Japan’s Right-Wingers Out of Control


(Japan’s Prime Minister INUKAI Tsuyoshi who was assassinated in May 1932 in his official residence by a group of right-wing militarists who opposed Inukai’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Manchuria and who was a staunch defender of parliamentary democracy in Japan)
Japan is making its way back as a topic of interest on the nation’s front pages and editorials — not for trade related problems which dominated the US-Japan relationship through most of the 1990s — but mostly because of its creep towards a revived strident right-wing nationalism that promulgates obsessive cultural uniqueness as well as a sneering dismissal of historical accountability.
The latest prominent Japan-focused piece appeared under George Will’s by-line this morning.
But what worries me is not the American press about Japan — but rather the battle inside Japan among Japanese — and the fact that the good guys are losing.

Masaru Tamamoto
— editor of an important on-line magazine, JIIA Commentary published by the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs-supported Japan Institute for International Affairs — is under attack from Yoshihisa Komori, the long-time DC-based former editor and now roving editor of Japan’s right-wing newspaper, the Sankei Shimbun.
I know both of these writers/intellectuals — and Komori has established a kind of franchise on the debate about Japan’s historical memory. He is the authoritative right-wing commentator on the politics of Japan’s war memory and on Japan-China relations. He’s part of a group that understandably argues that Japan needs to get beyond its kow-towing to China and other nations in the region over World War II — particularly given the behavior of the Chinese government towards its own people in the 1960s and 1970s.
Tamamoto is probably the smartest modern intellectual in Japan — who sees beyond Japan’s often-self imposed identity constraints. He reminds me a lot of the late Masao Miyamoto, whose tales of Japan’s absurd bureaucratic rigidities made his audiences howl in laughter. But Tamamoto is not a comedic type. But he writes and thinks about Japan’s place in the world in often startling fresh ways and has astonishing insights into the debates about Japan’s evolving national identity.
I mostly agree with Tamamoto’s analysis of Japan’s foreign policy portfolio — but Komori has put out the clarion call to zealots and fanatical right-wingers in Japan to protest Tamamoto as an an anti-Japanese, extreme leftist intellectual, according to one observer, “in essence a panda-hugging traitor.”
While Tamamoto has critiqued the Prime Minister and the government for flirting with a wrong-headed strident nationalism that is more destructive than constructive in remarking about Koizumi’s recent visit to Yasukuni Shrine, where the spirits of Japan’s worst class-A war criminals are allegedly enshrined, Komori has unleashed the right-wing goons to pressure the Japan Institute for International Affairs to shut down his gig.
Don’t do it. The President of JIIA is Yukio Satoh — one of Japan’s premier diplomats who secretly was the brains behind the ASEAN Regional Forum and who pulled off for Japan some of its few diplomatic coups. And JIIA’s Director is Makio Miyagawa, well known to be the intellectual behind Ichiro Ozawa’s famous Futsu no Kuni book (A Normal Nation) and campaign.
JIIA has already shut down the website on which Tamamoto’s commentary was posted with a note:


These guys should not be push-overs for a history-denying cabal of right-wing thugs who want to take Japan back to the 1930s. But as things stand right now, word is that Satoh and Miyagawa are yielding to the pressure stirred up by the Sankei Shimbun‘s Komori. If they succeed in the campaign against Tamamoto, these right-wingers will find themselves intoxicated with success and think about what other public intellectuals they can savage and have pushed out of their jobs. It will become mechanical, outrageous, and disturbingly reminiscent of what Japan’s right wingers did to public intellectuals in the build up to World War II.
If JIIA yields to those who want even what Tamamoto has written to be completely pulled off its site, sort of ERASED from memory immediately — then those of us who value honest debate and discussion should register our shock and outrage about this censorship.
Those who are ticked off about this development in Japan — and in my world (and yours), this does matter — can email JIIA through its as yet unsuspended contact page or email directly jiiajoho@jiia.or.jp.
Just for the record and to establish complete transparency about my own views, I have written about Japan’s competing nationalisms before and have always been a proponent that Japan develop a healthy and balanced nationalism that takes into account its past and its interest-based future. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that America’s six-decade long military presence there is warping Japan’s post-Cold War national identity.
Rather than these long term American military deployments stabilizing Japan and the region, they just as easily could trigger both anti-American sentiment among right wing zealots who think that America is constraining Japan’s military capacity or alternatively, could give Japan a sense of such safety that it feels it can behave irresponsibly in the region — particularly when it involves verbal, historical rhetoric and manipulation of symbols like Yasukuni Shrine — without fear of serious military consequences.
I believe that a new “bargain” between the Japanese public and the U.S. needs to be struck about the strategic benefit and about the relative costs and benefits to our societies of the US-Japan alliance as currently structured before these bases become seriously cancerous to our bilateral relationship and undermine our security strategy in the region.
Masaru Tamamoto respectfully disagrees with my assessment — but he has never unleashed a torrent of intolerant thugs on me for my views and has engaged them and me in a civil and healthy discussion about Japan’s evolving nationalisms.
That defense of discourse is what JIIA should be deploying — not censorship 1930’s style.

— Steve Clemons


17 comments on “Japan’s Right-Wingers Out of Control

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  4. がいぎじン says:

    I travel often and work in Japan. I have seen this developing for some time. The right-wing, neo-nationalist echo chamber is increasing in volume. It is still in developmental stages, it seems, but the tipping point is a pushover in Japan. If the neo-conservative view becomes strong enough, I think it will spread like wildfire throughout the nation, burning out opposing views. One terrorist act, one catalyzing event could push Japan dangerously close to a revocation of the constitutional pledge to pacifism. Japan is only 9 months or so away from a nuclear arsenal at any time.
    Our relationship with Japan is very important to future stability in the region. It doesn’t help that Koizumi’s best buddy, GWB, is promulgating black and white rhetoric like yesterday’s press conference.


  5. TokyoTom says:

    Steve, it’s hard to know how long this trend will last, but I’m certainly sick of the sound trucks. I agree with anon that the rest of Asia has little to fear from Japan given its declining population, but the behavior of the Bush administration has certainly opened the eyes of the Japanese leadership to the political benefits of arrogance and stiffness towards one’s neighbors and opponents.
    In the long run, I suppose that Japan just has to work through this. The long delay post-WWII reflects not only Japan’s closeness to the US and aloofness from its neighbors (which started long before the Meiji Restoration, and was compounded by Japan’s close relationship to the US), but also the delayed maturation of China as well.


  6. anon says:

    Japan is a greying society with a negative population growth. It is not going to be a real military threat to anyone, simply because it wont have enough blood to spill, so this is just overwrought concern. If anyone is going to be a threat due to militarism it is the Chinese.


  7. Den Valdron says:

    That was exactly my point with the phrase, Li. I didn’t use it by coincidence. The Japanese right wing sees a period of instability following the collapse of American authority. The ‘sphere’ offers an alternate model of stability.
    Can Japan militarily create this sphere? Not a chance. For the most part, the previous Empire was an establishment in vacuum created by the departure of the European powers.
    Still, it is the ultimate concept that the right wishes to revive. History never moves in a circle, and the new version of the sphere, as the concept moves into the mainstream will resemble the European Union more than a military Empire.
    Starting with that concept, the question is, can Japan persuade the other East Asian nations that an EU style coalition is a valid and desirable alternative to Chinese hegemony.
    The question is, do the Japanese have any alternatives to the ‘sphere’. In the past, they’ve relied upon American hegemony. If that comes to an end, their choices are ultimately, accept Chinese hegemony, try to form a new ‘sphere’ or (c).
    So far, I don’t think that the Japanese or anyone else lin the region has come up with a (c).


  8. vachon says:

    Two words: Bitburg.
    I’m willing to bet the farm that way underneath the “new” nationalism is a weapons system maker licking it’s chops. Is anyone following the money that’s financing these right wing publications?
    This is such a worn out movie.


  9. Dude says:

    A militarized Japan would be one more fruit from the Neo-Con “you’re either with us or against us” tree.
    The Authoritarian Personality types, those who exhibit a profound intolerence of ambiguity, according to Adorno, are once again finding their way to the top of the political ladder around the world.
    International peace, in my view, rests on the ability to be able to agree to disagree, a vanishing trait these days.
    Thanks for the Japan update, Steve, I’ve been reading similar concerns from my Japanese contacts.


  10. Xuehai Li says:

    Thank you, Steve, for bring up the issue which is been there for a long time and getting worse under Koizumi. I don’t know it’s by coincidence (which is hard to believe) or intentional, merely using the term, “the greater East Asian co-prosperity sphere”, by Dan made me shivering. This was the exact slogan Japan used when they invaded China and other Asian countries in the 30s and 40s, and I couldn’t believe anyone would advocate this. The Yasukuni Shrine does enshrine 14 Class A war criminals and the Japanese government does try to revise their past history that should be insult to Americans as well as Chinese and Koreans. Americans should know what is been happening in Japan would never be allowed to occur in Germany by Americans. Japan did a lot of good things in Asia and could play a very constructive role. However, for reasons puzzling everyone in Asia, they couldn’t do what Germany did. Their past is still hunting them after more than 60 years.


  11. dan robinson says:

    This is good writing.
    In a letter to a friend recently, I countered the old saying of “history is written by the victors” with “history is written by the aggressive.” Komori is the more aggressive and is writing history to reflect his time.


  12. Cohen says:

    Margalit Cohen
    To Zionist Australian Banana Republic:
    As a thank-you, I am enclosing this weeks’ news from Israel, you could find the full articles in the Jerusalem-Post, Haaretz and Yediot-Aharonoth newspapers.
    1. Israeli Justice Minister resigned yesterday, accused by Attorney General for sexually harassing his staff`.
    2. 150 Israeli soldiers died in the war last month, we lost the war too, and we did not even get back our two abducted soldiers!
    3. Israeli President is under investigation by Attorney General for sexually harassing his stuff.
    4. Israeli Defence Minister is under pressure to resign, since we lost the Lebanon war.
    5. Israeli Defence Minister claimed that the military did not tell him that Hesbollah has missiles!!!
    6. The war was stopped abruptly when we lost on the last day 24 soldiers! Our tanks blew up by a new type of Hezbollah missiles.
    7. Israel sent yesterday diplomats to the USSR to complain that the Russians sold advanced missiles to Hesbollah.
    8. Demonstration in the main Tel Aviv plaza, by soldiers against the war.
    9. The moral in Israel is the lowest since 1948.
    10. For the first time we openly admit that the Hezbollah fighters are better than us.
    11. Many Israeli families left Israel permanently last month and returned to their own original countries. Most embassies have long lines of Israelis waiting to get a visa in order to escape the hell here.
    12. Israeli soldiers claimed that they were “sitting ducks”, as the politicians are incompetent.
    13. Israeli Moral is sinking daily to a new lows, the nation is confused, we lost our deterrent effect, this is the first time that the Arabs have won a war.
    14. Thousands of soldiers and citizens are combing all the north of Israel to recover the thousands of Hezbollah missiles, some of them unexploded.
    15. Israelis start to openly discuss that our country is just used as a puppet country by the USA, in order to find excuses to attack Syria and Iran, and get their hands on the oil.
    16. Israelis for the first time, realizing that Hesbollah is not a terrorist organization as we were always told, but a wonderful social community organization to help the Lebanese people. Confronted with the massive lies in the Israeli media, more Israelis start to read alternative news on the Internet. I always advised my friends to read your forum, as occasionally you have some smart Jews posting here.
    17. There are many ‘complaints’ in Israel that Hesbollah instantly started to distribute money to Lebanese, Moslems and Christians alike, to rebuild their houses and businesses, while in Israel no one is helping our citizens to recover from the rain of Hezbollah missiles. Some Israelis have cynically suggested to invite Hezbollah to Israel, to help us rebuild all the damage from the missiles. If Hesbollah can help Moslem and Christians, it would be very racist and anti-Semitic for Hezbollah not to help Jews too.
    Please send more soldiers to protect the oil pipe-lines in Afghanistan.
    Please send more soldiers to protect the oil pipe-lines in Iraq.
    Please send soldiers to Israel to protect us from these bad BAD Hezbollah.


  13. bart says:

    It’s interesting that the right is the one that rewrites history and says Chiang Kaishek fought the Japanes. He had to be kidnapped even to pretend to. Certainly General Stillwell didn’t see much effort.
    Yet the Jap[anese suffered a brutal guerilla war and then a few years later the same army that did this rapidly defeated the allegedly (accoring to Will) combat troop of the Nationalists to Taiwan. I guess Chiang changed sides, though he seemed to have shipped over some of those allegedly capable troops to Korea.
    Or else our own right is busy rewriting history.


  14. Carroll says:

    Jesus!…I haven’t been paying attention to Japan but Den may be onto something…
    With the new world dis-order the US has created and the expected demise of US power and influence other movements in nations may see this as the best time to advance their own positions. Now that the US has gone from hero to zero there is no internaional cop on the beat and everything is up for grabs.


  15. Den Valdron says:

    On the other hand, what we me may be seeing in Japan is an awareness of collapsing American hegemony. Nature abhors a vacuum. If the Japanese believe that American power is entering a state of rapid collapse, and that they are no longer reliable or effective in preserving the existing status quo, then in their eyes, what happens?
    The potential new status quo, an asia of small states, including Japan, dominated by China hardly seems appealing.
    However, the Japanese do not necessarily see chinese hegemony as an immediate phenomenon. So, there may be a window of opportunity to carve a new path.
    So, what is the alternative model?
    The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity sphere. A coalition of Japan with the industrialized states of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore would form a formidible economic bloc. Add Indonesia, Phillipines, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia, as hinterlands, and you have an economic and political bloc of half a billion.
    Thus the rise of a backwards looking expansionist right, who are literally the only ones who endorse this greater political structure in any form at all.
    Of course, Japan needs to reformulate its vision as a diplomatic and political coalition of economies and polities, united for trade and self defense, rather than an Empire.
    We’ll see.


  16. daCascadian says:

    Now just who might benefit from such a shift in Japanese internal dynamics ?
    Think global…
    “…For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world…” – Frankllin D. Roosevelt


  17. Matthew says:

    I’m sure that this denial of history and arrogant behavior is limited to Japan’s right wing. I can’t think of another nation that produces people like that….except our own, of course.


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