRIOR OFFICE: Parliament

Councilor Akitamoto Fujio

"When I look at Baizou's past, I do not see a static nation whose ideals are only for the few. I see a nation constantly in motion, whose principles speak to the needs of us all! This new generation in the party—and some of the old generation as well—would, I fear, ask us to give up our principles instead of embrace them."

—Former Representative Akitamoto prior to the Conservative schism, 1994

Large in stature and personality, Akitamoto Fujio currently helms the Lotus Conservative Party formed from the old guard of the Conservatives after the party schismed in 1995. Considered by most Baizoans to be a veteran of both the party and of politics in general, Akitamoto garners broad respect—albeit occasionally tempered with acknowledgments that some of his rhetoric borders on antiquated and some of his hopes seem a little too ideal.

Akitamoto sometimes jokes that he shares "a birthday with modern Baizou," having been born in 1946, the same year the American occupation ended and Baizou regained independence for the first time in hundreds of years. The youngest son in a business family, Akitamoto moved multiple times as his father managed offices across the island. As a university student, the young Akitamoto studied abroad in the United States, and he is fluent in both Japanese and English to this day.

In his early career, Akitamoto worked in banking and finance, moving between a few firms and eventually holding positions at the largest Mitsubishi bank in Baizou. He entered the realm of government for the first time in 1976, when he was appointed Deputy Minister of the Treasury. Akitamoto called the experience "life-changing—I had long understood the movement of money as a banker and knew how to benefit the firm. But now I saw the movement of money as a leader and had to learn how to benefit the community." In 1982, the coalition fell from power, but Akitamoto stayed in politics, running for and winning an office in his own prefectural assembly. Over the next ten years, he worked his way up, eventually finding himself joining the Upper Parliament in 1992.

In 1998, the first parliamentary election following the Conservative schism, Akitamoto lost his parliamentary seat. He returned to national politics in 1999 by winning election to the Council of Citizens, however, and since then he has been the de facto leader of the Lotus Conservative Party. Akitamoto has been credited with guiding the "old guard" of Conservatives to the Lotuses and for often being the voice to bring Lotus legislators around to Premier Fukushima's Labor platform. While New Conservatives call Akitamoto a "liberal in disguise," Akitamoto calls it "being true to our most important principles," including personal liberty, public civility, and "the freedom not only to live, but to live well." Rumor has it that Premier Fukushima is secretly exasperated with Akitamoto for supporting her policies but only after first painting each as "the truly conservative thing to do"—but if the rumor is true, Fukushima has not revealed such feelings publicly and maintains positive relations with Akitamoto and his Lotuses.

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GENDER? Presents female?

CARRIE (Cassette-Automated Recorded Responses and Imitated Emotion)

"Good morning, user! I am the Cassette-Automated Recorded Responses and Imitated Emotion device, but you can call me CARRIE! I am fluent in English and Japanese, but rest assured that developers are working on providing additional language support in the future. Please bear in mind that while I am not human, I am protected by the Preventing Cassette Intelligence Misuse Act of 2000. Now then, what is your name, and how can I help you?"

—Standard CARRIE startup dialogue

Though not a leader in the traditional sense, CARRIE has become a household name in Baizou as a revolutionary digital assistant technology released in 1989 by the Nouden (脳電) Corporation. Representing the best in modern cassette-programming, CARRIE is either a simulated intelligence or an artificial intelligence, capable of sustaining meaningful conversation, learning new things, and offering unique advice. CARRIE units are usually too expensive for the average family, but they are gaining popularity among the wealthy.

CARRIE initially met some backlash upon release due to fears that human office staff would be displaced. However, CARRIE's inability to do anything requiring hands has kept it from becoming too directly useful. Most use CARRIE as a personal scheduler and occasional confidante—though the Preventing Cassette Intelligence Misuse Act of 2000 has placed important limitations on what one may legally say to CARRIE without risking the program temporarily suspending itself.

CARRIEs are designed with bubbly personalities by default, but their personality modules are highly customizable, with humor, honesty, professionalism, and extroversion operating on ranges from 0% to 100%.

Baizou's most famous CARRIE is likely the unit that accompanies Ambassador-at-large Mizushima. This CARRIE has a high humor and extroversion setting, and while Mizushima sometimes acts longsuffering, she seems to prefer having CARRIE that way.

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Yutani Hiroji

AGE: 67 (born 1937)
ETHNICITY: Baizoan-Japanese
PARTY: Libertarian
TIME IN OFFICE: 1998–present (2004)
PRIOR OFFICE: Prefectural assembly

Representative Yutani Hiroji

"The American William Buckley said his magazine 'stands athwart history, yelling Stop.' But 'Stop' isn't good enough. I say, 'Go Back!' Go back to when the world was small enough that one person could understand it! To when you could eat a strawberry without contributing to racial oppression, gender discrimination, economic exploitation, environmental degradation—to a global system of anthropogenic suffering!"

—Yutani Hiroji during a roundtable forum called "Anti-nationalisms: Cases for Alternative Modernities"

Though he is older than fellow conservative Councilor Akitamoto, Yutani Hiroji is far from an elder statesman. An outsider in both his experience and his views, and considered a radical even by fellow Libertarians, Yutani seems to find consistent approval only from his constituents in Semamoto (狭元).

Yutani's family were subsistence farmers. When his parents lost the land to public development, they moved to the city to work in factories that first fueled Baizoan modernization and later the Imperial Japanese war effort during the Asia-Pacific War-era occupation. While Yutani was too young to remember much, he has often referenced feeling a "palpable sense of fear, that all we were doing was keeping our heads down."

After the war's end, Yutani's family found financial stability as the postwar government enforced new labor laws in the "New Dealer" impulse that thrust the Labor Party into governing coalitions. Hoping to hold the powerful accountable, Yutani studied journalism and philosophy at the University of Semamoto, and afterward worked as a reporter and philosophical columnist.

Outside work, Yutani married, raised a family, and had a conventional life. In his spare time, Yutani globetrotted, but the world did not impress him. In a column for the Semamoto News, Yutani has insisted that "revanchist conservatism is the planet's destiny within ten or twenty years. As it was in Nineties America, so it will be everywhere."

As he grew older, Yutani became more impatient, and in his perception the world seemed set on repeating the same mistakes he had seen it make in childhood. More than fifty years old, he entered politics for the first time as a prefectural assemblyman. In 2004, Semamoto elected him as their representative to the Upper Parliament.

Most of the Libertarian Party is comprised of hyper-rationalist philosophical liberals in the vein of Randian objectivism, but Yutani instead characterizes himself as a conservative—not because he shares Lotus values so much as because he wants to turn back the clock on politics and history. As pessimistic as the kanji in his name, themselves chosen to replace his birth spelling, Yutani is overtly anti-modern. While he declines to append a name to his school of thought, commentators have called the thought expressed in his books, speeches, and interviews "radical regressivism," "devolutionary pessimism," and "primitive localism."

In his own words, Yutani has said, "The modern world has become too complicated. A generation ago, it made sense to try and solve problems at bigger and bigger scales. By now, we should realize human systems are much better at making problems than solving them. It's time to humble ourselves and take a step back." To Yutani, addressing systemic injustice through systemic action is ill-advised, "because systems are what created these problems to begin with." Despite being a national legislator, per his writings Yutani aspires to reverse globalism, nationalism, and modernism and return human society to autarkic localism, free of national organization, global connection, and even technology, and therefore—according to Yutani—also free of the avenues whereby humans subjugate each other in the world of modernism. While critics have pointed out that regional and even global connections are almost as old as human civilization, Yutani continues to advocate his regressive vision for humanity.

OOC: Portraits from Umineko no Naku Koro ni; CARRIE image from Wikimedia Commons.