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Dark Cloud on the Rising Sun

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COMMENT: In his second stint as Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe is rebooting the right-wing political agenda he pursued during his first term in the last decade. 

The grandson of prominent Japanese war criminal Nobosuke Kishi, Abe is implementing revisionist politics designed to obfuscate Japan’s actions during World War II. (Kishi–Abe’s grandfather–implemented Japan’s declaration of war against the U.S. during the Second World War.)

In past programs, we have noted that–as was the case in Germany–Japanese fascists were put back in power after the war, in order to pursue an anti-communist agenda.

Some of the postwar chickens are coming home to roost in what may prove to be more than a rhetorical fashion.

  • School textbooks are being edited to reflect a revisionist perspective, more sympathetic to the ideology and goals of Imperial Japan.
  • A new secrecy law has been passed, stifling open political discourse in Japan about the war.
  • Abe has visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial step that aggravated Japan’s Asian neighbors and rivals.
  • The NHK television network is being brought under the thumb of Abe’s administration, compromising the integrity of Japan’s largest and (arguably) most prestigious news outlet.
  • Controversial comments are straining relations with the United States. Assertions by Abe allies include assertions that U.S. war crimes tribunals after the conflict were intended to obfuscate American war crimes and the remarkable claim that U.S. troops used slave prostitutes similar to the Japanese “comfort women.”

“In Textbook Fight, Japan Leaders Seek to Recast History” by Martin Fackler; The New York Times; 12/28/2013.

EXCERPT: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative government has begun to pursue a more openly nationalist agenda on an issue that critics fear will push the country farther from its postwar pacifism: adding a more patriotic tone to Japan’s school textbooks. . . .

. . . . Mr. Abe and the nationalists have long argued that changes in the education system are crucial to restoring the country’s sense of self, eroded over decades when children were taught what they call an overly negative view of Japan’s wartime behavior.

The latest efforts for change started slowly, but have picked up speed in recent weeks.

In October, Mr. Abe’s education minister ordered the school board here in Taketomi to use a conservative textbook it had rejected, the first time the national government has issued such a demand. In November, the Education Ministry proposed new textbook screening standards, considered likely to be adopted, that would require the inclusion of nationalist views of World War II-era history.

This month, a government-appointed committee suggested a change that would bring politics more directly into education: putting mayors in charge of their local school districts, a move that opponents say would increase political interference in textbook screening. And just days ago, an advisory committee to the Education Ministry suggested hardening the proposed new standards by requiring that textbooks that do not nurture patriotism be rejected. . . .

“With Shrine Visit, Leader Asserts Japan’s Track from Pacifism” by Hiroko Tabuchi; The New York Times; 12/27/2014.

EXCERPT: Shinzo Abe’s past year as prime minister has concentrated chiefly on reviving Japan’s long-ailing economy. Yet in Mr. Abe’s mind, the country’s newfound economic prowess is a means to an end: to build a more powerful, assertive Japan, complete with a full-fledged military, as well as pride in its World War II-era past.

That larger agenda, which helped cut short Mr. Abe’s first stint in office in 2006-7, has again come to the forefront in recent weeks, culminating in his year-end visit Thursday to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead, including several war criminals who were executed after Japan’s defeat. . . .

. . . . Last month, he ignored blistering criticism from political opponents as well as the news media and steamrollered through Parliament a law that would tighten government control over state secrets. The law was presented by the government as a mechanism to aid in the sharing of military intelligence with allies, and create an American-style National Security Council.

Mr. Abe has also increased military spending for the first time in a decade, and loosened self-imposed restrictions on exporting weapons. A new defense plan calls for the acquisition of drones and amphibious assault vehicles to prepare for the prospect of a prolonged rivalry with China.

And experts say that next year, Mr. Abe could start taking concrete steps to reinterpret, and ultimately revise, Japan’s 1947 pacifist Constitution, something he has described as a life goal. Proposed changes could allow the country to officially maintain a standing army for the first time since the war, and take on a larger global security role. . . .

. . . . Nor do Mr. Abe’s deeply revisionist views of history — which he inherited from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was jailed for war crimes before eventually becoming prime minister — inspire confidence that Tokyo can play a bigger security role in Asia. . . .

“News Giant in Japan Seen Compromised” by Martin Fackler; The New York Times; 2/3/2014.

EXCERPT: First, there was the abrupt resignation of the public broadcasting chief accused by governing party politicians of allowing an overly liberal tone to news coverage. Then, his successor drew public ire when he suggested the network would loyally toe the government line.

Days later, on Thursday, a longtime commentator for the network angrily announced that he had resigned after being ordered not to criticize nuclear power ahead of a crucial election, unleashing new criticism.

These are hard times for the broadcaster, NHK, which is widely considered the country’s most authoritative television and radio news source and like its British equivalent, the BBC, has been troubled by scandal. . .

. . . . The prime minister is already pressing for more patriotic textbooks and has pushed through a secrecy law that will allow Japan’s notoriously opaque government to hide more of what it does. The actions come as Japan is mired in an emotional tug of war with China and South Korea over their fraught wartime history and recent, potentially explosive, territory disputes.

“What I am worried about is that NHK will become loyalist media, become the public relations department of the government,” an opposition lawmaker, Kazuhiro Haraguchi, said in unusually harsh criticism in Parliament on Friday. NHK is “part of the infrastructure that forms the basis of our democracy.”

The lawmaker made the statements as a parliamentary committee summoned Katsuto Momii, the new president of the broadcaster, to explain remarks at a recent news conference, including his declaration that overseas broadcasts would present the government’s views on foreign policy without criticism.

“We cannot say left when the government says right,” he said when asked whether NHK would present Japan’s position on territorial and other disputes. He explained that it was “only natural” for the network to follow the Japanese government position.

He also said it should refrain from criticizing the secrecy law as well as Mr. Abe’s visit in December to a Tokyo war shrine, which angered China and South Korea.

The comments seemed to run counter to the stated mission of the broadcaster, which is funded by fees collected from everyone who owns a television set, to report the news “without distortion or partisanship.”

While it is nominally independent, the broadcaster’s 12-member governing board is appointed by Parliament, which also approves its budget. The board, which includes four Abe appointees, chooses the president of the network.

The bluntness of the questioning in Parliament reflected the deep suspicion shared by many in the opposition that Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party is stocking the governing board with people ready to stifle criticism of his conservative government’s agenda, including playing down Japan’s wartime atrocities. . . .

. . . .The latest accusations of political interference have also become a headache for the Abe government, which has already seen its high approval ratings slide after passage in December of the secrecy law. Many Japanese journalists saw the law as a way of intimidating would-be government whistle-blowers from speaking with reporters, further hampering the independence of Japanese news media already criticized for being overly cozy with authority.

“This is gross political interference,” said Yasushi Kawasaki, a former NHK political reporter who teaches journalism at Sugiyama Jogakuen University near Nagoya. “The Abe government has stocked NHK’s board of governors with friendly faces in order to neuter its coverage.”

The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has denied that the appointments were politically motivated, but said the prime minister chose people whom he knows and trusts. . . .

 “Nationalistic Remarks from Japan Lead to Warnings of Chill with U.S.” by Martin Fackler; The New York Times; 2/20/2014.

EXCERPT: A series of defiantly nationalistic comments, including remarks critical of the United States, by close political associates of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has led analysts to warn of a growing chill between his right-wing government and the Obama administration, which views Japan as a linchpin of its strategic pivot to Asia.

Rebuttals from the American Embassy in Japan have added to concerns of a falling-out between Japan and the United States, which has so far welcomed Mr. Abe’s efforts to strengthen Japan’s economy and military outreach in the region to serve as a counterbalance to China. The comments, which express revisionist views of Japan’s World War II history, have also led to renewed claims from Japan’s neighbors, particularly China and South Korea, that Mr. Abe is leading his nation to the right, trying to stir up patriotism and gloss over the country’s wartime history. . . .

. . . . One of the most provocative comments from Abe allies came this month, when an ultraconservative novelist, Naoki Hyakuta, who was appointed by the prime minister himself to the governing board of public broadcaster NHK, said in a speech that the Tokyo war tribunal after World War II was a means to cover up the “genocide” of American air raids on Tokyo and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States Embassy called the comments “preposterous.”

. . . . Mr. Hyakuta’s comments came days after the new president of NHK, who was chosen last month by a governing board including Abe appointees, raised eyebrows in Washington by saying that Japan should not be singled out for forcing women to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war, saying the United States military did the same. Most historians say the Japanese system of creating special brothels for the troops, then forcing tens of thousands of women from other countries to work there, was different from the practice by other countries’ troops in occupied areas who frequented local brothels. . . .


2 comments for “Dark Cloud on the Rising Sun”

  1. It seems like these flirtations and chills between nations are the results of big financial interests having their ups and downs. The people on both sides are always left out of it, and probably will be until the whole system collapses and there is almost nothing left.

    Posted by Brux | March 16, 2014, 10:33 am
  2. It’s kind of hard to say which part of the following article is the most disturbing. There’s so much to choose from:

    The Daily Beast
    For Top Pols In Japan Crime Doesn’t Pay, But Hate Crime Does
    As Japan’s prime minister addresses the United Nations on Friday his reputation at home is tainted by links to avowed racists.

    World News

    Written by Jake Adelstein
    Angela Erika Kubo

    TOKYO, Japan — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be speaking to the United Nations this Friday, but he may not be very welcome. In late July, the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Japan to crack down on the growing cases of “hate speech” targeting foreign residents. The U.N. committee urged Prime Minister Abe’s administration to “firmly address manifestations of hate and racism as well as incitement to racist violence and hatred during rallies,” and create laws to rectify the situation.

    Recent events make it appear that the prime minister and his cabinet are not paying attention; several members of the cabinet not only appear oblivious to racism and hate speech issues, they associate with those who promote them.

    Last week photographs of Japan’s newly appointed National Public Safety Commissioner socializing with members of the country’s most virulent racist group, Zaitokukai, were brought to light in an expose by Japan’s leading weekly magazine, Shukan Bunshun. In U.S. terms, it would be the equivalent of the attorney general getting caught chumming around with a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. This week it was reported that another cabinet member received donations from them, and that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself may have ties to the staunchly anti-Korean organization.

    All of this isn’t good for Japan and Korea relations, since much of the racism is directed at people of Korean descent, nor is it good for U.S.-Japan relations. In February, the U.S. State Department in its annual report on human rights, criticized the hate speech towards Korean residents in Japan, specifically naming the Zaitokukai. The group is well known for its anti-social actions, but The Daily Beast has learned that it also has had ties to Japan’s mafia—including the Sumiyoshi-kai, which is blacklisted by the United States.

    The latest news of links between the Japanese ruling coalition and unsavory characters comes just after another scandal involving neo-nazi links to two other cabinet members made headlines worldwide.

    The standard line of defense offered by the cabinet members embroiled in controversy over their connections to racist groups, “We just happened to get photographed with these people. We don’t know who they are,” is getting harder to swallow. And it has raised some disturbing issues.

    The U.N. and the U.S. State Department can certainly urge Japan to deal with the problem but as long as hate crime pays politically and to some extent monetarily and the administration seems to condone ultra-nationalist racist groups this is unlikely to happen. The scolding that the U.N. gave Japan seems more and more prescient as links between the cabinet and bigoted ultra-nationalist organizations keep coming to light.

    The Zaitokukai, founded in 2006, has a name best translated as “Citizens Against the Special Privileges of Ethnic Koreans.” They are an ultra-nationalist, right-wing group that argues for the elimination of privileges extended to foreigners who had been granted Special Foreign Resident status—mostly Korean-Japanese.

    The Zaitokukai also collect a lot of money in donations from like-minded citizens.

    The group, which is led by Makoto Sakurai, whose real name is Makoto Takada, claims that ethnic Koreans abuse the social and welfare system in Japan. Zaitokukai claims to have over 14,000 members. It organizes protests and demonstrations across Japan, even in front of Korean elementary schools, yelling such slogans as “Go back to Korea,” “You’re the children of spies”—making numerous veiled and overt threats. The group asserts that all foreigners are criminals who should be chased out of Japan, especially the Koreans.

    In a recent book, Sakurai states, “The Japanese understand what the Koreans are up to. If you think about it, there’s no way we can get along with these people. Even though Japanese people don’t do anything, Koreans just cause one incident (crime) after another. Every time a Korean commits another crime, our support goes up.”

    And when support goes up, so do the earnings of the Zaitokukai—earnings that are poorly accounted for and go untaxed. It’s a great racket and it’s completely legal.

    However, the group does have associations with the Japanese mafia, aka the yakuza, and those may not be legal. They are very closely tied to the political arm of the Sumiyoshikai, known as Nihonseinsha..

    Eriko Yamatani, as chairman of the National Public Safety Commission, oversees Japan’s police forces. It makes her association with Zaitokukai and their criminally inclined members highly problematic. One picture that dates back to 2009 shows Yamatani standing next to Yasuhiko Aramaki, who was arrested a year later for terrorizing a Korean elementary school in Kyoto, found guilty and then later arrested again in 2012 on charges of intimidation..

    Another of the people photographed with Yamatani is Shigeo Masuki, a former Zaitokukai leader. Masuki was arrested at least three times after the photograph was shot, once for threatening an elementary school principal and later for insurance fraud. Yamatani initially denied that she knew of the Zaitokukai affiliation of the people in the pictures. This is slightly strange since she has reportedly been friends with Masuki and his wife for over a decade. When replying to questions from TBS radio about the recent scandal, she explained the Zaitokukai exactly in the terminology of a true believer, inadvertently using the words “Zainichi Tokken (Special rights of the Korean Residents In Japan)” herself. At a press conference held today (September 25th), she was questioned about her use of the term and stated uncomfortably, “In my reply (to TBS) I might have just copy and pasted from the Zaitokukai homepage.” She refused to criticize the group by name or clarify whether she believed that ethnic Koreans had special privileges.

    Yamatani, in her current position, oversees the National Police Agency—the very same agency that noted in its 2013 white paper that the Zaitokukai were committing hate speech, promoting racism, and posed a threat to the social order. If hate-speech becomes a crime, she may be in charge of overseeing the police that enforce the law.

    She isn’t the only one close to the Zaitokukai in the current cabinet. According to the magazine Sunday Mainichi, Ms. Tomomi Inada, Minister Of The “Cool Japan” Strategy, also received donations from Masaki and other Zaitokukai associates.

    Apparently, racism is cool in Japan.

    Inada made news earlier this month after photos circulated of her and another female in the new cabinet posing with a neo-Nazi party leader. Both denied knowing the neo-Nazi well but later were revealed to have contributed blurbs for an advertisement praising the out-of-print book Hitler’s Election Strateg. Coincidentally, Vice-Prime Minister,Taro As, is also a long-time admirer of Nazi political strategy, and has suggested Japan follow the Nazi Party template to sneak constitutional change past the public.

    Even Japan’s Prime Minister Abe has been photographed with members of Zaitokukai. Masuki, who snapped a photo with Abe on August 17h 2009, while he was still a member of the group, bragged that Abe kindly remembered him.”

    As of publication date, the administration hasn’t explained the relationship between the two and a home page featuring a photo of Abe and Masuki has been taken down.

    Since September 3, it seems that every day yields new information linking an Abe cabinet member with a racist or neo-nazi group. While the ties to racist groups and the cabinet members seem problematic, there are signs of hope…sort of.

    In August, Japan’s ruling party, which put Abe into powerorganized a working group to discuss laws that would restrict hate-crime, although the new laws will probably also be used to clamp down on anti-nuclear protests outside the Diet building.

    Of course, it is a little worrisome that Sanae Takaichi, who was supposed to oversee the project, is the other female minister who was photographed with a neo-Nazi leader and is a fan of Hitler.

    Maybe the Abe administration is sincere about dealing with hate crimes and just unlucky to have so many cabinet members being photographed and getting donations from the wrong people.

    Sadly, Japan is in the middle of a huge racist boom. Anti-Korean books, magazines, and comic books are selling like wildfire. The anti-Korean diatribe Bokanron (The Impudent Korea Argument), a book released on December 5 last year, became the top selling book on Amazon within a week and sold 270,000 copies by the end of March. An assistant editor at a weekly magazine told The Daily Beast, “If you have an article ridiculing Korea or Koreans on the cover, the issue sells. That’s the climate we’re in.”

    However, Japan is definitely in a precarious time. What was once taboo has become socially acceptable and the prime minister remains silent, hoping to avoid alienating his political base and let the fires of political nationalism continue to smolder.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 26, 2014, 5:08 pm

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