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. 

In regards to “Questions surround reporter’s revisionist take on Japan’s history”

On May 8th, Kyodo News published an article concerning former New York Times Tokyo bureau chief Henry S. Stokes and his recent best-seller 英国人記者が見た連合国戦勝史観の虚妄  (Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist).  The Kyodo News article raised questions about the veracity of the book and whether it really represented Mr. Stokes’s views or the views of the two right wing individuals, Hiroyuki Fujita, who helped “translate” the book and Hideaki Kase aka Tony Kase.

I am a journalist who is just starting her career and I was asked to do the transcripts for an English version of the book. After some time, I realized that I felt that Mr. Stokes, who is a very nice elderly journalist who I respect, was having his words taken out of context. I resigned from the job and relinquished any further payments. Here are the resignation letters I sent to Mr. Fujita and my notice and apology to Mr. Stokes.

I did speak with Kyodo News about why I resigned. I have no further comments. If you would like to know more, please speak to the publisher or the individuals involved.

The controversial book by Henry S. Stokes. Does it represent his views or those of the extremist "translators" who put it together?
The controversial book by Henry S. Stokes. Does it represent his views or those of the extremist “translators” who put it together?

 

May 2nd, 2014 

Dear Fujita-san, 
 
I hope you are doing well. I apologize for not contacting you earlier. I’ve actually been extremely busy with my full-time job with Jake Adelstein and have had to work unexpectedly through the weekend and overtime this entire week to work on a new project with him. For the time being, I am turning down all side jobs from anyone. 
 
I think that it would be best if you found someone else to finish the job, since I’ve become unable to focus on the transcripts, which take a lot of energy to accomplish. I’ve also become increasingly uncomfortable with the content of some of the recordings,which make it even more difficult. It seems that words are being put into Henry’s mouth and that the interviews don’t reflect his real opinions or thoughts–and that there are many leading questions (誘導尋問). 
 
Here are the recordings which I have finished so far. If they are included in the 50, 000 yen sum that you gave me, then that is fine. I don’t require any more payment. 
 
Sincerely, 
 
Angela Kubo 

 

May 4th 2014

Dear Henry, 

This is Angela Kubo, who had been working on the transcripts for the book.
I’m very sorry to let you down, but I’ve decided to resign from the job because I had a moral issue with compiling these transcripts. I felt that what you said in the transcripts was completely different on important points from what is written in your book. Below is my resignation letter, which I sent to Fujita-san.
Henry, I have a lot of respect for you, and I pulled out of this job because of this respect. I will be at the press club tomorrow and would like to speak to you about this transcripts. Perhaps you should consider speaking to someone about this issue, because I find it very serious that your book is very different from what you say in the audio.
Sincerely,
Angela Erika Kubo

 

A note from the editor-in-chief:  The questions as to whether Henry Stokes, a long time acquaintance, was deceived and turned into a mouthpiece for the Japanese right wing is a very fascinating one. However, I’m friends with and work with Angela Kubo. I know the reporter at Kyodo News who wrote the story well and we have worked together and I know Henry. The foreign journalist community in Japan is very small.  All that being said, therefore, I’m unable to objectively write about this story at this time and will recuse myself for the time being.  –Jake Adelstein 

For reference: Kyodo News conducted a long recorded interview with Mr. Stokes. The Japanese version of the story compares the statements in the book with the statements in the interview in detail. If you can read Japanese you may find it enlightening. It follows the english text from the Kyodo News article below:

From the Kyodo News article: Over the course of multiple interviews with Kyodo News beginning on April 5, Stokes repeatedly expressed a view on Nanjing that directly contradicts the remarks attributed to him in both his own book and the articles in WiLL and Yukan Fuji.

“I don’t come within ten-thousand miles of this stuff as a position,” he said, dismissing the view that Nanjing is a fabrication as “ludicrous,” “fatuous” and “utterly, utterly asinine.”

“The stance I take is that ghastly events occurred in Nanjing,” Stokes said, adding that he does, however, disagree with Chinese assessments that 300,000 people died during the six days when the Imperial Japanese Army overran China’s then capital. He also objects to the use of the term massacre, preferring the more anodyne “Nanjing Incident.”

ご参考まで共同通信のインタービューの一部を掲載しました。

著書 南京が陥落してから人口が増え始め、翌1月には、25万人に膨れ上がった。戦闘が終わって治安が回復されて、人々が南京へと戻ってきたのだ。このことからも「南京大虐殺」などなかったことは、明白だ。歴史の事実として「南京大虐殺」は、なかった。それは、中華民国政府が 捏造 (ねつぞう) した、プロパガンダだった。
 ストークス氏 そうは言えない。(この文章は)私のものではない。後から付け加えられた。修正する必要がある。私は「MASSACRE(大虐殺)」という言葉は好まない。その表現は日本語では使えるが英語だとぞっとするほど恐ろしい。大虐殺と呼べないにせよ、南京で何か非常に恐ろしい事件が起きたかと問われれば、答えはイエスだ。中華民国政府のプロパガンダは(南京大虐殺が史実とされる)理由の一つだが唯一の理由ではない。

The interview conducted with VOICE magazine’s March issue by Mr. Stokes also has the following seeming affirmation of the Nanjing Incident and affirms the credibility of the book China’s War With Japan by Rana Mitter.

「もちろん、日本の一部の右派がいうような「南京ではレイプも殺人も何も起きなかった。証拠がないという論調にも与することもできません。現実的ではありませんし、国際社会を納得させることもできないでしょう」

 

 

 

“Comfort Women” Show Makes Nikon Uncomfortable But Not Tokyo Courts

The “comfort women” aka 慰安婦 (ianfu) issue is one that divides Japan. Who were the comfort women? They were Korean, Chinese, and sometimes even Japanese women who worked as prostitutes during the Second World War, primarily offering sexual services to Japanese soldiers (There were also Dutch women in Indonesia). Many of the women were coerced into working as virtual sex slaves, while others may have worked on their own initiative, just as many women today still work in Japan’s sex industry. The issue of who ran the brothels aka “comfort houses” during the war was disputed for years but in 1992, Professor Yoshimi a well-known Japanese historian published Japanese archival documents that established the direct involvement of the Japanese military in running a network of military brothels known as “Comfort Houses.”  The Japanese government also released over a hundred documents in the same year that supported the research. However, there are still questions as to how many women were coerced into working at the brothels and their living conditions.

However, for Japan’s right wingers and historical revisionists, any suggestion that the Japanese military engaged in human trafficking is anathema.  The discussion of the subject and any films, books or exhibitions dealing with the taboo are sure to draw the attentions of these radicals. Therefore, it was not really a huge surprise when Nikon, which had agreed to host a photo exhibition about the comfort women, got cold feet at the last minute.

The photos of former "comfort women" makes Japanese right wingers and historical revisionists distinctly uncomfortable.

Korean photographer Ahn Sehong, 41, who married a Japanese woman in 2007 and lives in Nagoya for 3 years, was scheduled to have an exhibition of the portraits and photos of former comfort women at the prestigious Nikon Salon (Shinjuku) starting in June.  However, in May of this year, the exhibition was unilaterally cancelled by Nikon without explanation. The exhibition, planned from June 26 to July 9 has finally opened, but not without any problems.

“We are just lending the place,” Nikon officials allegedly told Ahn Sehong, “we cannot help you– if there is any problem we will have to end the exhibition immediately.”

When Ahn Sehong and his colleagues were preparing the exhibition, three lawyers hired by Nikon were systematically after Ahn.

“They were asking me to whom I had talked and what I said, ” said Ahn. The exhibition was only held after a court decision by the Tokyo District Court ordered them to do it.

At a press conference held today at the Foreign Correspondents Club (June 28th, 2012) Ahn said that he felt anxious all the time, fearing that his exhibition might end at any moment.

“I bet Nikon is trying to find any possible reason to stop the exhibition,” he told reporters.

The reasons given by the optical equipment maker Nikon to withdraw the exhibition were unclear at first, but its company representative told Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF/Reporters Without Borders) that Nikon’s measure “was taken after numerous calls and e-mails criticizing the exhibition.”

According to Ahn, inside the Nikon Salon gallery, when reporters came to ask questions to him, the Nikon lawyers and the guardians prohibited any exchange within the gallery.

 “I had to go at the first floor, then walk to the closest park outdoors in order to speak to reporters who came to visit my exhibition. In such situation, I feel that my freedom of expression are denied,” he said.

RSF or Reporters Without Borders, an international organization, which defends the freedom of information, condemned “the move to censor the photo exhibition,” it announced in a press release.

Mr. Naomi Toyoda, representing the JVJA (Japan Visual Journalists Association), who supported Ahn Sehong’s photo exhibition at Nikon with great vigor, said at the press conference that, “every photographer has a message. Each photo exhibition has a political message, but the photos and the photographer must be different. As a photographer myself, I defend freedom of expression at any price.”

Mr. Sehong does not approach his subject lightly and has done substantial research.

“My sources almost all passed away by now. Since 1996, I met 12 former comfort women in China, and about 40 in Korea. They did not know each other but they all told me the same facts”

The RSF in a statement about the problem noted, “ (the) thirty-seven photos and portraits of former Korean “comfort women,” who served at the fronts of the Japanese military camps in Asia, “besides their esthetic quality, supported by documentary research conducted by the photographer since 2001, are an important work of education, which must be shown to as many people as possible, without political consideration,”

The topic of the so-called comfort women is indeed embarrassing for Japan, however, in 1993, Yohei Kono, then Chief Cabinet secretary, issued a statement acknowledging that Japan organized during the war a brothel program for its military men, and offered an apology to Korea. But the Japanese government has always refused to pay individual compensation to these women.

Ahn Sehong told journalists in Tokyo that, his project started in 1996, when he first met a Korean old lady living in China, who used to be a comfort woman at the Japanese military front when she was younger. Most of the comfort women were taken away from their houses at very young age. “I wanted to help these old ladies to express their experience. If you look at the photographs, they speak for themselves. Their story needed to be told and remembered. And the Japanese people should also know about these facts.”

Ahn Sehong, photographer

 The RSF stated that, “it would be unacceptable that Nikon, a private company held in high regard by the world of photography, should become an accomplice to censorship.” RSF also urged the Japanese authorities to “determine if intimidation was perpetrated by individuals opposed to the work of the photographer,” and launch an investigation.

Dozens of Japanese ultra-nationalist group members, uyoku, have demonstrated in Yurakucho, in front of the Foreign press club building to remind their message, which is that these Korean comfort women never existed. The tirades run along the line of: “The comfort women were professional prostitutes not victims, and the photographer is mediocre too!”

At the Nikon Salon, in Shinjuku, a full security management is deployed: heavy metal detectors and guardians are stationing in every corner of the exhibition hall.

According to a FCCJ staff member, some leaders of the right wing groups tried to enter the Yurakucho Denki Building, where the Foreign Correspondents Club is based. They were denied entry.

Ahn Sehong’s family also had to move from their home in Nagoya, for fear of the multiple threats they have received. “I got pressured by Japanese Right Wing groups over time. After Nikon announced the withdrawal of the exhibition, my private contact details were released on the Internet. I received many phone calls and e-mails teaching me that the Korean comfort women never existed,” he said, “some messages said ‘you should die.’”

Ahn Sehong: "I like Nikon. I use Leica since 2002, but it is not because of the issue I had with Nikon that I do not like their cameras. This picture, on my left, was in fact taken by a Nikon camera."

A BRIEF EXPLANATION OF THE EUPHEMISM OF “COMFORT WOMEN”

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism describing the Asian women, mostly Koreans, who were enrolled to serve as sex workers for the Japanese military troupes during the WWII. The estimates of the number of women involved in this forced sex industry is a huge controversy even in the present days among Japanese, Korean and Chinese scholars. Some Japanese estimate the numbers to “as low as 20,000,” whereas some Chinese scholars estimate the numbers “as high as 410,000,” depending on the definition of the victims. The exact number is still being researched and debated.

A good discussion of the issue can be found at The Washington Coalition for Comfort Women.