Japan’s Peace Constitution, Article 9, And Why Abe Wants To Dismantle It: A short primer

Here is a one minute piece about how Japan became a pacifist nation, its constitution, and Article 9 in that document that has kept it a long-time peaceful nation. Take a minute and learn a lot about Japan. Japan’S Pacifist Constitution Explained. (originally published May 3rd 2015)

It was produced by AJ+,  Al Jazeera’s new digital channel, geared towards millennials.

Japan’s Peace Constitution was a great achievement in its time. However, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushing for constitutional reform, a reinterpretation of Article 9 under the broad idea of collective self-defense, and seemingly gung ho to drag Japan into war so it flex its military might —that pacifist era and constitution may disappear. Even Japan’s beloved pacifist pear fairy mascot, Funassyi seems concerned about the direction the nation is heading.

"Funassyi-chan, How do you feel about getting rid of Japan's peace constitution? Funassyi: "That's a really difficult question and I don't want to answer...but in all things I desire peace." Later appears to flash the peace sign. Hard to tell because pear fairies don't have fingers.
“Funassyi-chan, How do you feel about getting rid of Japan’s peace constitution?
Funassyi: “That’s a really difficult question and I don’t want to answer…but in all things I desire peace.”
Later appears to flash the peace sign. Hard to tell because pear fairies don’t have fingers.

Prime Minister Abe has made the remilitarisation of Japan and the scrapping of Article 9 and “America’s imposed democratic constitution” a part of his political agenda for a long. While it’s clear that GHQ had a heavy hand in drafting Japan’s constitution, it was not done without the aid and input of the Japanese people and the Japanese government. The creation of Japan’s modern constitution was more of a collaborative effort than was believed. 

Judging from Shinzo Abe’s writings and hand-selected ministers, he feels that Japan lost a just war, and can only regain its dignity by throwing off all the progress made since the post-war days and returning to an Imperial Constitution. Abe wants a return to a time when the chosen elite, like himself and his friends, run the country with no dissent and the racial and  cultural  superiority of the Japanese people is loudly proclaimed. 

His grandfather, whom Abe greatly admires, the yakuza linked and ‘incredibly corrupt’ former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, was arrested as a war criminal after the war, but never put on trial. Kishi  was Japan’s Minister of Munitions during the Second World War. Abe has allowed Japan to make and export arms again under his regime as well.

Japan's Peace Constitution Explained
Japan’s Peace Constitution Explained

 

For reference here is the English text of Article 9:

RENUNCIATION OF WAR

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

 

 

Japan’s PSA: “Don’t Work Yourself To Death So You Can Keep Working!”

The Japanese government, particularly the Abe administration, has had a lacklustre attitude towards basic human right and worker rights, since taking power after Christmas in 2012. By 2013,  the word ブラック企業 (black company/burakku kiygo) meaning “evil corporations” had become a well-known buzzword. Japanese labor conditions are getting worse, hours are getting longer, and wages are stagnating.

Death by overwork has always plagued Japan but in recent months, one case after another has come to light. As noted in this article written for Forbes, Japan Is Literally Working Itself To Death: How Can It Stop, “NHK, Japan’s state-run news channel, reluctantly admitted this year that overwork had caused the death of a 31-year-old NHK female reporter in 2013. The Labor Standards Board reached the conclusion in 2014 but it was not publicized. Miwa Sado, who worked for NHK in Tokyo, died of congestive heart failure in July 2013. She had worked 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the one-month period prior to her untimely death (She was found dead with cellphone in her hand). Chronic overwork, even when it doesn’t result in death, is a serious blight on Japan’s society. There’s even a word for it: karoshi (過労死). Her death is only one of the suspected thousands of deaths from overwork each year.”

Well, just when it seemed that Japan Inc. just didn’t care, the Ministry Of Health, Labor, and Welfare took decisive action. They declared November to be, “Special Month Of Raising Awareness Preventing People From Working to Death And Other Things”  and have adorned the stations with these powerful (not) eye-catching (not) posters.  But the unintentional irony is the sub-text of the poster which loosely translates all together as, “Don’t work yourself to death so we can have a society where you can keep working!”.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan is combatting death from overwork (過労死)with a sign that says, “STOP death from overwork!”. Brilliant. The subtext is “(Don’t work yourself to death) so we can have a society where you can keep laboring away.”
Work will set you free in Japan, if you work hard enough.

 

 

 

 

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare offers plenty of tips for not working to death but what is needed is a change in laws, more labor inspectors, and a fine for more than $5,000 dollars for companies that work their employees to death. Human life should be a little more valuable, one might think.

I searched for the words, “Work Will Set You Free”, but they haven’t added them yet. However, in consideration of how much the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his second in command, Aso Taro,  admire the Nazi regime— I guess it’s only a mater of time.

 

Note: Thanks to Rachel Padilla who copy-edited this article. 

AKB48: A Microcosm Of Dark Corporate Japan. Sexual exploitation of child labor is sooo cute. (Book review)

akb48 black companies

One of the first things you’ll notice about the Japanese – men AND women – is the apparent lack of awareness regarding issues like gender and racial discrimination, worker exploitation, social injustice and other stuff that have western observers of our culture taking one look and scratching their heads. That stuff about a member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly yelling out harassment remarks to a female politician while the Assembly was actually in session? I regret to have to tell you that such incidents are way too familiar to the average Japanese to sink in below sea level. It’s only when someone else (i.e., a westerner) is looking at us that we come to our senses and profess to be shocked. Otherwise, well, we’re too busy working and being exploited and having our Constitution rewritten to suit the hawkish inclinations of the current Prime Minister. But I digress.

Meet The New Zegen 女衒 (Sex merchants)  Same As The Old Zegen 

AKB48 aren't just a band of teenage girls creepily sexually exploited by a money-grubbing management team that includes an ex-yakuza associate, they're also symbols of how badly workers in Japan get screwed over--in every way.
AKB48 aren’t just a band of teenage girls creepily sexually exploited by a money-grubbing management team that includes an ex-yakuza associate, they’re also symbols of how badly workers in Japan get screwed over–in every way.


Shohei Sakakura, author of “AKB 48 and the Black Companies (AKB48と日本のブラック企業)” – is one of those rare Japanese with the mindset of a western intellectual. As editor-in-chief of Posse magazine, Sakakura first alerted the public to the presensce and prevalance, of black companies.  Until then, most of us thought it was kind of normal in a Japanese way, to put in “service overtime (サービス残業)” hours, meaning we accepted the fact of working in the office until dawn without getting paid it. We also accepted getting laid off without notice, no maternity or paternity leaves, discrimination against women, sexual and moral harassment in the workplace, poor wages and did I mention no overtime pay? 

To the Japanese, work proffers its own reward and justification and with news of the unraveling global economy we were grateful to be able to work at all. Of course the majority of the Japanese KNOW exploitation exists, and that this was one of things that was wrong with the country and the rest of the world. This is why we have so many “izakaya (pubs)” around – where else to drown our sorrows  but in beer stains? 

And now AKB 48, in case you didn’t know, is the brain child of Yasushi Akimoto, aka the King Midas of the Japanese entertainment industry. Everything he touches has turned to gold – unfortunately, the gold stays firmly tucked in his pocket without benefitting the girls he ruthlessly expolits. But there it is – the man certainly knows how to make a yen from peddling idoru fantasies to love-starved males with glasses and bad skin.  

Who IS Akimoto anyway? Sakakura’s book doesn’t do much digging about the man – he just assumes that the Japanese know who Akimoto is (we do) and leaves it at that. Suffice to say, Yasushi Akimoto is what 50 years ago many older Japanese would describe as a “Zegen 女衒”or merchant who dealt exclusively in young women. A Zegen was the middleman who bought and sold girls (often with the express consent of the parents) to the sex trade and entertainment industry and too bad for the Japanese that no one bothered to distinguish between the two until the GHQ came along to tell us Nooooo, they were different. (Okay, we got that now.) The GHQ also did much to stomp out the Zegen operating in and around Tokyo but the middlemen simply went on doing what they did, and took on another name: “entertainment producer.” From sex shows and strip houses to brothels and the euphemistically called “bars,” the Zegen had their fingers in all the right pies (yuck), and kept the best for entertainment industry, which had direct pipeline to the yakuza.


Girls from the country, whose parents couldn’t afford to send them to school or arrange good marriages, came to Tokyo in droves and were snapped up by a Zegen producer or another. The lucky ones made it to the TV screen and when that no longer worked, were taken down a few notches to serve as bar hostesses or cabaret dancers, and eventually wound up in a brothel. It was the oldest story in the book, repeated ad nauseum. 

Yasushi Akimoto was a Zegen with a vision – having never been popular in high school himself, he recognized the deep sexual frustration and vast need for sexual fantasies festering in the educated and dateless Japanese male. When he came out with “Onyanko Club” in the mid-1980s, people were blinded by the sheer genius of this man. Here he was, peddling quite ordinary high school girls on TV, who all got up on the studio stage to teasingly sing “oh please don’t take my school uniform off, no-no-no!” to an audience who could never hear such titillating pleas when they were 18 so was totally stoked to hear it now, from a gaggle of winking girls all beckoning SIMULTANEOUSLY. 

Needless to say, the Onyanko went “viral” long before the Internet came along and deep down, we suspected that if Akimoto wasn’t around to appease the Otaku populace with these girls and their pleated skirts, the nation’s sex crime rate would soar drastically. 

Akimoto subsequently married an Onyanko (and he was too smart to pick the prettiest of the lot, but went for a quiet, mediocre type) and settled down in his idol manufacturing kingdom. Then he unleashed AKB 48 to the Japanese public – which basically means 48 Girls in Akihabara. These girls were grass roots level – they had no connections, no prestige, and was willing to work till they dropped. Most telling of all, they were excessively and agressively, ordinary. 

In his book Sakakura lays bare disturbing but familiar facts: Akimoto treats the girls like fast food workers – hiring and firing in bulk, with hourly wages to match. The ones in the coveted “center position” are the prettiest, and supposedly the best dancers with the best paychecks but the vast crowd of girls behind the stars — they’re mired in obscurity. And once the girls “graduate” (i.e., fired) from the group, they’re left with no skills or abilities and their detour into the sex trade is a lot swifter than the days of Onyanko. 

Yasushi Akimoto is a Zegen through and through – he’s found a way to cash in on the criticisms and problems within the AKB, by having the girls sing songs (written by him of course) about revolution, sacrifice and worker exploitation. For Akimoto, even capitalist irony works in his favor. Karl Marx is puking in his grave. 

Sakakura writes that though he’s not an AKB fan per se, he does sympathize with the plight of the girls and sees them as a micro reflection of the huge labor problems that continue to erode Japan’s supposedly peaceful and egalitarian society. And let’s not forget that the PM is a HUGE fan – but then Japan’s highest political leader seems to love it when young people are put in situations where they have to fight and bleed and claw their way to survival. To him, “that’s the true Japanese spirit.” Yeah, right. 

Continue reading AKB48: A Microcosm Of Dark Corporate Japan. Sexual exploitation of child labor is sooo cute. (Book review)

Japan Loves Trump! Banzai!

The L.A.-based creator of the “Trump For World President” video tells us those who get the joke are the ones he made it for, and those who don’t are even more amusing.
Japan Loves Cute Donald Trump.
Japan Loves Cute Donald Trump.

TOKYO—Japan loves Donald TrumP—so much it wants to hug and kiss him—at least that’s the impression you might get from the Japan Supports Donald Trump For World President 2016 Banzai! video that has now been seen over 14 million times on Facebook and 3 million times on YouTube. For the rest of the story, see The Trump Video Going Viral In Japan 

Former Prime Minister Murayama Tells Japan’s Leader Abe, “Study Up or Shut Up!”

image (3)

 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to make a statement today to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. He said he will uphold the statements made previously on the subject, but people are concerned that he will downplay Japan’s previous apologies.

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who made the 50th anniversary statement on the war, spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan recently, expressing his concerns with Abe’s statement. There is worry that Abe may downplay the Murayama Statement, which apologizes to Korea and China for crimes committed in WWII. Abe has been making comments in attempts to downplay the Murayama Statement, as a result, more and more young people are paying attention to the statement and asking questions about it. Many of these young people have been born after the war, and it’s prompted them to start learning about Japan’s war history on their own.

Due to the fact that Abe is trying to go on the offensive and bulk up Japan’s military, Murayama thinks that there is great danger in the fact that Abe cannot acknowledge that crimes committed during the war were a mistake. Now with the upcoming 70th anniversary of the war, Murayama feels that it is a milestone year that Japan needs to acknowledge.

The Potsdam Declaration was a statement issued in 1945 that called for Japan’s surrender during World War II. It was essentially an ultimatum given to Japan by the U.S., U.K. and China stating that Japan must surrender or face consequences. When asked about the Potsdam Declaration, Abe said that he has “not read the Potsdam Declaration in detail” and he doesn’t believe that the war was a mistake.

Abe’s crusade to nullify or even destroy Japan’s post-pacifist constitution, which also gave the Japanese citizen “basic human rights”, is not given him any popularity points within the country as well as Japan’s neighboring countries. He is intent on destroying Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Article 9 is a clause in the constitution outlawing Japan from using war as a means to settle disputes.

Japan has experienced peace for 70 years, which is an extraordinary thing. Japanese people are worried that the tensions with other countries will escalate if Abe continues to along this path.

Murayama noted, “We’re approaching 70th anniversary of the war, and Abe wants to issue his own statement on the war, and many people wonder how it will differ and what Abe wants to say. When I spoke, it was the 50th anniversary of the war, a very important milestone. It was a time when Japan was realizing it was a member of the Asian community. It was thought we should put an end to this lingering history. We should apologize for the errors we made, and vow never to repeat them.”

Murayama also noted that the security legislation Abe and the LDP is pushing through the Diet is considered unconstitutional by an overwhelming majority of scholars.

“If it is the decision of the cabinet to change the constitution (at will), this kind of action cannot be permitted. If you want to reinterpret the constitution, you must actually revise it, something people say is near-impossible.”

Referencing the growing protests to the security legislation, Murayama added, “It’s only natural Japanese have become angry. I’ve repeated how Japan has experienced peace for so many years. We need to study history.”

In that statement that we need to study history and his pointing out that Abe had not read or understood the Potsdam Declaration, Murayama seemed to be saying to his successor, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. And if you knew your history, you’d make a proper apology. Get smart or shut up.” In many ways, the press conference was like a wise, cranky old teacher scolding a lazy student. However, will the lazy student listen?

 

 

 

 

 

Japan’s Delightful 80-Hour Work Week

The start of the 80 hour work week. Stu has just made the last train home.
The start of the 80 hour work week. Stu has just gotten off  the last train home. Click on the photo above for the full video.

If you ever visit Tokyo, you cannot walk down the street or board a train without bumping into a
Salaryman. “Salaryman” is the Japanese-English term for male white-collar workers. The typical
salaryman spends roughly 13 hours per day inside a cubicle, averaging about 80 hours per
week. This does not include the mandatory after hours drinking required for them to bond with
their co-workers. They rarely have time to see their families and friends, let alone get enough
sleep. This is the reality for most of Japan’s white-collar workforce.

Foreign salarymen in Japan are no exception and are also expected to put in these long hours.
A British Youtuber going by the name of Stu in Tokyo recently posted a humorous yet real look
into his daily life as a salaryman. The video shows a timeline of each day with a counter for the
hours he has slept versus the hours he has worked. Almost every day is the same. He wakes
up around 7AM and makes breakfast, walks to the train…and the next scene is him rushing to
catch the last train before 11:20 PM, and then eating some convenience store food.

The video makes you think that he primarily eats granola but in fact he also eats the staple of
the salaryman diet, onigiri, or prepackaged rice balls. His favorite is Japanese style Tuna
Mayonnaise. He also makes time to workout before crashing for the night. He wakes up at the
same time the next day and the cycle repeats itself. In the end, the hours that he works double
the hours he sleeps every week.

The reason that he made the video was to show his friends and family a look into his life and
the reason why he has no free time. It ended up going viral on sites such as Reddit and
Youtube. It even caught the attention of CNN, landing him an interview. Stu’s job has its peak
seasons, so he only has to work like this for about two and a half months out of the year, unlike
the average salaryman who has to put in long hours all year. He is 25 years old but he says
being overworked hasn’t aged him…yet.

Stu’s company didn’t fire him either after the video went viral. Maybe it’s hard to find any
foreigner (or anyone) who is willing to work 78 hours a week with only 35 hours of sleep. With
the Abe administration getting ready to ban overtime on certain jobs with new pending
legislation, maybe soon everyone in Japan will get to live the exciting life of Stu.

The video is great entertainment but it also explains one of the mysteries of modern Japanese
life: why the population is going down and why people aren’t having children.
If your every waking hour is spent at work, when do people have the time or energy to meet
people, date, mate, or even procreate? The answer is: they don’t.

Brand Japan, Brand Abe: A Clash of Narratives

Written by Nancy Snow

Two decades ago I was working at the United States Information Agency (USIA), an independent foreign affairs agency of the U.S. Government. We were separate from the Department of State—the counterpart to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan, and our primary task was Public Diplomacy. Some called what we did government propaganda. To be precise, the slogan stamped across the agency façade was “Telling America’s Story to the World.” At State it was all about policymaking; at USIA it was all about policy shaping. As a foreign affairs specialist, my work was more artistic than bookish. USIA didn’t need a dissertation defender but a distiller of ideas who could help win converts to the American cause.

I wasn’t telling friends and neighbors about my work, not because it was covert, but because our billion-dollar annual appropriation had an overseas target audience, not a domestic constituency. We were funded by the American people but not for the American people. We were comprised of mostly American citizens at Agency headquarters in Washington, and predominantly Foreign Nationals (FN) and Foreign Service Officers (FSO) in the field. It was the field that mattered most to Washington. We were interested in climate change: How can we create an overseas climate for U.S. strategic economic interests?

 

TOKYO, Japan (April 5, 2013) U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Joint Press Announcement of the Okinawa Consolidation Plan [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]
TOKYO, Japan (April 5, 2013) U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Joint Press Announcement of the Okinawa Consolidation Plan [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]

Our way of doing things hadn’t changed much since the founding of USIA in 1953 during the Dwight Eisenhower administration. In his State of the Union message that same year, Eisenhower observed, “A serious and explicit purpose of our foreign policy [is] the encouragement of a hospitable climate for investment in foreign nations.”

A continuity thread extended from Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, my penultimate boss at USIA. The Clinton Doctrine of 1993, coming on the heels of the Cold War “win,” referred to expanding and enlarging market-driven democracies that would work with the United States for mutual benefit. USIA’s principle function was to smooth the path to that goal—to build mutual understanding, that is, to explain why doing business with the United States was more of a win for all than a win just for us. We were challenged when the Agency experienced a lot of pushback from labor unions and workers opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA would eventually pass while its much more ambitious successor that few have heard about, Trans Pacific Partnership, languished.

Anthony Lake, President Clinton’s national security advisor, came up with the one word slogan, enlargement, that defined the Clinton Doctrine: “Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies: now we should seek to enlarge their reach.” The containment to enlargement rhetoric impressed. Economic competitiveness was at the heart of Clinton’s foreign policy vision, not human rights and constitutional democracy for all. As presidential historian Douglas Brinkley observed, Bill Clinton was more interested “in helping Toys ‘R’ Us and Nike to flourish in Central Europe and Asia than in dispatching Marines to quell unrest in economically inconsequential nations.” We saw this preference from Somalia to Bosnia.

My years working for Bill Clinton and the Clinton Doctrine remind me of what the Shinzo Abe administration faces today. Both politicians won elections repeatedly on perceived competence in improving economic conditions for their respective countries. Neither was elected or reelected based on foreign policy prowess but economic promises. As much as Clinton wanted his legacy to be the free trade and market democracy president, his last few months in office coincided with Al-Qaeda’s attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Seventeen U.S. soldiers were killed. The Clinton pledge for a growing middle class in democratizing countries who wanted to buy U.S. goods and services was halted. He wasn’t thinking about how to market Toys ‘R’ Us but how to contain a new security threat to his hoped for new world order, which Clinton’s Republican predecessor George H.W. Bush had first promulgated in 1991.

 

William J. Clinton at the Parliament in London, United Kingdom, November 29 [1995]. Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Photographic Portfolio--1995 Vol. II
William J. Clinton at the Parliament in London, United Kingdom, November 29 [1995]. Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States Photographic Portfolio–1995 Vol. II

Long after USIA was abolished as an independent agency and its successor elements were absorbed into the State Department, security and counterterrorism became the resource-rich cornerstones of U.S. foreign policy, not economic competitiveness. Clinton’s marketplace idealism is a nostalgic memory overshadowed today by foreign policy snuff films on YouTube marketed like movie premieres on Twitter feeds. In 1993 we saw the bodies of mutilated U.S. peacekeeping soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, on the nightly news, not on constant Internet feeds. Even then, such images influenced foreign policy behavior, including administration reluctance to militarily intervene in Bosnia.

The lessons for Abe are manifold. President Clinton had a bold vision for the United States that did not match global realities. His optimism about the world embracing U.S.-style market democracies clouded his ability to prepare the American people for the possibility that we weren’t as admired and loved for who we were, what we stood for, or how we acted on the world stage. The end of the Cold War unleashed a lot of pent up frustration that no Starbucks opening would resolve. I can still recall Thomas Friedman presenting his “Golden Arches” theory of conflict resolution (aka McDonald’s theory), an outgrowth of the Clinton Doctrine vision and Friedman’s popular 1999 book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree. “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” Friedman stated in his book.

In foreign policy today—especially the open-sourced, open-marketed version we now know as modern public diplomacy, small is beautiful, nimble is necessary, and bold can be risky. The Abe Doctrine combines two slogans (a) Beautiful Japan with (b) Bold Japan. One is culture-centric, with Cool Japan pop and flash and refined visions of delicious cuisine, temples, Zen gardens and public service excellence and politeness; the other slogan is security-focused and steeped in postwar history with far darker pictures in our heads. It’s hard to reconcile the two. Beautiful Japan, peaceful Japan, whose Self-Defense Forces have never harmed a soul, needs some quiet contemplation to consider all of the issues on Abe’s plate. The policy plate is overflowing and it confounds, not just the Japanese people, who so far have been politely conciliatory in voice and protest, if not in opinion poll. Overseas and in foreign media, Japan’s global image is a head-scratcher.

For forty years, USIA took the path of less resistance—telling America’s story—as its slogan. Then Clinton upped the ante and said the U.S. was open for business and ready to invest in U.S.-friendly nations around the world. It all seemed so simple then, a McDonald’s restaurant just around the corner.

The Abe administration just announced a trip to Washington this spring where Abe will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. This is bold. And what will Japan’s slogan be then? I’m only certain of one thing. It will surely be timed to coincide with Washington in cherry blossom splendor.


Dr. Nancy Snow is an Abe Fellow and Visiting Professor at Keio University completing a book on Japan’s global image and reputation since 3/11. She will give a dinner talk, “Promoting Japan’s Global Image and Reputation” this Friday, February 27, at an event sponsored by the Forum for Corporate Communications (http://www.fcctokyo.com).

 

Rest in Peace, Kenji Goto. A journalist who fought for peace & was killed in war.

Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, known for his dedicated reporting on the atrocities of war and humanitarian activities, was killed by the Islamic State (ISIS) circa February 1st, 2015 (Japan Standard Time). He wasn’t a war reporter; he was an anti-war reporter. He shared his knowledge with the world, educating others and learning from them as well.

According to The Guardian: “Kenji tweeted about many things. But one tweet has captured imaginations, seeming to sum up the character of the journalist who was beheaded by Islamic State (Isis) extremists after a months-long hostage ordeal.

The viral tweet is from 7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

It had 20,000 retweets on Goto’s Twitter account by Monday, and was being repeated by the minute.”

 7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”
7 September 2010: “Closing my eyes and holding still. It’s the end if I get mad or scream. It’s close to a prayer. Hate is not for humans. Judgment lies with God. That’s what I learned from my Arabic brothers and sisters.”

 

All who know him, or know of him, mourn his loss and wish to express our condolences to his family. He went to Syria to report on the real state of affairs there and to try and help his troubled comrade, Haruna Yukawa, get free from the clutches of ISIS. He wasn’t a reckless man, he was a journalist doing what we are supposed to do, report the truth, even in dangerous situations. Trying to save his wayward friend wasn’t his duty as a journalist, but he must have felt it was his duty as a human being. He had noble intentions. His long-time friend and fellow journalist, Toshi Maeda, met Goto two hours before he left on his fatal trip. He was supposed to be back in a week.  Maeda told us, “He has been called a war reporter–he wasn’t, he was an anti-war reporter. He came and lectured at my class at Komazawa University on the importance of maintaining a compassionate perspective when reporting the news and the class was mesmerized by him. He had an immensely positive impact. He was inspirational.”

Kenji Goto’s lecture is still inspirational: War Journalist’ Advocates Human Side of Journalism

Maeda said that Goto had been captured in Syria before; he had managed to persuade his captors to let him go. They recognized he meant no harm and was a force for good. Not this time.

Journalist and humanitarian, Kenji Goto worked to educate and better the lives of people wherever he worked. Humanitarian journalism.
Journalist and humanitarian, Kenji Goto worked to educate and better the lives of people wherever he worked. Humanitarian journalism.

In the end, it seems, he ended up as a pawn between ruthless terrorists and ruthless politicians hell-bent on scoring political capital. We hope that his death does not serve to become a pretext for the thing he most opposed in his life as a journalist–the senseless killing and loss of life inherent in all warfare. As one of his close friends said so eloquently, “Let’s remember Kenji as he lived, not as he died.”

ご愁傷様です。ご冥福を祈ります。

The Committee To Protect Journalists issued a statement condemning his death on the day the video of his execution was released. We’ve reprinted it below.

New York, January 31, 2015–The Islamic State militant group released a video Saturday purporting to show the murder of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, according to news reports. Japanese authorities have not yet verified the footage is authentic, according to news reports. Goto, a well-respected journalist who reported primarily on humanitarian issues, was kidnapped in Syria in October 2014, according to news reports.

“Islamic State militants have proven they do not care if you are a journalist from Syria, from the West or from the East. They only care about expanding their reign of terror,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We are deeply concerned about the safety of all journalists in territory controlled by the militants–and about the information vacuum that has resulted from their bloody, intimidatory tactics.”

Syria has been the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for more than three years. At least 80 journalists have been killed covering the conflict, including one who died over the border in Lebanon. More than 90 journalists have been kidnapped in Syria. Because some abductions are not publicized it is difficult to determine the exact number. CPJ estimates that approximately 20 journalists are currently missing in Syria, the majority of whom are Syrian and believed held by the Islamic State.

Japan’s MOFA threatens ISIS with “strong indignation” if (hypothetical) hostages executed

January 22nd, Last week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged $200 million in non-military assistance to support countries affected by the campaign against ISIS during an ongoing six-day Middle East tour. Today (January 20th Japan time), The Islamic State released a video threatening to kill two Japanese hostages, the journalist Kenji Goto, and another self-proclaimed mercenary, unless they receive a $200 million ransom in the next 72 hours.

The hawkish prime minister and his cabinet who have moved forward to remilitarize Japan under the guise of “collective self defense” are now in the difficult position of whether to negotiate with terrorists or to let two Japanese citizens be killed. Neither decision will have a happy outcome. For the rest of the story, see ISIS Pisses Off Pacifist Japan.

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA)ーー外務省ーー, also lovingly known as MOFO by the foreign and Japanese press for their frustrating non-response to questions, has released an official statement which is a masterpiece of obfuscation and strange English. What makes the announcement particulary surreal and disingenuous is that MOFA and the Japanese government have known that Kenji Goto was being held for a ransom of 10 million dollars since November of last year. 

The Japanese government did not tell this to the press or the public. Why? The reasons are unclear.

Here is the statement. Italics added for sarcastic purposes.

For the latest late disinformation, in nearly incomprehensibly English, stay tuned to the MOFA Facebook page.

Message from Japan regarding the incident on warning of Japanese nationals’ execution.

January 20th 10:49 pm
On 20th January, just before 1500 (JST), a video clip, which seemed to have been produced by a terrorist group that proclaims itself as the “Islamic State (ISIL),” was uploaded online. In this video, a warning has been made that the two individuals, who seem to be Japanese nationals, will be executed.

If this is true, such an act of blackmailing through holding the innocent lives as hostage is utterly impermissible, and we feel strong indignation. We strongly urge the group not to harm the two Japanese nationals and to release them immediately.

Prime Minister Abe’s trip to the Middle East this time is intended to send a message that Japan will actively contribute to the stability of the Middle East region. Japanese assistance, which we have announced and amounts to approximately 200 million USD, is for humanitarian assistance and infrastructure development, and it is non-military in nature.

In any case, Japan will not give in to terrorism, and our position of contributing to the counter-terrorism efforts by the international community remains unchanged.

رسالة من اليابان حول عملية التهديد بقتل الرهينتين اليابانيين

قبل الساعة الثالثة بعد الظهر اليوم (يوم 20 يناير) بالتوقيت الياباني، تم نشر صورة متحركة يبدو أنها بُثت من قبل التنظيم الإرهابي الذي يسمي نفسه بـ”الدولة الإسلامية” عبر الإنترنت. وفي هذه الصورة رهينتان يبدو أنهما يابانيان يهدد هذا التنظيم الإرهابي بقتلهما.

إذا كان هذا هو الواقع، فإننا نشعر بغضب شديد ولن نتسامح أبدا مع مثل هذه العملية للتهديد مع خطف حياة الناس. فنطلب بقوة عدم تعريض هذين اليابانيين للخطر وإطلاق سراحهما فورا.

إن هدف زيارة رئيس الوزراء الياباني شينزو آبي إلى الشرق الأوسط ليس سوى أن يعلن أن اليابان مصممة على المساهمة بصورة بناءة في تحقيق استقرار الشرق الأوسط، كما أن مساعدات الـ200 مليون دولار التي أعلنتها اليابان سيتم تقديمها في المجالات غير العسكرية بما في ذلك المساعدات الإنسانية والبنى التحتية.

وعلى أي حال، فإن موقف اليابان سيظل دون تغير حيث إن اليابان تواصل مساهمتها في مكافحة الإرهاب التي يقودها المجتمع الدولي، ولن تخضع للإرهاب.

The Ministry of Foreign Affair officially explains the hypothetical seeming hostage situation which is if true and threat carried out, will result in strong indignation!
The Ministry of Foreign Affair officially explains the hypothetical seeming hostage situation which is if true and threat carried out, will result in strong indignation! Take that ISIS.

 

 

Japan’s Dangerous Tilt to The Right: a report from Hamburg, Germany

by Natalia Berner* 

HAMBURG

Japan is plunging to right, as voices of alarm start to rise, but most of German and Japanese society does not realize how serious the recent political situation has become. Reactions are similar to those of a paralyzed moose facing the headlamps of an upcoming truck. Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University (上智大学) is one of the very few outspoken critics still standing up and critiquing the Abe government. He recently lectured in Hamburg, Germany. He explained with great honesty and clarity, why in his opinion, Japan is shifting dangerously to the right. The lecture resonated in Germany in a way it may resonate nowhere else.

         “I can’t remember any time in postwar (Japan) when things looked this bad”.

If you heard the lecture about Japan’s drift to the right, ending with those words, held at the Hamburg University on December 9th,  you might seriously start to worry, if you’re not worried already.

In Germany, Japan's far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe's cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book "Hitler's Election Strategy" written by an LDP flack.
In Germany, Japan’s far shift to the right raises concerns. In Japan, the current Vice Prime Minister makes remarks praising Nazis and Prime Minister Abe’s cabinet appointees not only associate with Japan Nazi Party Members but lavishly praised this book “Hitler’s Election Strategy”,  written by an LDP flack. Prior to elections, the State Secrets Law, which muzzles reporting and whistle-blowing with odious punishments went into effect on December 10th. Elections are being held today December 14th, 2014.

 

I know you’re generally not supposed to start an article with the conclusion but it seems appropriate. Why? Because it is like in Lars von Triers film Melancholia: in the very first sequence, it is visualized how the earth is being irreparably destroyed by an enormous planet moving toward the earth. The viewer’s optimistic nature about the future during the movie is being nipped in the bud, it is certain you will feel no hope, because right from the start everyone knows how the story will end. And sadly, this bears a striking similarity to Japan’s recent political situation. Cherishing hope is what we should not do, especially with the elections today. It is very unlikely that Abe’s agenda will be stopped. A surprising failure of the LDP will not come true. The reason: there is no alternative. No opposition. No left left. Japan is in very dark and deep waters right now.

This situation seems not to make the Japanese people concerned and this is in a way, understandable. At first, if you just take a superficial glance, it might seem like nothing really will change or has changed. The LPD has ruled the parliament most of Japan’s post-war history, and it has always had some “nationalist lunatics” within their roster. For example Abe’s grandfather, Nobosuke Kishi, who had been imprisoned as a category A war criminal, was released without any consequences and become the 56th and 57th Prime Minister of Japan. Kishi was synonomous with corruption, shady deals, criminal influence and even put up bail for a Yamaguchi-gumi (yakuza) boss accused of murder in the 1970s.

But exactly this is the reason why it is getting menacing: Japan is drifting to the right and it looks like the society doesn’t really realize, react nor care.

Koichi Nakano is asking exactly this question: “Is Japan shifting to the right?”. In his opinion Japan is on it’s way further “right” and in an almost right-tilting death spiral.

“Oh, gosh, this is just the ‘normalization’of Japan,” some say.  This is one of the arguments used by many, many people to trivialize the changes.

“Oh, Japan is becoming normal. They still have Article 9 in the constitution which forbids wars. The people are pacifists. They’re becoming normal just like Germany become normal. Germany also participates in military action and it’s not like it’s the return of Hitler all over again. So don’t worry: Japan is just doing the same.”

Sure.

Japan could maybe do the same, if Japan’s process of coming to terms with their past existed like it does in Germany. Germany came to terms with the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the nation during WWII; Japan denies them. It doesn’t teach them to their children. The current administration wants to bury the past, whitewash it, but not come to terms with it.

Reputedly in recent years “nothing really changed”. This is such an unsustainable argument like Abe’s declaration that his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where the masterminds of Japan’s war are enshrined, is just paying his respects to the spirits of the war dead. He even claims it’s to renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war.” Of course, he doesn’t mention his wish to revive militarism.

“New Right Transformation” is the term Koichi Nakasone is calling Japans political development within the last twenty to thirty years. He claims this change doesn’t start with Abe; things started to move from the 1980s. This change of the political system in Japan is a long-term development.

“During the cold war there was the 1955 system. The LDP was always in power, the socialists were always in opposition. It was like the Japanese political system was frozen. No change at all. Prime Ministers were coming and going, one corrupt man replaced by anothercorrupt man. It was impossible in the Cold War context for the socialists to gain power.”

Lost Opportunity

After the end of the cold war, after the end of the bubble economy in Japan, things came into flux. People are given more choices. Japan was more opening up, more self-concious . “The New Right Transformation” was built from this liberalization of the politics in Japan and these liberating moments also became the cause for the Japanese left to collapse.

“The socialists failed to adapted to the new liberalized open politics and they dug their own grave. The liberal opening is eventually ending today in illiberal politics.”

The Japanese have, of course, not become all of a sudden a horde of visible nationalistic maniacs, who go on the streets and spill hatred and blood. People like the Zaitoku-kai – an ordinary bunch of people, who are Japan’s version of neo-nazis—are still the minority, they have just become a little bit more “in your face” than before. But, they are a reaction to the right-leaning tendencies the elites in the politics are initiatin.

Professor Nakano points it out: it is not like Japanese society is outspoken and the government is following, it is exactly the opposite. It is an “elite-driven and not society-driven” process that pushed Japan to the right.

Nakano, explains Japans political development to the right within the last 20-30 years with waves and a pendulum: every time the pendulum (symbolizing the Japanese politicial front) swings to the right, the set-point is also shifting to the right. So the moment the pendulum is going back to the left, the left is more right than it was before.

The rightward tendencies can also be seen as waves, which are coming and going. The very first wave was with Nakasone Yasuhiro, the second wave with Ozawa Ichiro, the third with Hashimoto Ryutaro, the fourth with Koizumi Junichiro and now the rightist tidal wave with Abe Shinzo. So one thing is true: Japan’s right wing shift did not begin with Abe and probably it won’t end with him either.

The New Inequality

One indicator for Japan’s ultra-conservative shift can be also found in Japan’s social-economic conditions. Japan is a very unequal country. Japan used to be often referred to as a very equalitarian society. There was a semi-credible myth, that everybody in Japan was middle class. Now, relative poverty in Japan in according to OECD statistics is 4th from the bottom. A reason: the number of irregular, part-time, unstable jobs increased; decent, stable and regular jobs decreased. Thanks to Abe and his predecessors slowly crippling Japan’s labor laws and empowering temporary staffing companies and corporations over the common people.

Another indicator of a hard-shift right related to domestic politics is the Law and Order Issue. The Secret State Law, that came into effect on December 10th. The state now decides what is a secret, can keep anything secret up to 60 years, and can arrest and probably imprison anyone who is asking about a secret, even if they don’t know it is a secret. Nakano lambastes the law, saying, “It is absurd and makes Japan look more and more like Russia: the state knows everything and we do not know anything.”

Japan has become a very illiberal and undemocratic country in two short years. Japan isn’t just drifting right, it’s plunging into the right.

“I can’t remember any time in postwar Japan when things looked this bad.”

You don’t have to be an expert on Japan to see where things are heading. For those listening to Professor Nakano’s lecture in Hamburg, his words sent a chill up our spines.

History does repeat itself if you don’t know it—or you do know it and try to bury it.

The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That's not heartening.
The rulers of Japan seem to be learning a lot from the Nazis. That’s not heartening.

 

*Natalia Berner is the JSRC correspondent for Germany. A newbie journalist, we hope to hear more from her in the future. Jake Adelstein also contributed to this article.