Japan from the inside out

Taking flight

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Japan today is surprisingly diverse, which creates a centrifugal force in society. Right-wing voices adorn the mass media, but that does not represent all of Japan. Many people aren’t interested in the Dokdo issue. More than a few feel ashamed about the military comfort women. Thus, we have one more wish. That is for the sound conscience of the Japanese people who would defend that diversity and centrifugal force…Our job is to shout encouragement to them from the side.

– 3 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “Grassroots Imperialism, Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

All things that fly and crash have wings. If it is possible to refer to the group intelligence required for calmly considering history as a set of wings, Japan, which will crash from being a major power to a minor country, is wingless.

– Seoul University Professor Song Ho-gun in a 4 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “The Crash of Wingless Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

ONE of these days, after the South Korean polity has reached adulthood, Japan will have to thank the Koreans for the favor they’ve done them, albeit unwittingly. If it’s possible for an entire nation to reach a consensus, there is now a consensus in Japan that President Lee Myung-bak stepped over the line with his behavior last month, and his countrymen have blindly followed. As often happens, no one realized the line was there until after it was crossed. Now everyone sees it.

The immediate effect has been to drive home the realization that the considerable Japanese efforts at reconciliation over the past 50 years in general, and 20 years in particular, have had all the effect of throwing water on a hot rock, as the proverb has it. Many in Japan have been aware of the alternative universe that exists on the Korean Peninsula as manifest in the first quote above, but overlooked it to promote better bilateral relations.

The president’s recent Takeshima visit and his statements about the Emperor has concentrated attention on the entire pattern of Korean behavior over decades. The toothpaste is now all out of the tube, and no amount of shouting from the side by the Joongang to the 5% or 10% of the country still listening will reflate it. It will be more water on another hot rock. As one Japanese Tweet had it, “It’s not ‘Oppose South Korea’, but ‘Disassociate from South Korea in Stages’.”

The signs of a new Japanese attitude are both subtle and overt. One of the former is the change in the description of the Takeshima islets now occupied by South Korea. In the past, the Japanese media referred to them as “Takeshima (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Now it’s “Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Shimane was the local government with jurisdiction of the islets from 1905 until the South Koreans seized them in the early 1950s.

More overtly, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has ditched the “Now, now, can’t we all get along” attitude of his predecessors (other than Koizumi/Abe) and crossed a line of his own by saying the South Koreans are occupying the islets illegally. The change is as significant as it is low-key. Where once there was vagueness there is now an unmistakable position.

Speaking for the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro is now saying openly what the government had refrained from saying before. From an interview earlier this week on TBS radio:

“Japan established (Takeshima’s) territorial sovereignty during the Edo period when townspeople received permission from the Shogunate to catch abalone and seals. Because it was Japanese territory, American military forces designated it as a practice target range in 1952.“

He added:

“Many Korean documents (related to their claim to the islets) have inconsistencies, and there are many doubts about their reliability.”

Refer to the two related articles on the masthead and you’ll see that was actually an understatement. He concluded:

“Let’s resolve the dispute fairly and peacefully.”

By that, he means Japan intends to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice for third-party mediation.

That suggestion was countered by the suggestion in the South Korean news media that the Korean government might end all military exchange programs between the two countries if Japan takes the case to the ICJ.

South Korean Air Force officers were due to visit Japan Monday in an exchange program, but that visit was cancelled. The South Korean government cited Japan’s position on Takeshima as the reason.

Cadets from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force were to visit South Korea on the 18th, but that visit was postponed. Said a Korean military official:

“We’ve concluded it would be difficult to force through military exchange with Japan in view of the growing anti-Japanese sentiment among the Korean people”

Yes, he said “force through”.

None of this was a surprise — South Korea also cited anti-Japanese sentiment when it cancelled the signing ceremony for an agreement to share military intelligence earlier this summer, 20 minutes before the ceremony was to be held. That was before the current wrangling gave them a better excuse.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Was that a glimmer of sense from behind South Korean curtains yesterday when they scaled down a planned four-day drill to defend Takeshima from an “illegal” approach to the islets? From a Yonhap report:

“Previous exercises sometimes involved Marines rappelling onto the islets from helicopters if the weather was right. But this year’s drills won’t include any landing operations, a senior military official said.”

Declared the office of President Lee:

“We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessary…President Lee expressed with the utmost strength the political will to never accept the usurpation of our land.”

But they helpfully added:

“(The drill) was not for the purpose of fighting a war with a friendly country.”

That generated both domestic criticism of the South Korean government for showing “weakness toward Japan” as well as some confusion. Today in the Chosun Ilbo:

“It’s very possible that the significance of this year’s drill would have been greater than usual because it had attracted international attention. This is also one reason (it was called off).”

Thus started the speculation that the Americans had suggested they chill, or some in Seoul began to be concerned that a pointless military drill wouldn’t create a favorable impression overseas.

Japan also asked them through diplomatic channels to tone it down or cancel it. That might have been another factor, though it is inadmissable in the court of South Korean public opinion. The president’s office said:

“It is a mistake to say that we scaled down the drill because of Japanese opposition. It is for us to decide whether or not we conduct a drill, or the scale of any drill we do conduct.”

That brings us to the second passage above from Prof. Song about the wingless Japan’s tailspin into oblivion. By Jove, I think he’s got it — backwards. The events of the month have brought several existing currents into a greater focus and convergence that is more likely to result in the rediscovery of their wings.

That process had been underway for a while, but South Korean behavior has accelerated it. Other contributing factors were Chinese behavior during the incident involving the Senkakus two years ago this month, the ill-concealed Chinese designs on Okinawa as well as the Senkakus, the ill-concealed South Korean designs on Tsushima, the Tohoku triple disaster, the local impact of the international economic malaise, and the inability of the National Political Establishment to deal with any of these issues.

A new national resolve is forming which will mark the beginning of the end of the postwar regime. Already on the table as real possibilities are a radical restructuring of the system of governance, a revised Constitution that no longer has a Peace Clause — and indeed, a Japan That Can Say No.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about any crash of the wingless Japanese. Unobserved by the rest of the world, they’ve lately noticed they still have wings. Thanks to South Korea, they’re starting to use them.


* At the end of July, President Lee Myung-bak apologized on national television for the scandals that have sullied his administration. His brother and two aides were arrested for bribery. Roughly 20 associates have now been indicted or convicted for corruption, including three relatives. He once described his own government as “morally perfect”.

Two weeks after his apology, he became the first South Korean president to travel to Takeshima, opening the current diplomatic breach.

* People in both countries will continue to behave as they always have, regardless of the behavior of their national governments. For example, Fukuoka City-based Kyuden Infocom, a subsidiary of Kyushu Electric Power, the region’s largest utility, said it will expand the services offered by the Kyushuro website it operates for South Korean tourists making reservations at Kyushu hotels and ryokans. It will now offer tourists the opportunity to make reservations at hotels and ryokans nationwide. About 2,000 South Korean tourists use the site every month, and the company expects to double that in three years. This decision was announced about a week ago. The largest private sector company in Kyushu and an active institutional investor does not make decisions such as these on a whim.

Cutting off the country’s nose to spite its face might be an emotionally satisfying vote-winner in South Korea, but the businesspeople in both countries know that’s bad for the bottom line. The growth of cross-strait economic ties in the Busan-Kyushu region could briefly slow, but it won’t stop.

* The translation of these and other selections from Korean newspapers is important, and they should be taken seriously. Knowing what people tell each other when they think no one is paying attention is beneficial for everyone, Koreans included.

Or do you find it uncomfortable that they come off like a sophisticated and educated version of the North Korean news agency?

Besides, it’s hugely entertaining to read an editorial in a South Korean national newspaper assuring their readers that Japan is surprisingly diverse.

UPDATE: More entertainment, this time from Xinhua in China:

South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday summoned a Japanese right-wing activist accused of defaming Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The move came after surviving wartime sex slaves sued 47-year- old Nobuyuki Suzuki last month for defamation for tying a wooden stake to a symbolic statue of a young Korean woman, a monument to the victims of forced sexual slavery.

The statue, erected last year opposite the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, has drawn protests from Japanese politicians and rightists.

The wooden post read “Takeshima is Japanese territory,”in reference to a set of South Korea-controlled islets at the center of the decades-long territorial dispute between the two Asian neighbors. The islets are known here as Dokdo.

Prosecutors have requested Suzuki, who currently resides in Japan, to appear for questioning on Sept. 18 and plan to seek his extradition in cooperation with the Japanese authorities if he snubs the summon.

Of course they’re going to seek his extradition. Isn’t that what countries always do when an act of terrorism was committed on their soil? From the Kyunghyang Shinmum:

It has been confirmed that the two Japanese men who placed wooden stakes with the words, “Takeshima (Japanese name for Dokdo) is Japanese Land,” at the Dokdo Research Institute and the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum on August 22 left the country shortly after their crime.

On August 28, Seoul’s Seodaemun Police Station announced that the suspects of the “Stake Terror” were two Japanese men, Haruki Murata (61) and Tetsuro Sakurai (38).

“Stake Terror”, eh?

Fly fast enough and it creates a sonic boom.

8 Responses to “Taking flight”

  1. nigelboy said

    Just a year and half ago, the cabinet ministers of DPJ wouldn’t even dare use the word “illegal occupation”.

    Prior to August 21, it appears the foreign ministry of Japan has been working behind the scenes by visiting numerous Embassies in Tokyo as well as their own embassy officials throughout the world explaining the reason why Japan is going through the ICJ.

    The Japanese government to further pursue this dispute via ICJ (単独提訴)leads me to believe that they got a favorable response from those foreign countries.

    Also, it appears the FM is going to submit a budget to promote Japan’s position in regards to Takeshima which includes production of source materials and videos which not only be placed on their website, they intent to “go viral” with it.

  2. ampontan said

    N: Thanks for that info about the Foreign Ministry. Where did you find it?

    I’m starting to think the South Koreans won’t respond to the ICJ because they think they’d lose.

  3. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    A: Thank you for this great post. Another minor but important one to know the feeling of a person who ventured into one of the other worlds.

    You also learned Korean language and I guess you do not feel that it was a waste of time at all. I think the girl in the article I linked will be rewarded in some way real soon, even though she may feel uneasy and unhappy for a while. Learning rewards.

  4. Harry said

    “Japan, which will crash from being a major power to a minor country, is wingless..”

    The South Koreans underestimate our resilience and overestimate theirs. And I really think they are misreading the whole situation…

    I don’t understand why they are so reluctant to sign an intelligence sharing pact or a free trade agreement. Because President Lee is considered too pro-Japan? People are torn between America and North Korea but united against Japan?

    They will face a household debt crisis and a Chinese economic crisis in the near future. Damaging relations with Japan would backfire. The Taiwanese know that. Even the North Koreans have restarted talks with us.

    My guess is that the Kantei wants to set a precedent at the ICJ and involve the Taiwanese to ease tension in the East China Sea and the South China Sea as well.
    H: Thanks for the note. The more I read SK newspapers, the more I realize how nearsighted they are. Some of those frogs are in a very deep well.

  5. Ken said

    A boy who burned Korean flag to help Japan with calling himself as pro-Japanese Korean is 13-year-old student.
    I wonder how he learned this true history.
    Right after it, Korean government started sanctioning such pro-Japanese site.

    On the other hand, Japanese government seems to have consulted with China on which is rather better, Mr. Ishihara procures the Senkakus or government does so.

  6. nigelboy said



  7. nigelboy said

    One more article.

    N: Good catches. Very interesting. There’s been so much stuff to read that I skip over things if the headline looks like the info is repetitive. The information in the Sankei article didn’t come until the end of the second page.

    When I worked on the Shimane Prefecture translation, I had a long telephone conversation with someone affiliated with the national government (not FM, I think). He was extremely knowledgable about the Takeshima issue. He was also good at presenting it, which helps when you have to unpack and rebut the stuff out of SK.


  8. nigelboy said

    “Stake Terror”, eh?

    Yep. Just make up a new law and extradite them.

    Meanwhile, the nutjob that ran his truck into the Japanese Embassy got a suspended sentence.

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