[From June Issue 2013]
On May 5, Prime Minister ABE Shinzou presented the People’s Honor Award to baseball superstars NAGASHIMA Shigeo and MATSUI Hideki. This award is designed to honor individuals who are widely respected by citizens, and have made an outstanding contribution to society by lifting the spirits of the general public. This honorable award was established in 1977 and is presented by the prime minister.
The first recipient of this award was OH Sadaharu; just like this time, he is a professional baseball player. The award was founded when he set a world homerun record, and the then prime minister, FUKUDA Takeo, honored his achievement by presenting him with the award. Up to now 22 people and a team have received the award. This February former sumo grand champion TAIHO, who had the highest number of sumo tournament winnings, received the award. Most recipients are selected from the worlds of sports and entertainment.
The award tends to be given to athletes who have achieved outstanding results; for instance, marathon runner TAKAHASHI Naoko. At the Sydney Olympics she historically became the first Japanese woman to win a gold medal in track-and-field events. The team representing Japan (Nadeshiko Japan) who won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011, also won the award for the same reason.
The award is also given to those who are recognized for their lifetime contribution to their particular field, especially in the entertainment field. Therefore, 12 people received the award posthumously. Taiho, who excelled in his sport before the award was founded, was honored after he had passed away. As a result, demands, that the award should be given during a person’s lifetime, have increased.
Nagashima was a heavy hitter who played alongside Oh, the first recipient of the award, and, with his overwhelming popularity, contributed greatly to the development of baseball. After performing exceptionally well in Japan, Matsui played for the Yankees in the major league (USA) and was selected as the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in the 2009 World Series. As Nagashima had not had a chance to receive the award, when Matsui retired this year, both Nagashima and Matsui received the award together taking into account their relationship as student and teacher.
Prime Minister’s Influence is Reflected in the Selection of Recipients
People have been critical of the fact that since there are no standard rules, the prime minister’s own tastes are reflected in the selection of recipients and that he is able to use the award to increase his own popularity with the public. For instance, it’s been pointed out that, TANI Ryoko is well qualified to receive the award for her achievements in women’s judo. She has won two gold, two silver and one bronze medals at five Olympics.
People have also highlighted the following personalities: KITAJIMA Kousuke, who won four gold medals in swimming; NOMO Hideo who with his excellent performance, paved the way for Japanese players to enter major league baseball in the USA; HARIMOTO Isao who holds the record for the most number of hits in Japanese baseball; and KITANO Takeshi who is a TV personality and film director.
Some have refused to receive the award. Though composer KOSEKI Yuji was nominated for the award after his death, his family refused to receive the award. FUKUMOTO Yutaka who set a world record for the highest number of bases stolen in baseball, turned it down, saying, “If I receive such an award. I would not be able to take a piss standing up.” Ichiro, who currently plays for the Yankees has declined twice, saying, “I am still active and developing as a player.”