JAPAN: Sceneshifters

In the Japanese theater, it is not necessary to lower the curtain to change the scene. Stagehands, wearing black suits, dart from behind a black curtain to shift scenery and help actors change costumes while the performance goes on. The audience understands from the black curtain (called kuromaku) that the stagehands aren't really there. Japanese politics also has its background manipulators who pretend not to be there and plainly are, and they are appropriately called kuromaku.

Last week the kuromaku of politics went to work and in a twinkling rearranged the whole stage. They consolidated Japan's two big feuding conservative...

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