A Debate over Self Defense
It is an
only-in-Japan kind of debate since Japan is the only important country in the
world that has as part of its constitution a clause (the famous Article 9)
which quite frankly prohibits the country from having any army, navy or air
force or exercising force in any international dispute.
is currently embroiled in a huge domestic argument over whether it can legally
act as a fully-fledged alliance partner with the United States or any other
country in which it has a close relationship and common security concerns.
the charter, Japan has over the years, developed a formidable armed force, known
euphemistically as the “Self-Defense Forces”, but their operations are still constrained
by a legal framework that imposes some of the tightest restrictions on the
military of any other country.
1991, for example, Japan has participated in various peacekeeping missions
abroad, starting with Cambodia. It also takes part in anti-piracy patrols in
the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia.
However, if a neighboring peacekeeping force from another nation, say
Norway, came under attack from terrorists, Japan would be legally constrained
from coming to their rescue.
Minister Shinzo Abe wants to change this. For one thing in comports with his
own personal desire to make Japan a “normal nation”, one that exert force like
any other nation. But it also comes from heightened sense of danger from North
Korea’s nuclear ambitions to China’s territorial claims.
the concern was a recent incident in which China scrambled two advanced fighter
jets to fly within 50 meters of two unarmed Japanese patrol air craft that were
monitoring a joint China-Russia fleet exercise in the East China Sea near the
disputed Senkaku/Daioyu islands. Beijing brushed off protests from Tokyo.
wants his cabinet to declare by the end of the current session of parliament in
late June that so-called “collective self-defense” (that is aiding an ally)
conforms with the constitution. He wants this done soon so it can form part of
the negotiations with the U.S. in developing a new understanding of their
respective roles in the defense of Japan, the first time these guidelines have
been revised in 20 years.
keynote speech at the Shangri-la Dialoge on security matter last weekend in
Singapore, Abe said “it was incumbent on us in Japan to reconstruct the legal
basis pertinent to the right of collective self-defense.” US Secretary of
Defense Chuck Hagel publically backed Abe. “We support Japan’s new effort,” he
Most of the
American security establishment supports collective defense by Japan and is not
overly concerned about what obstacles Abe has navigate to get there. President
Barack Obama himself issued a statement during his April visit to Japan
supporting Abe’s proposed changes.
may have trouble getting his way. Public opinion polls show a public evenly
split on the overall issue with a still strong pacifistic element in the
electorate that worries that any change will send Japan down a slippery slope
towards the militarized Japanese state of the 1930-40s.
other hand, the same polls show broader support when asked about specific
contingencies, such as whether a Japanese warship can legally come to the aid
of an American ship in danger by an attack of North Korean patrol boats, for
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has a commanding majority in parliament as a
result of the party’s smashing victory in the 2012 general election, but it is
a curious position where the “loyal opposition” is coming not from the
opposition parties themselves but from within the governing coalition itself.
is allied with New Komeito, the political arm of a Japanese Buddhist sect that has
strong pacifistic tendencies. Abe’s whole political efforts for the present are
directed at trying to overcome the Komeito party’s scruples over collective
self-defense, which the party leaders mainly oppose.
pushes ahead without making major concessions to Komeito’s concerns, it is
possible that the Buddhist party might leave the coalition. Abe is loath to let
that happen. It is partly for purely practical terms, as the Komeito alliance
helps the LDP win elections, but also fear that it might imperil its other
initiatives to strengthen the economy, known as “Abenomics”
knows from his previous short stint in office (2006-2007) that he can be
politically punished if he is perceived as being more interested in promoting his
own pet security ideas than he is in fixing the economy and other issues that
the public thinks more directly impacts their livelihoods.
now, the prime minister has had to modify his goals and has adopted a strategy
of listing specific examples calling for use of collective self-defense, such
as intercepting a North Korean ballistic missile aimed at American assets or
territory, that the Komeito may find acceptable.
opposition also comes from those, including some in Abe’s own party, who
believe that any such significant change to the constitution should be made by
amendment, not by the unilateral decision of a the cabinet that may be in
office for only a few years.
constitution, written by American occupiers in 1946, has never been amended
because no party has ever had the necessary two-thirds majority in both houses
of parliament to refer an amendment to a national referendum. Despite Abe’s commanding majority (even
without Komeito) in the lower house, it doesn’t have the votes in the upper
Godzilla at 60
hardly a day over 60 million, Godzilla turned 60 this year, brought back to
life as Hollywood resuscitated the slumbering giant monster and turned what had
been and is a Japanese icon into an American smash hit of global proportions.
The new Godzilla is a reboot of the franchise
which set a record of earning $196 million in its first weekend when it opened
in May, putting it on track to becoming one of the highest grossing movies of the
summer if not all time.
movie was produced by Legendary Pictures in partnership with Warner Brothers
and on license from Toho Productions, the Japanese studio that invented
Godzilla in 1954 and produced another 27 movies featuring the stomping giant
until retiring from active production in 2004.
production history makes Godzilla the longest running franchise in film
history, and, given the success of the American sequel in rejuvenating a tired brand,
it may be on track for another 50-year run.
is not the first American version. Tri-Star State Pictures produced its own Godzilla in 1998, but it failed to catch
on. This older version was so poorly received that it may have damaged the
brand, as no other follow up was attempted until this year’s version, 16 years
the 2014 version has a storyline of its own, it is faithful to many of the
familiar Godzilla tropes. It (Godzilla
is neither male or female) is born out of and sustained by nuclear radiation,
in this case a Japanese nuclear power plant; it stomps through cities smashing
buildings right and left (Las Vegas) and culminates in a battle with another
monster, Muto (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism).
Toho Productions released its first Godzilla in 1954 (the name is an English
version of the Japanese Gojira linking
the words for gorilla and whale), it did not know that it would be producing
one of the most instantly and universally recognized icons of Japanese culture.
Nor did they know that they would be making a long-standing series.
no plans for a sequel in 1954,”recalled the late Ishiro Honda, Godzilla’s initial director in an
interview before he died. Indeed, the monster is killed off in the first movie.
(never an obstacle to reviving the him in subsequent productions).The Toho
Productions soon changed its mind, and the second film, Godzilla the Fire Monster was made and released the next year.
reviews of Godzilla were cool. Some
dismissed it is “junk.” Yet, the original has now come to be ranked as one of
the best 20 Japanese movies of all time, up there with Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, which, coincidentally,
was released the same year. In 2004 Godzilla achieved the ultimate accolade when
his name was placed on a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
of the original Godzilla was inspired by a headline event in the spring of
1954. A Japanese fisherman whose boat, the Lucky
Dragon-5, was hit by radioactive fallout from an American H-bomb test over
the Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, died of Leukemia. By autumn Gojira was trading on the audiences’
twin fears of prehistoric carnivores and modern nuclear arms, it being only
nine years removed from the Hiroshima bombings.
since, nuclear radiation has played some role in subsequent movies. Indeed, it
was one condition of Toho’s granting a license that it somehow involve nuclear
radiation, which is why the revived Godzilla
is born in a Japanese nuclear power plant in the new version.
never a “message” movie per se, the Godzilla series have been attuned to the
current pulse of Japanese. In Godzilla
versus King Ghidora (1991) the rampaging reptile turned his attention to
ostentatious displays of wealth in the Bubble Economy era by obliterating the
new 60-story Tokyo city hall, usually accompanied by cheers from the audience,
monster has actually grown in height as Tokyo’s skyline has risen. In the first
movie, he was about 50 meters tall. That was roughly the height of the highest
Ginza building at the time of the film was made. He has gradually grown to
nearly 100 meters in height as more high rise buildings dotted Tokyo’s skyline,
and the new American version makes him, a little over 100 meters, the tallest
version in the series.
many people assume that Godzilla, the name and figure, are in the public
domain, the fact is that Toho is just as aggressive in defending its copyright
and trademarks as Disney is in protecting Mickey Mouse. Anyone thinking to add
the suffix “zilla” to a product name can expect to receive a cease and desist
letter from Toho’s Los Angeles-based law firm, Greenberg Gluskar,
this week a New Orleans brewery agreed to change the name of one of its new
beers from Mechahopzilla by the end of the year after it was sued by these same
attorneys acting for Toho. The studio had sued New Orleans-based Lager &
Ale Brewing Company claiming the name and logo were copycats of Godzilla’s monster
opponent of that name. Mechahopzilla figures in some Godzilla movies.
litigation has kept Godzilla’s brand thriving and has helped to pave the way
for extremely lucrative commercial and merchandising tie-ins that will accompany
the monster’s return to the big screen. Japan itself is dotted with numerous
Godzilla -themed products from jigsaw puzzles to T-shirts. Godzilla’s image is
for sale, but you have to pay for it.
Godzilla has, of course, already been
released in the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. But curiously, Japanese
will have to wait more than a month to see their favorite monster back in the theater,
as it isn’t scheduled to hit the big screens in Japan until July 25.
A Coup with a Difference
actually got the news in a telephone call from Japan, which is two hours ahead
of Thailand. “There’s been a coup!” my wife exclaimed after answering the phone.
“Where”? I asked stupidly. “Here in Thailand.” We turned on the television to
get more news, but every channel was just showing file footage of the King.
how I came to learn of the coup d’etat in 2006 that toppled the regime of
former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Eight years later the Royal Army has
seized power again, for the umpteenth time since the country ended the absolute
monarchy in 1932. That begs a question: how does this one differ from the 2006
coup might be described as a “soft” coup. Only about half a dozen close aides
to the deposed Thaksin were detained (Thaksin himself was outside of the
country addressing the UN General Assembly and has remained in exile). The
current coup seems to be much “harder.’ As of this writing some 250 people,
including the former premier Yingluck Shinawatra have been detained.
time the military government of Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has spread its net far
wider, not just detaining members of the cabinet and the Thaksin family, but
retired generals thought to be sympathetic to the government and, more
ominously, opinion leaders like academics and some journalists who have written
in support of democracy in Thailand.
leaders also detained some prominent “yellow shirt” opponents of the
government, including its main protest leader, Suthep Thaungsuban but later
released them. The generals have darkly warned that more detentions are
possible if there is continuing resistance to the new junta.
current coup seems to have been planned more carefully than the earlier one. It
came in stages, with the army first declaring martial law and then two days
later seizing the reins of the government. Certain specified broadcasters were
shut down during the short martial law under orders which were later extended
to most of the independent stations.
In 2006 the
“red shirt” movement did not exist. There had been large-scale anti-Thaksin
demonstrations in Bangkok by Thaksin opponents who would later be called the
yellow shirts. At the time though, there was no need for a pro-Thaksin movement
as he was in charge of the government.
then the red shirt movement has expanded enormously, made up predominantly of
the underclass of Thais from the country’s north and northeast who benefitted
from Thaksin’s populist policies. They put thousands of supporters on the
streets and occupied central Bangkok in 2010 in an unrest that resulted in 90 protestors
being killed mostly at the hands of the army.
is a conscript army, and many of the soldiers come from the parts of the
country and social strata that have proved to be the Thaksin-red shirt base. It
is not improbable that Gen. Prayuth felt obliged to act the way out of concern
over the possibility of mutiny in the army if soldiers were ordered to fire on
protestors and the ultimately, civil war.
difference is that after the 2006 coup, the army operated behind a civilian
front, talked a lot about reforming the constitution and held out the prospect
of a return to democracy. Prayuth has, for the moment, named himself as prime
minister, and he has said the junta will remain in power “indefinitely.” He seems more interested in some kind of
long-term reconciliation than restoring democracy any time soon.
be inevitable considering Thailand’s difficult recent history with elections. Thailand
doesn’t need to restore democracy per se; it needs to develop a civil society
in which elections count, and where the results are accepted by the country,
both by the winners and losers. That hasn’t been the case in Thailand for a
the new Thai military junta is looking more and more like the one that ruled
Myanmar for years. Its official title – the National Council for Peace and
Order - even seems to echo the name the Burmese generals picked for themselves
in 1988: State Law and Order Restoration council (SLORC).
royal succession is eight years closer than it was in 2006, and Thailand is
eight years closer to a new crisis on top of a crisis. In that earlier coup the
leader of the coup was photographed prostrating himself before the monarch. So
far, Gen, Prayuth has not been seen with the King, although he claims that the
coup has the King’s support.
the King was still relatively healthy. Now 86, it has been many years since he
was well enough to assert any influence. The likely successor, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn,
is not popular; his sister Crown Princess Maha is popular, but may find it
difficult to win army support for a queen-regnant. Thailand hasn’t had a female
ruler from the current Chakri dynasty line that stretches back more than 200
economy weaker it was in 2006. Many in the business community welcomed the coup
as providing needed stability. But eight years of yellow-shirt versus red shirt
strife have taken their toll. Many Japanese businessmen for example, remember
being left stranded in Thailand in 2008 when the yellow shirts stormed and shut
down the two main airports in Bangkok.
critical tourist industry has had to operate against the backdrop of violence,
often in the center of in the capital that is home to many expats. Numerous
travel advisories issued by various foreign governments have discouraged
tourism. In this instance some countries have gone beyond merely advising
caution and unnecessary trips to Thailand to flatly advising their citizens to
other difference. The 2006 coup was seen by everyone to be a major failure, not
so much in terms of individual oppression, but in simple mal-administration of
the government. Everyone on all sides was happy to see it go. It remains to be
seen whether this new crew will be any better. People are hoping so but not
counting on it.
this scenario: China decides to erect another offshore oil digging rig this
time on waters in the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines. It surrounds
the rig with numerous coast guard and “fishing” vessels. Manila calls for help
from its good, long-time alliance partner the United States. But it also
appeals for help to another “close ally” - Japan.
embroiled in an increasingly dangerous standoff with China over a bunch of
uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, could Japan be dragged into the
South China Sea cauldron too? It is by no means far-fetched to speculate on
this possibility depending on how Tokyo ultimately defines the nation’s right
to “collective self-defense.”
self-defense is a military term created by Japanese legal scholars several
decades ago, relating to policies that basically prohibit Japanese armed forces
from firing on any foreign armed forces save for one that might be directly
invading the home islands of Japan itself. It served Japan well during the Cold
War era, but the prohibition is weakening due to the increasingly changing
nearby security situation.
month a fourteen-member government panel appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
released its much anticipated report, calling on Japan to significantly modify
its definition of self-defense under its pacifistic constitution to permit
Japanese armed forces, if necessary, to fight alongside its formal ally or any
country with which has a “close relationship” .
seems to be deliberately ambiguous, as it could be argued that Tokyo maintains
a “close relationship” with many countries. For example, Tokyo and Canberra
have recently signed a defense logistics agreement for the “close cooperation
between the [Japan] Self-Defense Forces and Australian Defense Forces.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was invited to be the first foreign leader to attend
a meeting of Japan’s new National Security Council during a recent visit to
Tokyo. India and Japan touted their close relationship during Abe’s state visit
last January, punctuated by the sale of Japanese-made amphibious patrol
aircraft to India. Japan is also planning to sell 10 vessels to augment the
Philippine Coast Guard.
Philippine ambassador to Japan, Manuel Lopez, seemed to be anticipating some
kind of future alliance with Japan when he told Kyodo news service this week
that his country should bolster maritime cooperation with Japan as well as the
US to deter China’s growing assertiveness at sea. Being essentially
defenseless, the Philippines needs the help of countries such as the U.S. and
Japan. “[Japan’s] experience in maritime matters will certainly be a great help
to us,” Lopez said.
bubbling tensions in the South China Sea, where China and Vietnam are involved
in a dangerous standoff over an oil rig that Hanoi claims is in its 200-mile economic exclusion
zone (EEZ) serves as a backdrop to Japan’s decisions on legalizing what it
considers its UN-chartered right to help defend allies under an armed attack.
report, the Advisory Panel on the Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for
Security stated that one of the scenarios for collective self-defense would be
“when a foreign country that is in a close relationship with Japan comes under
and armed attack and if such a situation has the potential to significantly
affect the security of Japan.”
be argued that almost any such situation in the South China Sea would impact
Japan’s security. The energy-scarce country is even more dependent on free-passage
of tankers and other ships through the South China Sea than the US. “We cannot
be indifferent to the situation in the South China Sea,” said the panel’s deputy
chairman Shinichi Kitaoka as quoted in the Stars
right to collective self-defense is very close to Abe’s heart. He actually
formed the panel during his first term of office (2006-2007). It languished
under the Democratic Party of Japan government, but was revived with a vengeance
when the premier’s party won a landslide general election victory near the end
It is by
no means certain that the final decisions on this issue will take into account
all of the panel’s recommendations. Abe is a practical politician, and his priorities
are not as expansive as those on the panel. His main purpose is to create a
legal climate that allows the self-defense forces to cooperate with other forces,”
says Sheila Smith of the US Council on Foreign Relations.
also examine needed new legislation and identify specific situations where the
right of collective self-defense might be permissible if an armed attack is
made on another country that significantly affects the security of Japan, she
It also coincides
with the on-going the official review of the US-Japan security guidelines which
advise the two government how their militaries operate under the security
agreement, including emphasis on new contingencies such as the Senkaku/Daioyu
dispute, and the increasing number of situations, usually connected with UN
peacekeeping, where the use of force by Japan may be necessary.
hopes to get the cabinet to sign off on collective self-defense by the end of
June, but a foreign ministry official stressed that there is no timeline. To affect
the changes, about a dozen laws will have to be passed or amended that will
extend the debate well into the fall if not next spring, sources say.
public opinion polls in Japan show considerable skepticism if not downright
opposition to the changes. However, the main opposition in parliament to the
policy changes is coming not from the official opposition but from New Komeito,
which is actually a part of the government.
is significantly more pacifistic than Abe’s party, but is not expected that it
will leave the coalition over this issue. But it is likely that the government
might have to water down some of the provisions to gain the party’s
At the Yasukuni Shrine
you had read or heard about the controversies swirling around the Yasukuni
Shrine, as a casual visitor you would be hard- pressed to understand what all
of the fuss is about. It looks like a large but fairly conventional Shinto
shrine, sort of like the Meiji Shrine in another part of Tokyo. Except that the
Meiji Shrine honors one kami or spirit – the late emperor Meiji, the Yasukuni
on about 25 acres on the north side of the Imperial Palace grounds, the long entry
pathway up Kudan Hill is demarked by three large concrete torri gates leading to the main temple, with its heavy black tiled
eaves and a striking white curtain with the 16-petal chrysanthemum imperial seals
temple is in two parts, an inner and outer sanctuary. Visitors approach the outer
shrine, clap their hand,s bow their heads and drop coins into the large wooden
collection box and then leave. Behind the temple in the recesses of the inner
sanctum, is where the kami is said to
reside, in this case not one but the spirits of all the fallen soldiers and
sailors in Japan’s wars.
purpose of the Yasukuni is, of course, to honor the memories of these fallen
soldiers and sailors, stretching back to the Boshin War fought between soldiers
loyal to the Meiji emperor and those of the Tokugawa shogunate and other civil wars
that marked the revolution known as the Meiji Restoration. It is this that
draws the presence of such high-ranking public officials as Prime Minister Shinzo
it has a well-deserved reputation as a citadel of conservative revisionism,
there are no outward signs of ultra-nationalism - no right-wing groups blaring
slogans from their sound trucks disturb the tranquility of the setting. There
are no banners and few flags are flown. Perhaps the only evidence is a statue
of Masajiro Omura, a now obscure Meiji reformer known as the “father” of the
modern Japanese Army.
more chauvinistic take on Japan’s near history, one repairs to the Yushukan War
Museum, discretely located off to the north side and housed in a large concrete
modern building. I must admit that the museum was far larger and more
sophisticated than I had imagined. I had a mental picture of perhaps a couple
rooms with some military equipment and propaganda slogans.
thing one encounters on entering the museum is a hulking black steel locomotive.
Which was the first to steam through the dense jungle of the Thai-Burma
Railway. It is an immediate turnoff, I would surmise, for any British or
Australian visitors, as thousands of their compatriots, not to mention other
Asians, died in the making of the railroad ( a fact not mentioned at the
on, however, one navigates a maze of exhibition rooms, about a dozen in all I’d
say, filled with soldiers’ paraphernalia and personal mementos as well as
panels describing the Japan’s conflicts stretching back to the first
Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 up through the Great East Asia War (World War II,
to the rest of us).
do have English translations of the text, but the day I visited, I must
confess, I had too little time, and too little stamina, to read all of them and
determine for myself whether there are as tendentious in their portrayal of the
war as popularly imagined.
vague impressions of references to “Western demands,” and “unequal treaties”.
One panel has a long time-line stretching down one wall and explaining how that
wily Roosevelt deliberately gulled the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor.
That is a common conservative trope among many right-wing nationalists,
including the cashiered former air force general, Toshio Tomagawa, whose DVD
is on sale in the gift shop.
impressed that the museum had a description of the Nomonhan Incident, an obscure
but historically significant battle on the Mongolian border with the Soviet
Union in 1939. It was a humiliating defeat for Japanese arms that most Japanese
would prefer to forget about it, indeed they have probably forgotten about it.
general the museum struck me as being similar to the Imperial War Museum I
visited once in London, and probably similar institutions around the world that
represent their national causes as honorable and those who fought in them as
being sacrificial heroes.
Can a Bird Avert a War?
buying a 15-megaton thermal nuclear bomb from Russia and blowing up the
Senkaku/Daioyu islands (making sure that nothing remains above the water line
at low tide), is there any other way to defuse this escalating territorial
dispute that some observers worry could lead to war between China and Japan?
is, of course, an international mechanism specifically designed to arbitrate
just such disputes. Both Beijing and Tokyo could, in theory, bring the dispute
before an arbitration panel of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The
The trick is getting both sides to agree to arbitration. At the moment
neither side is anywhere close to putting their claims in the hands of an
Tokyo does not admit that there is any dispute at all; Meanwhile, China
describes the Senkaku as a “core interest,” in the same way as Tibet of
Sinkiang, and one does not submit a “core interest” to the final arbitration of
15 disinterested judges or a committee of them.
in particular would be loath to open this door, as it could easily apply to
other territorial disputes, especially in the South China Sea, where in late
March Manila appealed to the ICJ to rule on Beijing’s “nine-dash line” a series
of heavy dashes on official Chinese maps that make it appear that China is
claiming the entire South China Sea.
more amenable to using the ICJ to mediate its dispute with Seoul over an island
group in the Sea of Japan known as the Dokdo to Koreans and Takeshima to Japan.
But here Japan has a relatively weak hand as South Korea has garrisoned the
tiny rocks since 1954 and has consistently rejected or ignored Tokyo’s appeals
difficulty with taking cases to ICJ is one of the parties has to be prepared to
lose and accept the verdict, unless, as happens on some cases, it is possible
to split the differences. In this case the five Senkaku islets and adjacent
rocks do not lend themselves to being divvied up some way.
often happens is the losing party simply walks out on the court in a huff. That
is exactly what Colombia did in 2012, when the tribunal ruled in favor of
Nicaragua in a long-standing dispute over ownership of islands and mineral
rights in the Caribbean. Last November it recalled its ambassador.
the Short-tailed Albatross.
elegant sea bird was hunted almost to extinction in the late 19th
and early twentieth centuries for their elegant feathers that were exported to
Europe to decorate hats of stylish ladies. Much of the hunting was done on the
Senkaku islands one of the places where the birds breed. That, of course, was
when the island was still open to visitors.
permanent inhabitants left the island and returned to Japan in the 1940s, shutting
down the only business enterprise on the islands, a processing plant for making
bonito flakes used in Japanese fish broth. At one time, the island boasted a
population of 248 people and even a school. Lack of fuel during the war (all
food and other supplies had to be imported by sea), made the business untenable:
the, owners sold out to a family that would later sell the island to the
there are just two breeding places for the short-tailed albatross: Torishima island
in the Bonin chain south of Tokyo and on Mina-Kojima, one of the Senkaku
islands. Once nearing extinction, the short -tailed albatross is now protected
on Torishima and left to themselves on
Senkaku is also the apparent home, indeed the only home, of a rare rodent known
as the “Senkaku Mole” of which there is apparently only one picture in
no one is allowed to land on the island, no scientist has been able to evaluate
the condition of the flora and fauna on the islands. Yoshihiko Yamada, a
professor of maritime issues at Tokai University, was part of a “survey” team
sent to investigate the condition of the islands in part to help put a price on
them while it was up for sale.
and his colleagues had to do their surveying on board small ships and boats and
were not permitted to land. “Unless we start soon, it will be too late for us
to conserve the nature of the islands,” Yamada laments. The biggest ecological
threat to the islands, is the presence of goats that are overrunning the place.
Senkaku has become a kind of goat paradise with plenty to eat and no predators.
three obviously fertile goats were slipped onto the main island Uotsurishma in
1978 by a group of ultra-nationalist Japanese who evidently felt that there
should be some kind of living Japanese presence on the island so long as no
human beings were allowed to live there. They’ve grown to a herd of an estimated
Senkaku needs more than activists who plant flags and then disappear, is a fulltime
game warden. There is a crying need to cull this herd before the creatures gnaw
their way through just about every living tree - either by exterminating them,
or, one might hope, corralling and repatriating the creatures back to Japan.
hard to believe that the hard-nosed leaders in Beijing or Tokyo are likely to
get excited over preserving the Short-tailed Albatross, much less the elusive
Senkaku Mole, but they might be open to a face-saving solution in which no side
“wins” and no side “loses”.
Senkaku into a bird sanctuary by selling it to some kind of conservation
foundation or putting them under the nominal control of an international
organization, while, in the meantime, the two countries, Japan and China put
their competing claims to sovereignty into deep freezer where they belong.
A Friend in Tehran
The nationalist Japanese novelist Naoki Hayakuta may be controversial in his
own country, but he is a hero in Iran. During a nine-day visit in February, he
was treated like a VIP everywhere he went. The trip included a meeting with
officials close to Supreme Leader Ali Khanenei.
relations have always been friendly – despite pressures from some Western
powers,” greeted Ali Majedi, Iran’s deputy petroleum minister for international
affairs and trading, and a former Iranian ambassador to Japan. He praised Hayakuta’s
work in clarifying Japan –Iranian ties going back to the 1950s.
most recent best-seller, The Man Who Was
Called a Pirate, published in 2012, recounts an episode shortly after the
end of World War II known as the Nissho Maru Incident. In 1953 the Japanese
petroleum trading company Idemitsu chartered a tanker, the Nissho Maru, to
bring a shipment of diesel oil and gasoline to Japan, one of the first, if not
the first case of Japan importing fuel from the Middle East.
just nationalized British petroleum assets in Iran, and Britain was seeking to
punish Iran through a world-wide boycott of Iranian petroleum. The British took
Idemitsu, still today one of Japan’s main petroleum companies, to court for
breaking the boycott but were unsuccessful following several years of
captain of the Nissho Maru, and the “pirate” of the novel, received a hero’s
welcome when the ship docked in Japan. The incident was seen in Japan as a morale
boosting episode for a country that was just emerging from, the “fires of war”.
For the Iranians it was a small but inspiring victory against the
Anglo-Americans who would soon overthrow the nationalist leader Mossaddegh.
The Man Who Was Called a Pirate became a
best-seller in 2013, selling about 2 million copies and winning the Honya
Taisho, or Bookstore prize.
most recent novel, Eien no Zero (The
Eternal Zero) is also a best seller and was made into a successful movie. It
tells the story of a young man who investigates the life of his grandfather who
died on a kamikaze suicide mission during World War II.
author probably would have stayed out of the limelight enjoying his gadfly role
as a novelist except for his recent appointment to the Board of Governors of
NHK, Japan’s equivalent of the state-owner BBC, along with two other ultra-conservative
figures appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year.
subscribes to most of the extreme Japanese-nationalist tropes: The Nanjing
Massacre was a Chinese fabrication, the “comfort women (forced prostitution) a
rude South Korean libel, that Japan was tricked into going to war with the U.S.
while liberating Asia from colonial domination. He is not shy about of espousing
NHK governor is supposed to be non-political, he campaigned openly for the most
extreme right wing candidate in the recent by-election for governor of Tokyo,
the former air force chief of staff Toshio Tomogawa, who was fired in 2009 for
distributing similar opinions among the troops. Hayakuta was unapologetic about
his overt partisanship.
are standard boiler-plate from right-wing agitators who patrol the streets of
Tokyo and other Japanese cities every day, haranguing people through
loudspeakers mounted on trucks. Critics of the appointment fear Abe has handed
the extremists a much bigger mouthpiece, Japan’s national broadcaster.
so much that he and similarly minded governors would turn the NHK into a
propaganda organ for extreme conservative-nationalist views (though there is some
concern about that). It is that under the Abe regime their views do not
disqualify them from serving on prestigious boards. Not long ago people with these
reactionary views would be reluctant to enter the public arena or quickly be
forced to resign. That is no longer the case.
Abe is known to admire Hayakuta’s books, and the two have developed a close
association. The two collaborated on a book published last December that
included a long essay by Hayakuta denouncing the Nanjing Massacre as a fairy
tale and several speeches by Abe, who doesn’t dispute any of the questionable
assertions of Hayakuta.
Iranians may not know or care much about such issues as the Nanjing Massacre,
but they can appreciate America-bashing when they hear it. And there is the long-term
solidarity with Japan dating back to in Nissho Maru Incident in 1953. During
the visit, the novelist appealed to anti-American sentiments with comments that
America “has always used dirty politics” or that Americans are “not normal.”
has always been a reluctant participant in the American-led international
system of sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to forego developing nuclear weapons.
Though progressively diminishing in importance, Iran is still a major supplier
of petroleum to Japan. With no fossil fuel assets of its own Japan is dependent
on imports from the Middle East.
years, Japan has been forced to dispose of its Iranian petroleum concessions
one-by-one. In 2010 Tokyo withdrew entirely from ownership of the Azadegan oil
field near the Iraqi border under steady pressure from Washington. Japanese
companies were worried that they would be sanctioned and excluded from the
American market for continuing the deal with Iran.
Japan’s total dependence on imported fuel and need to have diverse supplies,
Washington has granted exemptions to Japan to buy a limited supplies of oil
from Iran. In early March Japan announced the purchase of $450 million of crude
oil. It was the first such deal under the arrangements of the interim nuclear
his fifteen months in office, Prime Minister Abe has visited more than
two-dozen countries, including twice to Turkey but not yet Iran. During a short
visit to Tokyo Iran’s foreign minister said he hoped Abe should add Iran to his
busy itinerary and held out the lure of buying Japan’s nuclear power plants. He
was talking Abe’s language.