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Hi Blog. Here’s my latest SNA column, discussing in part why journalism on Japan has historically had so many topical, “weird Japan” stories. Part of it is because some commentators on Japan remain willfully ignorant of the Japanese language. Others get duped by the industry of “Gaijin Handlers” designed to steer foreign perceptions of Japan in the “right direction”. And some commentators, like the late Henry Scott-Stokes, former Tokyo Bureau Chief at The Financial Times, Times of London, and New York Times, become willing abettors of the Japanese far-right, selling their reputations to maintain their privilege.
Have a read. It resolves one mystery I always felt when meeting numerous veteran foreign correspondents during the Otaru Onsens Case. They would often arrogantly question my standing to work within the Japanese system as resident, citizen, and activist. Yet they could barely read the menu. Time for me to question their standing too. Debito Arudou, Ph.D.
Visible Minorities: Henry Scott-Stokes, Sell-Out to Gaijin Handlers
Shingetsu News Agency, May 23, 2022, by Debito Arudou
SNA (Tokyo) — Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes, patrician among Japan’s foreign correspondents since 1964, recently died in Tokyo at the age of 83, but not before he did untold damage by performing as a foreign handmaid to Japan’s fascists.
A man described as “tweedy” and “entertaining and congenial,” Briton Scott-Stokes was nonetheless a man of privilege, lucky enough to land in Japan as Tokyo bureau chief of the Financial Times only three years after graduating from Oxford.
Becoming bureau chief of a major newspaper at the wizened old age of 26 might seem odd today, but back then foreign journalism in Japan had lower standards, and the field was infused with neocolonial attitudes towards the “natives.” Fluency in your assigned country’s language was not required.
Nor was Japanese required at the other “Big Three” English-language newspapers in Japan, as Scott-Stokes later became bureau chief of The Times of London and the New York Times through the 1970s and early 1980s. For a man described as “someone who really understood Japan,” he spent his entire 58 years in Japan as a functional illiterate, unable to fluently read, write, or speak Japanese.
To be fair, this was normal: Scott-Stokes arose from a bygone generation of Japan commentators who were poorly trained in social science methods. That’s actually one reason why newspaper analysis on Japan at the time was so topical. They simply couldn’t do their own deep and rigorous research in the vernacular.
As a result, overseas readers usually got the topical “weird Japan” stories–dismissively called the “Three Es” of economics, exotica, and erotica–that condescendingly promoted the Japanese as “inscrutable” and the Japanese language as “the hardest in the world” for foreigners to learn.
Of course, that had the self-serving effect of absolving their willful ignorance. The problem with doing onsite research dependent on interpreters (in Scott-Stokes’ case, his second wife) is that professionals become blinkered. Not only are you less able to talk to the hoi polloi on their own terms about their daily lives, but in Japan in particular you become vulnerable to the elite, targeted by a particular class of people with an agenda for prominent Western journalists.
Also known as “Gaijin Handlers,” this industry of information spooks is designed to distract attention from politically troubling or shameful stories about Japan, and at best mislead foreign correspondents into parroting government propaganda.
After all, the Japanese government is well-practiced in steering domestic media and influencing public perception for social control–hence Japan’s enormously restrictive “Press Clubs.”
Until the mid-1980s, the Gaijin Handlers succeeded quite well. The image of Japan transmitted to the outside world was kept “harmless and weird,” and Japan got richer and richer on its trade surpluses.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, Japan suddenly emerged even wealthier than the United States in terms of per capita GDP. Japanese companies bought up prominent overseas properties while the US taxpayer footed the bill for Japan’s regional defense. Overseas editors started demanding that Japan be studied as an economic powerhouse, if not a rival.
This is when a new generation of Japan scholars came in, where if you weren’t fluent in Japanese you simply weren’t respected.
We did our own research outside of government meddling, using the same vernacular sources the Gaijin Handlers read and tried to obfuscate. We knew their code because we spoke it too. Our analysis wasn’t perfect, but we could better see through the propaganda.
Times change, and most of the old hacks moved on to other countries or settled into a quiet life in Japan, living a harmless twilight existence as cottage consultants in their cups.
Scott-Stokes didn’t. He didn’t just continue to rely on his privileged access to Japan’s elite for his income; he decided to embrace their fascist tendencies.
He first attracted attention from Japan’s far right in 1974 with his signature book, a biography in English of his alleged friend Yukio Mishima. It proved useful to Mishima’s ilk. With the imprimatur of a pedigreed white man whitewashing one of Japan’s far right fanatics into a sympathetic hero, he helped refashion Japan’s fascism for the outside world.
Then, by the 2010s, as journalistic standards rose and money got tighter, Scott-Stokes went all-in with his Gaijin Handlers, selling his reputation for thirty pieces of silver.
His 2013 book Falsehoods in the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist, came out in Japanese only, and it sold an estimated 100,000 copies within a few months.
But Scott-Stokes wound up blindsided by its contents. Despite his name being on the cover and his standing as the titular “British Journalist,” it turns out that he didn’t actually write the book, let alone read it. The Times of London reported that he had essentially dictated it to an interpreter.
Later asked about sections denying “as a historical fact” the Nanjing Massacre of civilians by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937, he initially said he was “shocked and horrified” at having been unable to check that “rogue passage.” Then Scott-Stokes reversed himself and stood by what was written. “If I’ve been taken advantage of, it’s with my complicity.” Books needed to be sold, after all.
Further, he doubled down on minimizing Japan’s “alleged” war crimes with whataboutism, comparing them to the “war crimes” of the atomic bombings, and of the “victor’s justice” of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal–all Japan historical revisionist tropes. He even argued that the United States, not Japan, bears “prime responsibility” for the Pacific War.
Some of his absurd claims are still visible on far right websites, such as, “It is largely as a result of Japanese shedding their blood that we entered a new world where colonies did not exist any more and there is racial equality.”
He concluded, “You should not be misled by anti-Japanese propaganda but rather take pride in Japan as a nation,” noting that Japan was “Asia’s light of hope” which “liberated Asian countries from white domination” (replaced by, the record also demonstrates, Yamato domination; they too were brutal colonizers, after all). All of this effort was to “protect the Japanese soul.”
Fortunately, Scott-Stokes’ former employers took responsibility for their own, acknowledging in their obituaries that his book was “embraced by right-wing apologists for atrocities committed by the Japanese military during World War II” (New York Times), and “Scott-Stokes was certainly sympathetic to Japanese nationalist right-wingers” (The Times of London).
I can find no specific buy-in from Scott-Stokes for other tropes that the far-right takes pride in, such as encouraging thoroughbred Wajin bloodlines free of miscegenation or promoting “pure” Yamato males as the only people entitled to represent and rule Japan.
But his sympathies for those who do, especially those who lament Japan’s postwar disapproval of “traditional Japanese values,” including Meiji Era martial training and the Emperor as the head of state, gave their rhetoric a sense of legitimacy. And it runs directly counter to Japan’s inevitable future, given its low birthrates and aging society, as a multicultural, multiethnic society.
The point is that Scott-Stokes’ lifetime peddling in and profiteering off of Japan’s mysticism has interfered with seeing Japan’s history, and its present-day realities, realistically.
His son, Harry Sugiyama Scott-Stokes, a celebrity broadcaster in Japan and frequent commentator at NHK, has announced that he will be “carrying on in the spirit of my father,” whatever that means.
In the end, what is the measure of a life well spent? In my view, it is to leave the world a better place than you found it. By this measure, Scott-Stokes did quite the opposite.
By passively, then later actively, promoting the aims and ideology that undergird Japan’s fascist xenophobes, he offers no template for Japan’s foreign communities, let alone his professional colleagues. His support of people who would never grant equal rights to minorities, particularly Japan’s Visible Minorities, is especially ironic and counterproductive.
Future residents and interpreters of Japanese society should see Scott-Stokes as a cautionary tale. Here was a man who lived most of his life in a country, even tried to rewrite the narrative on it, yet remained in a bubble of privilege so opaque he could never see the obvious–that he was being used by elites who would never let his type into their club.
Henry Johnstone Morland Scott-Stokes became a “useful idiot” to the Gaijin Handlers, destroying his legacy.
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