Still say no

Ishihara Shintaro writes again

By William Wetherall

A version of this article appeared in
Far Eastern Economic Review, 149(31), 2 August 1990, pages 26, 30

Ishihara Shintaro, Japan's No. 1 loose missile, is a man of his word. The prize-winning novelist, prolific writer, and charismatic politician has delivered a sequel to his and Sony chairman Akio Morita's A Japan That Can Say "No": The Japan-America Relations Card, as the title of the original million-seller should translate into English.

Entitled Still a Japan That Can Say "No": The Basic Issues Between Japan and America, the promised second book came out this June, with substantial contributions by, in Morita's stead, the equally out-spoken but thicker-skinned Watanabe Shoichi, a professor of English studies, and the lower-profiled Ogawa Kazuhisa, who bills himself as both an international political analyst and a military affairs critic.

A promotional wrapper around the jacket asks: "Is Japan another star on the Stars and Stripes?" Ishihara and his new co-authors answer "Yes"--and contend that both countries, and the world, would be better off if Japan reclaimed its sovereignty by saying "No" to US demands which imply that Japan is its 51st state.

Tokyo humourists call Hawaii the 24th ward of Japan's capital city, reminiscent of jokes about Japan not bombing the West Coast states in the next war because it already owns them. Co-author Ogawa facetiously suggests that perhaps Japan should seek statehood.

Japan would be America's most populous state, and would have the largest state economy and the strongest state Militia. The combined demographic and economic prowess of a US that included Japan would exceed that of all EC countries.

"One can even contemplate a US president born from the Japanese, and even the name of the country changing to 'United States of Japan'," Ogawa writes. "Tell this story to America's whites and they will laugh in a weird way, as though to say 'No, thank you' to a takeover by Japan," he adds, and then concludes: "Hadn't Japan, which harbours US bases, better take a cue [from such opposition to alien control]?"

Ogawa's role is thus to lend credibility to Ishihara's opposition to Japan's military dependency on the US, and to his support of the movement to revise Japan's "American" Constitution in order to give "the Japanese race" all the military options of sovereignty.

Watanabe is Ishihara's alter ego on matters of race, culture, and history. The Catholic intellectual bends Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, and the behavioral imprinting theories of the ethologist Konrad Lorenz, to the will of his prophecy that "the age of Western civilisation is over." The insatiable "thirst for conquest" of "the white race" (as represented by "Americans") simply lacks the staying power of the "pride of Japanese--its "soul"--"which goes on living ever present in the depths of the spirit of each Japanese."

Watanabe believes that Japan's racial soul is epitomised in the state's imperial enthronement ceremonies. He believes that the emperor of Japan is at the core of a "culture of life" that socio-biologically programmes Japanese "to accept nature as it is" in its "unadorned" and "primeval" condition. And he boasts that "the Japanese have maintained such ceremonies for 2,000 years entirely unchanged and without mixing [with anything imported from abroad]."

"For better or worse," Watanabe thinks, "all Japanese basically have the idea that [they] are of one tribe. The spiritual soil of trusting a person before doubting him has existed from antiquity." Hence, he claims, the evolution in Japan, long before the beginning of American history, of Japan's superior wholesale distribution system, which is so unique that it has no counterparts in even Korea or China.

This will furrow the brows of outlanders and Japanese alike who have experienced the many social and economic barriers that groups in Japan raise between each other precisely because "trust" in Japan is not a universal currency, but a local, communal, familial, corporate one. But Watanabe's mind is a menagerie of the kinds of paradoxes that he likes to point out are the prime movers of all great societies - which does not, however, make him a brilliant thinker. He simply shares with many notable Roman Catholic intellectuals in Japan an obsession with proving that, despite their imported faith, their souls belong to the emperor.

"Japan bashing" rests upon two Misunderstandings according to Watanabe. The first is the cause of the 1931-45 war that he calls the "stupidest 15 years" in Japan's 2,000-year history. He detests the rightists that led Japan to war, but he blames their rise to power on the Meiji Constitution, which provided for an imperial army but not a modem government to control it. So Japan, which 1,300 years ago had a "constitution" that eulogised harmony, the spirit of which Watanabe says still lives in practically all Japanese, should not be seen as an inscrutable monster just because of a 15-year mar on its recent past.

The second misunderstanding that Watanabe thinks has fed this "monster" image is the belief that Japanese are cruel. Not so, he says, insisting that there was no "great" massacre in Nanjing, China in 1932, where as few as 4,000, perhaps 10,000, possibly 50,000, but no more than 200,000 victims died--compared with "over 500,000" who died as a result of the two atomic bombs that the US dropped on Japan in 1945. Echoing Ishihara's claim that America bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki for racist reasons, Watanabe writes: "I have evidence that the then prime minister of Canada said 'Fortunately they weren't dropped on whites'."

Ishihara, too, quickly warms to his favourite topics: race, sovereignty and defence. In the preface, he claims that Japan-America relations are most essentially warped by two problems: the constitution that remains just as the US dictated it after World War 11, and which deprives Japan and the Japanese of a true sense of independence; and the defense system that is an expression of the "sovereignty of a state race," but which under the constitution's rigid restraints can take only a twisted form.

Japan has been stuck with a constitution that was written by third- and fourth-rate American occupation scholars with the mentality of 10 year olds, Ishihara writes, mocking Gen. MacArthur's remark that Japanese have the minds of 12 year olds. Even Americans now regret the constitution's so-called "peace" article, he claims. And only "people who claim to be Japan's progressive intellectuals and have no sense of racial independence" praise the article's renunciation of war and the use of force in settling international disputes, he adds.

Ishihara would revise at least the language of the constitution, which he thinks is full of Americanisms if not mistranslations. And he would insert an article, now absent, to define Japan's head of state, preferably as the emperor. The emperor is presently called "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people," and the prime minister is the head of state only by default--a situation that Ishihara finds vague and thus dangerous.

So what is stopping the people of Japan, of all races and faiths, from revising the constitution in precisely the ways that Ishihara and his co-authors advocate?

All that is required is a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each house, after which the amendment must be ratified by the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast by the people in a national referendum.

Ishihara thinks that the US intended the amendment provisions to make it all but impossible for Japanese to change their constitution. "It was a way to suppress the autonomy of the Japanese," he writes, and then tellingly adds: "Conversely speaking, though, an independent state should have even the right to destroy itself."

This is a classic example of Ishihara's morbid humour--the kind that keeps getting him so much negative attention. But it also sounds like a "cry for help" of the sort that Japan screamed 50 years ago.

This time, Ishihara has beaten Washington bootleggers to the punch by arranging to have the new book "properly translated and published under very favourable conditions" by Simon & Schuster in New York. But he is in for a surprise if he thinks that a "proper" translation will make him look better. For an honest English version will show how he and his co-authors degrade the evolution of civil society by speaking of Japan and its multiethnic citizenry as a "race"--and offend Americans of all colours by characterising the US as "white."