Vox’s “Japan’s rising right-wing nationalism”

A commentary.

Meiji Shrine at New Years

I think what I dislike about Youtube channels like Vox most is their attitude.  It’s a attitude that says, “all you need to learn about this topic can be had in a seven minute video.”  They rarely leave room for doubt, or reserved judgement, or the need to educate yourself further.  No, trust them, they’ve looked into it and will give you all the information.

But how can they be a trustworthy source for everything?  Newspapers used to maintain huge offices all around the world full of hundreds of people working around the clock, and they still produced tons of mistakes and misinformation.  Now a Youtube channel interviews one professor or, as in this case, sends one reporter to Japan for a week and expects them to produce a whole series of videos about the place.  I understand this is the economic reality of news these days, but I can’t accept their self-confidence and self-righteous attitude (even though I realize that is also a product of economics – people are going to give you more views if you’ve got a seven minute video that contains everything they need to know rather than hours long videos that then admit to only scratching the surface).

So anyway, I’m not going to address the video in detail, but I did want to take time to discuss a couple of points/assertions the video makes.

First, what significance does a textbook that no one reads hold?  Unsurprisingly, the reporter opens with (and uses as the thumbnail for the video), the same old textbook that isn’t used in almost any schools.  How this book could possibly help anyone in understanding Japan is completely lost on me, but it keeps getting marched out by foreign reporters time and again.  So I will just comment on a couple things about it:

Although he says it all sarcastically and with air quotes, 南京事件 (nan’kin jiken, “Nanking Incident”) is just what the Nanking Massacre is called in Japanese.  It’s not a right-wing thing, that’s just the name for it.  Like how the “War of 1812” only exists in America, different places settle on different terms for the same things.  “Jiken” is a general word for a happening, with a connotation that it is a bad thing, and is therefore usually translated as “incident”, though that is not the sole way to do so.

“These Comfort Women, that are a huge part of Japanese history…”

No, they’re really not.  Sadly, being compelled to work as a prostitute is not an uncommon thing, even in the West, and even today.  But more than that, what is historically significant to Japan about the Comfort Women?  It’s a contemporary political issue in Japan-Korea relations, and I suppose its effects there will one day be historically significant, as evidenced by the fact that the current English Wikipedia article on the topic is fully half dedicated to the Comfort Women as an issue rather than the historical facts and evidence.  But there can only be so many things that are “huge” parts of Japanese history, less significant events must rate less extreme superlatives.

“It’s this group of old Japanese men who are part of this lobbying society that basically tried to push a different historical narrative into Japanese schools and they’ve been quite successful.”

Funny that they can’t get any schools to adopt their book.  Not sure how that rates as “successful.”

He then goes on to talk to a “Makoto Sakurai,” head of a new party with little support and no elected representatives in any body.  Yet apparently this guy has become a favorite of Western journalists, rating a ridiculously long English Wikipedia article.  By comparison, Kazuo Shii, the head of the Japan Communist Party, who has been in charge for nearly two decades of a party that has always had at least a couple dozen representatives in the Diet as well as thousands scattered across city and prefecture level assemblies all over Japan, barely rates a couple of tiny paragraphs.  It is ironic that even in this very Vox video they make a snide joke about “fake news”, yet they themselves are the ones manufacturing it.  It is these Western journalists that are trying to produce the Japanese far-right into something it really is not.  In any way.  And this Sakurai fellow is a great example of this.

For while this video tries to make him out as typical of this new, crazy right-wing movement, they did they same with Hashimoto Toru, the Osaka mayor who’s been featured previously on this blog.  Yet there is a famous video of Hashimoto yelling at Sakurai to get stuffed and stop bothering Osaka’s citizens.  Is this some great internal power struggle of the far-right, or has Hashimoto been made out to be much further to the right than he actually is, and Sakurai made out to be of far more importance than he actually is?  Occam’s razor says the latter.

Yet, even looking at the supposed platform of this Sakurai makes me pause.  According to Wikipedia, his campaign pledges for his 2016 run for governor of Tokyo (for which he received less than two percent of the vote) were:  crack down on illegal welfare payments, deport illegal residents, ban hate speech, revoke the tax exempt status of the South and North Korean residents associations, and have pachinko classified as gambling.  These are not extremely right-wing policies by a Western standard.  The only thing that strikes me as extreme about them is that the issues they relate to are of little importance to Tokyo and Japan.  That is to say, I’m sure the relevant arm of the government is already trying to not pay out welfare to those who aren’t entitled to it, and even if the governor could somehow get them to do it even less, I think most people would agree that the governor should be spending his time doing something more important than shouting at the civil servants of the welfare office.

“Sakurai’s Japan First Party hasn’t won any elections yet, but other nationalists in Japan have, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2012.”

This is sentence the Vox video goes with following their jibe about “fake news.”  Yet this is the fakest piece of news in the whole thing.  Prime Minister Abe has nothing to do with this Sakurai person.  They are not working together, they don’t share a platform, they’re not from the same part of the political spectrum, and they don’t belong in a sentence together.  Technically I guess they are both “nationalists” in the sense they are both pro-Japan, but by that definition what politician isn’t a nationalist?  Obama was surely a nationalist, Bernie Sanders is a nationalist, even Kazuo Shii, the Communist mentioned above, would be a nationalist.  What is Vox’s reason for using that term, if not to crowbar these two completely different people together.

Immediately following this sentence they try and damn the Prime Minister further by playing two seconds from a campaign rally where he says, “皆さん、日本を取り戻さならない” (minasan, nippon wo torimodosanaranai) which they translate as

“Everyone!  We must bring back Japan.”

which is not a terrible translation, though you could translate “everyone” as “friends” or something like that in this context, and “bring back” could also be “win back, take back, recover, restore, etc.”

But the translation is not what bothers me; it’s the context that’s the problem.  Vox is clearly using this line, which appears just two sentences away from a Trump reference, to compare Abe to America’s president.  Later in the video they will bafflingly state the romantic time the far-right wants to get back to is the 1860s (it definitely is not), but that is not what Abe was saying here.  What Abe is referring to is both his party, the LDP, which had been in charge for most of Japan’s post-war history, and himself, who had already been prime minister but resigned largely due to failing health (from which he recovered thanks to a new drug).  When his party won that election he successfully returned LDP rule back from a string of unpopular DPJ prime ministers, and successfully returned his own rule back to a time from when the LDP was just wrapping up a long period with the popular Koizumi.  The quote has nothing to do with Trump (or the 1860s for that matter), and I can only hope that Vox made an ignorant mistake rather than a careful disingenuous move.

“Up until now these guys…have been know for driving around in their vans…preaching the restoration of Japan’s pre-WWII greatness.”

This line refers to Abe and his advisors, but Vox doesn’t say who the hell they might actually be talking about.  Which one of Abe’s closest advisors was previously driving around in one of those silly vans?  Again, this is the same problem as above:  the LDP, the normal ruling party of Japan for a long time now, is not the same as the fringe right-wingers.  Heck, if those guys in vans actually had a real influence on the current government, they why would they waste their time driving around in black vans with loud-speakers?  The whole reason they do that is because no one will listen to them, so they go out to make people hear them.  No one, least of all the government, has any time for them.  Without their vans, no one would even know they existed at all.

“I chased after these guys and filmed them for an afternoon, watching them spar with the Tokyo police.”

Right.  So even the police are going out of their way to control and suppress them, yet somehow you think they are super accepted by and important to mainstream politics?  Or maybe the police are there to keep them safe from the general public who is liable to do them violence.  But that doesn’t sound like they are any more accepted or mainstream either.  Use the evidence of your own eyes!

“…committing horrific atrocities like mass genocide in the process.”

So what exactly is the difference between genocide and “mass genocide?”  That’s a meaningless addition, genocide is already massive by it’s nature.

But, more importantly, when did Japan commit (“mass”) genocide?  I think it says more of the West than Japan that a Western reporter just automatically assumes the Japanese Empire must have committed genocide because that’s what all Western empires have done.  But what people or peoples did the Empire attempt to expunge from the face of the Earth?  None.  Of all the atrocities committed in the name of the Empire genocide was not one of them.  There was no group or race of people that the Empire thought was so lowly that it insisted on their total destruction.  Not Koreans, not Chinese, not any of the white races; even Jews were safe in the care of the Empire.

“…into a natural alignment with Hitler’s Germany…”

So much to unpack here I’m not even going to bother.  Save to say the longer “natural alignment” and the one Japan always preferred was their alliance with Britain.  Maybe if Britain hadn’t broke that agreement, or maybe if they and America had agreed with Japan at the Leauge of Nations that all races were equal…but I’ve really not the energy to get into all that over five words in a Vox video.

For their comments on Yasukuni (what, did you think Yasukuni wasn’t going to come up in this video?), see my earlier post.

For the coup de grace at the end of the video, the reporter, speaking directly to the camera, warns that the main difference between Trump and Abe is that Trump is a “populist” (which he defines as someone “disruptive” that “comes from the outside”) while Abe is an “establishment politician.”  The take-away message being that while Trump has yet to cement his crazy right-wing agenda into mainstream politics, for Japan it is already here.  All I can say to that, is American should be so lucky as to have a president like Abe.  Someone who raises taxes on the rich, expands welfare, and who’s biggest scandal is that he might have helped someone get permission to open a school is so far removed from people like Trump that it boggles the mind trying to figure out why anyone would think they are comparable in the first place.

At the end of the day, all you need to know about the actual far right of Japan is that they are insignificant in size and influence.  As alluded to above, the far left have far more influence on politics, the government, and your average person’s life than the far right does.  And as for Abe and the LDP:  they are to the left of the Democrats.  Universal healthcare, high-speed rail networks across the entire country, ample public transportation, low income inequality, affordable housing, and good jobs for people from all walks of life; this is the kind of society that the LDP has strove to construct over their long tenure.  One could say they could have done much better, but, when you take a look at a place like America, they could have done so, so much worse.

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