Japan Right Now: What Happens?

EDITORIAL, 30 Aug 2010

#127 | Johan Galtung, 30 Aug 2010 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Kyoto:  Hot like a sauna all over, with no cool water, only lukewarm.  No heated political debate, only lukewarm.  Like Ozawa of the governing Democratic Party of Japan, the DPJ, saying that Americans are “simple-minded”.  Full stop.  True, but how about his offering complex thought and speech?  What we get in Japan is mainly the loneliness and meaninglessness Murakami describes so well – and contributes to by normalizing it.  There is an enormous unease about what happens in the world, in Japan, and to Japan.  But it is by and large unarticulated in personal conversations, and in the media.  An adequate column with this title might actually be three empty pages.

There are reasons for deep concern.  Of the countries in the grip of the US alliances Japan may have become the most American.  Beaten in its deep cultural foundations, not only militarily, Japan is like a monotheistic country with God residing 7/24 in Washington.  Being so different, americanization was not a dialect, a variation on one’s own idiom, like in Germany and Norway, but a new language.  They master it imperfectly but make great strides forward, and will not easily turn in some other direction.

But the US imperial grip is crumbling, and that message will also arrive in Japan, a little late, but fairly soon.

That other direction is an East Asian Community, EAC, of two Chinas, two Koreas, and three Japans.  Three?  Yes, mainland Japan, the Northern Territories+ that belong neither to Japan nor to Russia but to the Ainu, and should be handed back, the Ryu Kyu islands, also known as Okinawa, that could be handed back to the inhabitants; both as highly autonomous parts of Japan.   A more adequate Japan might actually be a Federal Republic, and today’s Okinawa could host the headquarter of that future community of three giants, with their problematic subdivisions.  By 2020 US bases out, EAC headquarters in.

But Japan is not yet ready.  The past speaks with a loud voice, reconciliation with the Chinas and Koreas they brutalized is still not on the political agenda, nor concrete plans for a community.

The former prime minister from the DPJ, Hatoyama, had written about a regional currency union and political integration in an East Asian Community, and may have been exposed to hard US arms twisting, not bought, but threatened.  The bureaucrats were also against him.  He resigned.  His story, if ever published, will be a sad one.

Of lost opportunity.  A community of neighbors, with good relations to a non-imperial USA, is a better scenario than falling between one rising chair and one crumbling chair.  Political talent is needed, with strong leadership from the top, from the parliament, and from bureaucrats learning the basics of democracy: non-elected officials are servants, not rulers.  The European Union is also slow in building a community less subservient to the USA, but Afghanistan may speed it up.  Nor do Eurocrats understand “serving, not ruling”.

The past does not disappear.  This year was the centenary of the Japanese brutal 1910-45 annexation of Korea, based on the 1905 agreement with the USA, the Philippines for USA, Korea for Japan.     Professor Kinhide Mushakoji made a plea for including colonialism as a crime against humanity–a theme excluded from the Tokyo tribunal as it obviously would boomerang on the Western victors.  But it is rather unlikely that Japan will raise that issue for fear of being revisited by its past (Ryu Kyu-Taiwan-Korea-Manchuria-major parts of East Asia), and for fear of offending its Western allies.

Very active is the new right wing, the Zaitokukai.  Efforts to protect foreigners like Chinese and Koreans from exploitation are attacked as “privileging foreigners” by people hit by the capitalist low-paying part-time and contract work wave.  But we live in a partly globalizing world, and Kantian hospitality will have to apply.

And Japan seems to have gone along with the idea that a North Korean torpedo sank the South Korean navy ship.  However, the theory that the ship simply went on a reef-rock due to a navigation error gains in credibility.  A shame to be covered up and be used, also to win elections?  As is well known the UN did not buy the issue.

But if the government of Japan fails to stand up with a project for the future and fails to prevent Japan from sinking into oblivion overshadowed by China, maybe nongovernments, the Japanese civil society, can step in?  Take the brilliant NGO Peace Boat, circling the planet, visiting places of violent conflict, making thousands know world reality first hand.  They could sail a future East Asian Community Japan-Ainu-Korea North and South-China and Taiwan-Okinawa-Japan.  With participants from all seven, making the concept of an EAC, propagating it, living it, navigating it, with no reefs-rocks.

With Korean and Chinese NGOs they could advance reconciliation by writing decent textbooks on history and through an alternative to the Yasukuni shrine honoring Japanese in uniform killed during the Pacific war.  Honoring all who were killed, including Americans, military and civilian, making their deaths meaningful by adding to the shrine as a memorial to the past but a center for EAC future development, in japan and in the other countries.  A Japanese Prime Minister visiting the present Yasukuni shrine is an insult to the countries attacked; to plan a joint future with the equals is not.

The anti-nuclear movement focus on Hiroshima and hibakusha could tie up with the Agent Orange victims and the many like-minded NGOs in the USA to help the victims of US atrocities (Christianity at work?), and to proclaim a forceful Never More.  For the first time a US ambassador was present on 6 August–next time Obama please, earning the Nobel Peace Prize with an apology.  With the NGOs, bottom up, prompting the governments into action to join the world.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 30 Aug 2010.

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3 Responses to “Japan Right Now: What Happens?”

  1. Akifumi Fujita says:

    Much to my regret, I can’t help thinking that this is perfectly true.Precise description of what happens in Japan right now. Full stop. Almost no space for creativity.Society is seen here as strongly coupled machinery. The “Island of Death”(Takehiko Fukunaga),not only physically but spiritually. Thank you for pointing out that “the anti-nuclear movement focus on Hiroshima and hibakusha could tie up with the Agent Orange victims and many like-minded NGOs to help the victims of US atrocities.” I am very much moved and encouraged by this description. Peace studies is not an accompaniment or condition of hope, but hope itself indeed. And I enjoyed every minute of it paticipating in Hiroshima Workshop with Galtung-sensei as supervisor.Thank you very much.

  2. Satoshi Ashikaga says:

    I quite agree to what Prof. Galtung said in his column this week. Sad but true. Translate it into Japanese so that many more Japanese citizens will be able to read it. Let Japanese leaders, among others, read it!