Tag Archives: Diaoyu

Shintaro Ishihara, sigh

So, Shintaro Ishihara, Governor of Tokyo since 1999, probably Japan’s most famous right-wing politician, has announced today that he is stepping down as Governor so he can start a new political party with fellow right-wingers. In the BBC article you can read here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20078481, it states:

‘The veteran politician is known for making controversial and nationalistic comments.’

Well, that’s the understatement of the day. The man has made a career out of it. Gov. Ishihara probably came to the attention of a lot of people outside Japan when he published the book ‘The Japan That Can Say No’ in 1989, which argued that Japan should stand up to the US and forge a new kind of relationship, since the one that existed was born out of the post-war occupation and was more like a parent and child. He argued that Japan should interact with the US differently, since it was no longer the defeated country it had been in 1945. He  had already been a well-known person in Japan for many years by then, having won a prestigious literary award before he had even graduated from university. The novel was made into a film (from a screenplay he wrote himself) and featured his brother in one of the roles.

He entered politics in 1968, and was active in national politics for over 25 years. Although he was always a popular politician, he never led his own faction within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and failed in his bid to become the leader of the party. He resigned from national politics in 1995 right after the Aum sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway and in 1998 ran as an independent candidate for the Governorship. Since then he has made a career of being an equal-opportunities offender, regularly making comments that one or more section of society finds objectionable. He is always unrepentant and as far as I know he has never apologised, though he has sometimes attempted to parse his utterances into something less offensive or to hone his attack on one particular group.

I am loathe to start quoting his offensiveness here, since it is easy to track down elsewhere on the Internet, but it is fair to say that he has reserved some of his most objectionable comments for China. As Governor he also went out of his way to irritate Beijing, e.g. by inviting the President of Taiwan or the Dalai Lama to Tokyo. Most recently he was the instigator of the disagreement over the Senkaku / Diaoyu Islands. He announced in April that he wanted to buy the Senkaku Islands from the private Japanese citizen who somehow claimed to own them, and raised a large amount of money from private donations to do so. To prevent him from doing this the national government bought the islands instead, and from there we get to the situation we find ourselves in today, which I wrote about in a previous post, https://tokyopurplegirl.com/2012/10/13/senkaku-diaoyu/.

Shintaro Ishihara, as leader of his own political party, is probably hoping to challenge the established parties in the general election that has to be held by the end of 2013. While it has been unpleasant to have him as the Governor of this great city, the idea of him as the face of Japan on the international stage as Prime Minister of Japan is worse. The man is a bigot. He has said deeply offensive things about the people and cultures of many countries; about women; about gay people. He has denied history and said last year that the tsunami was ‘divine punishment’ for Japan’s greed and materialism.

In his announcement of his resignation as Governor, he singled out the language of the Japanese Constitution as being ‘ugly Japanese . . . imposed by the occupying army’ and has criticised what he sees as the pacifist aspect of the Constitution, commonly known as Article 9, in which Japan renounced war and the means to wage it. The Japanese Self Defence Forces (SDF) are in direct contradiction to this. Article 9 has been under attack for a number of years, and there are grassroots groups all over Japan, some affiliated with religious groups of different faiths, some secular, but all working to protect it. A Japan with Shintaro Ishihara as the leader of a major party or the Prime Minister would put Article 9 in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, Ishihara is also a skilled politician, he knows how to tap into populist sentiments, and since he has been elected as Tokyo’s Governor four times there are clearly a lot of people who agree with him or are at least willing to give him their vote. However, he is divisive and offensive, and I shudder to think how he would impact Japan’s relations with its neighbours in Asia and beyond, to the rest of the world.

Yasukuni – what’s the problem?

Last week, some of Japan’s leading politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition, visited Yasukuni Shrine (靖国神社) in Tokyo. Following the visits, there was a negative reaction from other countries in Asia. It’s the kind of story that rolls around every so often; the visit and then the objections.

Why do some Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni? And why does it anger other countries in Asia?

First of all, some background to what Yasukuni Shrine is. There are many Shinto shrines in Tokyo and throughout Japan; some are grand and imposing, many are neighbourhood shrines. The grandest of all in Tokyo is Meiji Jingu (明治神宮), but Yasukuni is also very big. It was built in 1869 under the Emperor Meiji, and is the principal place where the souls of those who died fighting for the emperor are enshrined, though there are others. Currently there are almost two and a half million souls enshrined there, and more are added every year. The majority of those enshrined are fallen soldiers, but also included are other categories of civilians including women and children; people caught in the crossfire in any way; conscripted to work in factories for the war effort and people interned in POW camps. Yasukuni is separate from the state and the priests there make the decision about who is enshrined there.

The controversies:

One controversy which we hear about sometimes in Japan is connected to the conscripted workers who are enshrined there. The families of these workers in some cases do not want their ancestors enshrined there; some are not Japanese but Korean or Chinese. Despite requests that their ancestors’ souls (神) be removed, Yasukuni refuses to do so. The reason given is that all the souls are enshrined together and it’s impossible to separate them.

The controversy which was re-played last week is because by visiting the shrine and paying their respects there, the politicians were in part paying their respects to a number of Class A war criminals, executed or imprisoned after the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. There is an underlying friction which South Korea and China react to; it reappears with every new textbook approved which doesn’t address Japan’s wartime behaviour to their satisfaction, with any action by the Japanese government which reminds their Asian neighbours of their past aggression, and with every official visit made by politicians to Yasukuni. The countries who were invaded during the 1930s and 1940s, who were on the receiving end of Japan’s militarism which only ended with Japan’s defeat in August 1945 feel, to put it bluntly, that Japan has form. Japan, for its part, maintains that in defeat it made reparations and there is nothing further to be answered to or done.

I have been to Yasukuni a number of times. It’s a good place to view the cherry blossoms in the spring, though as I write that after all that is above it seems like a flimsy reason to go there. About fifteen years ago I visited the museum there, and it was an uncomfortable experience. I didn’t read every scrap of information there, so I can’t write with any authority about how much is condones Japan’s militarism. What has stuck with me is seeing the submarine version of a kamikaze plane. It was a chilling thing to see, to imagine how many young lives were ended under the water or in the air. I also walked past the entrance to Yasukuni quite often when I used to attend the Lutheran church in Iidabashi. Sunday is the day all the extreme right-wing hobbyists favour for their outings in their black trucks, riding round blaring military music and yelling their demands for the return of the northern islands (now part of Russia) among other things. I often saw a lot of military-garbed men standing around, and it was a menacing sight.

Of course, every country has a right and a duty to honour the sacrifices made by previous generations, and just because Japan was defeated does not mean they have no right to do that. But it is also true that the Japanese military did some terrible things, and that these things are not always taught clearly to the generations that have followed is hurtful to the countries whose citizens and soldiers suffered and were killed. It is always a balancing act, and really, can anyone say that they were taught the dark side of their own country’s historical adventures? Being British, I know I can’t.

But this is the place some politicians choose to visit. The Prime Minister had asked his cabinet members to refrain from visiting, yet two of them did last Thursday, just one day after the newly-elected leader of an opposition party (former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) did the same. With Japan already embroiled in disputes with both China and South Korea over islands (Senkaku / Diaoyu with China and Takeshima / Dokdo with South Korea), these politicians visited knowing what the reactions would be.

And so they reacted. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said, ‘China’s position on this issue has been clear-cut and consistent: we urge the Japanese side to face squarely and reflect upon history and strictly abide by its solemn statements and pledges regarding historical issues, and face the international community in a responsible manner.’ The South Korean Foreign Ministry responded with, ‘It is really regrettable to hear about the irresponsible behaviour that ignores the feelings of the people in neighbouring countries, who have been victimised by Japanese imperialism in the past.’

So predictable. So avoidable. Just because you have the right to do something, should you, if by doing it you further damage relations with your neighbours? Is it worth it?

Senkaku? Diaoyu?

Japan and China (and Taiwan) are currently embroiled in a dispute about who has sovereignty over a group of very small islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku Islands in Japanese, known to Chinese speakers as the Diaoyu Islands. You can read about the background to this dispute on the BBC website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-11341139 but this morning there was an article in the Daily Yomiuri about the so-called ‘propaganda war’ both China and Japan are engaged in, domestically, but also internationally. Since someone had told me earlier in the week that Japanese TV news reports refer to the islands as the ‘Senkaku Islands, Okinawa Prefecture’ this caught my attention.

The current situation is the same as it has been for weeks now; Japan has Coast Guard boats patrolling around the islands, while China and Taiwan continue to send their Coast Guards to the disputed area to play cat-and-mouse with their Japanese counterparts. Taiwan has also sent fishing boats and there have also been boatloads of Taiwanese journalists. On at least one day the Coast Guards have circled each other firing their water canon at each other. Vaguely ridiculous, but since it could escalate very easily so it’s also rather scary. The newspaper article refers to this daily tension as ‘steady’.

Clearly, since I am in Tokyo and reading about this in a Japanese newspaper, the language (and editorial content) favours the Japanese view. So I can read this morning that ‘Beijing began a large-scale propaganda campaign to win over international opinion’ while ‘Foreign Ministry officials have been explaining Japan’s position on the Senkaku issue to officials at various embassies in Tokyo and in the overseas media’ including an appearance on American TV by a Japanese diplomat. At government level, the latest salvo is the refusal of the Chinese Finance Minister, the People’s Bank of China governor and other assorted Chinese bank representatives to attend the annual IMF and World Bank meetings being held in Tokyo. Since the Chinese economy is the 2nd largest in the world this is clearly going to affect what can be discussed there and sounds like A Big Deal.

However, this is the same kind of thing we have been hearing for a while, so I was more interested in the information in the article about the ramifications of the row. According to the article, sales of Japanese-made cars in China in September dropped 40.8% compared to last year, and 66,000 seats on Japan-China routes booked for the period from September to November have been canceled. Roughly two thirds of those seats were on ANA flights, one third were on JAL. These numbers don’t just mean flights canceled; each one is a tourist who won’t come to Japan and  spend money here. It’s also 66,000 lost opportunities for Chinese and Japanese people to connect with each other, and that is a real pity. Clearly, this could have serious implications for Japan; you can see the official statistics on the Japan Tourism Marketing site, http://www.tourism.jp/english/statistics/inbound.php. According to these numbers, that 66,000 will make a big dent in the number of tourists coming from China. Elsewhere I have found that Japan has the third largest travel and tourist economy in the world, and that was badly impacted last year after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency at Fukushima Dai-ichi, when tourism was down 28% from 2010.

Serious stuff. Although it only takes one hothead with a gun on one of those Coast Guard boats (from any of the 3 countries) to make this so much more serious, while those boats are bobbing about firing water canon at each other the economic ramifications are already serious. I don’t have the solution, but I hope this grandstanding, whether it is ‘propaganda’ or ‘explaining a stance’ somehow becomes diplomatic negotiations to resolve this stand-off.