“The Only Woman in the Room”/ How The Amazing Beate Wrote Equal Rights For Women Into Japan’s Constitution

Unanswerable questions of the year: Is Japan really going to war? Is Japan’s peacetime constitution going to be trashed by the ruling party and returned back to the Imperial Constitution, which did not give suffrage or equal rights to women?

TheonlyThis question will be on the mind and haunt your waking hours after reading “The Only Woman in the Room” by Beate Sirota Gordon. In this memoir, she takes us through the various events in her life made remarkable by the fact that in late 1945, she became a member on the US Occupation team that drew up Japan’s National Constitution. Not only was she the only woman in the room, she was just 22 years old.

Her passport said she was an American citizen, but Beate Sirota had lived for 10 years in Akasaka, Tokyo with her Russian Jewish parents (her father Leo Sirota was a celebrated musician from Vienna and a close friend of Kosaku Yamada). For the past five years, she had been in the US while her parents had been in detention in Karuizawa. The only way to catch a plane out of America and into a ravaged, defeated Japan to see them again, was to get a job in the army. Beate’s Japan experience and the fact that she could speak, write, and read with fluency got her that position.

“The Only Woman in the Room” is honest, plain and straightforward – written not by a professional author but an extremely well-bred, cultured woman who had forged a career for herself in a time when women – even in America – were expected to marry, have babies and sink themselves in domestic bliss. Or just sink. Across the Pacific, American women her age were sizing up future husbands at cocktail parties. Beate was commuting from Kanda Kaikan to Occupation headquarters and working on the constitution 10 to 12 hours a day. She often skipped meals, since food was scarce and the work was so pressing. Her male colleagues pushed themselves harder and put in more hours – and Beate mentions that she admired and respected them for that. Her tone is never feminist, probably because she comes from a generation told to revere males and elders. Besides, she grew up in Japan where women shut their mouths and looked down when a male spoke to them, and that was exactly what she did when she first landed in Atsugi and an official asked to see her passport.

On the other hand, though her tone is consistently soft and modest, her voice is clearly her own – and when it’s time to stand up for the Japanese and their rights, she apparently didn’t give an inch. What an ally the Japanese had in Beate, especially Japanese women whom she describes in the book and in interviews she gave later on: “Japanese women are treated like chattels, bought and sold on a whim.”

Rather than change the whole world, Beate wanted to contribute to the building of a modernized Japanese society. Rather than yell out for women’s’ rights and organizing feminist rallies, she sought to raise awareness about the historical plight of Japanese women and children. And just as earnestly, she wished to help her parents, in particular her mother, who was suffering from severe malnutrition. Beate wasn’t a saint nor interested in being one. Without meaning to, she came pretty close. Her prose is never condescending, nor does it brim with self-congratulations as in the case of many memoirs. She had a story to tell and she told it and as far as she was concerned, when the story was over there was no reason for fuss or lingering.

 

beate

 

After the army stint, Beate Sirota Gordon returned with her parents to the US in 1948, married a former colleague in the Army and later worked as the director of the Asia Society and Japan Society in New York. She continued to give interviews about her work on the Constitution but only because she felt that the peace clause (the controversial Article 9) had to be defended repeatedly. She venerated her parents and remained very close to her mother until her death, while raising a family of her own, because family and love were precious and she knew first-hand the tragedy of losing them.

What culminates from her memoirs is her selflessness. Helping others, being fair, and maintaining a striking modesty in spite of her many accomplishments were the defining factors of Beate’s life. She died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer, four months after the death of her husband Joseph Gordon. The Asahi Shimbun printed an extensive obituary on the front page, lauding her work and reminding the readers how the Constitution had protected Japan all these decades, for better or worse. Mostly for the better.

We in Japan tend to take the Constitution for granted. Many people remember and harp on the deprivation of the war years but few bother to recall the dismal details of everyday life before that. Women couldn’t go to school; they were expected to serve their parents and male siblings before marrying into households where she continued to serve and slave her husband and his clan. These women brought up their sons in the traditional way – which resulted in an unending circle of entitlement and arrogance for men, and toil and servitude for females. In poor families, parents sold off their children. Soldiers and military policemen detained ordinary citizens on the slightest suspicion and beat them during interrogation. They were responsible for committing unspeakable atrocities in China and Korea.

There was happiness, peace, equality, and respect in the Sirota household when Beate was growing up, but she knew too well how the average Japanese in Japan fared; how women and children were cut off from beauty, culture, or anything out of the familial box. She wanted a magic wand that would somehow change all that, and her idealistic, 22-year old mind told her that if she couldn’t get a wand, the Constitution was bound to be the next best thing. The task was daunting – she was working for peace and gender equality in a country steeped in tradition and ‘bushido’ feudalism. At this point in 1945, not even American women had gender equality and there she was, giving her all to ensuring that Japanese women would get that right. And just for the reason, there wasn’t nor has there ever been, anything in the American Constitution that resembles Japan’s Article 9.

At the end of the book is an elegy by Beate’s son and part of it goes like this: “Your legacy is the art of living in beauty and truth, of speaking up and out for what is right, and of finding our best selves and sharing them.”

 

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).

 

Japan Dispatches Ninja Squad To Syria; “Jihadi John, you defile sacred ninja tradition. Watch your shadow. We coming.”

January 27th 2014

Tokyo, Japan

Like A Shadow In the Night

In response to the horrific attacks on Japanese nationals by ISIS (ISIL) and their deliberate or inadvertant mockery of ninja tradition, the Japanese government has secretly dispatched a band of ninjas to take out the spokesman for the group—the silvery tongued British national known as “Jihadi John.” The batch of ninja (忍者), who’s exact numbers remain undisclosed for security reasons, are working covertly with the Japanese government and Jordanian forces to infiltrate & disrupt ISIS activities, and carry out a singular assassination. Their titanium GPS coded shuriken(手裏剣) aka “ninja throwing stars” have been manufactured at record speed by Mitsubishu Heavy Metals, and they are reportedly armed with the latest fire arrows, tekko-kagi, and light-weight carbonite explosive swords.

"We have been Ninja for centuries. We have loyalty honour. I know ninjutsu. I am Ninja and you, Jihadi John, you insult us in your borrowed ninja garb; you are no ninja. And you have no honor."--Master Igari, Igari School of Ninjutsu
“We have been Ninja for centuries. We have loyalty honour. I know ninjutsu. I am Ninja and you, Jihadi John, you insult us in your borrowed ninja garb; you are no ninja. And you have no honor.”–Master Igari, Igari School of Ninjutsu

In an exclusive interview with Japan Subculture Research Center, Igari Toshio, the current Ninja master of the Igari-Ryu  School of Ninjutsu (猪狩流忍術) admitted his role in the secret dispatch of ninjas, stating, “We cannot abide the cold-blooded murder of a Japanese person but we will never ever forgive the mockery of our Ninja tradition by the ISIS spokesman wearing our most traditional garb shinobishozoku (忍び装束)in the video released on January 20th. It is an apostasy. He must pay and pay in blood. 200 million US dollars not accepted. Blood only.”

The two Japanese hostages were taken by ISIS forces in August and October of last year. While Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs not only failed to open channels to negotiate their safe return, the Abe administration has made a series of diplomatic errors in handling the problem. On January 17th, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a speech in Cairo on Middle Eastern policy, pledging 200 million dollars for the fight against ISIS,  which according to Japan’s Jiji News, “created an incredible backlash in the Muslim world and with ISIS, resulting in the release of the video as retaliation and a warning.” Apparently, Prime Minister Abe had sort of forgotten that ISIS held two Japanese nationals as hostages, or didn’t really care.

In the video released by ISIS on January 20th, the spokesman for ISIS, who is also known as Jihadi John, threatened to kill two Japanese hostages in Syria if Japan did not pay a $200 million dollar ransom within 72 hours. In the video, Jihadi John, clad completely in a black costume —“clearly mocking the Igari-ryu school of ninjutsu”–threatens the two hostages dressed in orange prisoner outfits, while brandishing a what many believe to be a fake ninja sword (忍刀/shinobigatana) or possibly a kunai (苦無/multi-use ninja throwing knife).

"Jihadi John, your life shall be as short as a flash on winter sun on the steel of a ninja throwing star. We are coming for you, " warns leader of Japan's Ninja Squad.
“Jihadi John, your life shall be as short as a flash of winter sun on the steel of a ninja throwing star. We are coming for you, ” warns leader of Japan’s Ninja Squad.

 

Japan strikes back with stealth and humor

The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who have seemed clueless and incompetent in the handling of the hostage situation, even after knowing ISIS had held both men hostage since November of last year, has attempted to redeem themselves by calling upon Japan’s Ninja warriors to strike deep at the heart of the enemy. Meanwhile, the Japanese people, in a courageous showing of solidarity with the hostage victims have launched a devastating attack on the pride of ISIS by making fun of them, relentlessly using Japan’s most powerful weapons: Photoshop, cloying cuteness & irreverent humor. However, with the secret society of ninjas now joining the fray–the battle has been taken to a new level.

Sources within the Abe administration acknowledge that it will be impossible for the ninja squad to take out the entire ISIS army, but they believe that there is a real chance that they may able to silence the spokesman. A senior cabinet official told JSRC, “We can’t stop ISIS but at least by cutting out the tongue of their glib host, or chopping off his head, we can shut them up. Because while we can shut up NHK and most of the Japanese media, that asshole who keeps blaming Abe for this mess just will not keep his yap shut. Plus, he’s just an annoying limey prick.”

Jihadi John, I am ninja. I know ninjutsu. We have been ninja for generations and  you are no ninja.”

Master Igari told JSRC, “We Ninja, no army. Ninja have been around since 6th century Japan. A person who uses Ninjutsu (the art of stealth)  is a ninja. Ninjutsu is not a martial art. We do not fly through the air like your American Flying Hero. Ninjutsu is an independent art of warfare developed mainly in Iga in Mie Prefecture, and Koka in Shiga Prefecture. The jobs of a ninja are performing espionage, counter-intelligence, and assasination. The methodology for performing espionage and strategy is Ninjutsu. Espionage is similar to the job of modern spies, wherein spy discretely gathers intelligence about enemy and analyzes its military strength. Sometimes, we strike. And when we do, you can no hide. Nowhere. We have proud tradition and we will not be mocked by ninja wannabe,  loser back home, British butthead.”

ISIS has finally met its match, Japan's elite troop of deadly stealthy ninja. You can terrorise the nation, but mock the ninja---bad idea.
ISIS has finally met its match, Japan’s elite troop of deadly stealthy ninja. You can terrorise the nation, but mock the ninja—bad idea.

Master Igari then added, “Jihadi John, cowardly killer of peasants–we are coming for you. Your life shall be no longer than the flash of winter sun on the samurai steel of a ninja throwing star; your death shall be more agonising than a wisdom tooth extracted with an earpick. You shall know the wrath of ninja. When the sun sets in your desert kingdom, we shall be in the shadows waiting. Indeed, you, you should fear you own shadow–because the shadow you see may simply be the outline of the ninja warrior who will end your miserable heretical existence. Watch you shadow; does it move as you move? By the time you realise not so, you will be no more. We will find you, we will cut out your tongue, and we will use it to make shoelaces.”*  (Correction: Master Igari later noted that ninja shoes (地下足袋)do not use shoelaces so they would probably turn Jihadi John’s tongue into a cell-phone strap with a cute 忍者太郎 (Ninjataro) mascot figure).

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on background, stated that they had high hopes for this secret mission. It will serve to show that Japan is not a country to be taken lightly and at the same time, if the Ninja mission is successful it will do tremendous good for Japan’s soft power push and the promotion of Japanese music, manga and culture aka ‘Cool Japan’ in the West and the Middle East.

“You want to know what Cool Japan really is, Jihadi John and you ISIS motherfuckers? It’s your stone cold corpse on the sand—there will be nothing ‘cooler’ than that. That is joke. Very cool equals ‘cold’. Stone cold dead. Cool Japan. Banzai, ” clarified the official.

*Note: This is satire. Why make fun of terrorists? Because fear is their power. Laughter is their enemy. Ridicule is the one thing they can’t stand. And we sort of wish Japan would send some ninjas to Syria because ISIS are a bunch of assholes.  

“If she bleeds, she can’t lead…” Sexist, Pro-nuclear, LDP loyalist Masuzoe Elected Tokyo Governor

The association of women who won't have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe
The association of women who won’t have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe

This is an op-ed news bulletin. It does not necessarily represent the views of everyone at the Japan Subculture Research Center but probably comes close.

February 9th, 2014 (updated on February 12th) 

The man who personifies Japan’s gender gap, former health minister Yoichi Masuzoe, 65, with the support of the Liberal Democrat Party, the nuclear energy industry, and the Sokka Gakkai fan club (Komeito),  today reportedly won a four-year term as governor of Tokyo. He beat out his two nearest rivals who had said Japan should phase out nuclear energy. His victory was assured with a voter turn-out rate of roughly 46% , a lapdog media that is in love with advertising money from Tokyo Electric Power Company, and preceded by Tokyo’s worst snowfall in over a decade.  (As if it were a sign of things to come…)

Shortly after polling closed at 8pm, the Japanese media, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe controlled NHK (aka A.B.E News) reported that he had won by a sizeable margin, based on exit polls, wishful thinking, and haste to go home early.

“Women are not normal when they are on their period. They are abnormal.
You can’t possibly let them make critical decisions about the country [during their periods], such as
whether or not to go to war.” – Masuzoe in the October 1989 issue of the magazine BIGMAN

 

With this victory,  Mr Masuzoe will be Tokyo’s “face” for the next four years–even if that face resembles that of a horse with mange. Because of his rabid support of nuclear power as an energy source, Mr Masuzoe’s election is expected to spur  the Liberal Democrat Party’s efforts to restart the country’s idled nuclear reactors. It will also be a boon for politically connected construction firms wishing to get a big share of the unneeded 2020 Olympics construction and plans to demolish interesting parts of the city in order to create a money draining infrastructure that will temporarily benefit cronies of Abe and the Liberal Democrat Party.

“Women are not normal when they are on their period. They are abnormal. You can’t possibly let them make critical decisions about the country [during their periods], such as whether or not to go to war.” – Masuzoe in the October 1989 issue of the magazine BIGMAN
“Women are not normal when they are on their period. They are abnormal.
You can’t possibly let them make critical decisions about the country [during their periods], such as
whether or not to go to war.” – Masuzoe in the October 1989 issue of the magazine BIGMAN, one of many colorful comments by the new Tokyo Governor. 男尊女卑の塊
Yoichi-kun is beloved by Japan’s feminists for his colorful remarks about women and power. In fact, allegations of his domestic violence, abuse of power and his past history of colorful sexist statements earned him his own unique twitter account: 舛添に投票する男とセックスしない女達の会 @Nomasuzoe–which in English would be, “The Association Of Women Who Won’t Have Sex With Men Who Vote For Masuzoe”.

In 1989 during Japan’s  so-called “Madonna Boom” when a surprising number of women became elected officials, Masuzoe stated, “This is an exceptional period in history,  that’s why even these women things are showing up…but those who have been elected are all a bunch of old middle aged hags.” Well, lucky for us Japan has come a  long way since those crazy “women-in-politics” days. Once again, Japan has shown us that with enough voter apathy, a compliant media, and the connections and funding of the nuclear industry, that any middle-aged asshole guy can be the leader of one of Japan’s largest city-states.

How bad a leader will he be? No one can for sure but one thing is certain: there are possibly 3,067 supporters of Masuzoe who are not going to get laid tonight. One can hope. (Because if there’s anyone in Japan who we’d like to see not procreating, it’s the idiots that would vote for this charlatan in the first place.)

The association of women who won't have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe
The association of women who won’t have sex with men who vote for Masuzoe

 

 

The Prime Minister, The Past, The War, The Shrine and What Is Said In The Unsaid

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Staging Showa Era soldiers at Yasukuni Shrine this year, on August 15th

Under the bright and sweltering sun in Japan yesterday (August 15th), the controversial shrine of Yasukuni in Tokyo again received nonstop ordinary citizens’ visits from morning until sunset to mark the 68th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. Also, as every year, not far from the shrine, an estimated 200 political activists from the Far Left group Han Tennosei Undo Renraku-kai, (反天皇制運動連絡会) or the “Anti-Emperor of Japan activists,” who believe that Japan’s surrender should have been the fall of its emperor, participated to a protest march in the streets of Tokyo protested by approximatively  40 to 100 Japanese nationalists who may have been from the Zaitoku-kai, (在日特権を許さない市民の会) or the “Citizens’ Group Opposed to Special Privileges given to the Zainichi (Koreans),” (long-term Korean or North Korean residents in Japan,) dispersed and potentially disguised under a group they called the “Rekishi Kenkyu-kai,” (歴史研究会) or the “History Investigation Group.” The Japanese police PR office could not release the exact number of elite police forces present at today’s  Anti-Emperor demo, but it was believed that  more than a thousand of super-well-equipped police officers were running around to protect the demonstrators from the pro-emperor activists.

August 15th 1945 was Japan’s official surrender. Six days after American aircrafts had dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6th) and on Nagasaki (August 9th), Emperor Hirohito announced over the radio that the country would lay down its arms and accept the terms of the Potsdam Declaration unconditionally. Over 2 million Japanese including civilians died during World War II and over 10 million  Chinese people are estimated to have lost their lives during the same period.

For some Japanese people this day marks the the beginning of peace, and for others it marks the humiliation of losing the war against the western allies.

“Today is the day the Japanese people suffered the humiliation of losing the war against the western allies. It’s the anniversary of the end the war,” A former yakuza boss said as he woke up yesterday morning. “Let’s pray for those who fought to protect the Japanese nation.” He added.

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Anti-Japanese Emperor activists carry the image of the Japanese emperor with a skeleton body.

Since the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party of Japan) came back to power last year under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is trying to change the current pacifist Constitution in order to empower Japan’s defense military forces, a shift to the right by the new Cabinet is increasingly raising fears among Japan’s neighbors. It’s “a dangerous revival of its military past,” the Chinese media reported.

IMG_5754
Japanese Nationalists’ expressing hostility towards the anti-Imperial left wing protestors

“If Japan had to go on war, I would fight it to protect my country with no hesitation,” Keinosuke Nakai, 42, a member of the Hinomaru Tomo no Kai, a Japanese nationalist group, told JSRC at a meeting held at the Daisuisendo Kaikan bld’s 4th floor, two steps away from the ultra leftist group’s meeting room filled with about 200 activists, where no photos and no footages of the meeting was allowed to be taken. The tension was palpable. In the room on the right side on the same floor, a man who appeared to be a leader said, “Today is the commemoration of Japan’s loss of the war. But remember, next time Japan will win the war.”  He was applauded by his audience of about 30 nationalists.

The Far Left Group and the Nationalists met in the same building in the same floor!
The Far Left Group on the left and the Nationalists on the right, they met in the same building on the same floor!

In Seoul on Thursday, the South Korean President Park Geun Hye urged Japanese politicians to show “brave leadership” in “healing wounds of the past,” at a speech she gave during a ceremony marking the Korean National Liberation Day, as Japan’s 35-years occupation period from 1910 to 1945 ended.

In Tokyo the same morning, Internal Affairs and Communication Minister Yoshitaka Shindo and state Minister in charge of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, reportedly visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in WW II.

Instead of visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly visited the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery in Tokyo, where he laid flowers for unidentified Japanese people who died overseas during WWII. He also met with the visiting chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Mendez, and agreed with him that Japan and the United States should strengthen bilateral ties as China increases its presence in the South China and East China seas.

Although Prime Minister Abe did not go to the controversial shrine in person this year to avoid further issues with China and South Korea, Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency reported that this morning’s visits by the two Cabinet ministers will “further harm mutual trust between Japan and its neighbors.” The Chinese view is that Japan should/must reflect upon its history of aggression, and sincerely apologize to the victims of its military past. Yasukuni Shrine, which is dedicated to about 2.5 million Japanese people, mostly soldiers killed in past wars, (not only WW II), is viewed by neighboring Asian countries as a symbol of Japanese militarism. Fourteen Convicted Class-A war criminals are also enshrined there. But the Japanese people who pay a visit to the war dead do not necessarily honor war criminals. They might pray for one or two of their ancestors who died at war. But in a statement released by China’s Foreign Ministry, Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin and Japanese Ambassador to China, Masato Kitera, strongly protested the visits to the controversial shrine in Tokyo by the two Cabinet ministers. China holds that “no matter in what form or capacity Japanese leaders visit the war-linked shrine, it is essentially an attempt to deny Japan’s history of militarism and invasion of its Asian neighbors.” The statement said.

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The Japanese police force trying to maintain order during the Anti-Emperor demo.

For experts on the matter, the problem is the shrine. The first Japanese Prime Minister who visited Yasukuni was PM Takeo Miki, on the anniversary of WW II, in 1975. On October 17, 1978, Yasukuni began to honor the wartime Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class-A war criminals. The first Premier who made an official visit since the end of WW II was Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, on August 15th, 1985. One of the most controversial PM who systematically visited the shrine was Junichiro Koizumi, from 2001 to 2006. Author and Director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, Jeffrey Kingston, writing about the annual visits noted, “The only way to end the controversy is to impose a moratorium on visits to Yasukuni by any serving Cabinet ministers. Officials should honor Japan’s war dead at the official cemetery at Chidorigafuchi, not at a privately run propaganda center.”

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The police squad reached a huge number.

This also marked the first year in over a decade that the current Prime Minister did not apologize for Japan’s aggression in Asia nor solemnly swear that Japan would never wage war again. As often is the case in Japan, it’s in what is unsaid that speaks the loudest.

Jake Adelstein contributed to this article

As Japan moves toward recognizing joint custody, a father nourishes hope for reunion…

In Japan, millions of children grow up without seeing one of their parents if they divorce. There is no joint custody in Japan, not yet.

But in May of this year, after 30 years of international pressure, the Japanese Diet finally passed the bill necessary to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Japan is now able to enforce the pact by March 2014 after the domestic procedures will be completed. Under the convention, the parents of abducted children will have a legal framework to request their children to be returned if they do not face grave danger, including domestic violence. In Japan, the police handle cases of domestic violence, and will determine whether the claim is true or false. Currently, if the parent who was granted the sole custody agrees to let the other parent see the child, the typical visitation is about once a month.

Japanese courts reportedly almost never grant custody to foreign parents, especially fathers, when international marriages break up. But sometimes, foreign mothers can use the Japanese family laws against their Japanese ex-spouses.

On July 11, 2009 Tamami, the daughter of Seiji Tashima, 62, was taken away from her home town in Hiroshima by her Russian mother. Tamami still lives in Japan, but her location is unknown to her father who was not granted child custody after divorce.

In Japan, close to 150,000 divorced parents per year lose contact with their children in Japan. Most have no choice but to obey the law.

Takao Tanase, a lawyer and great defender of children and parents rights who is currently a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, noted that Japan does have a criminal clause declaring child abduction as being a crime, and cases of domestic abduction are well known. However, the first abduction is usually not treated as a crime. “After a parental dispute, once the de facto custodian is designated by the Japanese family court, the left-behind Japanese parent can be arrested by the police if he/she tries to take back the child from the custodian parent,” he told The Daily Beast.

Joining The Hague Convention may not immediately affect divorced Japanese couples, but it will significantly change the Japanese society and family law. Japanese lawmakers say that if The Hague Convention is ratified, domestic laws will have to be rearranged in order to be consistent with it. Efforts are being made at the national Diet to change the domestic laws by March of 2014.

After a study session on The Hague Convention at the National Diet earlier this year, Tsuyoshi Shiina, 37, a lawmaker from the Minna no Tou  (Your Party, Center-Right) said that he was in favor for Japan joining the Hague Convention. “However I think that it will be difficult to convince the hard-headed lawmakers, because they believe it is a matter of ‘cultural conflict.’ Those who are not able to think of a ‘global Japan,’ will be those who will oppose Japan joining the Hague Convention.” He added.

John Gomez, Chairman of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion systematically attending Diet session meetings and talks.
John Gomez, Chairman of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion systematically attending Diet session meetings and talks.

Cultural difference?

There is no joint custody in Japan (yet.) The notion of “giving up” a child is part of in Japanese society. Justifications for this are not clear. Article 766 of the Civil Code explains very clearly that it is a family court that would decide the matter of who will have custody over a child, visitation and other means of contact between the child and his/her mother or father if an agreement cannot be reached, or discussions are not possible. And the family court grants custody to the parent who abducted the child first.

 “In Japan, children are considered not to undergo stress during separation and divorce but actually, by being denied access to one of their parents, they experience far more stress than removing the other parent and saying, it is a stable environment,” John Gomez, chairman of the recently founded NPO, “Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion,” told JSRC.

Seiji Tashima, the father of Tamami Tashima, somewhere in Japan.
Seiji Tashima, 田島 清司 (62)  the father of Tamami Tashima 田島 珠美 (5), somewhere in Japan.

Until the laws will actually change in Japan, Japan Subculture Research Center will post Tamami’s story every year on the day she was separated from her father to allow her to Google-search her own name when she will need to find her Japanese father from whom she was forcibly taken away.

We feel that perhaps Seiji Tashima and his abducted child should be given a chance to reunite.

For support and information, please join the Kizuna-Child Parent Reunion, an NGO based in Tokyo that has its office near the National Diet Building and the US embassy.

If you want to help this NGO raise fund to continue its battle towards joint custody in Japan, please watch this video and the NGO’s homepage.

Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion has just received Japanese government approval as a Non Profit Organization. “KCPR helps children to reunite with their parent in constructive, diplomatic cross-cultural manners, working with various governments around the world, including the Japanese government, in trying to create a bridge or focal point where international efforts and Japanese domestic efforts can be brought together and government officials, parents from both sides of the marriage can work out their differences and bring their children together. There has been success in several cases where negotiation between parents has brought children reuniting with their parents.”

The multiple efforts of John Gomez in both Japan and the U.S. are probably showing results today, in a time when Japan might finally be joining the Hague Convention.

Viva la Révolucion? The Japanese Communist Party: Still Red And Not Dead

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(Tokyo) – By Douglas Miller*

Communism as an ideology would appear to be fading out of our world. Most of the Cold War revolutionaries have died off, and China, Vietnam, and even Burma are becoming market economies. The communists are still going strong, however, here in Japan. Although the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) has dwindled in political stature since its heyday in the 1980s, the latest numbers show that there still are 320,000 JCP party members, as well as 1,300,000 subscribers to the party-run (しんぶん赤旗)Akahata newspaper. When you tally the Sunday and daily editions, the number is close to 1.5 million subscribers.

Think about it: over three hundred thousand registered party members and over a million subscribers to their newspaper. These numbers are staggering if one takes into account that these numbers are those of communist sympathizers. Well, that may not be exactly true. The name of the party is indeed the Japanese Communist Party. But the policies, far from being communist, are center-right social democrat. The American Japanologist and one-time ambassador to Japan E. O. Reischauer stated in his book Japan in Reischauer’s Eyes (ライシャワーの見た日本) (1968) that the JCP was not to be equated with the Soviets or the Chinese.

The JCP is not moving towards any revolution of the kind that we would perceive to be a necessary component of any communist movement. Rather, its goal is to become the majority party in Japan’s national parliament. If the JCP were to call for violent revolution and for the abolishment of multiparty systems and of capitalism itself, few of its hundreds of thousands of members would be supportive.

What the JCP stands for are noble causes that resonate with the Japanese people: (i) the abrogation of the US-Japan Security Treaty, (ii) economic sovereignty, (iii) correct historical understanding and subsequent necessary apologies to victims of Japanese aggression in World War II (iv) an end to nuclear power.  The US-Japan Security Treaty imposes an especially heavy burden on Okinawa, where the majority of the US military bases are located. The JCP has always been a strong supporter of Okinawan voices, together protesting and working toward getting rid of the bases altogether.

The JCP has also been sensitive to the plight of small enterprises that are getting run out of business by multinational corporations that thrive on globalization. The protection of economic sovereignty is not necessarily a complete denial of globalization but, rather, a plea for “democratic rules that protect the lives and basic rights of the people.” The JCP accepts capitalism as a workable system and is not against it in principle.

 

A problem with history

Questions of historical correctness have proved more difficult for the JCP to finesse. Japan has adopted a highly revisionist interpretation of what occurred during the years leading up to World War II and during the war. There are two main issues of contention regarding historical correctness: “comfort women” and territorial disputes. The Japanese military was partially involved with the rounding up of large numbers of females in occupied territories to serve its troops as so-called “comfort women”, a euphemism for prostitutes. Many of these women were essentially sex slaves, forced to work and treated inhumanely, without freedom to choose their customers or quit their jobs. Internationally accepted accounts of the war years treat that practice as historical fact. But conservative Japanese politicians, often from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, have denied that forced prostitution occurred and have insisted that any women who served the troops with sexual favors did so of their own volition. These comments routinely cause understandable uproar in China, the Koreas, and other states that were victimized by the Japanese.

The JCP acknowledges what the Japanese forces did during the war and has been working to encourage government accountability: acknowledge the existence of the comfort women, make a formal apology, and pay reparations to those who are still alive. Recently  a South Korean diplomat met with JCP chairman Kazuo Shii to discuss the comfort women issue and other issues that the JCP has addressed. The diplomat expressed respect for the JCP’s stance on historical correctness and voiced high expectations for their policies. The JCP exhibits a mindboggling inconsistency, however, in regard to the very commitment to historical accountability lauded by the Korean diplomat. Witness its incomprehensible stance in regard to territorial disputes.

Japan currently has one official territorial dispute: a disagreement with Russia about four islands near Hokkaido—known to the Japanese as the Northern Territories and to the Russians as the Southern Kuril Islands—seized by Russia in the waning days of World War II. It also has two unofficial territorial disputes of note. One pertains to the Liancourt Rocks (claimed by Japan as Takeshima and by South Korea as Dokdo), a group of tiny islets in the Sea of Japan (the “East Sea” to Koreans). The other dispute pertains to a group of islets in the East China Sea claimed by Japan as Senkaku and by China as Daioyutai.

The JCP—the self-styled voice of historical accountability, the party lauded by the South Korean diplomat for its historical correctness—has parroted the conservative Liberal Democratic Party and other factions in asserting that all three of the disputed territories belong “indisputably” to Japan. Official party literature presents dubious historical data in support of the claim that these islands have long been under Japanese control and that the occupation of any of the islands by non-Japanese, as in the case of Takeshima/Dokdo and the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils are unjust. The sight of the JCP voicing the questionable history concocted by the conservative establishment is indisputably bizarre.

A knack for local politics

Incoherence in the national political arena does not seem to be undermining the JCP’s standing in prefectural and municipal governments. At the national Diet, the JCP lost yet another seat in the lower house last year, and its presence there has dwindled to a measly eight seats, a 45-year low. The party remains strong, however, in local politics.

Typical of the JCP’s loyal members is one who described his reasons for joining the party as follows, “The JCP was the only party that never compromised its principles, that never succumbed to political expediency.” The JCP is the last resort, adds the party member for a lot of people who can’t get help elsewhere for problems with things like workplace disputes and unmanageable debt. “When the police can’t help and the banks can’t help, you go to the Japanese Communist Party.”

The JCP has won government recognition of workplace injuries and fatalities, and its legal assistance has helped secure compensation for workers and their families in several instances of such accidents. Alone among Japan’s political parties, the JCP openly goes head to head with multinational corporations, such as Toyota, Sony and Mazda, to protect the rights of workers and their families. This principled support of ordinary people is a reason that the JCP has several long-serving public officials in local government.

One long-standing public official from the JCP was Kenzo Yamada, the mayor of Nanko town, Hyogo Prefecture, (1980 to 2005.) Yamada was reelected six times and served until Nanko town and three other towns merged to become the present municipality of Sayo town. His policies for promoting social welfare in the town generated tangible benefits. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, for example, recognized the town for its large percentage of over-80 residents who still had at least 20 of their original teeth.

Another long-standing public official from the JCP was Yutaka Yano, the mayor of Komae City in Tokyo, (1996 to 2012). Prior to his election as mayor, he had been a city councilman for 21 years. He replaced Sanyu Ishii, whose tenure had been riddled with accusations of corruption and of chronic gambling trips to South Korea. Ishii unexpectedly resigned on June 12, 1996, and Yano won the subsequent special election.

Yamada and Yano exemplify the JCP’s capacity for winning fair democratic elections. Support for the JCP’s national agenda may be wavering, but the party remains highly relevant in local constituencies all across Japan.

*The Japan Subculture Research Center does not support any one political party or political faction in Japan. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.