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横山ノック

You think Japan doesn't have Bill Clintons? Well, think again.

Knock ("Nokku") Yokoyama is the stage name of Yamada Isamu, born in Hyogo Prefecture on January 30, 1932. From 1959 to 1968, he was a member of a popular manzai comedy troupe called Manga Trio, well-known throughout Japan. He then spent three decades serving as a director at several construction companies, and occasionally appearing in movies (seven in total): he also wrote several books, including a children's book called Ganbare, Takoyaki-chan! (Keep It Up, Mr. Takoyaki!)

In 1995, Knock became governor of Osaka Prefecture, running as an independent and later joining the Liberal Democratic Party. He was insanely, insanely popular. Osaka has always been a city of comedians, and most people loved having a manzai star running the show: in fact, when I first went to Osaka in 1999, many old men would proudly mention in conversation, "You know our governor's a comedian?"

But I digress. The real comparison to Clinton came later. In late fall of 1999, Knock was riding in the back seat of a car with a 21-year old volunteer campaign worker. She happened to be female, and he happened to grope her for 30 minutes. The college student sued Knock for sexual harassment, something almost unheard of in Japan: she was so ashamed that she testified to the court behind an opaque screen. Knock denied any wrongdoing, saying they were only sharing a blanket over their knees; however, the Osaka District Court didn't buy the story, awarding the young woman over ¥11m ($100,000) in compensation.

Knock resigned that December, and eventually admitted his guilt in March, saying that his hands somehow mysteriously found their way into the woman's crotch. In the meantime, the LDP imported Ota Fusae, a Ministry of International Trade and Industry bureaucrat from Tokyo, to succeed him, thus ending Osaka's era of funny man rule. Ota is female: many Japanese women see her succession as a victory.

Of course, a perverted comedian politician named Knock gives rise to a million bad jokes. Here's one from Time Asia:

Knock-knock.
Who's there?
Madame.
Madame who?
Madame hands were not gropin' her.

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