Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 56 on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes: “Revisionists marching Japan back to a dangerous place”


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The Japan Times
Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012
Revisionists marching Japan back to a dangerous place
Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20121002ad.html

No doubt you’ve seen the news about the Takeshima and Senkaku disputes: Japan is sparring with China, South Korea and Taiwan over some specks in the ocean.

Why is this happening? Theories include pre-election political posturing and securing borders to exploit resources. But it’s gotten to the point where even respected academics (such as Stanford’s Harumi Befu and Harvard’s Ted Bestor) are worriedly writing, “current developments are counterproductive to the lasting peace in East Asia and are dangerously degenerating into belligerent diplomacy.”

My take on these scraps is pretty simple: They are merely a way to distract the Japanese public from a larger malaise, the symptoms of which include Japan’s loss of clout as Asia’s leading economy, perpetual economic funk, ineffectual political leadership and an irradiated food chain.

But the larger question remains: How could these far-flung rocks get so much domestic political traction? Bully-pulpiteer Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara managed to raise $18 million from the general public for buying bits of the Senkakus. This in turn forced Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to nationalize them with $26 million of public funds, entangling the government in this imbroglio (and no doubt giving Ishihara a chuckle over all the mischief he’d caused).

(NB:  Total money raised by Ishihara according to Yomiuri Sept 7, 2012: 1.4 billion yen.  Purchase price 2.05 billion yen.) http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T120906004354.htm

After all, Japan has a lot to lose in these disputes. Known as the “fragile superpower,” Japan depends on the outside world both for raw materials and export markets. (China is, remember, Japan’s largest trading partner.)

Japan also has a reputation for being diplomatic towards everyone for business purposes (with its foreign policy sardonically known as happō bijin gaikō, “like a woman who appears beautiful viewed from any angle”). Why now so out of character?

Some might argue that Japan is “growing up” and “acting like a normal country.” Ishihara himself co-wrote the book “The Japan That Can Say No,” which among other things called for Japan to be more “assertive” on the world stage.

But that was in 1989. Now much older and more powerful (as head of a megacity), Ishihara has clearly revised “assertive” to mean “belligerent.” This isn’t Japan just saying “no.” It’s Japan saying, “Gimme. Or else.”

And this is not limited to Ishihara anymore, meaning the fundamental character of Japan’s leadership has shifted. The heads of Japan’s three main cities (Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya) have all expressed “revisionist” views of history, doubting the legitimacy of Asian claims of Japan as aggressor and plunderer during World War II. Revisionists seem determined to fan passions against outsiders for demagogic purposes.

For example, in what historian Tessa Morris-Suzuki (Japan Focus, Sept. 3) calls “foreign policy by tweet,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto capriciously stirred up historical matters largely settled a decade ago. Through glib texts to the general public, he stated in essence that the “comfort women” wartime sexual slavery issue had not been resolved by Japan’s official acknowledgment of the historical evidence in 1993 (something Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also asserted but later retracted).

The subtext is that Hashimoto’s ilk wants a government-authored history that paints Japan in a “hopeful” light. Indicatively (and ironically, considering his family background), he is pulling funding from Japan’s only human rights museum in Osaka next year, on the grounds that displays are “limited to discrimination and human rights” towards Japan’s minorities. In his view, they fail to inspire Japan’s children with a future full of “hopes and dreams” (Mainichi Shimbun, July 25).

How did this cabal gain such political leverage? I think we can understand their appeal through the lens of rekindling national “hopes and dreams.”

First, as Japan’s “lost decade” of economic woe stretched into two, a public hungry for hope and inspiration became receptive to the message of reliving past glories — not only in terms of wealth and international prestige, but also in terms of military might (as can be seen in the popularity of jingoistic manga like “Gomanism”). At last, there was something to be proud of amidst the interminable bad news.

Second, Gov. Ishihara, in cahoots with Japan’s police forces, banged the alarmist drum of foreign crime and terrorism so loudly and successfully that other political hopefuls could chime in and get (re-)elected. The ensuing suspicion of “outsiders in our midst” helped stem the tide of Japan’s internationalization and diversification, as Japan’s foreign-resident population, after an unbroken 48-year rise, began falling.

Third, hopes for liberalization were dashed when, for the first time in Japan’s postwar political history, a viable opposition party took over from the perpetually-ruling, corrupt Liberal Democratic Party. A mere three years later, people seem disappointed that the Democratic Party of Japan couldn’t undo a half-century of embedded LDP cronyism.

This all plays into the hands of zealots who wish to “restore” Japan (To what? A bubble economy? A regional military power?) without a clear template — except past precedent. The small print is that those past systems won’t work without the exercise of military power, or favorable overseas terms of trade designed for a reconstructing economy (neither of which are viable for present-day Japan).

No matter, say the Revisionists, let’s march backward: Last month, not only did the LDP reelect staunch historical revisionist Shinzo Abe as its party leader, but Hashimoto also launched his ominously named Japan Restoration Party, which has few policy aims except the proactive defense of Japanese sovereignty and territories.

It’s laughable how far removed all this is from what the Japanese public really wants. I believe most Japanese are not looking for trouble with any neighbor — in Japan or abroad. They just want to lead a quiet, prosperous life.

But now that even the Japanese media have started adopting the jingoistic tone of “restoring” Japan, the current discourse of belligerency is normalized and irresistible. Only true patriots dare say anything in public, while the silent majority hunkers down and waits for the fracas to pass (hopefully without any shots fired).

In a few months, this may all amount to a storm in a teacup. But I don’t think so. Political movements such as these (even if promoted by a very loud minority) do real social damage, setting precedents that legitimize the next wave of nationalism and antiliberalism.

As I’ve discussed on these pages before (e.g., Zeit Gist, July 8, 2008), extreme positions have eventually justified quiet but radical and illiberal reforms. For example, officially sponsored fears about foreign crime and terrorism have created a surveillance society that affects everyone. Since the DPJ took office, alarmist (and successful) invective against, say, granting local suffrage to foreign permanent residents also emboldened conservatives to defeat other liberalizing proposals, such as granting separate surnames to married couples and more civil rights for children. Several attempts at getting a universal law against discrimination have been defeated because of allegations that foreigners would abuse Japanese with it.

Thus foreigners are the perpetual wolf at the door, and have been used very effectively to mobilize the nation against both putative internal and external threats.

Now with boats clashing prows and loosing water cannon at each other because of ocean specks, soon there will be very normal-sounding calls for revisions of our “Peace Constitution.” Revisionists will argue (Ishihara already has) that like any “normal” country, Japan needs an actual “military,” able to defend its sovereignty from the wolves.

Therein lies the cognitive dissonance of any historical revisionist: Somehow “hope” is generated by forgetting a regrettable history.

This must not happen, because the proponents of this view simply do not wish to learn from history. And you all know what George Santayana said about “those who cannot remember the past (being) condemned to repeat it.”

I will conclude with the thoughts of M.G. Sheftall, professor of modern Japanese cultural history at Shizuoka University:

“Postwar Japan wanted to be welcomed back into the community of responsible countries and membership in the United Nations. So as a condition, the government acknowledged a ‘we were wrong’ narrative of the war experience. I think bearing guilt for a few more generations for the 20 million Asians killed under Japanese imperialism is necessary before the words ‘army’ or ‘navy’ inevitably return to the official Japanese lexicon. It’s just the decent thing to do.

“As a historian, it’s discomfiting having anything smacking of wartime ideology making a comeback while men who committed atrocities for the Imperial Japanese military still live. While they deserve some sympathy for what they endured under an ideology they were unable to resist or reject, I don’t they deserve the satisfaction of leaving this mortal coil feeling that Japan’s war has been historically vindicated. There’s justice in that, I think.”

By then, history will have taught Japan’s governing elites the folly and waste of clashing over petty nationalistic goals. If there is any hope.

Debito Arudou’s latest writing is the Hokkaido section of the Fodor’s Japan travel guide. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send your comments to community@japantimes.co.jp

25 comments on “Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 56 on the Senkakus/Takeshima Disputes: “Revisionists marching Japan back to a dangerous place”

  • I would offer a slightly different view on two points, where you say:

    “They are merely a way to distract the Japanese public from a larger malaise”


    “They just want to lead a quiet, prosperous life”

    My view is similar but would be that these disputes are desirable for many Japanese as a means to distract themselves from a larger malaise.

    I also have the impression that most J want to be distracted from that malaise, which is a dissonant note in an otherwise quiet life.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    I agree that the constant media bagging of China is a distraction from real news. (Last night there was a report on a Macao businessman who bought up a major winery in France – this is not even relevent to Japan)

    Koizumi was a genius at playing the media distraction game. If his government was subject to criticism, all he needed to do was visit Yasukuni for a week-long smokescreen.

    In the meantime, while we get hourly cherry-picked reports about what [insert North East Asian Nation here]’s media are saying about Japan, Japanese right wingers are free to physically harrass Zainichi while the local media turn a blind eye.
    [Do that in a school and it’s accessory to bullying]

    And I’ve been thinking for years that the revisionists are dangerous. Kids today seem to think that Japan somehow is being forced to appologise for being nuked in WWII. International understanding, as presented in textbooks, is all about how great we Japanese are.

    Hard economic times bring out the xenophobes and nationalists. Snother historical fact the Japanese would do well to heed.

  • Nice piece Debito. My only wish is that you spent the latter half actually pointing out the issues that this foreign policy smokescreen is attempting (sadly, successfully) to obfuscate. I think clearly defining those issues would put the political games and the media frenzy into their proper perspective. A reminder of the issues Japan really should be tackling would have been a good way to finish the piece.

    But it is unfortunate to see how successfully the conservatives and revisionists have so effectively sprung the “foreign policy” trap on the citizenry. What amazes me most is just how obvious the play was. No attempt at subtlety whatsoever. You say Ishihara is having a laugh at the mischief he’s caused? I say he’s smirking like wolf at how well “The Plan” worked. Afterall, Ishihara is an ally to the LDP and other conservative elements in politics AND industry; I think his initial comments about buying the Senkakus was intended to ruffle the feathers of Korea and China as well as force the government’s hand at nationalizing them, driving the situation to their logical end… All this before a crucial election in which the LDP elects hawkish Abe to its leadership despite the popular vote by local regions for Ishiba. What does this tell us?

    Well, exactly what your article is putting forth; that this is a carefully managed political play attempting to wrench the government from the clutches of “liberals” who would open Japan up to its own “ruin.” That its strength lies in looking at itself in the mirror, comparing that to old pictures from some moldy album and saying: “I used to be so beautiful long ago.” And like all narcissistic fantasies, accepting the truth and dealing with the situation must be rejected, and the fabricated, fragile image of itself perpetuated at all costs. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about an individual here, but an entire nation. And that is the scariest thing of all.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Jjobseeker “That its strength lies in looking at itself in the mirror, comparing that to old pictures from some moldy album and saying: “I used to be so beautiful long ago.” And like all narcissistic fantasies, accepting the truth and dealing with the situation must be rejected, and the fabricated, fragile image of itself perpetuated at all costs. Unfortunately, we’re not talking about an individual here, but an entire nation. And that is the scariest thing of all.”

    An incredibly astute comment.

    We have postmodern images that have lost their meaning but still are used, married with narcissistic imagery-visible at all levels of society from hosts in Kabukicho to J politicians. This is a potent-and potentially fatal-combination. The whole nation is in deep denial. They probably would deny that in any war with China be it localized or wider scale, they would almost certainly lose or be destroyed. (Now I have used the “destroyed” word I am sure apologists and nationalists will get all emotional, but the fact remains the Japanese population and resources are terribly vulnerable, plus I cannot see the narcissists enlisting).

    Steve Coogan (comedian) said he would agree with John Ford: “When you have to choose between the truth and the legend…print the legend.” (actually a misquote).

    Japan only ever prints the legend.

  • “It’s laughable how far removed all this is from what the Japanese public really wants. I believe most Japanese are not looking for trouble with any neighbor — in Japan or abroad. They just want to lead a quiet, prosperous life.”

    I would have to disagree with you on that one. Many Japanese I have spoken with, to include my spouse, would offer a different opinion. They are in line with Ishi, and even vote for him because they support his japan vision. The nationalist vein that runs in Japan is deep, and scary, always ready to rear its ugly head when you least expect it. Remember Debito, this is Japan, where manipulation comes naturally without any reservation, but straight talk and true feelings are held back, fooling many in the West to believe that Japan is a true ally. I think given the right circumstances, Japan would like reasert itself as the dominant power in Asia, especially over those it once dominated. Ishi is aware of all these thing, the naivity of the west, and the likelyhood of history repeating itself. he has had 60 years of more or less U.S. occupation or influence to brood over it. Now is his time to seize the opportunity- an election in the U.S. to distract them from his mischief. If you read the comments by many U.S. types to the island dilemna, you find that most support/love Japan. It is my prayer that those who pull the strings in the U.S. when it comes to foriegn policy are as aware of the situation as I am.

    — Well, I have lived for decades in places that cannot vote for Ishihara (remember, most people in Japan do not live in Tokyo-to), and most people I’ve ever known in Japan’s heartland just want to live an average, quiet life. Why? Because they don’t live anywhere near Japan’s political center of power and don’t feel as though they can influence much of anything. They are the silent majority found in every society. Anyway, we can’t prove our case one way or another right now. And I did leave it open in my essay to say that it could swing either way depending on which way the ruling elites feel the wind is blowing. Right now, as far as those easily swayed by the media are concerned, it’s blowing rightward. That’s why the silent majority is just hunkering down and waiting.

  • I have to agree with Mike on this as well.

    While very few Japanses would promote directly any conflict with their neighbours, the Japanese are definitely going through a ‘Versailles’ complex which indirectly leads that way.

    The Versailles complex, in its original form, led the Germans to beleive that an unfair treaty was imposed on an undefeated Germany, which had been stabbed in the back.

    While a majority of Germans never supported Hitler, an overwhelming number of Germans supported revising the teritorial demands of Vesailles. By that sentiment and support alone, they, the German people, became pawns in the greater national socialist designs.

    The Japanese are pretty much in the same boat as the Germans were. A majority of Japanese might not openly express support for the extreme right, but an overwhelming majority support revising the territorial terms of San Francisco (1952), especially with those ‘carrion’ nation neighbours who Japan beleives had merely taken advantage of a post-war ‘victimed’ Japan and deserved none of the spoils of the victors.

    By giving support to the territorial revisions of Potsdam (1945) and San Francisco (1952), the Japanese populace are indirectly giving electoral oxygen to the far right in Japan. The far right, in their turn, just like the far right in Germany during the 1939-1945, not all of them were national socialists, will force the Japanese people into an agenda of their liking and making.

    The really sad thing about these whole territorial escapades in morth east Asia is that the Japanese populace, in their undieing belef in their historical uniqueness, are too arrogant to see historical parallels and the Japanese press ill serves the nation with its constant cheerleading of a position which places them as nothing more than the voice peice of Ishihara, Abe and Hashimoto.

  • Debito.org Reader David H. comments:

    One of the “featured comments” in an Economist article titled “Japan in Chinese history, Cross-currents” Sep 27, 2012, had this to say in comparing Germany’s handling of its past with that of Japan (snippet of full comment by “typingmonkey”)

    “…can you not imagine a Europe in which Germany was like Japan? A “pacifist” Germany defended by America, occupied by America, overseen by America? A Germany with “self defense” forces led by officers who wrote essays on the glories of the Third Reich? A Germany which wrote a few diplomatic communiques apologizing for the holocaust, but whose schoolchildren and general citizenry were taught and believed that the Third Reich was intended to help Europe, and was crushed by greater, more foreign empires. A Germany whose only commemorations of WW2 were to shed tears for Dresden and the fallen veterans of the SS? Imagine a Germany with no Nuremburg, where Goebbels and Goring were never prosecuted. Indeed where they became CEOs of BASF and BMW? And a Germany where Herr Hitler’s son still lorded over the Alps as a figurehead Kaiser? A Germany which was taught and believed that Dachau and Auschwitz were nothing?…”

    Link to article and reader comments:

  • In many ways, Japan is having its “Falklands” moment. Japanese leadership is perceived as too weak to do anything. Argentina figured Thatcher’s government would do nothing, so they moved to take the islands they believed were theirs. China sees Japan as weak, and figures they are nowhere near as warlike as the British and “Little Japan” will simply fold up and cry when the People’s Liberation Army takes the islands. Unlike the British, the Japanese are not responding to Chinese actions.

    With no nuclear weapons of its own, Japan is perceived as being a weak, timid US puppet regime by the communists in Beijing. The DPJ administration seems to enjoy being seen in that light.

  • Baudrillard says:

    David, Japan IS a weak, timid US puppet, and that is how the USA likes it! Since Hatoyama was forced to stand down, there has been no one steering a new course for Japan. Ishihara and co are just nostalgic for past imagery- they stirred up this trouble, but it does not change the fact that Japan is basically powerless to act without tacit approval from the CIA and Washington.

  • @David
    Interesting analogy, but you need to remember that it was Britain who had the nukes in the South Atlantic; Argentina would have had no choice but to surrender if threatened.
    Here, it’s China with the nukes. I, for one, am very glad that Japan’s not responding to the Chinese actions at present. No point in escalating a dangerous situation for the sake of appearing macho when there’s so much at stake.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @David #8

    The Falklands analogy has been thrown around in some J-media recently, and some Japanese repeat it, but I think that it is a very misleading approach used to justify Japanese pig-headedness on the Senkaku issue. Why is the Falklands analogy a false one? Bacause the British settled in the Falklands 200 years before Argentine laid claim to them (current UK citizens number 3000 on the Falklands). No one lives on the Senkaku’s. The UK residents of the Falklands have made in clear in fair and free elections that they wish to remain UK citizens, and refuse Argentine rule.

    Please see this excellent piece by the former UK ambassador in Tokyo;

    If there is any similarity between the Falklands issue and the Senkaku problem (other than the word ‘islands’), then it is that the right-wing Argentine junta staged an act of occupation, and started a war as a way to distract it’s population from the crippling domestic economic situation, and the junta’s crumbling power. In this respect, the J-gov and media more closely resemble the Argentine position, wouldn’t you agree?

    @ Debito #7

    That is one of the most strikingly effective demonstrations of Japan’s cumulative ‘free-passes’ that I have ever read. Thank you.

  • Jimi Di Griz

    The former ambassador’s piece is as biased as the news reports coming out of both China and Japan. Cortazzi is crying that he got no support from Japan during the Falklands, so he wants to “Pay back” Japan with pro-Chinese commentary. Such a petty man, representing yet another faded imperial power.

    Japanese lived on the Senkakus until they were forced to leave during the US occupation. If settlement of the islands is enough of a standard, then the Senkakus definitely belong to Japan since there has never been a ROC or PRC settlement of the islands. The ROC was declared in 1911, and the PRC was declared in 1949. The Senkakus were part of Japan decades before either Chinese entity claimed they existed. Both claim to have “Inherited” Qing dynasty land and claims, but this is nonsense. Using their standards, then Tibet and Uyghurstan must be returned immediately to their respective people. Of course, communists never apply the same rules to themselves that they demand from others so this is not happening.

    Actually, China more resembles Argentina. They are having succession problems within their ruling elite, and they need a catalyst to mold their people together so they do not turn against the government instead. So, the island situation provides a good distraction for the CCP to use to thwart domestic unrest. Japan did not begin yapping about the Senkakus until armed Chinese vessels began appearing near the Senkakus. And that’s when the fight began.

    Anyway, China’s naval forces are too weak to take the islands and they have no chance of getting air superiority in the region. They cannot win if they choose to fight. Japan’s chance to prevail in this issue is to stand firm and also avoid a fight until the CCP leadership succession issues calm down. At that point, the Senkakus will go back on the shelf and be less of an issue for all parties concerned.

    — I think the comparison with the Falklands/England/Argentina historical example is unwarranted and distracting, and I do not wish to entertain it any further on Debito.org.

    Further, there is a salad of unsourced claims here. At the very minimum, we need a credible source that indicates that the Senkakus in question were once inhabited. Otherwise I’ll have to delete this comment.

  • David appears partly right, partly wrong according to wikipedia.


    There was a bonito processing plant there for 45 years from 1895-1940, but that means it was gone before the US occupation. The islands have been unsettled otherwise.

    Of course, if we take control/settlement as the standard, then those other islets (Dokdo/Takeshima) are certainly Korea’s. I wonder how many Japanese would agree with that trade off?

  • Senkakus indeed had inhabitants. There was a fish processing plant with men and women working there. Making katsuobushi takes time, so people had to live and work on the island. Photo is from the Meiji era.


    Source of the photo: 出典:アサヒグラフ・昭和53年5月5日号 「特報、尖閣列島波高し・無人島ではなかった」

    Photos, maps of living quarters, and modern photos of the scenery for comparison are shown here:


    — Thanks.

  • Japan is at a crossroads, of sorts. With the majority of Japanese people feeling lost, disconnected from current society, and nostalgic for the “good old days” when they mattered, I think the general population is reaching for something. If it is a fight, so be it.

    I live in Hawaii, and am honestly shocked at how many Japanese people openly admit that they hate (not dislike) Korean/Chinese people… I am sure that the issue is complex, and multi-faceted, but (formerly great) Japan being surpassed by the likes of Korea and China seems to have really struck a nerve.

    I expect more of the same. Japan is still wrestling with its non-leadership position in the modern world. Being increasingly less important than it used to be, we should expect more thrashing about, as they come to terms with their current situation.

    I think I differ from many readers in that I welcome a stronger Japanese military. I think it is time for Japan to defend itself, whatever that means. I also welcome a withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Japan. When Japan has to do the job itself, maybe it will reach out to all Japanese citizens, not just the few elite. But that is just my crazy idea…

    PS: Is it true that Hyundai opened a dealership in Japan, then closed it? In Honolulu, there are lots of Hyundai’s, Kia’s, etc., and I am amazed that there are none in Japan…

  • “I think I differ from many readers in that I welcome a stronger Japanese military. I think it is time for Japan to defend itself, whatever that means. I also welcome a withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Japan. When Japan has to do the job itself, maybe it will reach out to all Japanese citizens, not just the few elite. But that is just my crazy idea…”

    You seem to be of the nostalgic camp yourself. There was another poster here who talked about the Japan he once lived in, and how much better things were in Japan than the states. A bit out of touch of reality, friend. If Japan was to rearm, this place would reset itself 60 years in a week. Not a place Id like to be, and would trade places with you at that time. Im sure Ishihara would have his foot up my and other gaikokujins behind to get out of here as well. I dont know if you ever lived in Japan, but it really never changes. When times are good, people tolerate, with a dormant distrust of foreigners. There was a brief time during the 90s that Japanese were a bit more accepting of foriengers. Roppongi was jammed with gaijin, parks full of Iranians, street performers, Israelis selling on streets etc. All gone, and the old hunker down and be miserable together is back in style. Im sure Hawaii got its share of unpleasantries, but I wouldnt be getting all homesick for Japan just yet.

  • Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking article Debito. 

    “I think I differ from many readers in that I welcome a stronger Japanese military. I think it is time for Japan to defend itself, whatever that means. I also welcome a withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Japan . . .”

    I have to say I disagree with any suggestion of Japan remilitarization. While the current situation is not ideal and in theory it seems like a good idea for Japan to have a greater level of self determination by having a military, the reality is far more dangerous. 

    After decades of isolation Japan has an extremely distorted view of the “outside” world and international relations. It bristles with indignation at perceived slights and glosses over any suffering that it may have caused, all the while reinforcing the basic idea that Japanese are special, unique and different from all other peoples. This is the baseline for Japan. Now add twenty years of economic stagnation, real social, structural and environmental issues, hostile neighbors growing in power and influence and it is easy to understand the feeling of impotence that pervades Japan. Historical revision and whitewashing, a spineless and biased media that simply tows the line and a lack of critical thinking all build on a sense of victimization. For an easily coerced population the promise of returning to former glory being sold by likes of Ishihara, Hashimoto and Abe is easily bought. And we all know where that ends up.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ C_mac, Mike, & Dude

    I understand why many westerners, especially Americans, think that Japan should ‘normalize’ it’s armed forces, and take on a more active role. I would be so bold as to suggest that US tax-payers are tiring of the ‘free-ride’ that Japan is perceived to be getting from the US presence (especially when the US economy is not so good), and that since Japan is such a ‘rich’ nation, and an ally, it should do more for itself to relieve the burden on US forces in the region, and to help itself more. After all, Japan is a peace-loving ally…..

    The ‘Reverse Course’ did a sound job of back-tracking on Allied anti-Japanese propaganda, and painted Japan in the light of a country hi-jacked by fascist nationalists, as opposed to being a nation of fascist nationalists. As usual, the truth most likely lay somewhere in the middle. What is interesting is that Japan, at the same time as keeping it’s Imperial-era nationalism alive via, for one example of many, education (see any textbook row) and maintaining the discourse of Japan as the under-dog victim of world war 2, at the same time has bought into the western ‘Reverse Course’ myth of Japan as a ‘peace-loving state’.

    We know that this is just tatamae for international consumption, and part of the passive-aggressive defense of Japanese nationalism (‘But we Japanese are a peace-loving people’). It’s one of Baudrillard’s post-modern confusions (again). Japan has been trying to get out of Article #9 from the word go; in 1947 the J-PM thought it was such a hoot to dub GHQ as ‘Go Home Quickly’ (ungrateful sod, quite frankly), and in 1953, PM Yoshida (who admitted in his biography that he would have died in prison as a war criminal, had GHQ not quashed his sentence) called for Japanese atomic weapons (purely for self-defense)- see Modern Japan as History by Gavin McCormack.

    Perhaps, somewhere deep in the Pentagon, there are those who remember that the occupation had dual roles; deter Soviet invasion of Japan, and keep the Japanese military genie in the bottle. Japan’s neighbors (China, Korea) have not forgotten the fear of Japanese aggression, and are in a Catch 22 situation; they are obliged to increase their own military in the event of a US forces reduction in Japan, for what they see as their own protection, a move that the Japanese xenophobic media will portray as a preparation on their part, for an invasion. Constructivist theory of international relations in practice!

    Unlike the US, Japan has never fought a televised war. The impact of Vietnam on the US national psyche was immense, and had a permanent effect. Western countries public opinion would never permit a re-run of the loss of life in battles like the Somme, or D-day. Nowadays, it is news when one soldier is killed in the line of duty (and rightly so). Before TV, that would never have happened. Right or wrong, this is a process that Japan has never been through, and a lesson still to be learnt. Do not forget the effect on the US public of sitting down for ten years with a TV dinner after work, and watching the news on the off-chance of seeing your boy in Vietnam, or watching the news scrolling the days list of named casualties. The modern Japanese have never lived through that.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Japan’s ‘mass-gomi’ media; didn’t take them long to reach ‘the ultimate solution’;

    ‘Sapio (Oct. 3-10) takes Bunshun’s proposals a step further, going so far as to suggest it may be time for Japan to resuscitate its vision of a “Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.”‘


    Excerpt of fuller article:

    Japan Times, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012
    Tabloids return fire, urge China business pullout

    On Sept. 29, the 40th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between China and Japan, Sankei Shimbun editorial writer Ryutaro Kobayashi asked how it would be possible for Japan to continue discussions with a China that had “lost its national dignity.”

    Kobayashi was referring to the sometimes-destructive renhai (human wave) demonstrations in over 100 cities in China protesting Japan’s nationalization of the disputed islands in the East China Sea, which resulted in billions of yen in damages to Japanese-owned businesses.

    Scenes of angry mobs trashing stores and factories have led, not surprisingly, to viscerally emotional reactions in Japan’s media. One common response has been a palpable sense of victimhood, of which perhaps the most extreme example appears in a 98-page “mook” (a short book in glossy A4 magazine format) from Shukan Asahi Geino devoted entirely to China, under the headline “Chugoku, fuyukai na shinjitsu” (“China: The unpleasant facts”). Superimposed over a photo of the ransacked branch of the Heiwado supermarket in Changsha, Hunan Province, is a caption that reads, “Sept. 16, 2012 will be inscribed in history as China’s version of the Kristallnacht” (a reference to the notorious pogrom against Jews in Nazi Germany and Austria on Nov. 9, 1938).

    Shukan Post (Oct. 12) considered the possible repercussions of a complete withdrawal of the estimated 150,000 Japanese currently living and working in China. During last year’s Arab Spring, some 500 Japanese were safely evacuated from Egypt on chartered planes, but their much larger numbers in China would present major logistical problems. A business consultant also points out that unless proper legal procedures are taken — unlikely in the case of mass flight — Japanese-owned assets will probably be confiscated by the Chinese government, along with intellectual-property rights.

    Some weekly magazines have taken it upon themselves to fight back, at least verbally, against the Chinese onslaught. “Yarerumon nara yatte miro. Tsubureru no wa Chugoku da” (“If you think you can do it, go ahead. It will be China that collapses!”) taunted Shukan Bunshun (Oct. 4). A week later the same magazine followed up with an expanded article on this theme that asserts that much of China’s manufacturing sector is dependent on Japanese equipment. “Without Japan-built sewing machines,” it claimed, “China’s apparel plants couldn’t produce even one shirt.”

    Bunshun opines that Japan is left with no other course than to adopt a policy of datsu-Chugoku (pulling out of China). Over the previous two years, notes Bunshun, China attempted to put the squeeze on Japan by reducing exports of rare earth minerals, which are needed in mobile-communications equipment. Japan has since diversified its sources to reduce dependency on China. Likewise, Japanese light-industry manufacturers are in the process of shifting investments to Myanmar, Indonesia and other Asian countries.

    Sapio (Oct. 3-10) takes Bunshun’s proposals a step further, going so far as to suggest it may be time for Japan to resuscitate its vision of a “Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” The original concept was launched in June 1940 by foreign minister Hachiro Arita, with the aim of wresting control of former European colonies in Southeast Asia by installing puppet governments.

    The vernacular business magazines have devoted extensive space to analytical approaches, in attempts to get a handle on what’s been occurring. Shukan Toyo Keizai (Sep. 29) ran 54 pages of China-related content under the headline “Chugoku enjō “(“China erupts in flames”). Shukan Economist (Oct. 9) ran 25 pages under the headline “Rekishi kara manabu” (“Learning from history”). Its articles suggested the key to understanding China’s behavior from historic and cultural perspectives. One featured an article by author Atsushi Moriya about how the lessons of “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” the Confucian Analects and other classic works show that when Chinese form close relationships these will never be betrayed.

    Following is a roundup of other articles of interest covering the Japan-China imbroglio:

    Rest at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fd20121007bj.html

  • “I would be so bold as to suggest that US tax-payers are tiring of the ‘free-ride’ that Japan is perceived to be getting from the US presence (especially when the US economy is not so good”

    Actually, its the US gov thats getting a free ride. Most of the labor to refurbish ships and keep supplies in Japan is paid for by the GOJ, as well as the dependants utilities etc. The GOJ spends millions every year on the bases here. I think its one of the reasons the US wont shut down many obsolete bases here, its too good to let it go.

    — Thanks for the advisement. But let’s keep things on track by relating it back to the topic of the blog entry.

  • “Perhaps, somewhere deep in the Pentagon, there are those who remember that the occupation had dual roles; deter Soviet invasion of Japan, and keep the Japanese military genie in the bottle.”

    I also would hope this is the case, but its probably not. Read what James Webb, former Sec. of the Navy has written about Japan. If I remember right, he was in favor of Japan having its own military and was in love with Japan. Many in the Defense industry and military types are like this; still naive how Japanese really think, falling into that trap of letting emotions and manipulation get the best of them. I have found that U.S. and Europe business leaders are more in touch of how Japan really operates than the military types. I guess when your venture gets hijacked or completly shut out, your more in touch with reality than some dept of defense staff who is paid for political purposes.

  • This article from the Atlantic argues that the US military umbrella has allowed Japan blessed stability and an unprecedented opportunity of several decades to grow its economy without the distractions of neighbourhood disputes, but it has also meant that Japan has never really reached adulthood in international terms, and never had to act as a “mature” nation capable of making its own decisions.
    Very relevant when considering Japan’s ongoing campaign for a permanent seat on the security council.

  • Yes, perhaps one day Japan can be granted independent statehood. Their quest for a permanent seat at the UN is within postmodern norms, for although not a truly independent state, the label attached says they are.

    Precedents include the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR had their own UN seats while part of the USSR, and the Palestinian Authority seeks statehood through the UN.

    I think they should bring back the tributary system, or more recently early this century, protectorate or League of Nations Mandate. Under the present nation state system status of disputed territories is too black and white, too rationalized. Either part of one state, or another. Hong Kong, Okinawa, and the Senkakus could all benefit from an alternative status.

    Does Japan pay tribute to the USA? yes.
    Does the USA act to protect Japan? yes.
    Did the USA get a mandate from the League, sorry, UN, to administer postwar Japan? yes, although the lease seems to have now expired, except for the bases for the continued Protectorate status.

    Ironic a semi independent state like Japan should be engaging in territorial disputes. But like the mobs in China who cannot vent their wrath at their masters directly, they need an outlet for their frustrations.

  • Japan will find out the hard way that the security treaty with the US does not obligate America to fight for Japan’s defense. The NATO treaty obligates members to fight for their collective defense, but the US relationship with Japan is not a treaty of equals like NATO. Japan has no backing in reality.

    When things get rough, expect Japan to do the Keynesian thing and spend more tax money to move things along. This new spending will be defense spending, and no longer just highway construction or nuclear power plants that people complain about today. It will submarine bases, aircraft carriers and missiles in large numbers. One thing for sure is that defense spending does lead to more employment and enriches the former zaibatsu firms.

    Question is – will Japan bring back a military draft? If so, will they adopt the US model that requires permanent residents AND citizens to register for the draft and be called up in a war? Also, will those non-citizens who have PR or SPR serve when called or will they become a new breed of draft-dodger flyjin? A test of desire to be a part of Japan in the future may call for people to get involved with the military. Anybody who has Japanese citizenship, solely or an under-the-radar dual citizen, will have to face the music when America abandons the defense of Japan.

    Chilling. Let’s hope it never gets to that stage.

  • My theory on why the J-GOV can’t compromise with the Koreans on Takeshima and the Chinese on the Senkakus is all tied into another, more emotional issue tied into the Northern Territories (Debito, being in Hokkaido, you might have a completely different take on this.) These islands (along with Southern Sakhalin (still known officially as Karafuto-to because while Japan no longer claims sovereignty, doesn’t recognize Russia’s, were considered part of Japan proper, unlike the Korean Peninsula or Taiwan), and after the end of WWII, a population that had been there at least a generation were forced by the Soviets to emigrate the the newly defined Japanese metropole. For them to give ground on one issue might cause them to lose any legitimacy they have (at least in their minds) in their territorial issues with the Russians. As far as the US-Japan Mutual Security Agreement, don’t expect anything to change until the J-GOV decides it’s more expensive to rent than to make and/or buy; I don’t see that happening, and they certainly don’t have the support of the JSDF top brass on this issue, regardless of who’s in charge of the MOD. BTW, the term “Army” is used in Japan, at least as its translated into English, by the JGSDF, referring to the geographic echelons commanded by a JGSDF Lieutenant General. Not the same term as “rikugun” though.

    — Give us a source for the last claim?


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