Japan from the inside out

Kan Naoto’s northern exposure

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 31, 2011

The DPJ has an inseparable relationship with the extreme left.
– Isozaki Yosuke, LDP member of the upper house

Prime Minister Kan was originally a citizen-activist, so in some ways he is likely sympathetic to North Korea.
– Suganuma Mitsuhiro, former member of the Public Security Intelligence Agency

RECENT events in North Korea reminded me of a post I had planned to write earlier but didn’t find the time for. Then again, it’s about former Prime Minister Kan Naoto, whom most people in Japan would prefer to never be reminded of again. But the information it contains demands the stiffening of the upper lip and the blocking of the nostrils to finish the job. It involves the reason he decided to quit jerking the nation around after spending the summer doubling down on his jerkdom after escaping a no-confidence motion in the lower house.

Recall that Mr. Kan insisted he never gave his predecessor as prime minister, Hatoyama Yukio, a firm promise that he would resign in their early June meeting Mr. Hatoyama requested for just that purpose. He stayed vague and hazy about his plans throughout the summer, when he wasn’t hinting he would continue indefinitely in office as the National Torturer in Chief. He even indulged his inner Koizumi by examining the possibility of dissolving the Diet, calling a snap election, and running on the single issue of nuclear power. He finally threw in the spoon on 26 August, though earlier that week an interview with him appeared in one of the Asahi publications in which he again suggested he was in it for the long haul.

What made him change his mind? Here’s a possibility: The exposure of his murky ties with North Korea and other radical leftists was about to get him in trouble beyond his capabilities to ignore.

It isn’t unusual for politicians of the left in Western democracies to have questionable ties with unpleasant elements. For example, it’s well-known in the United States that Edward “Lion of the Senate” Kennedy thought Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov was more approachable and had more peaceful intentions than then-President Ronald Reagan.

The same mindset among Japanese politicians of the left has often become manifest in attitudes ranging from deference to cordiality or even stout defense of North Korea, particularly when Kim Il-sung was in charge. The delusion also infects people not ostensibly of the left; we’ve seen before the suspicions surrounding then-Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji of the DPJ, who quit while the quitting was good, and even Kato Koichi of the LDP, who nearly became prime minister.

The dirty Kan laundry was put through the wash in July, and it stained the water a muddy red. Most of the Japanese news media pretended it didn’t exist at first, but the story grew too big to ignore, and finally some Americans started sniffing around.

But Mr. Kan showed his colors long before that.

Shin Gwang-su

In 1980, North Korean agent Shin Gwang-su organized the abduction of Osaka cook Hara Tadaaki, in part to use Hara’s passport to enter Japan while working as a North Korean agent. He was a foot soldier in a six-year Pyeongyang program of clandestine warfare in which at least 17 Japanese were abducted, though the real total could have been as high as 70 or 80 people. Shin, a zainichi and native of Shizuoka, was also identified by Chimura Yasushi and Hasuike Kaoru as one of the two men who abducted them. The two Japanese and their families were repatriated in 2002.

Shin Gwang-su

North Korea denied the abductions for years, and the useful idiots and politicians of the left in Japan claimed it was all a conspiracy theory cooked up by whacked-out right wingers. Japan’s Socialist Party got along quite well with the North Koreans in friendly solidarity and sponsored a Peace Boat cruise to the country every summer. JSP leader Doi Takako visited Pyeongyang in 1987 for Kim Il-sung’s birthday party and said:

We JSP members respect the glorious success of DPRK under the great leader Kim Il Sung.

She was also shown on television telling the families of the abductees to “get over it”.

Shin was finally apprehended by South Korean authorities when in that country on another secret mission in 1985, and sentenced to death. Their interrogation revealed information about the abductions, his use of Hara’s passport, and his statement that he was instructed to conduct the operations by Kim Jong-il in person.

The plight of political prisoners in South Korea under the military dictatorship became a cause célèbre among the Japanese. (Westerners are familiar with the phenomenon with such cases as that of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the United States.) A petition circulated for their release was signed by 129 Japanese Diet members. In addition to members of the Socialist Party and Komeito, the forerunner of today’s New Komeito (many zainichi are members of the affiliated Soka Gakkai), two MPs from the small Democratic Socialist Federation also signed: Kan Naoto and Eda Satsuki. Mr. Eda would later become the second Justice Minister in the Kan Cabinet, replacing Chiba Keiko, who lost her upper house seat in the 2010 election. A Socialist Party member in those pre-DPJ days, she also signed the petition.

The South Koreans later commuted Shin’s sentence to life imprisonment. Then-President Kim Dae-jung sent him back to North Korea in 2000 as part of the Sunshine Policy, where he was hailed as a hero of the state. The Japanese police have an outstanding warrant for his arrest, but that would require the North Koreans to pinch their hero first and hand him over.

Kan and Eda claimed they had no idea that Shin had been involved in the abduction of Japanese nationals. Mr. Kan said he signed it only because someone asked him to, and he hadn’t paid much attention to the content of the document. The flippancy of that answer is typical of the profound disrespect he has displayed toward his countrymen and the political process throughout his career.

Chiba Keiko was grilled in the Diet on the same question in 2009 (by the Japanese Communist Party). She admitted that she had investigated Shin’s background at the time and discovered that he “probably” was involved in the abductions, but that problem was superseded by the greater human rights issue, which she did not specify. She allowed that signing the petition was a careless thing to do, which is more than Kan Naoto has ever done.

Just for you!

For me?

In late July, a previously unknown photo came to light that showed Kan Naoto during his visit to North Korea in March 1995 as part of a Japanese delegation that included Watanabe Michio and Aso Taro of the Liberal Democratic Party. (Watanabe had been foreign minister two years before and was to die that September.) Mr. Kan was in the Cabinet at that time as a member of the New Frontier Party, and fellow party member Hatoyama Yukio was also along for the trip.

The photo, seen here, was taken by a Japanese freelancer and shows Mr. Kan receiving a present from Kim Yong-sun, then head of the international division of the Workers’ Party of North Korea. In that role, Kim was responsible for directing North Korean spying and other undercover operations abroad.

It’s fascinating how often information potentially damaging to Japanese politicians seems to surface at certain times, even though the physical evidence had been around for a while. The freelancer’s other photographs taken at the time have also been made public. The only other person to have been photographed receiving a gift from Kim during the visit was Mr. Hatoyama.

It is also worthy of note that the New York Times considered Kim Yong-sun important enough to rate a brief obituary when he died following an automobile accident. Alas, they lacked the space to mention his work in the international division.

Campaign Cash

After Mr. Kan deflected the no-confidence motion in early June, the nation was livid at both his weaselly maneuvering and his refusal to specify a date for stepping down. That and the effect it would have on the Tohoku recovery occupied the public’s attention for the rest of the month.

The Kan-Sakai handshake

When it appeared that that the prime minister was digging in, some new information just happened to come to light in the first week of July. It was revealed that Mr. Kan’s political fund management committee donated JPY 62.5 million yen (more than $US 800,000) from 2007-2009 to a small political group linked to suspects in the North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens. Further, JPY 50 million of that amount was donated to the group in 2008. That is the maximum allowable amount, and it accounted for 60% of the group’s funding for the year.

The group benefiting from the Kan largesse was the Citizens’ Council for a Change of Government (shortened to Mezasu-kai in Japanese). It originated in and was created by the Shimin no To (Citizens’ Party).

CP head Sakai Takeru, who also travels under the name of Saito Masashi, has known Kan Naoto for 30 years. (photo). In fact, Mr. Sakai worked in the first Kan campaign for a Diet seat. He is a self-identified Leninist who has expressed solidarity with and support for the Red Army Faction of the Communist League, which hijacked a JAL flight to North Korea in 1970. In 2004, he wrote in the quarterly Risen (short for the Japanese “Theoretical Battle Line”):

I am (involved with) elections for the sake of revolution…my objective is revolution, so we must eventually change the central authority. But it is important to create a central territory where the revolutionaries are strong.

The Citizens’ Party walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Two members, Inoue Sakura and Yonahara Hiroko, managed to get themselves elected to the municipal assembly of Yokohama. On 29 May, 2002, they tried to pull down the Japanese flag displayed in the assembly’s main conference hall, and duked it out with the assembly staff before they were subdued. One week later, on 5 June, they took control of the seats of the assembly chairman and the secretary-general and blocked the session by refusing to move for six hours. The city of Yokohama finally expelled them as delegates.

The CP publishes a newspaper that openly supports North Korea and promoted the views of the Red Army Faction. It has also given space to Kan Naoto to promote his own views. He wrote for the paper:

I most definitely want to seek the ideal approach for a movement that combines both the labor movement and the citizens’ movement.

Under the direction of Mr. Sakai, the group created the Mezasu-kai in 2006 to back the then-opposition Democratic Party’s effort to win control of the government. One member of the new group was Mori Taishi, the son of the late leader of the Japanese Red Army, Tamiya Takamaro, and his wife, Mori Junko. Father was the leader of the JAL airliner hijacking group. Mother is on Interpol’s wanted list for abducting Ishioka Toru and Matsuki Kaoru from Europe to North Korea in 1980.

Their son Taishi was born in Pyeongyang and first came to Japan in 2004.

Said LDP Diet member Kawai Katsuyuki:

(He) was in North Korea until the age of 20. It is easy to imagine what sort of education he received.

It isn’t necessary to imagine his education at all, because the facts have been reported. He grew up in the “Japan Revolution Village” created on a site about an hour from Pyeongyang for eight Japanese families, including those of the hijackers. Mori received what has been described as a “revolutionary education” to convert Japan to Kim Il-sung-ism. In addition to textbooks, the village also had rifle ranges and boxing rings, and the training was conducted as a family. Every morning the village turned out to sing “The 10 Pledges”, which included promises to conduct the unconditional and thorough implementation of the Two Kims’ teachings, to protect the organization’s secrets with their lives, and to create revolution in Japan. The families had 20 children altogether, and all of them came to Japan.

Citizens’ Party head Sakai Takeru, Kan’s pal of 30 years, visited them in North Korea 10 years ago and met the villagers.

In April, Mori Taishi ran for the municipal assembly of Mitaka, a municipality in the Tokyo Metro District, but lost. He was officially endorsed by the Citizens’ Party.

As you might imagine, the opposition parties thought Mr. Kan had some explaining to do. Kan Naoto was his usual charming self:

I made the donation to provide solidarity and support to a local party to fulfill my job as an officer (acting president) of the party (DPJ) at the time…It was my decision to make the donation, so I have no intention of asking them to return it.


The flow of my political funds has been properly submitted in its entirety.

Well, that wasn’t the issue, was it? He continued:

I thought it would be a positive to become allied with them.

He added that he saw no reason to apologize to the abductees’ families, and that he didn’t know of the Mezasu-kai membership links to the abductions. Incidentally, as prime minister, he was the head of the special government group for dealing with the abduction issue.

His lack of knowledge about the group didn’t stop him from personally funneling the maximum donation to them in 2008. People wondered why he spent that much money on a group he knew so little about — unless his knowledge was limited to their affiliation with the political party of his Leninist friend. In any event, no one believed him any more this time than they did when he cavalierly dismissed his signature on the petition to free Shin Gwang-su.

For another perspective, here’s Prof. Iwai Tomoaki of Nihon University:

It is commonplace for politicians in Japan to make donations within the framework of one political family – usually through the parent organization to several sub-organizations as a means of helping them financially. I have seldom seen a case like Mr. Kan’s, in which political funds have been channeled into an outside political organization that seemingly is not directly linked with his body. In view of the prevailing accepted practices in Japanese politics, it certainly is a puzzling flow of funds.

It gets more puzzling: Tokyo prosecutors agreed to a request to investigate the donation for possible criminal prosecution. They checked the books of the Kan political fund committee and found a negative balance of funds on the date one of the donations was made. That meant it should have been impossible to give them any money. There is also no evidence of a loan. How can a donation be made with invisible funds?

Mr. Kan finally apologized in the Diet on 21 August, though he made sure to attach qualifiers to it first. He was unable to look his questioner in the eye.

In addition to their election activities, Mezasu-kai was also discovered to have spent money lavishly in Ginza nightclubs, Tokyo-area restaurants, and a Naha, Okinawa steakhouse. Lavish in this case is the equivalent of thousands of dollars at a time.

There’s more. Isn’t there always?

The political fund group of former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio also donated JPY 10 million yen to Mezasu-kai, and groups affiliated with six DPJ MPs gave money to the Citizens’ Party. But turnabout is fair play: Mezasu-kai donated JPY 16.9 million to groups affiliated with three Democratic Party members.

The group received JPY 249.6 million yen in all from several DPJ Diet members. One of them was Washio Eiichiro, who served on a special lower house committee for the abduction issue. You guessed it: he claimed his group didn’t know the Mezasu-kai back story, either. Mr. Washio was seen as a “conservative” (whatever that means in the DPJ universe), but Citizens’ Party head Sakai served as his aide for four years. Mr. Washio explained that he was a friend of his father, was introduced to him as a reliable person, and helped with his election campaigns. He said that he felt somewhat betrayed.

What an incurious lot, these Japanese politicians.

It was then revealed in August that the Citizens’ Party had dispatched six people to work as aides for four DPJ diet members to help in election campaigns. They were paid with public funds, which were divvied up into equal shares and distributed to all the party members. Spreading the wealth!

Finally, the Citizens’ Party is registered as a political group that is affiliated with Diet members, in this case four DPJ members.

South Korean money

Kan Naoto was also discovered to have received substantial donations twice from a South Korean national — quite against the law — once in 2006 and once in 2009. These donations came to light on 11 March, the same day as the Tohoku earthquake, so the news was lost to the public consciousness. But prosecutors in Tokyo were sufficiently curious to begin an investigation in May. Mr. Kan later returned the money, but the opposition boycotted an upper house Budget Committee session when he refused to hand over documents on the illegal donations.

The Kan government and North Korea

How did the prime minister’s feelings of solidarity for socialism Korean style translate into actual policy? The record is mixed. In April, still spending most of its time dealing with the Tohoku disaster, the Kan government extended the existing Japanese sanctions on North Korea. Those include the prohibition of imports, luxury exports, and Japanese port calls by North Korean ships. Mr. Kan instructed officials to study the possibility of tougher sanctions if Pyeongyang continued to stonewall the proposal for talks to discuss Japan’s doubts that all the abductees have been returned.

This does not necessarily mean he favored additional penalties or even the ones already in place. He may not know much about the recipients of his political donations, but he knows as well as any other politician the emotional resonance of the issue in Japan.

More in accord with his inner compass was his government’s granting of visas to five members of the North Korean Olympic Committee for meetings of the Olympic Council of Asia in Tokyo in mid-July. It was the first time in five years anyone with a North Korean passport had been allowed to enter Japan. The government explained that the constitution of the OCA, the governing body for sports in the region, calls for the separation of sports and politics.

Apparently the Olympic authorities do not consider North Korean concentration camps to be as reprehensible as the behavior of apartheid-era South Africa, which was prevented from participating in the 1964 Summer Olympics and was expelled from the IOC in 1970.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, said they hoped this would lead to improved relations with Japan.

But if any act of the Kan government encapsulates the Kan approach to politics, it was the prime minister’s request of the education ministry to resume its consideration of permitting free schooling for the Chongryon-operated high schools in the country — on the morning of the day the DPJ was to caucus to select his successor. (Chongryon is the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan.) In other words, one of Kan Naoto’s last acts in office was a political middle finger. One plank of the DPJ election platform was to make high school attendance free for all students. (The Japanese once took seriously the concept of compulsory education ending at age 15 and required tuition for high school.)

This would seem to be in violation of Article 89 of the Japanese constitution that prohibits public expenditures for any educational enterprise not under the control of public authority. The Chongryon schools have their own curriculum, teach the juche philosophy/religion, and have pictures of Kim I and II on the walls. It has not been reported whether they sing the Ten Pledges to start the day, as Mori Taishi did in the Japan Revolutionary Village.

The DPJ was working to implement this part of their manifesto when the North Koreans conducted a rocket attack on a South Korean island in November 2010, so public opinion would not allow them to move further. Mr. Kan said the resumption of the effort was justified because conditions on the peninsula had reverted to those prevailing before the attack. He also said it would be possible to provide the students with money retroactively to April, when the school year starts.

Waking up

Most of the information on the donation to the Mezasu-kai and the connections of the principals was reported by the Sankei Shimbun starting in July. The rest of the print and broadcast media looked the other way in public, even though the revelations caused some sharp questioning in the Diet. That ended on 28 July, when the Yomiuri Shimbun published its first report on the matter.

One day later, a project team was formed in the Diet with members from several parties to investigate the donations. Attending the first meeting was Azuma Shozo — a DPJ Cabinet member who was the deputy minister for handling the abduction issue. Talk began of an intra-party DPJ coup organized by four senior members of the party.

More ominous was that the controversy had started to attract attention in the U.S. and generated concerns about Kan Naoto’s trustworthiness. Better late than never, eh? The American ambassador John Roos even traveled to Niigata at this time to visit the site where the 13-year-old Yokota Megumi was kidnapped by North Korean agents in 1977.

These revelations and the reaction to them seem to have finally budged the intractable Kan. Everyone knows he announced his resignation on 26 August, but few know the exposure of his political associations is the factor that seems to have pushed him into it.

People will be singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight on New Year’s Eve throughout the English-speaking world. The song begins: Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Ask that question in Japan about Kan Naoto, and the answer will be yes. Many people will be taking a cup of kindness, but no one will be toasting him.


* The Cabinet of Noda Yoshihiko, Mr. Kan’s successor, declined to strengthen economic sanctions against North Korea. For some reason, they think there are prospects for new talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

After taking office, Mr. Noda said he would carefully examine the Kan order to re-examine the benefits for Chongyron schools. That means he isn’t going to quash it and is buying time until emotions subside.

He also appointed Hiraoka Hideo as justice minister. Mr. Hiraoka is a pacifist who attended the 50th anniversary party for Chongyron schools. He supports diplomatic recognition for North Korea, opposed the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces to deal with the Somalian pirates, and thinks the law is too strict on political donations from foreign countries.

One criticism of Noda Yoshihiko’s behavior as prime minister is that he gives precedence to the party over the national interest. His personal attitude toward the countries on the Korean Peninsula would be at home in the LDP, but his party is populated with so many people who share the ideas of Kan Naoto, Eda Satsuki, Chiba Keiko, and Hiraoka Hideo that he has to take them into account. The perpetual eggshell walk of DPJ leaders to prevent party dissolution is one of the many reasons they are not fit to govern.

* Some of the conversation between Kim Jong-il and the late South Korean President Ro Mu-hyeon at their Pyeongyang summit on 3 October 2007 was revealed by South Korean government sources on the 30th. Ro pressed Kim to take a forward-looking approach to returning South Korean abductees — the North Koreans have plenty of them, too — but Kim rebuffed him. He said:

Even though we went so far as to apologize, Japan attacked us.

In other words, Kim viewed his return of the Japanese abductees as a diplomatic failure, and he wasn’t about to let that happen again. He also alluded to criticism he received from the military when he added:

There are people around me who are known as hardliners.

So the abductions have blown up in everyone’s face, including that of Kim, thought to be the man responsible for them. That alone might say more about the state of governance in North Korea than the opinions of all the pundits put together.

British rocker Peter Frampton saw a documentary on Yokota Megumi and the abductions and was moved to dedicate two songs to her.

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4 Responses to “Kan Naoto’s northern exposure”

  1. toadold said

    For some reason I think of this video

  2. […] Kan Naoto’s northern exposure […]

  3. Matt O said

    Would you happen to have a link to the Sankei article detailing the exploits of the Mezasu-kai?

    M: Thanks for the note. There isn’t just one article, it was a series of articles that appeared throughout the month that got added to by other sources. The information here is extracted from newspaper and magazine articles, as well as blog posts. Wading through all of it was one of the reasons it took so long to put together.

    Here’s one of them for a start. That has links to five more at the bottom, including an editorial. The name of Mezasu-kai in Japanese is 政権交代をめざす市民の会, so if you put that into Google, either the news part or straight up, you should find plenty of stuff. Sankei keeps its articles up on the web for a while, but Yomiuri takes them down pretty quickly.

    – A.

  4. […] other reason is slightly more questionable. As Ampontan’s article on Kan Naoto’s links to the DPRK (well worth a read) show, members of the DPJ have at one […]

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