(Yasukuni Shrine where the souls of Japan’s soldiers who died on the battlefield — as well as WWII class A war criminals — are deified)
The Washington Post has just published an article of mine,”The Rise of Japan’s Thought Police,” that will appear in tomorrow’s Outlook pages, but which is available on the web now.
The subject of the Japan-focused piece is the rise in intimidation tactics — verbal and sometimes violent — that hawkish nationalists in Japan are directing at intellectuals, journalists, business leaders, and even some politicians who have questioned Prime Minister Koizumi’s flirtation with symbols of Japan’s past manic militarism.
Last week, I wrote about an incident that triggered the oped earlier on The Washington Note. My latest piece starts:
Anywhere else, it might have played out as just another low-stakes battle between policy wonks. But in Japan, a country struggling to find a brand of nationalism that it can embrace, a recent war of words between a flamboyant newspaper editorialist and an editor at a premier foreign-policy think tank was something far more alarming: the latest assault in a campaign of right-wing intimidation of public figures that is squelching free speech and threatening to roll back civil society.
This battle between the editor-at-large of the Sankei Shimbun, Yoshihisa Komori, and Masaru Tamamoto, the editor of Commentary published by the Japan Institute for International Affairs has begun to receive wide-spread attention on blogs, in think tanks, in academic chat room focused on Japan, and in general discussion.
Some of the other resources to understand what is at stake are a PacNet forum article by Sheila Smith and Brad Glosserman, this blog post by Gen Kanai, the Japan-U.S. Discussion Forum on the website of the National Bureau for Asian Research, and this excellent site assembled by William Sturgeon that has actually recreated the materials (from cached archives) of the now suspended JIIA Commentary website.
I think that my Washington Post article will continue to underscore the seriousness of healthy debate and discussion in Japan about evolving national identity and nationalism issues.
It is important to understand that this battle is not just a war of words. On many levels, that would be worth applauding if the debate was robust — even if it was nasty. But serious violence and harrassment is beginning to envelope those leading lights in Japan trying to promote healthy national discussion.
There are exceptions to this. The Yomiuri Shimbun, mostly a conservative paper in Japan has prepared an outstanding series of articles on “war memory”. The project is headed by Akira Saito, a former Washington Bureau Chief of the Yomiuri who now heads the Yomiuri Research Institute. He is an internationalist and knows that Japan needs to find a new, healthy nationalism that will also be compatible with Japan’s international relations.
I would also be remiss in not applauding the Sankei Shimbun — the very paper in which the attacks on Tamamoto and so many others noted in this article began in writing — for criticizing the burning of Koichi Kato’s parental home. While Prime Minister Koizumi and his likely successor in September Shinzo Abe have said absolutely nothing about this arson incident against one of Japan’s major politicians — it was refreshing to see the Sankei speak out against this.
But the trends remain deeply troubling and fear is running high among many of Japan’s best and brightest who now prefer generally to stay away from controversial topics rather than suffer substantial consequences trying to help Japan work through some of its biggest identity challenges.
Here is a bit from the piece that focuses on some of the other incidents that have occurred in recent years:
Emboldened by the recent rise in nationalism, an increasingly militant group of extreme right-wing activists who yearn for a return to 1930s-style militarism, emperor-worship and “thought control” have begun to move into more mainstream circles — and to attack those who don’t see things their way.
Just last week, one of those extremists burned down the parental home of onetime prime ministerial candidate Koichi Kato, who had criticized Koizumi’s decision to visit Yasukuni this year. Several years ago, the home of Fuji Xerox chief executive and Chairman Yotaro “Tony” Kobayashi was targeted by handmade firebombs after he, too, voiced the opinion that Koizumi should stop visiting Yasukuni. The bombs were dismantled, but Kobayashi continued to receive death threats. The pressure had its effect. The large business federation that he helps lead has withdrawn its criticism of Koizumi’s hawkishness toward China and his visits to Yasukuni, and Kobayashi now travels with bodyguards.
In 2003, then-Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka discovered a time bomb in his home. He was targeted for allegedly being soft on North Korea. Afterward, conservative Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara contended in a speech that Tanaka “had it coming.”
Another instance of free-thinking-meets-intimidation involved Sumiko Iwao, an internationally respected professor emeritus at Keio University. Right-wing activists threatened her last February after she published an article suggesting that much of Japan is ready to endorse female succession in the imperial line; she issued a retraction and is now reportedly lying low.
Japan does need a new nationalism — but this nationalism that is silencing moderates is not characteristic of either a healthy nationalism or a healthy ally.
— Steve Clemons
Editor’s Note: For those of you interested in communicating your views about the hasty agreement to suspend JIIA Commentary and to censor ALL of the information on that website, please communicate your views to JIIA President Yukio Satoh through this website contact page, as yet not suspended.
— Steve Clemons