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Explosion Hits Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine

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Yasukuni is widely seen as a symbol of the country’s militarism before and during World War II. Among the 2.4 million war dead enshrined are 14 convicted class-A war criminals.

TOKYO— Mitsuru Obe reports: An explosion at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo may have been politically motivated, police said.

“Many Japanese on the political left warn about a return of that militarism, and there was widespread anger at the Abe government’s passage in September of legislation expanding the overseas role of the country’s military.”

No one was injured in the blast, which came at 10 a.m. local time Monday, a national holiday in Japan, just before a ceremony in celebration of the autumn harvest.

“The bills, which cast off restrictions that had been in place since the end of World War II, prompted months of street protests and scuffles in parliament.”

It left the walls of a bathroom burned and a small hole in the ceiling, according to local media, which reported investigators found batteries and wire at the scene.

Yasukuni is widely seen—including by some people in Japan—as a symbol of the country’s militarism before and during World War II. Among the 2.4 million war dead enshrined are 14 convicted class-A war criminals. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Myths About Emperor Hirohito

On the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II, separating the legend from the history

Myth 1: Emperor Hirohito was a Golden God

After the overthrow of the Japanese Shogunate in 1868, the four southern tribes, the Satsuma, Choshu, Saba and Tosa, sought to embed the legitimacy of their new regime by the re-promotion of an eighth century myth that the Japanese Emperor was a God. The myths were set out in two official chronicles, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters: AD 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan: AD 720).

The powers of the Emperor did not survive as power shifted to the Shogun system and until 1868 the Imperial Japanese family continued to
exist largely in obscurity and often in relative poverty. As often happens with revolutionary regimes, a new national identity was required to justify and embed the country’s new military rulers.francis-pike-japan-book

[Order Francis Pike’s book “Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945” from Amazon.com]

An infant Emperor Meiji was adopted as the new order’s figurehead and self-justification. Japan’s new regime re-emphasized the role of the Emperor as a living God, making it the heart of an ideological indoctrination taught in the new state school education system. The Japanese Army took this further by the simultaneous incorporation of Bushido (the military scholar code) into its military programs. Thus the overthrow of the Shogun was portrayed less as a revolution and was characterized instead as the Meiji Restoration, a title that gave moral justification to a successful armed insurrection.

Myth 2: Hirohito was simply a constitutional monarch forced into war by his generals

In March 1946, some nine months after the Pacific War had been brought to an end, Emperor Hirohito made a testament about his role in the war. In a bizarre scene, Hirohito had a single bed set up on which he lay in pure white pajamas on the finest soft cotton pillows. In eight hours of statements, the Showa Tenno no Dokuhaku Roku (Emperor’s Soliloquy: his post-war testament) Hirohito absolved himself for all responsibility for the war by claiming that he was a constitutional monarch entirely in the hands of the military: ‘I was a virtual prisoner and was powerless.’

This was a lie. Although by convention Hirohito behaved as a constitutional monarch, the Meiji Constitution granted him absolute power – he was after all enshrined as a God. On three separate occasions during his rule he had demonstrated his absolute powers; in 1929 he forced the resignation of his prime minister; in 1936 he overruled his military advisors to insist on the harshest treatment of the young officers
involved in the coup d’etat known as the 26 February Incident in 1945; and finally in August 1945 he overruled his advisors by insisting on a Japanese surrender.

[Also see – Harry Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: After 70 Years its Time to Replace Those Old Myths with Some New Ones]

[More – TABOO Violated: Letter Handed to Emperor Causes Protocol Freak-Out in Japan]

[Audio – Original sound of Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s surrender speech made public]

Hirohito had the power to stop Japan’s military adventurism in the 1930s but chose not to. As his former aide-de-camp Vice-Admiral Noboru Hirata conjectured, “What [his majesty] did at the end of the war, we might have had him do at the start.” Read the rest of this entry »


Hey Japan, Have You Apologized Enough Yet?

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A scene at a Tokyo courthouse last month showed why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has had to work all year on a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As WSJ’s Henry Hoenig reports:

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Dozens of people stood in the heat, hoping to win a lottery for a seat to hear two of Japan’s most renowned historians debate, as part of a libel suit, whether the term “sex slaves” accurately described the women in Japan’s World War II military brothels.

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On your knees, descendant of Imperialist dogs!

[Read more at Japan Realtime Report]

That the subject still draws a crowd after seven decades shows how divided the country still is—and helps to explain why Japan’s statements about the war have swung back and forth over the years, to the annoyance of its neighbors. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan’s Peaceful Self-Defense

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Shinzo Abe moved closer Thursday to securing passage of legislation that will allow Japan to participate in collective self-defense. After seven decades of sheltering under the U.S. security umbrella, the Prime Minister’s move would give Tokyo the ability to fight alongside an ally when either one is threatened, while protecting stability and democracy in East Asia.

The Cabinet adopted a new interpretation of Japan’s postwar Constitution last July allowing this cooperation. In April the U.S. and Japan announced new defense guidelines to put it into practice. On Thursday the lower house of the Diet approved the plan, and now the legislation moves to the upper house.

[Read the full text here, at WSJ]

Progress hasn’t come easily. Most Japanese oppose the plan, and according to an Asahi poll, Mr. Abe’s approval rating has fallen sharply to 39%. There have been tussles on the Diet floor and raucous protests outside it. Mr. Abe will need the support of coalition partners with pacifist tendencies to prevail in the upper house, though he could still overcome a defeat there with a two-thirds majority in the lower one. Read the rest of this entry »


Breaking with the Past, Japan Moves to Allow Military Combat for First Time in 70 Years

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Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military.

TOKYO — Jonathan Soble reports: Defying broad public opposition and large demonstrations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a crucial vote in Parliament on Thursday for legislation that would give Japan’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts for the first time since World War II.

“The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression.”

Mr. Abe’s party and its allies in the lower house of Parliament approved the package of 11 security-related bills after opposition lawmakers walked out in protest and as demonstrators chanted noisily outside, despite a gathering typhoon. The upper chamber, which Mr. Abe’s coalition also controls, is all but certain to endorse the legislation as well.

“These laws are absolutely necessary because the security situation surrounding Japan is growing more severe.”

— Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The vote was the culmination of months of contentious debate in a society that has long embraced pacifism to atone for wartime aggression. It was a significant victory for Mr. Abe, a conservative politician who has devoted his career to moving Japan beyond guilt over its militarist past and toward his vision of a “normal country” with a larger role in global affairs.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Parliament on Thursday. He has championed legislation that would giving the Japanese military limited powers to fight overseas. Credit Franck Robichon/European Pressphoto Agency

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Parliament on Thursday. He has championed legislation that would giving the Japanese military limited powers to fight overseas. Credit Franck Robichon/European Pressphoto Agency

“Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say it violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, Japan’s wartime foe turned ally and protector, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China.”

Mr. Abe has pressed this agenda, though, against the wishes of much of the Japanese public, and his moves have generated unease across Asia, especially in countries it once occupied and where its troops committed atrocities. Final passage of the bills would represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by the Japanese military in the decades since the war.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

“We solemnly urge the Japanese side to draw hard lessons from history, stick to the path of peaceful development, respect the major security concerns of its Asian neighbors, and refrain from jeopardizing China’s sovereignty and security interests or crippling regional peace and stability.”

— Hua Chunying, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, condemning the package

Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say it violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war. But the legislation is supported by the United States, Japan’s wartime foe turned ally and protector, which has welcomed a larger role for Tokyo in regional security as a counterweight to a more assertive China.

Mr. Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s support ratings, which were once high, fell to around 40 percent in several polls taken this month.

[Read the full text here, at The New York Times]

Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them if it had been free to act. Read the rest of this entry »