In June 1951, a West German diplomat returned from Tokyo and wrote the following letter to a Minister for Economic Affairs in Bonn: “All those who were purged from their jobs in 1945–46 for political or other reasons have now resumed their work in complete freedom."
Pacific Rim is a 2013 movie about robots that hit each other. Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi) is some glitzy two-dimensional "for my famiri" dame notable for being a heroine without a germanic-sounding last name. Her bob cut and piano black tit armor makes her look like a less sexy Yayoi Kusama as she grunts and stabs her way through waves of baddies. Near the end of the movie while debating a glistening Ken doll cum tribute (Charlie Hunnam) on the reasons to fight she says "It's not obedience Mr Becket, it's respect" which is a perenium-tighteningly embarrassing quote. Other than my shambolic expectations for a hollywood movie to deliver biting cultural commentary a deferential vaguely oriental character isn't terribly surprising. Like the indian headband there's a rather careless disparity between how groups see themselves and what their reflections turn into in the cogs of the entertainment machine. At least having a Japanese national kill people while thinking of their families is culturally sensitive, thanks del toro. Right now there's a curious political bisection happening in Japan. Namely what kind of reflection people see themselves in the Russo-Ukranian war.
Repatriated IJA soldiers at Shinagawa Station. Tokyo 1946. Hayashi Tadahiko
Agreed history is an oxymoron in Japan. The fundamental roadblock to any commonly agreed narrative is that these arguments are without an authority. Japan's academic elite have long taken on a non-antagonistic stance with the state, itself built on fresh 19th century narratives of invented nationalism. Accordingly, institutional and academic influence on public consensus has faltered in the face of work by journalists: some revealing like Seiichi Morimura, others proudly advertising their lack of scholarly critique. As Wages of Guilt states, even the study of contemporary Japanese history is a staggeringly larval invention:
the debate on the Japanese war is conducted almost entirely outside Japanese universities, by journalists, amateur historians, political columnists, civil rights activists, and so forth. This means that the zanier theories of the likes of Tanaka Masaaki are never seriously contested by professional historians...modern history was not considered academically respectable. It was too fluid, too political, too controversial. Until 1955, there was not one modern historian on the staff of Tokyo University. History stopped around the middle of the nineteenth century. And even now, modern history is considered by senior historians to be something best left to journalists.
This disparity between academics and media ghouls in capturing the public's attention isn't limited to just history. In 2013 the prestigious newspaper Asahi Shimbun published a dubious headliner claiming the HPV vaccine carried health risks. The resulting paper you wouldn't bother wiping an orifice with has culminated in a 0.7% vaccination rate and 3000 extra deaths annually among women. As a result of this constant soul-searching narratives ebb and sway, not beholden to common conclusions or authoritative figures spearheading public opinion. This all came to ahead when the Ukrainian government included the Showa emperor Hirohito in a bit of anti-fascist anti-putin propaganda. The resulting backlash from people who have too much time on their hands led to a staggering rescindance and apology from the Ukrainians, an outcome more embarrassing than pissing your pants. A man so quietly unpopular even to the "colonialism was epic" crowd was suddenly defended online by right-wingers like he was a corporate billionaire, all by virtue of a foreign entity criticizing monarchy.
More cynical Japanese eyes saw themselves not as Ukranians whose sovereignty is continually threatened by a larger regional rival, but as Russians. The fervent support for the war by those not fighting it, the enthusiastic media support, obscured casualty figures, the dissidents disappearing, it all was a mirror image of was happening in 1937. To them nodding along to a pyrrhic conflict is more Japanese than soup from vending machines or dying alone. News of the Kishida administration doubling defense spending in response was the very last outcome they wanted with their fundamental belief that the Japanese state doesn't have a great record in having a monopoly on violence.
February 18th, 1945 Today the teacher told us about the army's new weapons. Apparently they're like paper balloons with a bomb suspended on it. It's used to destroy Japan's enemies. I feel like I can't sit here idly anymore. - class essay written by a 2nd grader, Rissei Elementary, Kyoto
Article 9, an element of the Japanese constitution written up by SCAP during American occupation states, "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...The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized." It served to dial back the military as an independent state institution, one that during wartime kicked off numerous internal clashes with the imperial government and killed millions in the Pacific.
Revered physician Tetsu Nakamura was one of the most vocal proponents of Japan state pacifism, stating:
"Forgo the use of weapons and institutionalize pacifism. Article 9 guarantees the tangible existence of a pacifist state. The people here understand this. It's the reason why successive Afghan governments, anti-government militias, and the Taliban have never impeded our work here. (Article 9) protects us...This is Japan's true strength.
Nakamura had provided aid to thousands of civilians across 35 years in Afghanistan, first during the Soviet Invasion, through the numerous civil wars that followed, and the American Invasion. When he was killed in 2019 he was given a state funeral by the Afghan government, Ashraf Ghani being among the pallbearers during his repatriation. His Japanese counterpart experimental Anpanman-mandrake hybrid PM Shinzo Abe didn't attend, a man whose war criminal grandfather was rehabilitated by the American occupation. (generally people with the nickname "Monster of the Shōwa era" don't become prime minister)
And even during the post-war Japanese constitution's drafting the US' own agenda in the Pacific thoroughly muddled the ideological purity of a new pacifist democratic state. Internally there was a reshuffling of SCAP reconstruction officials and with Willoughby at its helm the attempt to reign in those responsible for Imperial Japan's trajectory turned into active cooperation with ultranationalists. The occupation's moved to unban and promote labor unions at a time when a national famine was a possibility was suspended by 1947. The February general strike of the same year was suppressed by the MacArthur administration, with successive labor disputes in factories and mines lent support from would-be-hanged figures like Yoshio Kodama mobilizing the Yakuza as strikebreakers. (The japanese release of David Kaplan's 1986 book on the Yakuza's history was successfully suppressed by right-wing power broker Ryoichi Sasakawa, another former war criminal rehabilitated by SCAP) Kodama would later serve as a G-2 agent smuggling Chinese tungsten for the US and Lockheed consultant covertly persuading the government to procure F-104 and L-1011 aircraft, culminating in a global bribery scandal. Such a hand-in-hand US response with the kind of ultranationalist leaders that were currently being hanged in Sugamo was born out a fear of a communist revolution.
Street children smoking. Ueno, Tokyo 1946. Hayashi Tadahiko
Zengakuren and police clash outside Parliament in Tokyo during protests against pro-American Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. June 1960
Farmers chain themselves to trees during the Sanrizuka Struggle. Chiba 1971
Upon release from Sugamo, Kodama found two bases of power that would serve him well-the yakuza and American intelligence. Kodama quickly showed that he had the support of the yakuza legions whenever he needed it. In 1949, for instance, he led the Meiraki-gumi against labor unions at the Hokutan Coal Mine. These unions had been the most effective and militant of the miners' unions, and all the governing forces, Japanese and American, wanted them brought into line. When a frontal assault on the union proved insufficient because of the miners' willingness to do battle, Kodama's men tried to foment internal strife, also with limited success. By 1950, it appears that Kodama had solidified his position as a principal go-between for G-2 and the various yakuza bands. One aging gangster, the retired boss of Tokyo's Takinogawa gang, summed up Kodama's work in a 1984 interview: 'None of us gang bosses had much connection with GHQ.
3 years after the new constitution was introduced the Korean war demonstrated its ideological flexibility in practice with the Yoshida government enthusiastically sending minesweepers and providing logistics to US and UN troops. Evidently that wasn't enough and in 1952 Masanobu Tsuji, a former IJA officer turned CIA spy was among a group groomed by Willoughby to assassinate Yoshida for a more hawkish pro-US prime minister. The CIA report characterizes him as "extremely irresponsible" and "the type of man who, given the chance, would start World War III without any misgivings." At this time SCAP officials fearing a weak economy and widespread labor protests stated "Korea came along and saved us". It was the well-needed pretext to disregard earlier reforms and raise a new army, staffed with thousands of veterans from the war.
Like West German leftist reactions to the Adenauer government suspending denazification, much of the Japanese opposition's rhetoric drew parallels to previous governments. Activists went directly to Mitsubishi shipyards to appeal to Zainichi Korean day laborers, student protests in Tachikawa successfully suspended the airbase's expansion. The predictable American-Japanese response had protesters arrested under Ordinance No. 311 (acts prejudicial to the objectives of the Allied Occupation Forces) and handed lengthy sentences including deportation of Zainichi-Japanese nationals back to war-torn Korea, which produced a deeply ironic question among the Japanese. In actualizing the constitution's pacifism that the Americans themselves had written people were subject to the same punishments as dissidents under Imperial Japan.
Radical student demonstrators swing iron bars at riot policemen during the second Anpo Protests. Azabu, Tokyo. Tuesday, June 23, 1970.
Japanese Communist Party article "What's objectionable about being anti-war?" July 1950
In the Vietnam war Japan became the US' main Pacific airfield, dramatically stepping up activity and transforming airbases formerly taking on passive duties in the cold war. The aircraft at Yokota airbase went from Cold-War deterrent SAC bombers and reconnaissance aircraft to F-105 and F4's departing directly to Vietnam. Jets regularly crash-landed in Japanese suburbs which served as a reminder that their support didn't happen in a vacuum. Like the Korean war Japanese Keiretsus largely untouched by the American occupation like Mitsui(who sold opium-laced cigarettes in Manchuria) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries(who used Korean slave labor domestically) reported record profits in supplying the war effort.
Kanno Yoneko kneels at the site of an American F-8U crash at a steel fab that killed 5 including 3 of her brothers. Kamisouyagi, Kanagawa Prefecture. 1964. Hamaguchi Takashi
Remains of an American aircraft that had overrun the airfield and exploded next to residential houses. Sunagawa, Tokyo. September 1966
An American soldier picks through rubble after an aircraft crash lands into a residential mansion. Sagamihara, Kanagawa prefecture. 1964. Hamaguchi Takashi
In the main building of the Self-Defense Agency, as nondescript inside as outside, I had an appointment with Hagi Jiro, deputy director general of the agency...I asked him about Japanese public opinion. What did most people think Japan should do about the Gulf War? He said the majority were against sending any Japanese troops. In November 1990, a special bill proposing just that had to be dropped. Most Japanese, he said, still associated the military with the old Imperial Army. But this varied from generation to generation. People with memories of World War II, he said, were very much opposed to sending Japanese soldiers to fight on any front. People between the ages of thirty and fifty felt less strongly about this. And young people could be swayed easily one way or the other by the mass media. He mentioned Article Nine of the Japanese constitution. And as so often happened in Germany, the question of trust came up. Hagi said: “The Japanese people do not trust the Self-Defense Forces because they cannot trust themselves as Japanese. This is why they need the constitution to block security efforts.”...This was, of course, what many people believed. It was what I had been taught to believe, that the Germans and Japanese were dangerous peoples, that there was something flawed in their national characters. But it was not what I had expected to hear at the defense headquarters of Japan. Linking the two nations, however, as Hagi had done, was something Germans, in my experience, tended to avoid.
The last paradox lies in Japan's own regional security interests. Broadly all major parties retain a critical view of China, from Osaka's current ultranationalist party Isshin no To to the Japanese Communist party in its Red Flag newspapers. Surveys consistently have Japanese nationals reporting the lowest approval ratings for China despite political participation remaining around 30%. With the capitalist delusion of economic isolation as a deterrence to war discarded after the Russian invasion the recent defense spending hike isn't a surprise. The irony in proclaiming a flexible and actively eroding state pacifism while paying for an American military presence is also not lost on the Japanese. And so this enduring question of regional security, always China and now Russia needs to accommodate the realities of nuclear conflict, a constitution that the right-wing LDP does their best to re-write, and the presence of US bases that dot the TV with questionable news in a country where car accidents and housefires get late-night coverage.
A farmer works next to Kadena Airbase. July 1972.
An American serviceman joins the Isezakichō summer festival. Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture. August 1957
Japan is the type of country unfamiliar with masonry houses and so the geographic viability of long-term nuclear power has been a pressing question since 2011. Like the US if the country were to continue relying on 70's energy policy funding for modernization should've happened decades ago. There's also the unsaid but transparently obvious convenience of enriching capabilities like the country's attempt at blue water force projection through the JMSDF's "helicopter" carriers. If Americans reshuffle their security assets away from Japan these nuclear sites serve as the ultraright's contingency plan for regional security. As it stands right now there's numerous aging nuclear sites in a notoriously earthquake-afflicted country with facilities vulnerable to preemptive strikes in a near-peer conflict and residents remain unwaveringly opposed to burying spent rods domestically. The developmental lead on solar panels that the Japanese abandoned in the early 2000's with recent calls for cutting back energy usage guarantees this will remain an open question for the next few years.
This country has been talking about the same 3 things for 70 years. As long as Japan's pacifism remains in this contradiction-by-convenience state the LDP's moves to nullify Article 9 will remain a national and international threat to the 70 years of uneasy peace Japan has enjoyed.
Radical left wing students protesting the construction of the New Tokyo International Airport Narita, Chiba Prefecture. March 31, 1968
back to top ⤴
One of my new finds is a 14-year old Japanese blog
still squirting out entries, complete with grotty early 2000's images of Japan, the images conjoured in my mind when I think of haruhi-era subcultures. A bizarre political rant from 2008 stood out, railing against proposals for children in Japanese/foreign national marriages be granted citizenship. As an anime otaku of course he's opposed to this, but a particular line stood out to me: that regardless of party allegiance, politicans in the Diet are there to "protect the Japanese." Odd choice of words there. it's not economic prosperity or social equity, but security that is his most pressing concern. And to him relaxing the impermeable border between "Japanese" and "non-Japanese" is the foremost threat amidst a global recession.
The Japanese are coddled, and it's quite significant when coming over from pretty much any other part of the world. Poverty is low-ish, drug epidemics are non-existent, issues of industrial pollution ceased decades ago, violent crime is low, and the country is (on its surface) problem-free. Thanks to provisions in the constitution the closest the JSDF has gotten to war is lounging in air-conditioned bases in Iraq, even more risk aversive their Bundeswehr counterparts. Your average Russian consumes 18 liters of vodka a year, 67,000 Americans died from overdoses in 2018, 130 candidates and politicans in Mexico were murdered that same year, and Syria has grappled with international state-sponsored violence for the past 9 years. Yet Japan shrugs, the notion of a widespread social ill that doesn't involve work or aging seems impossibly foreign. As far as societal ills goes there's hikkis and overworking, both of which outside observers sort of scoff at as nebulous non-issues attributed solely to Japanese culture.
Yet the 40% of Japanese people not apathetic enough to abstain from voting live in this bubble of jingoistic paranoia, a perfect intersection with the permeating stink of exceptionalism that has cut across US politics for 70 years. For the anime-obsessed blogger, national power and strength are top priorities in a pacifist society that has yet to shake the spectres of its imperial past. All the while the economy has limped for 40 years, the same austerity-pushing political party has been in power for 65 years, and 40% of the labor pool consists of part-time workers and contractors. To me there's more pressing issues than big dick posturing.
The middle school-aged blog is a curious mish mash of entries, the most well-known being him handing out Lucky Star anime figures to North Korean children and Eromanga sensei t-shirts to the residents of Erromango. >8/16/2020
I wonder if all that international travel from Cuba to Mexico has dialated his worldview in the 12 years since that entry. it hasn't lol
Oda Makoto, the father of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Japan and the author of a novel about the bombing of Hiroshima, told me that Japan had to remain a pacifist nation: “Japan, of all nations, must be a conscientious objector.” As a military power, Oda said, Japan would be a very dangerous country.
Oda was born in 1932. He remembered how proud he had been, waving his Rising Sun flag after great military victories against the Americans. He could also remember, with particular bitterness, how his native city, Osaka, was bombed a day before the Japanese emperor announced on the radio that the war “had not developed in a way necessarily to Japan’s advantage” and that it was time to surrender. Oda did not cry, he said. His real bitterness concerned the way in which the Americans after the war wrecked Japan’s chances to break away from the past. It was the Americans who allowed the emperor to remain on his throne. It was the Americans who allowed the same bureaucrats and politicians who had led Japan into the war to continue ruling the country. It was the Americans who made the Japanese undermine their own constitution by building a new army, and it was the Americans who made the Japanese into accomplices of U.S. imperialism in Asia.
His resentment was not without justification, but Oda’s ambivalence toward the West was more complicated than political disillusion. It was an ambivalence bordering on hostility. This might have been partly a matter of age. He had been educated, after all, to despise the “Anglo-American demons.” And Pan-Asian propaganda was not all that far removed from romantic Third Worldism. But despite Oda’s Third Worldist views, his identification with the oppressed was not straightforward either. He also identified with the oppressors. One of the aims of his “Peace for Vietnam” movement had been to help American deserters and antiwar protesters. In Oda’s view, the American GIs, like the Japanese Imperial Army soldiers before, were aggressors as well as victims; aggressors because they killed innocent people, victims because they were forced to do so.
So what does Japanese pacifism look like in practice? Lucrative post-war infrastructure ODA's continued through Marcos' Ferdinand declaration of martial law in 1972. The Japanese government supported Suharto in his 2-decade genocide of East Timor where 200,000 Timorese, people with no ethnic, religious, or political ties to Indonesia were killed on behalf of a "common brotherhood." As recently as 2022 monetary aid and military training was given to a post-coup Tatmadaw, the organization that has induced 7 continuous decades of civil war in Myanmar.
Despite consisting of the lowest slice of political engagement voters in their twenties unanimously vote for the LDP. Of course as they believe someone else will do their bidding the percentage of young people actually willing to fight for their country is among the lowest in the world. Today the JGSDF is a desperate whore, trying to appease a more "normal" demographic for recuitment when its public perception has long been tainted with gang members and Tate no Kai adherents. And even then relations between poor men from large countryside families and bougie idealistic literature otaku were never great, evidenced by the heckling during Yukio Mishima's coup d'etat speech at Camp Ichigaya.
JGSDF, Harajuku. 1980. Jōji Hashiguchi
The 30% of people who actually vote largely carry the underlying belief that failed diplomacy is an inevitability with irrational state actors like Russia, China, and North Korea, and by extension projecting state power is the only viable option. It's not a difficult worldview to imagine with recent events and the constant headline stoking of ICBM tests. When the only proximate adversity most Japanese nationals face is people taking too long at the cash register, then war seems like a pragmatic abstract choice. Unlike the feverishly anti-war over 60's they never experienced near-famine, marxist riots, or deportation sentences to warzones. They are aching for a domestic Nork missile strike because it would satiate their preamble of victimhood, the ability to cast aside the past and proclaim that war is good, actually.
Several months after the Gulf War had formally ended, a literary critic named Matsumoto Kenichi wrote an article for the Tokyo Shimbun in which he compared Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait to the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. It was the counterpart, in a way, to Enzensberger’s comparison of Saddam and Hitler in Der Spiegel. Saddam’s claim, wrote Matsumoto, that he was fighting for Pan-Arab ideals “eerily echoed the Japanese militarists who, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, arrogantly proclaimed that ‘Asia is one.’” Both Iraq and Japan fought “holy wars” against Western imperialism. But the parallel, in Matsumoto’s opinion, went further: “Japan and Iraq went to war for virtually identical reasons.” Western powers were accused of making war inevitable, by depriving those countries of trade and raw materials. Thus war for Japan and Iraq had supposedly become a matter of survival. “Japan,” wrote Matsumoto, “has not atoned for its wartime atrocities. So we can’t accuse the Iraqis of using inhuman methods and violating international law without pointing a finger at ourselves.”
back to top ⤴