There are two important foreign dignitaries in Japan right now.
One is the President of the United States of America and the other is, well, Justin Bieber.
The former is the reason why there are currently police officers inside every station, standing on boxes and trying to look important. (I think they are ostensibly there to prevent a terrorist attack.)
But perhaps they should be keeping an eye on Mr Bieber instead.
After all, Justin Bieber has a habit of alienating various nationalities and ethnic groups through his antics, from signing “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber” in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum, to apparently not knowing where Germany was in a live interview, and calling Indonesia “some random country”.
Now young Justin has lost himself a generation of fans in China, Taiwan and Korea by visiting the most controversial place in Japan, Yasukuni Shrine.
Note the surprisingly large number of “likes”.
The shrine houses millions of Japanese war dead. Unfortunately these also happen to include over 1,000 war criminals. Although Japan has at least one neutral and official war memorial in Tokyo, Yasukuni has become the place of choice for the ultra right and conservative politicians to pay their respects.
Given that State Shinto played an intricate role in the post-Meiji militarization of Japan and that Yasukuni also houses a revisionist museum, it is no wonder the visits of prime ministers and leading Japanese politicos never fail to infuriate Japan’s Asian neighbors who suffered so miserably at the hands of Japanese imperialism. (As happened only days ago when a throng of lawmakers went to Yasukuni.)
And into this maelstrom wanders our innocent Canadian singer.
“Thank you for your blessings” he writes under his Instagram picture (since deleted), a record of his visit to the shrine this morning.
Oh dear. Sure, Justin can’t be expected to know the finer details of Japanese politics, Shinto and all that jazz. But does he not have a publicity advisor or two to help him out?!
*Update*: Mr Bieber has posted an apology and explanation for his visit to Yasukuni.
Despite the recent ruling on March 31st by the International Court of Justice that Japan must stop “scientific” whaling and the government’s initial announcement that it would abide by the ruling, now comes the news that Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research filed briefs at the end of last week in the US District Court in Seattle saying it intends to resume whale hunting in the Southern Ocean as early as fiscal 2015.
Japan previously responded to the court ruling by saying it would abide by the decision but added it “regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision”.
Some saw the way the government responded to the result of the lawsuit first launched by Australia several years ago as a way of keeping its integrity — not caving in to the anti-whalers — while finding a exit plan for its loss-making whaling program.
However, this has been thrown to the wind now since the Japanese government plans to resume whaling as soon as the fiscal year in 2015. It will adjust its “research” program, such as by reducing the number of whales it will hunt.
The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd — locked in a legal dispute with Japan over whaling and in a physical dispute every whaling season — has deplored the new development after the ICJ ruled against Japan. The ICR has said that the new program will not run counter to the ICJ’s finding, since that affects only the whaling in Antarctic waters.
Japan’s whaling is a gross example of tatemae — holding face and officially abiding with he 1986 moratorium to which the nation signed up. Other countries like Norway and Iceland rejected that decision and continued whaling commercially. But Japan instead resumed whaling simply under another guise of “scientific research”, saying it was catching whales to prove that their numbers were sustainable. The loophole has allowed Japan to continue whale hunting through the government-backed ICR and then sell the meat commercially. However, whale meat is no longer popular in Japan and due to the scale and age of the fleet, coupled with the tenacious resistance offered in the ocean by Sea Shepherd, whaling costs Japan much more than the sales the haul bring.
“The myth that this hunt was in any way scientific can now be dismissed once and for all,” said Greenpeace upon the recent ICJ decision.
The irony is that current methods of whaling were introduced to Japan by the West and that one of the primary objectives for Commodore Perry’s famous Black Ships arriving in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century to demand it begin trading with foreign states was so that America could take advantage of the rich whaling waters to the north of the archipelago. (Whales were a big source of oil at the time.)
Whether you agree that whaling should be banned or not, it seems much more logical if Japan just abandons the pretense of the science and follows the examples of the Scandinavians in openly whaling for cultural reasons. (Japan has a long history of hunting whale and dolphin meat, though traditionally it was coastal whaling.)
We feel that Sea Shepherd and other militant environmentalist groups target Japan for racist reasons while mostly ignoring the European whalers (when was the last time you heard of someone ramming a Norwegian whaling boat?). However, that aside, the perceived duplicity of the “science” and “research” only further aggravates the situation. An honest commercial whale hunt would turn the clashes between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese fleet on the high seas into a less political one.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has demanded the removal of an artwork that criticizes the visits to Yasukuni Shrine by members of the Japanese government.
The exhibition is now running, set to conclude on February 21st. It not one of the main exhibition events organized by the museum but part of its public galleries that often feature group shows. The exhibition features around 60 works of art presented by the Contemporary Japanese Sculpture Artist Federation.
One of these is “Portrait of the Times: Endangered Species, idiot Japonica Tomb” by Katsuhisa Nakagaki. The sculpture (pictured below) is a 1.5 meter dome shape draped in a Japanese flag, with pieces of paper on it with political messages written by hand urging the Constitution to be protected, the “folly” of the visits to Yasukuni to be recognized, and the ending of the current government’s “rightist tendencies.”
[Image via Asahi]
The visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine — a shrine in central Tokyo that houses the souls of the war dead, including convicted war criminals — has been a fiercely contested issue in Japan over the previous ten years. Shinzo Abe’s government has re-opened the wounds by officially visiting the shrine, drawing furious responses from Japan’s neighbors in Asia who suffered at the hands of the nation’s past colonialism.
The museum, though, has decided that it cannot allow its facilities to be used for “political activities”. It requested Nakagaki to remove the artwork on February 16th, one day after the exhibition began, and threatened him that if he did not agree, the whole exhibition would be cancelled and possibly prevented from future use of the museum’s facilities.
As a compromise on his part, Nakagaki has removed the handwritten political message. “I expressed my ideas as an artist. I sense the danger of speech control,” he was quoted as saying in media reports. This may not be enough to satisfy the museum, though… or the prime minister.
Only a few weeks into her post as US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy has already waded into one of the most tricky of diplomatic areas.
As such rows often do these days, it erupted over a tweet sent by Kennedy objecting to drive hunting for dolphins.
“Deeply concerned by inhumaneness [sic] of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries,” she tweeted.
Drive hunting is where dolphins are herded together by fishing boats. They are cornered and unable to escape. For the fishermen, it is thus efficient in how many animals can be captured in one hunt — sometimes hundreds — but it has met international condemnation. It is most famously practiced in an annual hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, which was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, and is often protested by foreign activists.
Kennedy’s comments come as Sea Shepherd, the militant eco protest group, has claimed that Taiji’s recent dolphin haul is “the biggest in four years”.
The Japanese government has responded neutrally but nonetheless on the defensive.
“Dolphin fishing is a form of traditional fishing in our country,” said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga. “We will explain Japan’s position to the American side.”
Officially, the practice does not affected an endangered species. However, images of bloodied water in coves has prompted international outrage and a large protest movement, much like Japan’s “scientific research” whaling. In these cases, emotions win out over the legalese and somehow we doubt the government will make much progress in “explaining” their position to Ms. Kennedy.
Today Morihiro Hosokawa finally confirmed expectations that he is running in the Tokyo gubernatorial elections in February.
And in an interview with TV Tokyo he has promised if he wins to hold the 2020 Olympics partly in Tohoku.
Hosokawa is a bit of a political cowboy. He comes from a real pedigree, literally a Kumamoto aristocrat and related to the Imperial family. However, far from being yet another run-of-the-mill conservative Japanese politico, he fell out with his peers and ended up breaking away from the LDP to form a coalition government in 1993, being the first non-LDP prime minister since the 1950′s. (Saying that, his administration lasted less than a year.)
During his brief tenure as PM, he was also the first Japanese leader to offer an official apology for the war.
He continues to reinvent himself, turning from politics to pots and becoming a ceramics artist after he retired. He has maintained a profile in the media, even recently meeting the model Dan Mitsu for an article in a tabloid that must have been an editor’s dream to set up.
Now he is running for the position of Tokyo Governor next month. He is being very firmly supported by another maverick, former Junichiro Koizumi, who, despite being ostensibly a conservative (he’s the one who privatized the Post Office, remember), has made waves by saying Japan must faze out nuclear power. Hosokawa has said the same and hence the potter and the privatizer are natural allies.
Hosokawa is a laudable figure but we fear he is simply too old (he has just turned 76) to be running Japan’s main economic powerhouse. An elder statesman, yes. An inspirational thorn in the side of the Establishment, yes. But a hands-on leader? The jury’s out.
His “promise” (tentatively, at least) to host the Olympics partly in Tohoku is also very admirable. However, there are a number of issues with it.
It may lead to boycotts. Whether we like it or not, Tohoku’s name has been muddied by Fukushima and overseas athletes may not want to participate.
The IOC may then object as a Tohoku venue was not in the original bid, which on the contrary emerged as the winner by mainly arguing that a Tokyo Games would be compact, convenient and safe.
It also might be interpreted merely as a stunt and ultimately fall into the realm of those other empty “Ganbaro Nippon!” rallying events that create superficial boosts but do little for the long-term.
Polling day is February 9th.
With the resignation of Naoki Inose last month over a financial scandal, the position of Tokyo Governor is about to become vacant.
While some pondered whether right-winger octogenarian Shintaro Ishihara might make a comeback from his second attempt at a career in national politics (which has basically produced nothing but a whimper of a new party), one of the main contenders at the moment seems to be Toshio Tamogami, a former chief of staff in the Air Self-Defense Force. And now Ishihara has publicly backed Tamogami for the job.
Whereas Ishihara and his successor Inose were challenged by the likes of comedian and Miyazaki governor Hideo Higashikokubaru and Watami restaurant chain president Miki Watanabe, so far few strong candidates have yet to emerge. Tamogami is in with a real chance, which is hardly the best example for Tokyo to be setting as it looks to hosting the Olympics in 2020. It has not been announced yet who the ruling LDP or opposition DPJ will field to challenge Tamogami, though bipartisan former Cabinet Minister Yoichi Masuzoe has thrown his hat into the ring as an independent.
Toshio Tamogami (65) was fired (with a very big pension allowance) in 2008 when he wrote an essay denying Japan’s role as an aggressor in the 1930′s and 1940′s, which shocked many at the time that such nationalist rhetoric could be spouted by a major staffer in nation’s ersatz military. However, he did this just before he would have to retire anyway and has since gone on to enjoy a career as a pundit and writer. He is also a leader of a far right group, Ganbare Nippon.
Tamogami is alleging his best qualification for the job of running one of the biggest economic powerhouses in the world is that he has military training, which would be useful
if the Chinese or Koreans (either one) invade if there is a major earthquake or emergency.
His marriage with Tamogami is very appropriate, considering that Ishihara is the crackpot veteran who tried to purchase the disputed Senkaku Islands in 2012 with Tokyo public money (he was forced to back down and instead call for “donations” from citizens).
Tokyo citizens, the future of the city is in your hands!
Another year, another packed calendar of trends.
What were some of the main ones that caught our eye throughout the past twelve months?
Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games amidst great controversy, not least the continuing plight of Fukushima and Tohoku, PM Abe’s lies to the IOC that the situation was “under control”, an already ballooning budget, a non-Japanese architect handling the stadium design, and a rather bizarrely pronounced presentation by Christel Takigawa (whose bank balance — along with Dentsu’s — has done very nicely out of the Olympics, of course). Oh, and the man celebrating in the center of the picture above is Naoki Inose, the Governor of Tokyo who has lost his job over a financial scandal.
TV Drama is Big Again
After years of flagging TV ratings, the year scored some major television hits, not least NHK’s morning drama Amachan and Hanzawa Naoki.
Mascots (official and not so)
Everyone knows that Japan loves mascots. Now even the Communist Party has some cute characters. In particular, the year has seen the meteroic rise of “unofficial” pear mascot Funassyi from Funabashi in Chiba.
Ghibli strikes golds
Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises was a phenomenal hit in Japan, not least because it was announced as Miyao Miyazaki’s final anime film… but he has said this before. While the Ghibli/Miyazaki brand is formidable, the success of the movie is pretty incredible when you considered how uncommercial its subject matter (fight plane design!) is. The jury’s still out on its overseas reception, though.
Meanwhile, Takashi Murakami’s first anime feature film appeared to make zero impact.
From the ascent of Starbucks to become the nation’s second largest chain — along the way opening a special traditional crafts branch in Meguro — to the fashion for convenience stores to offer their own drip coffee products, Japan has become one of the biggest consumers of coffee in the world. It also comes with its own generous portion of snobbery and hipster-dom, aided by a constantly renewing library of magazines and books about which espresso bar to go to in which area of Tokyo at which time.
Bakattaa is a new word that was coined to describe one of the biggest online trends this year. It means the idiots (baka) who tweet pictures of themselves doing silly stuff. This has proved particularly problematic when the said fools are doing unhygienic stunts at their part-time jobs in restaurants and shops. This has led to bankruptcies and job losses, but the trend seems to show no sign of abating. The news today mentioned a man in Osaka who stupidly tweeted that he had stabbed someone. If you’re going to do a crime, don’t tell social media! The current generation in their teens and twenties are digital natives, and thus are still negotiating the new rules of caution and courtesy when tweeting a selfie. This is worldwide, of course. Remember the idiots who tweeted questions asking who Osama bin Laden was when he was killed? This took the same amount of typing time as they could have used to answer their own question if they had bothered to think before “sharing”.
Mt Fuji was given designation as a World Heritage site by UNESCO earlier in the year, while washoku (Japanese food) was also registered as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. However, this was soured by the continuing controversy over contamination in Fukushima and how it was affecting crops, as well as a food mislabeling scandal engulfing many noted restaurants and hotels.
Rise in Nationalism
Japan is going backwards. Prime Minister Abe is set on reversing history. He has passed a massively controversial state secrets bill, forged ahead with returning to nuclear power, purchased drones and a raft of other military equipment to “protect” contested territories, announced his intent to change the pacifist constitution, and now capped off the year by visiting the most sensitive place in Japan, Yasukuni Shrine. Good job, Mr Abe. A lesson in diplomacy for the world.
Coupled with the rise of regional right-wingers like Toru Hashimoto in Osaka and the unstoppable juggernaut that is Shintaro Ishihara (when will the octogenarian die?!), these are very, very troubling times for the country. Is this Cool Japan?
AKB at the ASEAN summit… Did we think we’d see the day? It’s come, also confirming that they (or their successors) will almost certainly be main stage at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games opening ceremony.
As the leaders of Asia gather in Tokyo to discuss trade, borders and all that jazz, PM Shinzo Abe kicked off the bonanza by showing off Japanese culture at a special gala dinner he hosted.
Well, otaku idol mega-group AKB48 was chosen as the ambassadors of wa for reasons we can’t personally fathom other than it might match up to the government’s odd manufactured image of “cool Japan”.
We are very curious to hear what the heads of China and Korea muttered to their lackeys as they watched the “virgins” of AKB strutting their stuff. In attendance were the leaders of Vietnam, the Philippines, China, Korea, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia and more.
For the girls (i.e. the spouses of the premiers), male band Exile also performed.
The ASEAN summit marks 40 years of relations between Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP government has succeeded in passing the immensely controversial new state secrets bill, in spite of a human chain around the Diet today, a wave of protests over the past few weeks, and the opposition of most of the other parties in the parliament.
After being rushed through the Lower House, it was today approved in the Upper House Special Committee on National Security to become law.
Abe is in danger of becoming the Kishi of the new century. Nobusuke Kishi was the arrogant and impervious premier during the 1960 renewal of the Anpo security treaty with America, that was ratified in the face of massive protests across the country.
A nice summary of the bill was provided by Jake Adelstein in the Japan Times:
The first rule of the pending state secrets bill is that a secret is a secret. The second rule is that anyone who leaks a secret and/or a reporter who makes it public via a published report or broadcast can face up to 10 years in prison. The third rule is that there are no rules as to which government agencies can declare information to be a state secret and no checks on them to determine that they don’t abuse the privilege; even defunct agencies can rule their information to be secret. The fourth rule is that anything pertaining to nuclear energy is a state secret, which means there will no longer be any problems with nuclear power in this country because we won’t know anything about it. And what we don’t know can’t hurt us.
The right to know has now officially been superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.
In a time of increasing territorial tensions with China, many see the new state secrets bill as another erosion of Japan’s liberties as Abe seems to be turning the nation ever more to the right.
Japan already has a very low press freedom ranking compared to its economic status, and this looks set to plunge to the levels of China with the passing of this new bill.
Protestors worry the new bill could be used to prosecute people seeking public disclosure of sensitive information. The government disputes this and points to Article 21 in the Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, including public demonstrations.
And yet the latter has the government has hardly sold its argument well to the public. Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba likened protesting against the new act to an act of “terrorism”!
A survey by the left-leaning Asahi Shimbun showed 61% of ordinary voters are worried about the speed with which the bill has been pushed through the two parliaments, where the LDP holds a majority in both.
With the new state secrets bill about to become law, don’t expect a Japanese Edward Snowden any time soon.