Japan’s Odd Pro-Western ‘Nationalism’



Can one be a nationalist, while faithfully serving the interests of a foreign country or an empire? Anywhere else in the world the answer would be resolute and loud “No!”

It would appear as a clearly logical and linguistic contradiction. But in Japan, such a pirouette is apparently imaginable, acceptable and for many it is even perfectly ‘normal’.

At Nashappu Cape, which is right outside Wakkanai, the northernmost city of Japan, huge radars and military listening devices have been humming for decades, their low-key electronics resounding day and night. They are pointed directly at Russia and its remote island of Sakhalin, a huge isle taken over by the then Soviet military at the end of WWII, possibly because of Moscow’s fear that Japan would soon become a US colony. Having huge US military bases not far from the cities of Khabarovsk and Vladivostok did not, obviously, appeal to the Soviet Union, which had just lost approximately 20 million people, fighting and defeating fascism.

On any clear day, Sakhalin is visible from the shore, or from the windows of any Wakkanai’s multi-story hotels.

Almost all signs in Wakkanai appear to be friendly towards visiting foreigners, as they are written in Japanese, English and Russian. But there can be no doubt: The city is firmly integrated in the massive imperial structure of the United States, based on the Asian continent. And Japan has been, since the end of the WWII, the most important element of this arrangement.

In Tokyo, I asked David McNeill, leading expert on Japan and Professor at Sophia University, whether Japan is really an independent country, when it comes to its foreign policy. He got straight to the point:

“Critics would say ‘no’, and I would be among those people… Japan, after the Second World War, aligned itself very quickly with America… And Japan’s military alliance with America is also accompanied with, what critics would say, its subservient attitude towards Washington.”

These days, Japan is in some sort of high or low level confrontational mode with almost all its neighbors. Cynics would say ‘not surprisingly’, considering that relations are strained between Japan’s best friend the US, and China, Russia and North Korea.

Some 3,000 kilometers from Wakkanai, at the opposite end of Japan, the chain of Ryuku Islands is totally militarized by the US air force and marines. In fact, the bases occupy some 19 percent of the land of Okinawa, and fences and barbed wire fragment much of the rest.



“We are colonized; our land and even our minds are now colonized,” explained leading Okinawan writer, Ms. Chinin Usii.

On a normal day, from two major US air force bases located on Okinawan soil – Futenma and Kadena – jet fighters and surveillance airplanes take off with deafening regularity, innerving both China and North Korea. Okinawa itself suffers: the F-15’s fly at extremely low altitudes, their engines roaring. The island feels humiliated, used, sacrificed by Tokyo.

“This is where the Third World War can easily begin,” I am told in a bar, one night, by one outraged Okinawan resident. “And we have no say in the matter.”

The governor of Okinawa was supposed to have kicked the military bases off the island, but at the last moment, he succumbed to pressure from Tokyo and, according to most local residents,‘betrayed Okinawa.’

The more it loses out economically to China and South Korea, and the more irrelevant it becomes politically, Japan becomesincreasingly frustrated and aggressively pro-Western, particularly pro-United States. And what better way to show loyalty than by keeping those enormous US air force bases on its soil, especially if the soil is one thousand miles from Tokyo, and belongs to islands with a distinct identity and culture.

‘Becoming more and more pro-Western’

“There is this very strange mood in Japan these days,” explains Osaka-based film editor, Hata Takeshi. “Japan is becoming more and more pro-Western, while increasingly showing anti-Korean and anti-Chinese sentiments.”

This is reflected in several opinion polls, showing that most Japanese people now view the West favorably, and its North Asian neighbors negatively.

The incumbent administration is not only hawkish, it is brazenly insulting towards China and Korea. For example, Prime Minister Abe was unrepentant when he visited the ill-famed Yasukuni shrinerecently, a place where many Japanese war criminals are buried.

Japan is increasing its military budget, and there is a strong drive to revisit, reverse, or at least to amend its peaceful post-war Constitution. Abe is talking tough; he is promising ‘change’. But the‘change’ could trigger conflict in East Asia.

Japanese Self Defense forces aircraft regularly fly over the disputed islands, outraging China. These dangerous games are backed by the US, which is backing Japan with strategic bombers.

In the meantime, the coverage of these events by most of the mainstream Japanese media is thoroughly one-sided and anti-Chinese as well as pro-Western, in its tone and core. China is accused of ‘belligerence’ and ‘aggressiveness’ when it comes to recent events surrounding the disputed Senkaku Islands [known as Diaoyu in China] and such definitions are almost never challenged in public.

The fact that Japan is upsetting fragile a status quo and, according to many analysts based in Asia, is actually ‘provoking China’, is very rarely mentioned on Japanese TV or in the pages of its most widely read newspapers.

Reports by the Japanese media increasingly resemble a well-orchestrated propaganda drive. On February 13th, The Japan Times offered a predictable and stereotypical summary of the events, related to China and possible changes to Japan’s Constitution:

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pressed by China and seeking to strengthen ties with the US, is considering Japan’s biggest change in military engagement rules since World War II. Having increased the defense budget two years running and set up a US-style National Security Council, Abe is now seeking to allow Japan to come to the aid of its allies. China’s escalating challenge over the sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands has played into Abe’s plans to strengthen the Self-Defense Forces,” says Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Katsuei Hirasawa.



Militarizing Japan

Leading Australian historian and professor emeritus at Nagasaki University, Geoffrey Gunn wrote about the questions and answers sessions at the Japanese House of Representatives Budget Committee on February 12, 2014, an event that had scant coverage in local and international press. Gunn watched the session with his wife on local TV.

“Prime Minister Shinjo Abe sat in the front row, occasionally taking the microphone. Deputy Prime Minister, Taro Aso, reclined beside him. At the podium, following a round of applause, came Shintaro Ishihara, the unreconstructed neonationalist former governor of Tokyo. In his present incarnation, Ishihara enters the picture as member of recently resigned Osaka mayor and right-wing ideologue Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai). Also taking the podium was defense minister, Itsunori Onodera, fresh from a visit to India drumming up security and defense ties with China as the obvious target,” Gunn said about the session. He noted that Ishihara is the one who, by threatening to “purchase” the Daoyu/Senkaku Islands, forced the hand of the then government to nationalize them, thereby breaking with the status quo of recognizing a dispute with China as the other claimant, and setting up a dangerous escalation in tensions between the two nations.

“Far from backing off, the octogenarian Ishihara launched into a 30 minute harangue, denying the legitimacy of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials; calling for an expanded ‘Self Defense Force’ (the full nuance of his demands escaped my interpreter); making a pitch for the purchase of attack fighter aircraft; and virtually beating the drums of war,” Gunn noted.

“For Prime Minister Abe, whose recent visit to the Yasakuni Shrine (inter alia, a shrine honoring A-class war criminals) offended both China and South Korea, Ishihara offered the soothing words, ‘don’t hesitate to visit again and ignore the words of neighboring countries.’”

“Defense Minister Onodera, Prime Minister Abe, and Ishihara appeared to be in concord, a veritable cauldron of hawks. Gaffe-prone Taro Aso slumbered on, fortunately, perhaps, as the world cannot forget his statements of the previous year that a Nazi-style Reichstag would be the appropriate way to ram through constitutional amendments to better fit the Abe government’s neonationalist agenda. All I can say is that if the military attachés of concerned states, Washington included, were not watching this show then they should have been,” Geoffrey Gunn wrote.

The atmosphere in Japan at this time, as the Asahi newspaper reported, is that books and periodicals highly critical of China and South Korea are flying off bookstore shelves, prompting leading publishing companies to jump on the bandwagon to take advantage of the trend. But despite the undeniable turn towards the right, the Japanese public still disapproves of Abe’s plan to change the pacifist course, and the Constitution. According to a poll conducted by Kyodo News, at the end of January 2014, approximately 54 percent of Japanese citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the potential changes. 

But while the majority of Japanese people would not like to see their country turning back and once again becoming a major military power, hardly anyone thinks of criticizing Japan’s alliance with the United States.

In Okinawa, a former US marine who became a leading academic, Douglas Lummis, recently explained:

“The other day I heard, in open forum, two ladies discussing whether Japan’s peaceful Constitution should be nominated and granted intangible world heritage status. They asked my opinion… I said: ‘But while Japan has a peaceful Constitution, it allows huge US military bases on its territory. And these bases are anything but peaceful. And there is this military alliance between the two countries…’ They could not understand my point: to them and to many Japanese people, challenging the US-Japan military alliance would be something thoroughly unthinkable. I totally confused them.”

It is perhaps not Japan itself, but its alliance with the West that is threatening peace in Northeast Asia.

The peaceful Constitution may still become, one day, an intangible world heritage. And Japan’s self-defense force may not shoot at anybody abroad for some time to come. But what purpose would all this serve, if US strategic bombers take off one day and head towards China, North Korea, and even Russia, from those enormous military airports based on Japanese soil?



Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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