Irish Times on Nagasaki Mayor Assassination and reemerging ultrarightism in Japan


David McNeill forwards me his latest article for the Irish Times. Not exactly a NJ issue, but an interesting round-up of one symptom of Japan’s re-emerging ultrarightism (which will by its nature affect NJ in future).

One thing that David did not bring up–how this case is depicted not as an “assassination” (ansatsu), but a “gun attack” (juugeki) in the J media. Not quite. If it looks like a duck… Wonder why it’s being dressed up as such. Arudou Debito in Mitaka, Tokyo


Letter: Japan’s murderous fringe forces politicians to keep their heads down
A political assassination in Nagasaki resonates with murky undertones.
By David McNeill
The Irish Times, Monday April 23, 2007

Religion, ideology, corruption…there is no shortage of excuses for murdering politicians, but Japan may have come up with the strangest one yet: failure to fix potholes. A Yakuza gangster killed Nagasaki mayor Itcho Ito last week because the city refused to pay him for damage to his car inflicted by a dodgy road.

The mobster, Tetsuya Shiroo, harangued the city for three years, demanding two million yen compensation (12,390 Euro) for what one official called a “dented fender.” Shiroo then sent TV broadcaster Asahi a note saying he couldn’t forgive the mayor – who he had never met – and pumped two bullets into his back last Tuesday.

The killing could of course have been the result of a murderous grudge, and it may be just coincidence that the Mayor was a staunch critic of nuclear weapons, Constitutional change and the military alliance with the US. What is not in doubt is Japan’s long history of political intimidation by gangsters and right-wing thugs, a tradition that seems to be reigniting.

Last year, for example, an ultra-rightist firebombed the offices of the Nikkei newspaper after it published private diaries about Emperor Hirohito. Another attacked the family home of politician Liberal Democratic (LDP) bigwig Koichi Kato, who had spoken out against then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine.

The attacker was found by police bleeding from the gut following a botched hara-kiri suicide attempt with a pair of scissors.

In 2002, reformist minister Koki Ishii was stabbed to death by an ultra-nationalist who told police he was angry that the politician had “refused to pay his rent.” Mr. Ishii was Japan’s leading critic of financial corruption in the banking and construction industries, the real reason why he was targeted, believes his family.

Then there was former Nagasaki Mayor Hitoshi Motojima, shot in the back when he called for a debate on the war responsibility of Emperor Hirohito in 1990; Communist Party boss Kenji Miyamoto, almost killed in 1973; Socialist Party Chairman Inejiro Asanuma, stabbed to death by a sword-wielding rightist in 1960. Thousands more journalists, union leaders and academics have been threatened or harmed over the years.

The oddest part of this massive organised intimidation is that despite occasional clampdowns, there has never been any real attempt to smash its source.

As foreign visitors to Tokyo know, ultra-right wingers are still allowed to drive their black sound trucks with impunity around the city, blaring martial music and patriotic homilies at ear-shredding volume. The Yakuza, meanwhile – with whom there is much overlap, still have offices in large cities equipped with nameplates and business cards.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Mayor Ito’s murder, which took place in the middle of an election, “a threat to democracy” and said the police needed to come down hard on gun crime. They know exactly where to go: The mobster who killed him is affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime syndicate which maintains a plush compound in an upper-class neighbourhood of Kobe.

Once a month a whispering fleet of Mercedes, Lexus and BMW cars passes through the driveway, ferrying local crime bosses from across the country to a regular conference.

Observers struggle to explain why this fringe army of extremists and criminals is allowed to survive on the margins of Japanese society. One reason is that in a country where order and discipline are prized, the last thing anyone wants is disorganized crime. But it is also obviously true that the army provides, for some, the useful function of reinforcing the margins of tolerable political criticism.

Politicians, journalists and editors must think long and hard before they pronounce publicly on a range of taboo issues, from Yasukuni to the Emperor, a fact noted by Mr. Kato, whose 97-year-old mother was lucky not to have been killed in the attack on his home. “Fear of violence and intimidation has silenced many liberal-leaning journalists, lawmakers and academics,” he said. “Many people are now keeping their months shut. The Diet (parliament) is not an exception.”

Or as the famous Japanese proverb goes: “The nail that sticks up is hammered down.”

1 comment on “Irish Times on Nagasaki Mayor Assassination and reemerging ultrarightism in Japan

  • Interesting issue, for sure. Garrett and I talked about this on the latest Seijigiri, when he called it an ‘assassination’ and I took issue with that, since not a single comment from the killer seems to imply an overt ideological or political motive; the guy was running out of cash, probably being squeezed hard, and felt there was one symbol of power he could take it out on. I have a feeling it was either life in prison (somewhat ‘honorable’) or ‘sleeps with the fishes’ if he couldn’t land some of those construction contracts. Maybe not so extreme, but something along those lines.

    Motoshima’s case, then, becomes an assassination attempt, since there was clearly a larger ideological goal behind his death.

    At any rate, an interesting topic and I’m glad you brought up the media angle, which made me realize that I was agreeing with the media! Haha…guess I have to change my mind on this one!


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