(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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