Japanese factions clash over resurgence of military
Nationalists warn of China's power
By Jehangir S. Pocha,
Globe Correspondent | December 18, 2005
TOKYO -- Right-wing nationalists and leftist pacifists are clashing over the government's push to rewrite Japan's constitution and turn its Self Defense Forces into a full military capable of asserting itself overseas.
The battle is taking place amid efforts to rewrite Japanese history textbooks, to increase the use of the controversial World War II-era national anthem and the Rising Sun military flag, and to present a more sympathetic view of Japan's wartime behavior.
Right-wing political parties have mushroomed. Once politically unacceptable ideas -- including calls to resurrect the political powers of the emperor and subdue neighboring countries such as China -- have now become part of the mainstream national conversation.
A recent meeting in the heart of Tokyo of the All-Japan Patriotic Organization, an umbrella group of parties that have great sympathy for the Japanese nationalists of the 1930s and '40s, looked like the set of a World War II film.
Men in the style of the former Japanese Imperial Army and civilians in double-breasted suits with greased hair stood stiffly at attention and sang a nationalistic anthem praising their emperor. After they had finished, a group of stern-faced leaders sitting on a stage under a giant Japanese flag rose to deliver ferocious speeches about the need for Japan to rearm itself in the face of rising Chinese power.
''Pax China should be abolished," said Yano Ryuzo, the organization's newly elected president. ''We need action now, we need to build our party."
But Japanese pacifists like Watanabe Mariko, 48, the chief secretary of the Tokyo Teachers Union, are warning about the dangers of the resurgent nationalists.
'' 'Stop all this militarism,' is what I want to say to them," Mariko said, from her tiny book-lined office on the outskirts of the capital. ''All this talk of nationalism and the emperor makes me afraid that we might go back to the prewar period again."
To Mariko and other pacifists, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's plan to change Japan's postwar, US-imposed pacifist constitution by revoking Article 9, which bans Japan from possessing a military for warfare, is an ominous signal that Japan's once-aggressive chauvinism could be returning.
But to many in Japan, the push to revamp the military is a sign that 60 years after the end of World War II, numerous apologies for the atrocities committed during the war, and billions spent on aiding developing countries, Japan is finally ready to become a ''normal" nation -- one that has an army and freely uses its economic and political power to defend and further its national interests.
''We should have changed the constitution much, much earlier," said Ichita Yamamoto, chairman of the foreign relations committee in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and a close adviser to Koizumi. ''In reality, our Self Defense Forces are already the ninth-largest military in the world. The fact is Japan is not a threat to anyone. In fact we face threats, because frankly if you ask me there is a threat from China."
Although the LDP and its allies recently won a two-thirds majority in parliament, enough to change the constitution, Japan's right-wing movement isn't leaving anything to chance.
In cities such as Tokyo and Kyoto, vans adorned with Japanese army flags and military symbols and with large loudspeakers bolted to their roofs drive slowly through the streets blasting out military marches and anthems. At subway stations, volunteers distribute pamphlets calling for the country's textbooks to change their portrayal of World War II; critics say the books minimize Japan's wartime atrocities.
Mariko said her school board was under increasing pressure to allow overtly nationalistic symbols, such as the Rising Sun flag and the Japanese national anthem, to become part of regular school ceremonies.
''Education was always the most efficient way to spread nationalism, and that's what they did in the 1930s," Mariko said.
For example, she said, her father became a kamikaze pilot because he was taught by his favorite teacher about militarism and nationalism.
K Dub Shine, 34, a Japanese rapper whose music has been called the soundtrack to Japan's new militarism because of its nationalist messages, says many Japanese are tired of feeling guilty about the past and of having their country singled out for punishment.
''Of course I believe that what Japan did in Asia was bad and made the people suffer," the rapper said. ''But how much can we suffer? And weren't the British also in India and the Dutch in Indonesia and the French in Vietnam?
''And when I was in America, I learned American history, about the westward expansion. . . . Singling out Japan is racist," he asserted.
Ironically, Japan's main enemies during World War II -- the United States and Britain -- support Koizumi's plan to rearm Japan. Japan's first postwar overseas deployment of noncombat troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is helping US efforts to stabilize those countries, and the US military would like to see Japan take on a greater share of global security responsibilities.
But many Asians think Japan has never really atoned for its wartime atrocities, and their governments remain wary of allowing the country to take on a greater security role in the region. This is particularly so in China, which estimates that 35 million Chinese were killed or wounded during the Japanese occupation from 1931 to 1945.
At a pan-Asian summit last week in Malaysia, Premier Wen Jiabao of China refused to meet Koizumi and chided Japan for failing to ''own up" to its history of violence in Asia.
Chinese officials also say openly that their country worked hard to block Japan from becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council earlier this year. But in Japan, such international censure seems only to have strengthened the right-wing mood.
At the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which includes memorials to Japanese war criminals among the many war dead, attendance has soared in recent years. Koizumi himself has made controversial visits there the past several years.
Earlier this month, Yoshiro Maeda, 37, an industrial engineer in Tokyo, was among the visitors paying homage to those interred at Yasukuni. He made no secret of his admiration for Japan's wartime leaders.
''My friends and I come here to remember and honor the dead -- it's our custom," Maeda said. ''They did what they did for Japan, for us to have a better life. When I go to the museum here, I feel something in me. I hope someday I can also do something to make my country great again."
I am fully in favor of the Japanese repealing Article 9.
They know, collectively, that they can never go back to the days of the Empire. They also know that if the SHTF with China, we may be overextended elsewhere and Japan might be overrun before we have time to muster up and get there.
I cannot begrudge any democratic, sovereign nation the wish to preserve itself in the face of such threats.
A more powerful Japanese Army, Navy, and Air Force controlled by a democratic government is one of the best allies we will have in that part of the world.
I think Japan has no choice.If china builds the capacity to invade Taiwan,they will also have a capacity to invade Japan.I wouldnt be a fan of them placing any political power with the emperor,but as long as they have a constitutional republic with checks and balances,we wouldnt have anything to fear from them.
I don't disagree with you. However, it is interesting to note that there is a great deal of animosity held by the Chinese and Koreans against Japan for its actions during the 20th Century.
I think that there is a good possibility of an Arms Race. Certainly Tensions are only going to rise.
Particularly over the Gas and Oil Fields in the East China Sea and over Taiwan.