Why Japan Remains a Threat
Peace and Democracy in Asia
by Kenichi Asano
Most people from this region, as well
as other parts of the globe, would be quite surprised to hear
the assertion that Japan is one of the most underdeveloped states
when it comes to the development of democracy and healthy journalism
in the Asia-Pacific region-and that politically, Japan is not
yet a fully independent nation. And why shouldn't they be surprised?
Most people assume that since Japan is a highly industrialized
country with one of the highest standards of technology in the
world, it must therefore be a democratic state as well.
In fact, this is not the case. I would
even go so far as to say that Japan remains a threat to peace
and prosperity in Asia.
MY EXPERIENCE AS A NEWS REPORTER
In examining the media situation and political
governance in Japan, let me first introduce my experience as a
correspondent in Southeast Asia. For 22 years, I worked as a news
reporter for Kyodo News, Japan's representative wire service,
including a stint as Kyodo's Jakarta Bureau Chief from February
1989 to July 1992. In 1992, I was deported by General Suharto's
I also covered the Cambodian conflict
and democratization process in Thailand. I have been an independent
journalist for eight years, having also taken a position as professor
of mass communications at Doshisha University in April 1994.
I have a special interest in media ethics,
mainly how the news media should cover crimes and criminal victims,
as well as suspects, defendants, and convicts. I often compare
media-accountability systems in various countries. I also try
to monitor the "independence" of journalists from the
political centers of local and national power that they cover.
Let me share with you my experience, in
particular, in Indonesia. I was blacklisted by the Indonesian
military and Japanese embassy in Jakarta for my critical reporting
on the Indonesian human rights situation and for reporting on
some shady ties with corrupt Japanese politicians.
WHY JAPAN IS SO UNDEMOCRATIC
Let me now turn to why Japan is one of
the most underdeveloped states when it comes to healthy journalism
and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region.
Firstly, according to opinion polls in
late September 2002, more than 55 percent of the Japanese public
reportedly support Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's cabinet,
even after he twice worshipped at Yasukuni Shrine near Tokyo,
a Shinto shrine where Class-A war criminals from World War II
(including Japan's then-prime minister Hideki Tojo) are enshrined
as gods. Yasukuni Shrine was the center of state-sponsored Shintoism
during the years of Japan's invasion of the Asia-Pacific region
since 1895, when Japan annexed Taiwan by military force. To make
a comparison, that would be like the current German president
paying an official visit to Adolf Hitler's graveyard on the day
that Nazi Germany surrendered to Allied forces.
Moreover, Shintaro Ishihara, the current
governor of Tokyo-infamous for repeatedly denying Japanese atrocities
in the Nanjing Massacre in China during the 1930s-ranks number
one in Japanese public opinion polls as the politician most favored
to be the next premier of Japan. It is safe to say that on the
political spectrum, Ishihara is to the far right of Jean Le Pen
Most Japanese citizens, to this day, refuse
to admit that Japan ever invaded any Asia-Pacific countries. They
even go so far as to emphasize that Japanese military occupation
in the region has helped these countries to gain independence
from Western imperialism.
Japanese Emperor Hirohito was acquitted
of wartime atrocities at the close of World War II, and since
then, most Japanese people have closed the book on taking any
responsibility for their government's own past crimes against
humanity. From that time up to the present day, Japan's ruling
party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been dominated by
ultra-right politicians and bureaucrats.
Herbert P. Bix's recent Pulitzer Prize-winning
biography, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan shows in painstaking
detail the many ways that the former Emperor led Japan's military
wartime regime, and how he was later protected by Occupation forces
after the war. The book, which has been out in English since 2000,
was finally translated into Japanese mid-2002, the language that
would expose it to its most important audience. Japanese publishers
had been reluctant to publish Bix's book in fear that they will
become targets of right-wing violence. Kodansha, leading publishing
firm in Tokyo, published its translation. Most Japanese newspapers
criticized the book in their book reviews. What makes Bix's book
so threatening is the high quality of his scholarship, revealing
the truth of the matter with indisputable facts. Mr. Minoru Kitamura,
one of several Japanese historians seeking to prove that the Nanjing
Massacre in China never happened, has written a new book called
"The Massacre Myth." Kitamura accused Mr. Harold Timperley,
correspondent to China for the then-Manchester Guardian newspaper
of Britain, of "creating" the story of the massacre.
Kitamura stresses that Timperley, author
of the widely read book "The Japanese Terror in China,"
was an agent of the Chinese Kuomintang, the nationalist party
then in government. Mr. John Gittings, a Guardian correspondent
to Shanghai, wrote an article about it titled "Japanese Rewrite
Guardian History: Nanjing Massacre Reports Were False, Revisionists
Claim" on October 4, 2002.
Gittings, by analyzing Guardian archives
in London, found out that the reason for the misquoting of the
numbers of massacred people was due to Timperley's references
to the Yangtze River delta being omitted at the time by Japanese
diplomats in China. I too firmly believe that the number of victims
of the massacre committed by Japan is still not clear, simply
because the Japanese government has burnt or otherwise nullified
evidence of its crimes all over the world.
More recently North Korean leader Kim
Jong-il has admitted that his country kidnapped Japanese citizens-and
that at least four were still alive. "It is regretful and
I want to frankly apologize," Kim said to Japanese Prime
Minister Koizumi, as the two leaders held talks in Pyongyang during
their first face-to-face meeting on September 17.
Eight Japanese nationals, who were abducted
in the 1970s and 1980s, are confirmed as being dead. Mr. Kim reportedly
said that those responsible for the kidnappings had been "sternly
punished." Six out of 11 people, whom Tokyo has long claimed
were abducted, were confirmed to have died in North Korea.
In a joint statement that followed the
meeting between the two nations' leaders, North Korea said it
would abandon compensation from Japan's 35-year imperial invasion
of the Korean Peninsula. In turn, it demanded Japanese official
development aid and expected private investment from Japan. Pyongyang
has long held complete compensation from Japan's colonialism as
a pre-condition for talks over normalizing relations between the
two countries. But suddenly, North Korea let Japan's responsibility
for wartime atrocities just fade away.
In this sense, the Japan-North Korea joint
statement is worse than the 1965 so-called "peace treaty"
between Japan and the military government of South Korea. Mr.
Kim of North Korea now badly seems to need Japanese economic help
as well as diplomatic support, at a time when he is under intense
pressure from the United States. North Korea can no longer afford
to make so many demands.
Revisionists and ultra-rightists in Japan
have acquired renewed political power following North Korea's
admission that it abducted Japanese citizens several decades ago.
The Japanese media, and most Japanese citizens, are behaving as
if they are innocent victims of some brand of devilish "outlaw
state." It seems to me that they have all conveniently forgotten
what their own Japanese Imperial Army had done to the people of
several Asia-Pacific countries since 1895. Among many other things,
Japan had abducted more than three million Koreans, forcing them
to be soldiers, mine workers, and "sex slaves."
In this instance with North Korea, as
with many other past issues, the major Japanese newspapers, magazines,
and TV networks again showed their bad side: carrying out their
reporting via the phenomenon known as "pack journalism."
In "pack journalism," the employees
of news organizations throng to a single news source like a pack
of animals, pursue the story almost as one herd, and report mass
amounts of information that end up in stories nearly identical
to one another. This is exactly the term the New York Times once
used to describe Japanese news reporters, when the corrupt president
of the Toyoda Shoji company was stabbed to death by a mobster
in 1985, right in front of the reporters.
Mr. Kim Sok-pom, a Korean writer born
in Japan, severely criticized the Japanese nation and its media
recently during an October 26 citizen's group meeting on monitoring
the media coverage of the North Korea abduction cases.
Kim stated publicly: "The mass media
in Japan have been reporting the abduction cases without mentioning
what Japan has done to Koreans. This kind of reporting by the
Japanese mass media, which incites anti-Korean sentiment among
the Japanese public, is a kind of violence against Koreans born
in Japan. Japan has neglected to commemorate the massacre of Koreans
born in Japan during the massive earthquake in the Kanto area
[of Japan] on September 1, 1923, as well as all kinds of atrocities
during Japanese colonial rule. Is there any country like Japan
in the world?"
Kim Sok-pom added that "Japan is
suffering from amnesia." He further accused the Kim Jong-il
government of an "act of treachery and shameful diplomatic
policy" when it recently gave up its right of any future
claims to Japan's cruel occupation of the past.
Japanese revisionists have made great
strides in erasing any written references to ianfu-former "sex
slaves" of the Japanese Imperial Army-and the Nanjing Massacre
in China from Japanese school textbooks. Very few Japanese citizens
today know about Japanese modern history in any real depth.
Secondly, Japan is still under the military
occupation of the United States of America. Following Japan's
unconditional surrender to the U.S.-led Allied forces on August
15, 1945, and the subsequent end of World War II, Japan was placed
under U.S. military control. The American military forces have
never left Japan since then. More than 40,000 U.S. troops remain
based in Japan today, as we speak. This is ostensibly to protect
Japan from "enemies" like North Korea-and yet no U.S.
military bases in the area, outside of those in South Korea, are
facing imminent war with North Korea.
The Japanese news media and citizens are
now criticizing North Korea's nuclear weapons plan. However, the
Japanese have also totally forgotten that there are functioning
nuclear reactors all over Japan, not to mention large numbers
of nuclear weapons located on U.S. military bases in Japan.
Yet the Japanese government has confidently
claimed that Japan's nuclear program will never be used for weapons
and that U.S. armed forces are restricted under the antinuclear
policies of the Japanese constitution from bringing nuclear weapons
And this propaganda seems to be working
well. One would be hard-pressed to find any large demonstrations
against U.S. bases in Japan by Japanese students or Japanese workers.
One can find an active anti-U.S. base movement only in the southern
island of Okinawa, where most of the beautiful beaches are essentially
occupied by the U.S. military. Extremely weak trade unions and
university student bodies in our country make it very easy for
the ruling class to control people. The Japanese, I would say,
have politically changed very little since 1868, when the shogun-ruled
Edo period ended and the Western-leaning Meiji period began.
Thirdly, the Japanese people have never
experienced any real social revolutions in their history, unlike
nations in many other parts of the world that have fought hard
to acquire democracy at the cost of enormous numbers of their
JAPAN'S LAP DOG PRESS
I would like to assert one good reason
why Japanese democracy is not yet matured, despite Japans enjoyment
of a high technological standard of living: the problem known
as "lap dog journalism."
The press in Japan is as free and open
as that of any nation in the world, including the U.S. and European
countries. Freedom of the press in Japan is absolutely and strongly
protected by the constitution that Japan adopted after World War
II. Any kind of censorship is strictly forbidden. Yet self-censorship
runs rampant. Those who work in Japanese media circles do not
use their constitutional right to carry out investigative reporting.
The Japanese press, as a whole, lacks any skepticism toward authority.
Lack of diversity and variety is the cause
of such weak journalism. There is only one local newspaper in
most of the local prefectures of Japan. Major TV networks are
owned by prominent newspaper companies, which enjoy high business
profits. Japan has the highest number of newspaper readers per
capita of any country in the world.
And still, ironically, journalists and
the general public alike in our country do not realize that Japan's
freedom of expression was a "gift" bestowed upon us
by the Allied forces at the cost of 23 million victims throughout
the Asia-Pacific region during World War II. Major newspapers
throughout Japan since the 1950s have acted as if their highest
duty were to help enforce the continuing rule of the LDP.
A healthy, tense atmosphere between news
sources and journalists is indispensable for solid journalism
In Japan, news sources try to curry favor
with journalists only so they can obtain favorable coverage of
the organizations they belong to. But this is not right. Journalists
should be independent of any news source if they are to effectively
carry out their duty of working for the citizens' right to know.
According to a survey taken in Japan in
the late 1980s, 90 percent of news stories in the Japanese press
originate from government officials and Big Business. This is
because the majority of mainstream news reporters get their "facts"
through a system known as the "kisha clubs," or press
club system imposed on media outlets from above. Under this system,
the n - H media serve merely as mouthpieces for those in power.
The number of commentators and academics who appear daily on major
television networks in Japan are overwhelmingly scholars whose
work is patronized by the government.
A lack of objective, balanced reporting
principles is another problem. The Japanese media as a whole pay
little or no attention to clarifying news sources and attribution
of those sources.
You may be surprised to know that very
few professional journalists in Japan have ever studied journalism
before entering their profession. Only a few universities-out
of about 400 universities in all of Japan even have a journalism
department. A professional journalist is only regarded to be such
when he or she becomes gainfully employed by any of the news organizations.
Generally speaking, Japan's concept of
democracy is just like one that Professor Noam Chomsky of the
United States defines as "an alternative conception of democracy."
That is, under this conception, citizens must be barred from managing
their own affairs and the means of information must be kept narrowly
and rigidly controlled.
In closing, I could see with my own eyes
how the people of Thailand fought against the regime of General
Sutchinda in May 1992 in seeking democratic reforms, and how the
people and journalists of Indonesia waged a courageous struggle
to oust General Suharto in the 1990s. Likewise, the people of
the Philippines fought against the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos
and contributed to the eventual withdrawal of U.S. armed forces
from their country.
Journalists in those Asian nations were
always to be found in public demonstrations, alongside laborers,
students and activists of nongovernmental organizations.
If Japan is ever to attain the status
of a truly democratic state in the modern world, then it is precisely
this type of free and open journalism that Japanese journalists
will need to vigorously practice and defend.
Kenichi Asano is a Professor of Communication
Studies at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan.