By Gavan McCormack, December 2, 2010
Originally published in Japan Focus
Rasputin in Tokyo
Sato Masaru is not a name well-known to students of contemporary Japan, but perhaps it should be. Sato, b. 1960, a Foreign Ministry intelligence analyst and Russian expert, was driven from office and detained in the Tokyo Detention Centre for 512-days from February 2002 to October 2004 on “malpractice” charges. He was accused, and in due course convicted, firstly, for improperly disbursing Foreign Ministry funds to pay for the visit of Israeli academics to Japan and for the convening of an academic conference in Tel Aviv, and secondly for providing to a Japanese trading company confidential information relating to a contract for construction of a facility on the Russian-occupied Northern Islands. Sato protested that he was simply following established Ministry procedures, and his prolonged incarceration was an unusually severe punishment for what were at most administrative misdemeanours. The April 2000 Tel Aviv conference on “The New World Order – Russia between East and West” attracted a wide range of scholars from Japan, Russia, Israel and other countries, and seems to have been a conventional academic event, of a kind the Japanese Foreign Ministry might not unreasonably have supported out of its special Russia-related fund. The “leak” allegation was not associated with any suggestion of personal benefit. Sato seems to have been driven rather by excess of zeal in pursuit of what he saw as the national interest, in particular to resolve the long-standing issues of difference with Russia over the so-called “Northern Islands” so that relations between the two countries could be normalized.
On his release on bail, Sato wrote an account of the case that alluded to himself as “Rasputin” (with the implication that, like Rasputin, he was a plotter at high levels of state) entitled Kokka no wana (The Trap of the State). He accused the state procuracy of conspiracy to get rid of him by trumped-up or trivial charges. The book became a bestseller and prize winner, but it was only the first of many. Describing himself as a “Foreign Ministry official on indictment leave,” he wrote 23 single-authored and 24 co-authored books plus countless articles and interviews and 3 volumes of translation over the next five years. According to his bio-note in Wikipedia he sleeps three hours a night, can consume five bottles of vodka at a sitting without suffering obvious ill-effect, and his productivity runs at around 500 pages per month.
When Sato’s appeal to the Supreme Court against his conviction and sentence was dismissed, in June 2009, however, his Foreign Ministry status was finally cancelled. But by then the wheel had turned. His arrest and imprisonment in 2002 had been part of a purge of the political associates of Suzuki Muneo – a controversial political figure closely involved in negotiations over the Russian-held “Northern Islands” who in 2002 was pilloried by the media as the epitome of corruption for his wheeling and dealing in and around Hokkaido. With Suzuki were purged also ten of his associates. Suzuki and Sato both spent much of the years 2002-2004 in prison. Both insisted they had been victims of a high-level state prosecutorial conspiracy. By 2005, however, Sato was rising through the best-seller lists and Suzuki was back in the Diet, heading a new political party. By 2009 Suzuki was a member of the ruling coalition and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Lower House. As such, he played a part in widening the spectrum of contested foreign policy issues from Russian policy to core questions of the relationship with the United States, and was in the position of summoning witnesses to hearings on the “secret agreements” issue, including some of those responsible for ousting him years earlier.
One of those he called was Togo Kazuhiko, another former victim of the “Muneo purge” and Sato’s superior in the Ministry at the time of the Tel Aviv conference. Togo gave evidence to the effect that during his term as head of the Foreign Ministry’s Treaties Bureau in 1998-9 he had drawn up and handed to senior Ministry officials a set of 58 “secret agreements” in five red file boxes, of which only 8 had been submitted to Foreign Minister Okada’s Commission in 2009, adding that he “had heard” of a process of deliberate destruction that preceded the introduction of Freedom of Information legislation in 2001. A Tokyo District Court in April 2010 appeared to be persuaded by this and ordered the Foreign Ministry to locate and disclose documents concerning Okinawan “secret agreements,” even though the Ministry denied that it possessed any such documents. It also criticized the Ministry’s “insincerity” in “neglecting the public’s right to know,” and noted its suspicion that it might have deliberately destroyed sensitive documents.
Personal, professional, and political bitterness overlaid each other in complex fashion and the balance of the struggle has tipped first one way, then the other. Those who in 2002 struggled to “normalize” relations between Japan and Russia, in 2009-10 were struggling to open the archives of their former Ministry and to resist what they saw as the Ministry’s unconditionally pro-US line and its foisting of policies in accord with it on democratically elected governments committed to a more equal relationship with the US. In that frame, they became also allies of those in Okinawa struggling to avoid the imposition of a new US base on the prefecture. From 2009, with the election of the DPJ, Suzuki, Sato, Togo, and other former victims of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs purge, took the offensive against the dominant pro-US faction in the Ministry. A year later, Sato and Togo continue to publish, but Suzuki met a serious reverse in September 2010 when the Supreme Court’s rejected his appeal against his earlier conviction. He may well have to head back to prison to finish the 17 months outstanding on his sentence.
Describing himself as “a rightist who belongs to the conservative camp,” once released from detention Sato became the darling of the media – sought and featured in journals across the political spectrum. He explains this apparent anomaly in terms of the need for rightists and social-democrats to cooperate. Such is the threat of fascism sweeping the country, he wrote in 2005, that left and right must unite to resist it, overcoming the “idiocy wall” that divides them. The threat that he saw during the time of the Koizumi government (2001-2006) as fascism, he later began to refer to more commonly as neo-conservatism (whose “evils” he saw as sweeping the country). But the prescription, left-right unity, was constant.
As of 2009, Sato was uniquely bridging the conservative-social democratic divide, penning a column in 19 different papers or journals across the political spectrum, from Sekai and Shukan Kinyobi that would commonly be described as “left” or “social democratic” to Seiron, Shokun, Sapio, and Sankei Shimbun on the right, and including also general journals of religion, art and culture such as Fukuon to Sekai (The gospel and the world), Asahi Geino, Chuo Koron and Weekly Playboy.
Sato’s position, however, as it emerges through this corpus of writing, remained distinctively conservative and nationalist, as befits his own self-description as a “rightist of the conservative camp:”
The defence of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere as a sort of European Community before its time, and of war with the West as the necessary consequence of the uncompromising American demand for abandonment of Japan’s efforts to liberate Asia from Western imperialism and of American support for puppets such as Chiang Kai-shek in China.
The call for Japan to give priority to advancing the “national interest,” fostering “love of country,” and adopting a “realistic pacifism” designed to enable it better to deal with the challenges posted by North Korea and by Al Qaida.
Vigorous promotion of the Japan-Israel connection, of Israeli patriotism as a model for Japan, and support for Israel’s wars.
Vigorous promotion of normalization of Japan-Russia relations, based on a stance of tactical flexibility (priority to securing return of the two Northern Islands Russia has periodically indicated readiness to return) with strategic determination that all four must be returned in due course.
The recommendation for “regularization” of the Self-Defense Forces as ordinary armed forces, whether through revision of the constitution or reinterpretation of its terms, thus legitimising their regional role and their participation in collective security (with Taiwan understood to be within Japan’s defensive perimeter).
The concentration on the “North Korean threat” and on North Korea’s need to submit to Japan’s demands as to how it should be resolved. Sato cites with approval Israel’s way of dealing with a similar abduction problem in Lebanon (the war of 2007) and urges that Japan make clear to North Korea that, should it not submit, it risked plunging the peninsula back to something like 1905, when Russia and Japan fought over it. He has also called for recognition of the right to introduce nuclear weapons to Japan in the event of a showdown.
The justification of stepped up pressure on Chosen Soren, the North Korean-affiliated organization of Koreans in Japan, as a way of pressuring the government of North Korea.
The insistence that China, South Korea, and the United States (House of Representatives) had no right to criticize Japan over Yasukuni or the “Comfort Women” issue and that Japan should ignore these criticisms
The view (as of 2007) that “anti-Japaneseness” on the part of China and South Korea constituted a threat in the face of which Japan needed to stand united and strong.
This is for sure an unusual profile: Sato, the convicted ex-Foreign Ministry official and Russian expert, conservative, emperor-revering, constitution-supporting, Christian (originally a theology graduate), Israel advocate and most widely published intellectual of his time, certainly the only one who regularly bestraddled the left-right divide.
No one has devoted greater effort to come to terms with what he calls the “Sato Masaru phenomenon” than the young (b. 1976) Korean-in-Japan (Zainichi) publishing company employee, Kim Gwang-sang. Kim’s initial essay on the subject (in which he first coined the expression), entitled “A Critique of the Sato Masaru Phenomenon,” appeared in the November 2007 issue of the bi-monthly Japanese journal Impaction. Since then, Kim has devoted himself to the critical explication of the Sato phenomenon with almost as much diligence and passion as has Sato to expanding his oeuvre. The difference is that nothing of the thousands of pages that Kim has produced since his initial article has been published anywhere except on his blog.
Kim raises the question of why prominent figures of the “left” or “liberal” publishing world, who must know of Sato’s rightist views, nevertheless courted him and competed to publish his manuscripts. To explain the Sato phenomenon, Kim suggests that Japan is being swept by a nationalist wave (especially in the Koizumi and Abe government years, 2001-2007), in which its traditional liberal/left forces are undergoing “conversion” by being absorbed in the rightist collective aspiration for national greatness and global influence. Even those who call for “defence of the constitution,” he believes, tend to unite with their revisionist opponents around the proposition that priority should attach to the continuity, strength, and integrity of the Japanese state and society. In other words, Sato attracts editors and publishers precisely because his stance transcends the “left-right” divisions of the Cold War.
Sato writes across a vast range of topics with impressive versatility and it is only when one considers the corpus as a whole – his contributions to both nationalist, right-wing journals and to “left” and “liberal” ones – that Kim’s thesis about the construction of a nationalist, left-right axis to underpin a “normal country” future for Japan make sense. Kim interprets what he refers to as “the Sato Masaru phenomenon” as a contemporary case of “collective conversion” (shudan tenko), tenko being the term used to refer to the 1930-40s phenomenon in which many leftists and communists shifted their faith from communist internationalism to emperor-centred Japanese nationalism. According to Kim, Sato now plays the role once played by Konoe (Fumimaro) in constructing the unified (or fascist) state system known as the “Imperial Rule Assistance” system.
In June 2009, Kim launched a suit for defamation against Sato and two publishers over references to himself in an article published in the December 2007 issue of Shukan Shincho that he claims were derogatory and false. That suit continues. Though worthy of attention in its own right, it is too complex and contested to include in this short paper. The situation is further complicated by the fact that author Kim is an employee of the publishing firm of Iwanami (publisher inter alia of Sekai). His critical attention to his employer’s influential journal evidently meets little favour from it and Kim claims he has been subjected to pressure tantamount to intimidation or bullying at his workplace in which the Iwanami labour union has also been complicit. Kim’s embattled status in his workplace deepened as he withdrew in 2007 from the Iwanami company union and began to promote an alternative, independent union.
“Creative Constitutionalism” and the Sato Masaru Phenomenon
Perhaps most startlingly, Kim traced the process of subversion of the progressive movement to the group of intellectuals associated with the monthly journal, Sekai (published by Iwanami), and in particular to Wada Haruki and Yamaguchi Jiro, both well-known representative civic or public intellectuals. Wada in particular has been the key figure for decades in movements of support for democracy and human rights in South Korea, and in the 1970s and 1980s was a leader in the movement to save the lives of then prominent opposition South Korean politicians such as Kim Dae Jung (later president and Nobel Prize winner). Wada and Yamaguchi were both central figures in developing proposals (in 1993 and 1994) for addressing the problem of discordance between political and diplomatic reality and the terms of the constitution, especially its pacifist Article 9. Critical essays by Wada and Yamaguchi on various subjects have been translated and published from time to time in The Asia-Pacific Journal (formerly Japan Focus). As the Democratic Party of Japan approached, and then actually took power nationally from 2009, Yamaguchi was closely associated with it, pressing it to adopt social-democratic policies. Wada in 2009 was centrally involved in the drafting of a Joint Statement of Korean, American, and Japanese intellectuals on the situation in East Asia and in 2010 was instrumental in framing the joint Japan-Korea statement on Japanese colonialism in Korea.
For Kim, it was precisely the 1990s “creative constitutionalism” (soken) of Wada and Yamaguchi that opened the path to the contemporary “Sato Masaru phenomenon” by incorporating the key demands of constitutional revisionists – acceptance of the Self-Defence Forces (albeit in reorganized form) as legitimate under the constitution and orientation towards an international role for them under the principle of expanded Japanese “international responsibility.” Yamaguchi is on record as favouring explicit constitutional revision, not immediately but at some point perhaps a decade in the future. He is also committed to the view that that kaishaku kaiken (revision by interpretation) is an integral part of constitutional defense (goken no uchi da).
True constitutionalism, Kim insists, requires a full and unequivocal war apology and compensation to victims, resistance to the deep-seated national hostility for North Korea that engulfs Japan, and opposition to the calls for war to be justified as a legitimate right of the “normal” state and for an expanded Japanese role in the “global war on terror.” “Creative constitutionalism,” by contrast, he insists is tantamount to constitutional revisionism. By striving to free the Japanese state of the shackles of unresolved war responsibility and urging an unambiguous role for it as a great power, Wada, Yamaguchi and others were, in Kim’s view, tapping the same vein of “beautiful Japan” thinking as former Prime Minister Abe. Wada in particular had moved far from the positions he enunciated in the 1980s, when he insisted that the question of war responsibility was above all a moral issue for the Japanese people that could only be resolved by apology (shazai) and reparations (hosho). Kim was nothing if not forthright: “Among journals, Sekai, and among academics Yamaguchi Jiro and Wada Haruki constitute the core of the constitutional defence faction which supports the ‘Sato Masaru phenomenon.’”
Kim believes that that the camp of the “goken” (defence of the constitution) cause is now so deeply eroded, and the consensus which Wada and Yamaguchi pioneered and Sato now articulates is so broad-ranging, firmly rooted, and supported by intellectuals and media groups of left and right, that the very question of constitutional revision has become close to irrelevant, while the parliamentary forces that cling to older notions of constitutional principle have dwindled to a handful of communists and social democrats.
The “Comfort Women” Politics of Compensation
Kim is similarly critical of the “Asian Women’s Fund.” This is the formula, widely attributed to Wada and adopted by the Government of Japan in 1995 for resolving the “Comfort Women” issue. The Murayama government expressed its “deep remorse” over colonialism and aggression, apologized in particular to the victims of the imperial Japanese forces so-called “Comfort Women” system of sexual slavery, and set up a fund, the Asian Women’s Fund, through which between then and 2007 it offered a Prime Ministerial letter of apology plus payments by way of solatium or “sympathy” payments to individual victims out of a mixed public-private fund, and health and welfare support by way of atonement to the surviving victims, who were then already elderly women in their 70s and 80s. It was a joint project of the “people of Japan” and the Government, and, in line with previous, long-established Japanese policy, the Fund formula assumed moral but not legal responsibility for the Asia-wide system of sexual slavery.
Advocates, including Wada, insisted that with the surviving women in advanced years an imperfect solution was the only politically possible one and better than none at all. Far better, he argued, to provide compensation and apology while the surviving comfort women were still alive than to fail to act. Second, Wada stressed the unique character of the Fund as a joint act by state and people. He insisted that the imperial Japanese Army soldiers could not escape or shift their personal responsibility for the crime onto the state and that responsibility should therefore, in principle, be shared between government and people, the latter including not only soldiers but also civilians who supported the system. In response to a national appeal, substantial funds were contributed by ordinary citizens, former soldiers among them. Payments to individual victims were made from those funds, while administrative costs and the costs of the welfare and health infrastructure were paid from government coffers.
Wada and his associates were attacked from both right and left. For many right-wingers it was outrageous that any responsibility at all was conceded. Many of them continued to insist that there never was any state-run “Comfort Women” system, that the women were professional prostitutes, and, therefore, there was nothing to apologize for, much less compensate. From the left, Wada and his associates were the butt of anger on the part of many progressives, feminists in particular. One representative critic denounced them for their consistent tendency “towards anti-feminism, belittling of sexual violence, and avoidance of colonial responsibility.” Critics argued that the Fund was a design to cover up the responsibility of the Japanese state, block the slowly emerging sense of war responsibility by shifting the focus from state to individuals and reduce an enormous crime to simple monetary compensation by shielding the state from accepting full and formal responsibility. In siding with the critics, Kim insists that the Fund formula served to help restore the integrity of the state and clear the ground for its advance out of the miasma of unresolved war responsibility issues, inter alia removing an obstacle to the Japanese claim for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Broadly speaking, this is the view that was widely adopted in South Korea too, where Comfort Women support groups rejected the Fund’s overtures, successfully urged the great majority of surviving comfort women, many living in poverty, to reject the Fund’s apology and payment, and compelled the South Korean government to establish its own support fund instead.
By the time the Fund was wound up in 2007, in the words of one judicious assessment, it had “helped relatively few victims (364) while stoking much anger and disappointment. It was an equivocal effort over an issue demanding a grand gesture.” That the Fund formula had not dampened international criticism of the Japanese government became clear when the US House of Representatives on 30 July of that same year adopted Resolution 121 calling on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility” for the coercion of young women into sexual slavery. Subsequently Holland, Canada, Australia, and the European Union adopted resolutions in similar vein, demanding that Japan accept full legal responsibility.
Such criticism of Japan from the US and other external sources inevitably raises the question of double standards. It would be more credible if it were matched by a similar sensitivity to the victims of US (and other) wars, including formal apology and compensation. The question is: did the Fund’s prioritizing of “moral” over “legal” considerations in seeking closure on the Comfort Women issue open the door to a significant shift in thinking whereby commitment to the Fund implied cancellation of Japan’s “legal” responsibility? One former director of the Fund, Onuma Yasuaki, not only defends it but insists it is something to be proud of and is critical of South Korea where he believes “the ‘Comfort Women’ problem had become a symbol of the distrust and suspicion of anti-Japanese nationalism.” That in turn he attributes to Japan’s failure to properly convey its message. Onuma also suggests that “Comfort Women” bashing on the part of Japanese rightists and sections of the media has to be understood in part as an expression of their irritation over the fact that “however many times we apologize it never seems to be enough.”
Kim is careful to avoid any suggestion of bad faith on the part of those he criticizes, agreeing that their motive was most likely impeccable – the attempt to find ground on which effectively to resist the rightists and the humanitarian desire to see some form of redress for the women while they still lived – but the consequence, he insists, has been the swallowing of principled “leftism” by rightist nationalism.
“Progressive Intellectuals” and Japan’s “Rightward Turn”
Subsequent to his 2007 essay, Kim has continued to produce a stream of texts in similar vein, documenting his arguments with fresh quotes and references to prominent figures associated with the Japanese liberal and progressive left, including Okamoto Atsushi (editor of Sekai), critics and authors Sataka Makoto and Uozumi Akira, Nobel Prize winning novelist Oe Kenzaburo, and the renowned public intellectual, Zainichi (Korean-in-Japan) Kang Sangjung (on whom see further below). In August 2009, Kim asked, “has Japan taken a rightward turn, and if so who is behind it?” He had little doubt over the former and focused his energies on the latter.
Kim notes Yamaguchi Jiro’s attention turning in recent years to problems of national memory, mourning, and identity. Like Kato Norihiro in the mid-1990s, he has come to regret Japan’s failure to properly mourn, by which he means sharing “a consistent respect and sorrow” for its own (i.e., Japanese) war victims. In 1997, Kato Norihiro, a well-known literary critic, in Haisengoron (On the Post Post-War) argued that the Japanese sense of identity, torn between the left or liberal view that it was necessary to mourn the 20 million Asian victims of Japanese aggression and the rightist, nationalist insistence on mourning the three million Japanese who died a “meaningless” death, could only be healed when Japan gave priority to its own dead. In other words, only after first mourning them could it turn to mourn Asian victims. Debate raged fiercely for a time over this proposition, with philosopher Takahashi Tetsuya, for one, insisting that, because it was a war of aggression, it would be wrong to prioritize one’s own dead over the deaths of Asian victims. For Takahashi, “We should remember our disgrace, continue to be ashamed, and make compensation.”
Unlike Kato, Yamaguchi does not explicitly prioritise Japanese over other war victims, but since his attention at least since 2008 has come to focus on Japanese victims the priority is implicit. Yamaguchi summarizes his own position by saying that although “in terms of its relations with other countries” (sic) the war of the 1930s and 1940s was “an aggressive and wrongful war,” yet in the sense that “post-war democracy took shape over the victims of war” (ie, Japanese victims), the question of how to attribute meaning to their deaths and how to mourn them is inescapable. He speculates that post-war history might have been different had that need for “a consistent respect and sorrow” for the war dead been met in some way other than by Yasukuni shrine. He points towards the establishment of a national institution that could perform the function of Yasukuni without Yasukuni’s negative associations (the enshrinement of war criminals, and the continuity with the pre-war and war-time functions of militarism and emperor worship).
Few would dispute Yamaguchi’s proposition that Japan’s war memory remains contested. Controversy continues periodically to erupt in the public arena over it. However, the question is whether in his attempt to resolve it Yamaguchi concedes too much. He implies a causal relationship between the suffering and death of Japanese victims and post-war democracy, when surely it was only temporal, and his call for adoption of the “natural” sentiment of bereaved Japanese families that their loved ones did not die in an aggressive war but in a noble or glorious (suko) cause brings him close to actually justifying the aggressive war.
Kim has paid especial attention to the work and career of Kang Sangjung who, like Kim, is also a Korean-in-Japan or Zainichi. But, where Kim is a lowly publishing company clerk, Kang is one of the most illustrious of contemporary Japanese intellectuals, a Tokyo University professor and personality whose books are best-sellers and whose face is often to be seen on national TV. One recent work, Nayamu Chikara or “The Power of Worry,” sold around one million copies. In July 2009 Asahi shimbun sha released a book entitled “Kang-ryu” (Kang-style), an obvious reference to the phenomenal popularity in Japan of “Han-ryu” or the “Korea-style” of new wave Korean films, complete with DVD of Kang on his “day off.” Another volume, this time in the form of an autobiographical novel, was published in 2010, entitled simply “Haha/Omoni” (Mother). Both recent books rose quickly through the best-seller lists.
In a phenomenon comparable to that of Sato, Kang has come to be featured not only in “serious” journals but also in popular weeklies and women’s journals. Kim believes Kang has paid a high price for fame, however, and is concerned that Kang’s shift affects Zainichi in particular and left and “progressive” intellectuals in general.
Emperor, Nation, and Identity
Kim identifies in Kang’s case a subtle but profound shift in attitude and relation towards the Japanese nation state, evidence in his view of a contemporary manifestation of tenko (or left to right ideological conversion). It was, he suggests, first evident in Kang’s 2006 book, Aikoku no saho (Ways to Love One’s Country). Since roughly that time, if Kim is right, Kang has grown increasingly positive in his affirmations of post-war Japanese society and democracy, and less critical of the oppressive and exclusive qualities to which his earlier writing drew attention.
Perhaps most tellingly, he has come to adopt a positive view of the contemporary emperor system, seeing it as a “stabilizer” and as a “bulwark” against nationalism (i.e., serving a role precisely opposite to what it served in pre-war and wartime Japan). In January 2008, making a formal “New Year Shrine Visit” (hatsu mode) to Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, built in honour of the Meiji emperor and a symbol to earlier generations of Zainichi Koreans of the emperor worship that was imposed upon them, Kang experienced it as a “Mecca” where “old and young, men and women” could gather in innocent celebration, over which the bitter past seemed no longer to cast any shadow. “It was,” he said, “as if the prejudices I formerly held towards the New Year pilgrimages that Japanese people make to Shinto shrines had quietly fallen away.” For Kim, such unequivocal affirmation of the emperor system amounts to a negation by Kang of his “nationalist consciousness” as a Zainichi Korean. Irrespective of his Zainichi character, however, it has to be said that Kan’s New year 2008 epiphany would have been worthy of note coming from any Japanese “progressive” intellectual.
Tenko in its “classic” 1930s form involved, as noted above, the process of ideological reorientation in which leftists and communists turned away from “false” or alien ideologies to the emperor as the pole of all true “Japanese” identity. Although such a phenomenon might seem unlikely in today’s Japan, where the emperor does not play any central role in debates about identity and role, the quasi-religious experience Kang seems to have felt upon his New Year visit to Meiji Shrine could plausibly be seen in such a frame. From a central position among Japanese leftist intellectuals who was known for his critical view of the emperor system as something that created the illusion of Japanese society as an organic, integrated whole, without discrimination, while building invisible barriers between people and compelling the submission of minorities (Koreans, Okinawans, burakumin, Ainu, etc), it seemed that by 2007, those invisible barriers had dissolved. Kim writes,
“Post conversion, Kang became now the darling of the media and virtually the only opinion leader with mass popularity. In a cyclical process, the more he shifts to the right, pulling with him liberals and progressives, the more he is required to step up the process of his own conversion.”
Proponents of Tennosei, or emperor-centred polity, represent it as something natural and organic, rather than legal or contractual. In this vein, Kang discusses it as a kind of folk phenomenon.
This same vein of thinking leads Sato, in a volume he published late in 2009, to pay attention to the pre-war ideological primer, Kokutai no Hongi (Fundamentals of the National Polity), first issued and prescribed as a school text from 1937 and banned by the US censors after the war. Sato entitles his book, in a close parallel to the 1937 volume, Nihon kokka no shinzui (The Essentials of the Japanese State).It seems designed to recover and instil in contemporary Japanese people a sense of national pride and purpose and of the uniqueness of their national, imperial tradition, while deploring the excesses built around the imperial institution in the 1930s and 1940s.
Sato’s choice of the subject of quintessential “Japaneseness” reflects a contemporary mood of identity quest. Nationalism, frustrated or truncated at the state level by“Client State”-ish politics, seeks compensatory expression at the symbolic or identity level. Even where the term kokutai itself is avoided because of its fascist associations, terms such as kunigara are functionally equivalent. One prominent contemporary politician defines kunigara as Japan’s “outstanding culture, unique in our emperor system that provides a symbolic pointer for the expression of our people’s sentiments and for their feelings of respectful devotion.” Yamaguchi Jiro uses kunigara to refer to post-war Japanese peace and democracy and Kang Sangjung, whose 2003 book on patriotism seems to Kim to mark a crucial shift in his thinking uses a range of terms, including kokkaku (national character), or simply kuni no katachi (literally the shape of the country). For Kang too, the same emperor that constituted the central axis of kokutai (in pre-war and wartime) emerges in the post-war as the central symbolic representation of the state. Purged of the dross of militarism and repression, it seems that he sees the institution shining with a positive aura. Thus Kang, the avatar of progressive Japanese thinking and Sato, the avowed rightist, transcend the left-right divide by embracing the imperial institution as core of Japanese identity.
Like Kang, Wada Haruki too in recent writings refers to post-war peace and democracy as the country’s polity (its kuni no katachi) and links post-war peace to the emperor, as if it would not be possible to have the one without the other. Wada’s controversial call in April 2009 for the emperor to undertake a formal state visit to South Korea in 2010 to mark the 100th anniversary of Japan’s colonial control and implicitly – or explicitly – to apologize for the past and to open a new era of close cooperation and understanding, could also be seen in this light. Inter alia, Wada proposed that the emperor should make one highly specific gesture of apology and reconciliation by laying a wreath at the tomb of Korean Empress Myeongseong (aka Queen Min), who was murdered by Japanese troops in 1895.
On a strict interpretation of the Constitution, such a role would be in breach of Article 7 (defining the tasks of the office). It is hard to know what weight should attach to such straws in the contemporary wind, but it certainly would have been unthinkable in the past for a “progressive” or “liberal” scholar to call for an active diplomatic role for the emperor beyond the tasks specifically assigned him under the constitution, even in the service of reconciliation. Kim draws attention to the fact that at least some proponents of such a role for the emperor (including former Prime Minister Hatoyama) have believed that the constitution would first have to be revised for such positive imperial diplomacy to be possible.
East Asian Community
Wada and Kang are also two of the earliest (Wada almost certainly the earliest, immediately after the end of the Cold War in Europe) advocates of Japanese participation in an Asian Community, and Yamaguchi was, reportedly, an advisor to the Democratic Party that from late 2009 formed government, initially at least espousing that as a central cause. The problem is the age-old one: what will be the Japan that engages in that Community? What identity will it bring to the table? The stumbling block in the past has always been the Japanese sense of itself as different, unique, and superior, its identity rooted in the emperor system. The wartime Japanese identity formulation was not contested in the post-war occupation and reform process, when the emperor was carefully preserved and a line drawn between the imperial institution and militarism, the former to become the basic foundation of the new state and the latter to be eradicated. Consequently, all subsequent “identity” discourse has tended to revert to the kokutai notion of Japan (as in Prime Minister Mori’s 2000 words) “the emperor-centred land of the gods” (tenno o chushin to shita kami no kuni). Identity discourse in contemporary Japan faces the same dilemma and it is striking that the two major intellectual advocates of East (or Northeast) Asian Community should both choose to engage in it by adoption once again of the language of kokutai or kunigara, and to stress the imperial core of Japan’s identity.
The intellectuals on whom Kim focuses attention are committed to the symbolic emperor system. That is to say, they adopt without (obvious) critical question a present and future for Japan as an imperial rather than a republican state, and they are committed (as the preceding section makes clear) to a formula for resolving war issues that mutes Japan’s responsibility. They also call for a central role to be given the emperor in resolving the issues arising from past aggression. Quite apart from constitutional difficulties, an emperor-centred Japanese identity presents difficulties for Japan’s neighbours not only because of the memories of the colonialism and aggressive war that Japan inflicted on Asia in the name of the Showa emperor but also because imperial Japanese identity today remains enveloped in a penumbra of Japanese uniqueness and superiority to Asia. If today’s is a “symbolic emperor” system, the lesson of history is surely that symbolic concerns outweigh mere policy ones. Kim Gwang-sang plausibly suggests that the emperor is indeed a “symbol,” but not so much of “the state and of the unity of the people” (in the words of Article 1) as of the unbroken continuity of imperial Japan, spanning from ancient times through colonialism, fascism and war, to the present, and therefore of Japanese uniqueness.
Emperor-centred Japanese identity proponents face, but avoid addressing, the contradiction that the post-war emperor system was first and foremost imposed unequivocally by General MacArthur in the name of the occupying forces. In 1946 the United States recognized Japanese uniqueness, as symbolized by imperial continuity, as the best short-term guarantee of a peaceful surrender and best long-term guarantee of Japanese dependence on the US. Although the process of constructing an Asian regional community presumably requires all participating states to transcend the narrow conceptions of identity associated with their state-building and/or imperialist expansion, the Japanese progenitors of the ideal insist that Japan’s participation be in the same, imperial, Japanese form of such bitter Asian memory. Kim is right to suggest not only that Asians might well view the Japanese position with suspicion, but also that the “in-Japan” (Zainichi) minorities have reason to fear the recrudescence of emperor-centred chauvinism and insistence that they once-again comply with majority prescriptions for assimilation.
In the past several years, Sato has turned his attention more-and-more to Okinawa, the Futenma base replacement problem, and the US-Japan dispute that dogged the Hatoyama government’s ill-fated nine months in office (September 2009 to May 2010). Beginning in January 2008 he began a (continuing as at time of writing) regular Saturday column in Ryukyu shimpo. He has also delivered lectures to large Okinawan university and public audiences, and engaged in a long dialogue on Okinawan history, identity and politics with Ota Masahide, pre-eminent historian of Okinawa, former Governor and widely respected embodiment of Okinawan moral and political identity, that began in Sekai in January 2009 and continues. Sato’s association with Ota gives him significant “Okinawan” status.
It also happens that Sato’s mother, a native of the island of Kumejima, experienced Okinawa’s wartime catastrophe of “collective suicide” as a 14 year-old schoolgirl in June 1945, surviving only by the intervention of a friend. By telling her story, and by denouncing moves to delete from school history texts reference to the responsibility of the Imperial Japanese forces for what she and so many others had to endure, Sato reinforces his claim to identification with Okinawa and its crucial dimension of victimhood. Through his mother, he enjoys an almost unquestionable moral right to speak on behalf of Okinawa and Okinawans. For a self-proclaimed rightist, believer in the emperor system and supporter of the Israel model for Japan, that would not otherwise be easy.
Apart from this Okinawan identity by association and by family, Sato aligns himself with Okinawan sentiment in three key respects, adopting stances that would be commonly seen as “liberal” or “progressive” rather than “conservative”: his insistence on the forced nature of Okinawa’s wartime “collective suicide” phenomenon; his support for the Democratic Party’s pledge to relocate Futenma marine base outside Okinawa (and denunciation of Japanese state bureaucrats for their “all-out war” against the Hatoyama government and “sabotage” against the Kan government); and his insistence that the Guam treaty of 2009, which Hatoyama and his government construed as imposing binding obligations on them, was in fact not binding under the doctrine of “changed circumstance” (meaning that the Hatoyama government had the legal right to demand renegotiation of the treaty it inherited from its LDP predecessor). He accuses Tokyo’s political elites of “conscious or unconscious discrimination against Okinawa” and he is the most prominent Tokyo-based intellectual to adopt such positions.
However, when one looks beyond the appearance of identification of Sato with the “Okinawan cause,” his role becomes more ambiguous. His message to Okinawans is to transcend what he calls the “idiocy wall” of the left-right divide, divert political struggle to cultural struggle (culture somehow becoming its key resource) and form a united front to press its just demand on the national government. Although the explanation of Okinawa’s plight in terms of Tokyo’s “discrimination,” and the prescription to set aside political struggle and concentrate on culture, uniting across left-right lines, are banal, local Okinawan media, generally seen as leftist, particularly with respect to questions pertaining to US military bases, are uncritically receptive to it.
The sharpest critique of Sato’s Okinawan message has been in the blog of the Okinawan prize-winning novelist, Medoruma Shun. Medoruma points out that, while Sato urges Okinawans to unite, the price of that unity will be concessions to come from Okinawa’s “reform camp.” In his 19 June 2010 column he had this to say to them:
“You’re smart. But you’re excessively concerned with how things look. Your petty pride is too strong. You’re too hard on others. Accordingly, you think that others should follow you as a matter of course because you’re doing what is right. As a result, you give Tokyo’s political elites a carte blanche, in effect preparing the way for a new, Heisei-era Ryukyu disposal.”
Sato’s call to strengthen the Okinawan cause by overcoming inner divisions is plausible, but his identification of the line of division and his prescription for resolving it are both questionable. Where Sato postulates a crucial “left-right” divide, the Okinawan movement has itself been inclined to see it as more vertical in character, a “top-down” divide. The process of Okinawa history over the past 14 years has been one of popular consensus, across left-right lines, on return of the existing bases and rejection of the construction of new ones, especially the return of Futenma and refusal to accept base construction at Henoko, but of vacillation and repeated betrayal of that sentiment at high levels of government. Successive conservative elite groups, including governors and senior officials, have been too ready to cooperate with national government officials, betraying their local community. Even the current (2010) Governor, Nakaima, vacillated over whether or not to attend the 25 April All-Okinawa Mass meeting to protest against any relocation of Futenma base within the prefecture to the extent of ordering his staff to prepare two speeches, one that he would deliver if he chose at the last minute to attend and one if he chose not to. In the event he did attend, and delivered the appropriate speech, but had Okinawans relaxed the pressure on him, and had “reformists” softened their criticisms and somehow united on rightist lines, it is likely he would have chosen otherwise. In other words, the key divide is not the conventional ideological one of “left-right” but between democratic electoral sentiment and irresponsible local elites. What Sato is offering, according to Medoruma, is the “nonsense” of someone based in Tokyo who simply does not understand Okinawa.
In the frame of the Kim Gwang-sang analysis, Sato’s prescription for Okinawa, like his prescription for Japan as a whole, is for it to unite. But Okinawan unity has to be, he insists, within the frame of the Japanese state. His core concern, in the corpus of his writing, is for the strength, continuity and global influence of the nation state. Consequently, he has no time for the notion of Okinawan independence.
Sato is plainly right that a united, conservative Okinawan administration, that is, one welcoming Tokyo and Washington’s plans to construct the new base at Henoko, would open the way to smoother relations between Tokyo and the prefecture, as well as between Tokyo and Washington, thus advancing his nationalist cause. But he does not address the fundamental difference between Okinawan and Tokyo conceptions of the national interest and the US alliance. Were Japan to follow his prescription and model its state more closely on Israeli lines, the future for Okinawa would presumably be akin to that of the West Bank or Gaza, rather than Jerusalem. But while Sato presses the Israel model upon Tokyo, calling for reinforcement of the nation state’s intelligence-gathering and spying functions, his message to Okinawa to substitute cultural for political struggle and unite around right-wing local politicians, seems suspiciously like one of submission. It would surely be a nightmare for Okinawa if Tokyo were indeed to set up Mossad-type national instruments of intelligence-gathering and spying in order to advance its national interest just as it would be a nightmare for Tokyo if ever Okinawa were to consider seriously adopting Sato’s Israeli, state-reinforcing prescriptions.
Medoruma believes that even Sato’s adoption of the term “The Heisei Disposal of the Ryukyus” to describe the processes of Tokyo attempts to enforce construction of the projected Henoko base on Okinawa is subtly designed to shift Okinawan thinking onto an imperial (national) axis, since the “disposals” (shobun) have always been known in Okinawa simply as first, second etc, never by reference to Japanese imperial reign year. In such an emperor-centred frame, the accommodation of Okinawan sentiment and Okinawan demands can only be secondary.
The Debate that Did Not Open
The imbalance of forces between one whose every word can and will be seized and sold to an apparently inexhaustible nation-wide readership and one who it seems (since 1987) no one wants to publish at all, and who is therefore confined to cyber space, is remarkable. Kim’s critique is cogent and powerful, and certainly deserves to be read. Within Japan, however, a “Joint Statement” protesting at the “Sato Masaru phenomenon” and supporting Kim Gwang-sang over a twelve month period from October 2009 attracted the rather paltry total of 125 signatures – including a few professional academics and authors but many students, unionists, and ordinary citizens including other Zainichi. Beyond Japan, so far as this author is aware, the only reader who has paid any attention to it is the Korean scholar, Kwon Heok-tae (b. 1959), whose essay introducing and commenting positively on the Kim critique appeared in the Korean web journal Pressian on 27 February 2008. Kwon dissented from Kim only, or mainly, to argue that the Japanese liberal/left was not undergoing ideological conversion (tenko) because from its origins it had always been colonialist, never properly addressing the issues of colonialism and war.
There is much to think about in the corpus of the Kim Gwang-sang critique of the “Sato Masaru phenomenon” and the indiscriminate eagerness to which he points of Japanese media of all hues to join the Sato bandwagon. His critique of contemporary Japanese intellectuals, and suggestion that they are in the process of a major ideological shift as “left” and “right” are transcended in a nationalist, conservative consensus, is serious and carries large implications. Why then does it not receive (apart from the relatively small numbers of signatories of the cyber-world protest) such attention in Japan or internationally? One can only hazard the guess that his critique is dismissed because those he criticizes hold academic and publishing power while Kim is a mere publishing company clerk, with no known academic qualification or institutional affiliation.
That said, however, there are at least four grounds for disquiet at the way Kim has formulated his critique.
First, Kim’s political and intellectual critique has an element of personal animus, perhaps fed by righteous indignation that those he criticizes simply ignore rather than engage with him. A more dispassionate approach, in which critical dissent was combined with openness to the possibility that the agenda Sato (and others) pursue might have its own moral and political logic, would enhance its credibility. Sato’s evidently unjust and cruel victimization and imprisonment deserve sympathy, and his prodigious feats of conquest of the Japanese media deserve some recognition. Whatever “blame” might attach to the “Sato Masaru phenomenon,” Sato personally can scarcely be blamed for it.
Second, and related to this, by focussing on a “Sato Masaru phenomenon,” Kim tends to neglect the broader context of factional struggle within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (and more broadly the state) over national direction and role. Sato, Suzuki, and Togo, whatever their faults, long resisted the dominant, pro-American faction in the Ministry and acted courageously in opening to scrutiny the secret diplomacy of the long LDP era (goals which Kim presumably supports). The seriousness and continuing nature of this contest was underlined in September 2010 when the Supreme Court dismissed Suzuki’s appeal, signalling his likely lapse from chairmanship of the Lower House’s Foreign Affairs Committee to a prison cell again. Likewise, one wishes to know much more about Sato’s pro-Israel stance, based, as it appears to be, not on ideological or religious principle, let alone a US-centred world-view, but on Israel as a model of national unity, efficient state organization, and determined defence of its perceived interests.
Third, Sato’s Okinawan engagement also deserves more attention than Kim has thus far given it, because, as I argue above, it may be there that the contradictions in his thinking between commitment to the strengthening of the nation state on the one hand and indignation and support for the Okinawan cause on the other are most clearly exposed.
Fourth, Kim’s critique has a consistent tendency to belittle less than perfect political formulae as betrayal of political principle. He has little tolerance for politics as the art of the achievable, with compromise its discipline and imperfection its regular outcome. Thus, when Wada and others protest that their formulae for addressing the “Comfort Women” issue is all that is politically achievable under prevailing conditions, Kim accuses them of betrayal, and of a rightwards, tenko-like slide across the political spectrum.
In March 2008, in an unpublished note introducing the affair, I wrote that the debate Kim had opened was “likely to reverberate, and has the potential to become a unique East Asian Historikerstreit [the “Historical Dispute” that erupted in Europe in 1986 on the subject of the singularity of the Nazi experience] in which the civil societies of the two countries (with Kim himself as a Zainichi standing compellingly in between) debate past, present, and future.” I could not have been more wrong, as it occasioned no further comment whatever that I am aware of in print in either Japan or Korea, and has attracted no interest whatever elsewhere.
Gavan McCormack is emeritus professor of Australian National University, a coordinator of The Asia-Pacific Journal, author of many texts on this site and author of books including, most recently, Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (English edition from Verso, 2007, Japanese edition from Gaifusha, Korean from Changbi, and Chinese from Social Science Academic Press of China, all in 2008).
Gavan McCormack, “Ideas, Identity and Ideology in Contemporary Japan: The Sato Masaru Phenomenon” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, December 2, 2010)