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The right to know has now officially been superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.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.
Who are all the anti-nuclear power demonstrators?
Emperor taboo-busting renegades like Taro Yamamoto? Just young hipsters or hardened veteran activists?
No, there’s plenty of ordinary folk who work in regular offices too. And they even marched in their “uniforms” to prove it.
October 30th saw a “suit demo” in which some 600 office workers rallied in Shinbashi, a real salaryman hub, in order to protest the re-starting of nuclear reactors in Japan.
The start time was 19:00, which as everyone who has ever worked for a Japanese company knows, is pretty early for people to have left their desks for the day. Still, some things are more important than finishing off their email to a colleague. These suited protestors were for once not putting in overtime at the office but instead were marching in Ginza.
Although there is a kind of cosplay-esque vibe to the “themed” demo, it is ultimately a pretty sincere attempt to convince the government that even ordinary white collar workers are concerned for the safety of atomic energy in Japan.
To start up to date with future Suit Demo events, follow the organizers on Twitter.
Non-partisan Taro Yamamoto (38) has ignited a firestorm by handing a letter directly to the Emperor of Japan while he was carrying out official duties at a garden party hosted by the Imperial Couple in Tokyo on October 31st.
Yamamoto was one of 2,140 celebrities and politicians invited to Akasaka Imperial Garden for the event. He exchanged words with the sovereign, who appeared to listen and receive the letter, before it was handed to a chamberlain, presumably for safekeeping. During the act, numerous people nearby could be seen to be surprised by what was happening and news cameras started to go berserk.
The 80-year-old, much-respected Emperor is supposed to be above politics, a constitutional monarch like the UK’s Queen Elisabeth II, and so being directly petitioned like this is unheard of. Article 4 of the Constitution states “the Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in the Constitution, and he shall not have powers related to government.”
The exact content of the letter is not yet public but it is understood to be about the anxiety about Fukushima radiation and the continuing plight of the refugees.
“I wanted to directly tell the emperor of the current situation,” Yamamoto later told reporters. “I wanted him to know about the children who have been contaminated by radiation. If this goes on, there will be serious health impacts.”
Was this a stunt or a genuine attempt to tell the Emperor what his aides no doubt keep off his mind? After all, the Emperor previously made the unprecedented move of making a TV broadcast, albeit pre-recorded, after the 2011 Tohoku disaster, and of going personally with his consort to visit the refugee shelters. He has already showed himself very sympathetic to the plight of the victims of the disaster and Yamamoto’s direct appeal is not as shocking as it might seem at first.
Yamamoto, a former actor who was forced into politics when his participation in the anti-nuclear power protests prevented him from getting work in the mainstream entertainment industry, is an unconventional and maverick figure in the dynastic, conservative world of Japanese statesmen.
After one attempt to get elected in 2012, he won a seat in the Upper House in July 2013 on a overtly anti-nuclear power platform.
Since then he has come up increasing fire from the so-called netto uyoku, right-leaning netizens, who seize on any chance to question his integrity. Recently, his divorce from his wife and his “love child” have been topics they have tried to use against him, though he has managed to steer through the shoals so far.
Might this be a step too far? Already he is facing intense criticism online and from peers, and even calls for his resignation.
Once comparison that has been drawn is with the turn-of-the-century statesman Shozo Tanaka, who made a direct petition (jikiso) to the Emperor Meiji. Tanaka was famous for his campaigning on environmental issues.
Studio Ghibli’s latest film Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises) has revealed yet another face to anime director Hayao Miyazaki, who reportedly was against the making of such film that he knew would be primarily targeted at adult audience. Yet one question comes to mind. Were any of Ghibli films from the past ever intended to entertain the younger crowd only?
I remember the first time I watched Princess Mononoke I was so scared that I literally had to turn away from the screen multiple times and as a result did not get the story at all. If he had expected a 12-year-old to fully understand the theme of the story (which I don’t think I do, even to this day) then Japan would not have needed any educational reforms over the past two decades or so. Whether he wanted it or not, Ghibli has become a brand of its own, wholly separate from the rest of anime in its realistic depictions of people and characterization.
Kaze Tachinu is a product of Miyazaki’s own struggle. The story depicts the life of an aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi most famous for designing the Zero fighter (known as zero-sen in Japanese) that was used during WWII. Miyazaki had to overcome his internal conflict of whether or not he should make a film about someone who devoted his life to designing military aircraft, which could possibly invest a sense of positive heroism in what is essentially highly-skilled creation of wartime weaponry.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that Miyazaki recently decided to talk about his own stance on the proposed amendment of Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan, long advocated by the Liberal Democratic Party, which recently regained its majority control over the House of Councilors in the election just a few weeks ago.
The above cover is the July issue of Studio Ghibli’s monthly journal Neppu. In his article Miyazaki talks extensively about how much he detested Japan as a little kid and why he objects so strongly to Prime Minister Abe’s proposed plan to change the Article 9 of the Constitution, which ostensibly states the Japan will not have any armed forces. As we know, though, due to the Cold War, the Self-Defense Force was later created as a fudge in order to give Japan some sort of army but without “belligerency”.
Miyazaki’s argument is in two parts. One: the National Constitution is not something that can be or should be amended on a whim by a shoddy government (such as the current one). Two: Article 9 and Self-Defense Forces have always “coexisted” since the end of WWII, tolerating the alleged contradiction of language for over sixty years (i.e. that Japan does not have a “military” when in fact it kind of does). If it’s a lie that has helped us stay in peace for decades then we should keep lying — at least it would be better than claiming the right of belligerency when we don’t even know exactly who we are fighting against.
(Until August 20th you can read Miyazaki’s article online for free.)
Here’s the official English translation of Article 9:
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. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Last week I was having lunch at a restaurant. At a nearby table there were a mother and her son (who was probably in his early teens). The mother was lecturing his son about why there are so many US military bases in Japan. First I was struck by the subject matter of their conversation, something I never expected to hear in a quiet restaurant on a peaceful Thursday afternoon. Yet the mother’s explanation reminded so much of Miyazaki’s argument.
“We do have our own military. What we have is the Self-Defense Forces but we can only protect our own people, but not attack enemies. So for us, it’s either a draw or a defeat. There is no victory.”
Told in a matter-of-fact way, I saw some truth to the existence of the Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in her words. To me, there doesn’t seem to be any inconsistency with Article 9.
You might have thought that communism was safe from mascots but then you’d be wrong.
The cast of eight mascots include Otento-sun, a sun who is fighting nuclear power, a purse called Gamagucchan who looks after tax reduction for ordinary households, Shiisa, an Okinawan lion dog (shisa) in charge of the issue of US bases in Okinawa, and Kakusan (“proliferation”), the leader.
The characters were used as part of the campaigning for the recent election and communist cosplay could be seen around Japan, with supporters dressed up as the characters. The idea is to make politics easier to understand and engage potential voters via digital media. (The recent elections also marked the first time that candidates were allowed to use the Internet in campaigning, indicating the things are gradually changing.) Before scoffing, we should remember that the turnout for the recent Upper House election fell several percent — so anything that raises the profile of genuine politics can’t be a bad thing.
The JCP is actually not a communist party in the true sense of the word. It does not aspire to implement communal ownership of property, nor has it done so for decades. Perhaps the most radical thing it might do if it ever gained a majority might be to re-nationalize a few things. After the war, having been heavily persecuted during the militarist era and then again by the US occupation authorities, it still tried to
It sent guerilla activists into the mountains to try to kick-start local subversion and rebellions against dam projects, but all was to no avail. It realized it was never going to get elected this way and official renounced armed struggle. It named its new identity “lovable communism” (aisaseru kyosanshugi).
Since the late Fifties it has never advocated subversive actions and its participation in the Anpo struggles in 1960 and 1970 were peaceful, as were its contribution to the anti-Vietnam War campaigns. However, for this it earned the ire of student radicals and other groups, especially for its failure to assist properly in the protests against Narita Airport and the controversial docking of a US submarine in Sasebo in 1968. A student group split from its youth movement in the late Fifties and thus began the New Left/Old Left dichotomy that essentially defined Japanese left-wing politics after the war.
Today the JCP is doing rather well. Its membership and subscription to the Akahata have risen in recent years with the fears of growing disparity in Japan since the Lost Decade began, fears which were then further exasperated by the worldwide recession that saw lots of temps laid off and soup kitchens in Tokyo. In the recent local government elections and Upper House election it made small but significant gains.
However, its protectionist policies might be baffling to some. For example, it is opposed to the increasing of consumption tax — surely the most universal and fair way to raise money for the burden of the aging population — and is against the TPP trade tariff agreement. (Actually, as a more learned commentator has pointed out, the inherent conservatism of all the parties that form the ostensible opposition to the ruling LDP, a bone fide conservative party, are all lacking in progressive, active policies.)
It should also be noted that the JCP apparently hired an ad agency to design the mascots, which hardly smacks of trying to pulling down the pillars of capitalism.
Foot-in-mouth disease strikes Toru Hashimoto again.
On Monday the brash right-wing politician shocked reporters in Osaka when he said that the so-called “comfort women” (local women forced into prostitution by colonizing Japanese military during the war in Asia) were “necessary” (hitsuyo) for the army’s discipline.
The Osaka mayor then told a story that he had advised a leading American military staffer in Okinawa recently to make use of prostitutes to prevent rapes and sexual assaults between US military personnel and Okinawans. (US military are banned from visiting brothels, and there have been perennial and notorious incidents of rape by soldiers on local women, especially in Okinawa.)
Some 200,000 women are thought to have been forced into prostitution during the war. They were mainly from China and South Korea, but also from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
China has since responded, “We are shocked and indignant at the Japanese politician’s remarks, as they flagrantly challenge historical justice and the conscience of mankind”
A Korean government spokesperson said, “The wartime violations of women is a grave violation of human rights that is widely shared by the international community. The remarks by Hashimoto reveal a serious lack of perception for women’s human rights.”
Meanwhile, Washington merely said that Hashimoto’s comments were ridiculous.
The founder of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) was formerly a TV celebrity lawyer, before turning governor of Osaka prefecture and then switching to Osaka mayor. During his regime he made his reputation for a blitzkrieg approach to streamlining the public purse, trying to reduce the size of the bankrupt city’s debts. Along the way he has made many enemies, not least the people whose budgets he dramatically cut.
He is also known for his outspoken and frequently provocative comments. In the past he has offended the teacher’s union and more recently declared war on the venerable traditional performing arts of Bunraku, one of Osaka’s few claims to high culture but which is run by a closed, heavily subsidised foundation.
He also was revealed to have had an affair with a hostess last year. He has since staked his claim on the state government by forming a national party, which quickly rose to be Japan’s third largest in the Diet after last year’s election. (For a good take on Hashimoto’s background, starting with his nomenclature, we direct readers to the superb Spike Japan post from 2012.)
Hashimoto is also no stranger to ruthless pragmatism when it comes to money, having declared interest in turning Osaka into a haven for casinos (currently not permitted under Japanese law) and reviving the old style of red light districts (officially prostitution is banned in Japan, though it is still rampant and often not even disguised).
Osaka is home to Japan’s largest community of ethnic Korean Japanese, the so-called Zainichi Kankokujin, which you would imagine should have made Hashimoto more sensitive to the topic of Japan’s imperial adventures in Asia last century. He is also a minority himself — he comes partly from the Burakumin caste, the social strata that historically were forced to live only in particular areas and do certain “undesirable” jobs. (The idiosyncrasies of the Japanese family register system recording family addresses is thus how the caste can still be traced today, despite it not ostensibly being an ethnic division.) The Burakumin may sometimes face discrimination even today, and until recently had a lot of trouble finding marriage partners outside their caste or employment in large corporations. (There is also the infamous Sayama Incident in 1963 case, where the police pinned a murder on a Bunraku caste man to cover up their own incompetence.)
Logically speaking, Hashimoto isn’t wrong. Sex, it has to be said, IS one of the best ways to maintain troop discipline far from home. People have always known this. GHQ and the Japanese government very quickly organized a local version of comfort women to keep the newly arrived American forces from raping “ordinary” women in the first few weeks of the occupation. Needless to say, the women were recruited typically from poorer backgrounds.
Saying that the comfort women were an inevitable and tragic consequence of war is not inaccurate. By a strict definition of Hashimoto’s words, they were thus “necessary” (hitsuyo) — though it is a grossly insensitive phrase.
War always brings death and abuse; no side is ever free of crime, as we are seeing today in Syria. What makes the comfort women issue different is that Japan, though having apologised for the war itself, has never paid compensation to the women that were forced into prostitution. The victims continue to campaign for recognition. The first Abe government in 2007 even went so far as to deny that there is evidence for forced prostitution having existed, which is the equivalent of Holocaust revisionism in the eyes of the Chinese et al. (And this is before we even touch on the even thornier subject of the massacre of Nanking.)
Calling the comfort women “necessary” sounds like he was condoning the practice, but I suspect Hashimoto is not as insensitive as that. He was merely speaking of grim realities — not advocating or justifying what happening. “If proof does appear, we have to apologize. At the moment, it is the opinion of the government that there is none. However, a recent Cabinet decision seemed to indicate new proof would soon appear and I think it’s good that related organizations are making efforts to gather it,” he said.
The co-leader of Hashimoto’s party, the equally provocative and strident Shintaro Ishihara (pictured below, with Hashimoto), backed up his younger peer and stated that what he had said was essentially correct.
It’s not been a good time for Japanese politicians and their propensity for gaffes. Ishihara’s successor to the governorship of Tokyo, Naoki Inose, broke Olympic rules by criticizing Tokyo’s rivals for the 2020 Games, Madrid and Istanbul, suggesting in a now infamous New York Times interview that their facilities were not up to scratch, and that in particular Islamic countries tend to fight each other. “So, from time to time, like Brazil, I think it’s good to have a venue for the first time. But Islamic countries, the only thing they share in common is Allah and they are fighting with each other, and they have classes,” he was quoted as saying.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is perhaps best remembered for making outlandish eco claims to the UN, being the first DPJ premier, and suffering the infamy of being labelled as “loopy” by the Washington Post while in office.
Hatoyama famous rode the wave of enthusiasm that ushered the DPJ into power in 2009, and then promptly screwed everything up. It soon became apparent that the new government had no concrete plans or means to implement most of its promises, perhaps most notoriously his vow to deal with a much-hated U.S. base in Okinawa.
He left office after a year and recently sided with his mentor Ichiro Ozawa over the dispute over whether to raise sales tax. He retired from politics at the end of last year.
Already oft mocked for his wealthy upbringing (he also comes from a political dynasty; his brother is a politician in the rival LDP and his grandfather was PM in the Fifties) and avian appearance, Hatoyama has now taken the brave and possibly salutary decision to visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall.
The museum commemorates the Nanking Massacre (or “Nanjing Massacre”) in December 1937, much disputed by both scholars and ultra-nationalists in Japan. It is a fact that thousands died — likely hundreds of thousands — and the Japanese government has admitted as such, but the exact numbers are a matter of debate and the whole incident is a symbol frequently cited by Chinese nationalists when they want to attack Japan.
Hatoyama’s wife, a former Takarazuka actress who took charge of her husband’s awful wardrobe during his time in power, accompanied the ex-leader on his trip, in which he wrote characters on a banner saying “fraternal peace” (yuwa aihei).
China, of course, is the original source of Japanese ideographs and it is a nice touch to the spirit of the message that is can also be universally appreciated in the so-called Kanji-ken Sinophere nations (Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China).
With border disputes dominating so much of the headlines in 2012, perhaps this is a nice gesture to start the new year?
Well, it isn’t quite clear why Hatoyama was even there (he’s not a lawmaker now so he can’t really represent Japan) and he will certainly earn only the ire of the extreme rightist groups. He has already acquired new enemies online amongst Japan’s right-leaning netizens.
Don’t come back!
This makes me angry.
This one becoming a politician was the biggest of failures.
It’s amazing that in Japan this kind of trash isn’t killed.
Just a regular guy doing calligraphy in China.
I want to wait for him at Narita and throw rotten eggs.
Hatoyama is the third former PM to visit the hall in the eastern Chinese city.
Musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Last Emperor, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence), perhaps the most respected person in the Japanese modern classical music world (or for that matter, in the entire Japanese music world), has been dedicating himself to politics of late.
Whether it’s the polemic of the environment — promoting reduced carbon emissions and green thinking — or the fundamental question of the day, nuclear power, he is much more interested in using his stature to promote public reactions to issues — rather than, say, plug CDs like AKB48 and all their cohorts.
He was one of the people behind a massive anti-nuclear power protest concert in the summer and in general has become a prominent post-3.11 dissenting voice. However, in his usual sophisticated way, rather than just being belligerant or dissenting, his appeals have always been creative and thoughtful.
The No Nukes 2012 concerts was one example and now here’s another. SKMT Social is his typically meditative and non-aggressive Tumblr blog, featuring the messages of like-minded artists, writers, actors, designers, activists, photographers… it’s an endless as the Tumblr scroll seems to be.
“From Ryuichi Sakamoto to the politicians” is how the top banner begins.
“Please do not forget Fukushima. Please make a Japan without nuclear power plants. Policitians who aspire to get rid of nuclear power plants, please co-operate. Please protect the children of Japan’s future.”
Cynics could argue that Sakamoto, who lives safely esconced away in New York and will not feel the effects of any Fukushima radiation, is in no position to make such bold statements — and every time he flies over for his events, arguably his own carbon foot print is counter-productive to any green publicity he raises — but no, let’s leave the cavils to the captious.
He has unquestionably rallied a very ecclectic and compelling selection of people for this project, including famous model Ai Tominaga and Jakucho Setouchi, probably the best known Buddhist monk in Japan.
With the recent election landslide returning the LDP to power, I think it’s safe to say that nuclear power — and for that matter, all interests of big business — are going to be protected for some time to come. This is why the voices of Sakamoto et al are so vital for providing some necessary dynamic protest.
It’s also fascinating how Tumblr, Twitter and social media are playing such an important role in the anti-nuclear power movement. In the same way, communication media was essential during the last movements major periods of civilian dissent in Japan, such as the Beheiren anti-Vietnam War movement and the campus protests of the Sixties, in both of which television and leaflets (bira) assumed prominent roles.
Former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara launched his new political party yesterday, The Taiyo no To (The Sunrise Party), ahead of the Lower House elections anticipated to be held soon.
The name and the logo are clearly milking the nostalgia that has kept Ishihara popular with Baby Boomers and still in office after all these controversial years.
Ishihara wrote a (very bad) novella in the Fifties called Taiyo no kisetsu (Season of the Sun) about young rich brats fooling around on Shonan beaches, boxing, drinking and chasing skirt.
It made its author a star, as well as his brother, who starred in the movie version. Together they became icons of the so-called Taiyo-zoku “Sun Tribe”: happy-go-lucky dandies laughing in the face of post-war austerity.
The same generation who lapped up the “rebellious” frolics of Season of the Sun then enjoyed the fruits of Japan’s economic and cultural recovery, seemingly crowned and symbolized most neatly first by the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and then by the World Expo in 1970, held in Suita, north Osaka.
The visionary event, until recently the most attended and successful World Expo ever (over 60 million visitors!), was overseen by such people as artist Taro Okamoto (a political opposite of Ishihara) and architect Kenzo Tange.
Still standing in the Osaka park today is the Tower of the Sun (pictured above, left), Okamoto’s incredible ethnographical and quasi-primitive toten pole, and one of the most famous of the expo’s many structures and exhibitions.
Ishihara’s party’s logo seems to be a rather faux copy of Okamoto’s design and has already come in for particular criticism from Japan’s netizens, with many seeing the obvious similarities with the Tower of the Sun, not to mention Kojima, a discount electronics store, and even a packaging for a Morinaga yoghurt.