A Question of Cannibalism
木曜日, 4月 07, 2005

Inventing Japan - Part 2

OK, I finished the book, and it certainly was penetrating, oh yeh, and thankfully concise.

I think history is for the most part empty facts and figures useful only for trivial pursuit games, but it obviously also offers us the chance to learn from our mistakes. What is history if not a series of seemingly never-ending mistakes? I guess it's pretty frustrating when you can see the same mistakes repeated time after time. I think some smart guy once said, "Experience is that wonderful thing that lets us recognise a mistake when we make it again".

So I think I left off just before a minor skirmish known as WWII.

Around the time Japan was moving further into China, nationalism was once again boiling over thanks to the press and the 'national polity', which was the idea i mentioned before about japanese people all being as one with the emperor and standing for the nation. There was still a lot of mostly imagined grudges towards Western bullying, and then the US stopped supplying military materiel to Japan to stop it from completely killing China. Japan got pretty pissed off and joined the Axis. They still couldn't do much without oil etc, so some bright spark came up with the plan of attacking the US before it became impossible, leading to certain defeat. In fact, most of the planners knew that Japan couldn't win but they wanted to hammer the Allies as hard as they could to push for a more favourable settlement/peace treaty. In typical Japanese fashion, anyone who was quite strongly against this idea was too unsure of themselves to speak out, and so the hawks won the day and they bombed Pearl Harbour, leading, worst of all, to a terrible movie 60 years later. At the time a lot of Japanese people were pretty chuffed about having finally scored a big blow against the Western bullies.


Ironically, Japan then tried to enforce its own uniqueness, as expressed in the national polity, on its foreign subjects, in order to create some kind of pan-Asian empire. For example, Koreans and Taiwanese were forced to take Japanese names and Burmese/Filipinos etc were fed the samurai spirit in textbooks. (More on this in the reply to Dirk's post in Part 1 below).

It wasn't working so well, because the US was right on Japan's doorstep and bombing the shit through its front door. Tokyo was very badly hit, in many parts reduced to ruins. The pride of the Japanese didn't waver, though (officially, anyway). The great Japanese suicide attack came to the fore here, and even civilians were expected to kill themselves rather than surrender. Nationalism was being milked for all it was worth, not for the first, and not for the last time in Japanese history (or history anywhere in the world, for that matter. A lot of people have won a lot of elections based on conservative scare-mongering).


The emperor, by this stage, was considering offering peace, but the US declined to guarantee the continuance of the imperial throne (although they did promise, as they often do, democracy and the Japanese people's right to choose their leaders), and obviously surrender might have been seen as a weak option, so he held out. Then the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Faced with the most devastating attack ever (which, to look at the bright side, at last gave him an excuse), Hirohito surrendered.

General MacArthur showed up in his aviator sunglasses (the image was so striking, to this day I get called MacArthur if I dare to wear any) in August 1945 to supposedly educate the poor children of Japan. He got to it quickly, setting up a parliamentary democracy, although leaving in place most of the bureaucracy. Free speech was one of the pillars of the new order, but predictably it didn't happen so smoothly in practice, as any criticism of the new domination was banned, as was such diverse literature as Steinbeck, for portraying American poverty (I mean, your new colonial dominators can't be seen as having faults, surely?).


There were lots of war crimes trials and executions, but Hirohito escaped any blame, probably because MacArthur wanted to use his imperial legitimacy to make his own position more respectable. This made the trials somewhat farcical, because all the war had been conducted under the national polity of which the Emperor was the embodiment and standard. He did later, as Buruma puts it, 'renounce his divinity', and allowed for a new constitution to be written. The most controversial parts wer Article 1 (about the status of the Emperor) and the infamous Article 9, which proscribed Japan from having any armed forces.

Article 9 has been a very problematic issue for Japan. While it does promote the idealistic notion of a completely pacific nation, it also means that that nation has to rely totally on external sources for defence. In Japan today a lot of opinions are getting spouted around of how to amend this Article, and it looks like it will be changed in the forseeable future to allow not only for self-defence, but now also for collective self-defence, such as pre-emptive wars into other sovereign states as required by certain countries upon who Japan has seen as its 'foster parents' for nor arguaby 150 years and has to rely upon for protection. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Korean war began in 1950, and although Japan, having no army, couldn't take part, it did supply US forces with materiel. Despite the wishes of MacArthur and seemingly in opposition to the new constitution, a Japanese 'police reserve' was created by the US, which was basically a self-defence force, and in fact became the capitalised Self Defence Force that still causes legal trouble today. In 1951, MacArthur fell out of favour with his political masters, and got the boot, and Japan and the US signed peace and security treaties later that year.

This meant that although Japan now had the reins in its own hands, it was still officially totally reliant on the US for protection, so it allowed US forces to hang around effectively for ever and keep the peace. Today US bases in Kanagawa and Okinawa are producing no end of scandal and controversy: rape, helicopter crashes etc.

Although liberal politics were rife immediately following the war's end, by the late 1940s, and certainly by the 50s, they were falling out of favour as there was backlash against socialist economic policies. Voices from the right began growing and denying that Japan had been so bad in the war after all.

The aforementioned Mr Yoshida was in a constant battle with a former war criminal and nationalist, Nobusuke Kishi, for head of the powerful conservative party, ironically named the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP quickly learned about party politics and how to win: ie, corruption, graft, and keeping the fat cats in big business happy. The LDP even today remains a seesaw of various factions supporting various interests, and for the large part has stifled much political debate. Recently the Social Democrats did a bit better in elections so maybe there is hope for the future.

Anyway, eventually (1957) Kishi became PM, and he didn't much like the constitution or the fact that the US looked like they would be around for ever as a military presence. He did what he could to get more favourable conditions, but in the end his own efforts came up to off him, because the conditions weren't favourable enough to suit radical patriots he himself had stirred up, and he was forced out in 1960. In came a dude named Hayato Ikeda, who would sort some things out that continue to both haunt and comfort Japan today.


Ikeda, in great Japanese tradition, wanted to avoid difficult issues, so he attempted to brush consitutional politics aside and keep the people happy with that most addictive of drugs: money. He did this by initimidating leftist unions and setting up the much-maligned modern system of lifelong employment for loyal workers, as well as the equally maligned phenomenon of never-ending public works projects. This stimulated the economy while keeping the people quiet.

Ikeda's policy in large part led to Japan's huge economic revival and leap to superpower status. But it also led to an allegedly valueless, nihilistic android population, which in turn led to sarin attacks on the Tokyo subways, intended to wake up the dead Japanese and revive their proud heritage. The feeling that the people have lost something important comes out in conversations with many Japanese adults, who, spurred by ranting politicians around the bubble years, seem to find that youths of today lack sufficient national pride. Which of course was one of the carrots thrown by earlier militaristic leaders to spur their people to war, especially in times of comparative economic stagnation. Does this bring us round full circle? Again?

Although, like I said, Japanese politics tend to be pretty dull, there are a lot of things on the table at the moment that could have big political effects. PM Koizumi's pet project, the privatisation of the postal industry, is always a big talking point in economic terms and as a radical tradition-breaking reform, but I think its real value may lie in its effects on politics. People seem to finally be getting annoyed at the LDP and its factionalisation that results in political stagnation, and Koizumi's attempts to force through the privatisation against grumpy bureaucrats might give people the impetus they need to realise this and vote in somebody else. Whether this will change anything at at all, you can only wait and see.

Japan is gunning for permanent member status on the UN, which is interesting but I don't know how important it will be or what effects it might have. It is giving anti-Japanese in Korea and China an excuse to mouth off about past events and the perennial textbook issue, though. Check out Dirk's post below (Part 1) for more there.

Anyway, thanks for sticking around this long. I basically wrote this to clarify my own comprehension of the book and also hopefully to stir a bit of debate. You've got to be careful sometimes being the only pinky in a room full of Japanese and telling them why their country is crazy. So write in. It's not Dr Love, but it might be interesting. 
For too long, puritanical love-monkeys have been talking ill of one of our little planet's most time-honoured gastronomical past-times. Have YOUR say in reclaiming your right to eat your friends. If god had meant us not to eat human flesh, why did he make it so damn tasty?

場所: Perth, Australia

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