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. In other words, everything in Japan that corresponded to what was done in Germany under the name of denazification has been laid aside. I have absolutely no doubt that in one year we will see a complete change of personnel in Japanese politics. Because of their superior discipline, a large number of our old friends will once again be taking up leading positions.”

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 lookalike 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

History

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, one built on narratives of 19th century invented nationalism. Accordingly, their influence on public consensus has faltered in the face of work by journalists: some revealing like Seiichi Morimura, others proudly advertising their lack of rigorous 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.

Critical Japanese eyes saw themselves not as Ukranians whose sovereignty is 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.

School journal written by a 2nd grader: February 18th 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.

State Pacifism

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. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be sustained. 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 the wartime years 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 the position to reign in those responsible for Imperial Japan's trajectory softened. The occupation's encouragement for the Japanese public to participate in 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 lent support from would-be-hanged figures like Yoshio Kodama mobilizing the Yakuza as strikebreakers. (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) Such a hand-in-hand 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. At this time SCAP officials fearing a weak economy and widespread labor protests stated "Korea came along and saved us". Like West German leftist reactions to the Adenauer government suspending denazification, much of the Japanese opposition's rhetoric drew parallels to previous governments. Leftists 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, 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 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 like Mitsui(who sold opium-laced cigarettes in Manchuria) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries(who used Korean slave labor) reported record profits in supplying the American 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

Regional Security

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 facade of economic isolation as a deterrence to war thrown away in disgust 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 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 not France and the viability of long-term nuclear power has been a pressing question since 2011. Like the US if the country were to continue relying on reactors funding for modernization should've happened decades ago. There's also the untold 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 that have dubious capabilities in developing nuclear weapons, and that 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

6/23/2022

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.”
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.
Japanese state pacifism