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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Some Electoral Issues in Japan

     On 10 July, this coming Sunday, we in Japan are going to elect half of the members of our Upper House for a term of six years.  They are elected either Prefecture-based electoral district wise, or in accordance to the proportion of the votes the various political parties get.  Each voter has got two votes, one for the district-wise voting and one for the party-wise voting.  A great characteristic this time is that the voting age has been lowered from 20 to 18.

     Our Upper House is not as powerful as the Lower House.  It means that as long as the majority of the Lower House is in the hands of the LDP-Komei Party coalition as it is at present, the electoral result this week-end will not bring about a change in the Government no matter what the result is going to be.  Still, it is much more powerful than in the British system, and it is possible that the result will greatly influence the political situation.

     The biggest electoral issue is economic, or rather the Government parties are trying to make it that way.  They are making the best of what they call the success of 'Abenomics'.  But has it been a success?  Are the fruits of it trickling down to the less privileged people from the hands of the well-to-do?  Are not the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer?

     The Prime Minister is boasting that the tax revenue has increased tremendously(by Yen 21,000 billion) over the past four years, showing the upward trend of the economy.  As has been pointed out by the critics, however, the condition of our economy was at its worst four years ago because of the world-wide depression and the great earthquake in Eastern Japan, and naturally the tax revenue was at a low level.  Moreover there has been a 3 % rise in consumption tax accounting nearly 40 % of the above tax increase.

     There are a few significant indices which Abe would not like to talk about.  He talks, for example, about achieving an increase in employment.  But most of them belong to unstable, low-paid, irregular work force.  They are called, and call themselves, "working poor".  This is persistently bringing down the wage-level for several years by now.  Simultaneously the level of personal consumption has gone down for the first time for two consecutive years for 2014-5.

       Under the circumstances the Government had to postpone the 2 % more rise in consumption tax planned for the next year.  But together they are going to introduce cut here and there in the social service sector.  They have also lowered the corporation tax, and the income tax on the rich.

     What is being fought in the electoral battle at present is not only the "Abenomics".  There are the questions of collective self-defence, the construction of the new US base at Okinawa, Constitutional Amendment centred around the Article 9, nuclear energy, TPP, and so on.  They are closely interrelated.  Put together they are likely to break, and are to a large measure already breaking, the opinion in this country into two halves.  We have somehow to go through this fire.   

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Did Obama Give A Message for Nuclear Disarmament at Hiroshima?

     There is a large Peace Park, as we call it, at the centre of Hiroshima city.  Mr. Obama spent about 50 minutes in its compound in the evening of 27 May 2016.  He saw the Museum, laid a wreath at the tomb of the deceased by the Bomb, talked to a couple of hibakusha (survivors), watched what is known as the Atomic Dome at some distance.  Above all he made a speech, said to be 17-minute long, which was no doubt broadcast all over the world.  What did he say then?

     He said, 'We come to mourn the dead, including over 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, thousands of Koreans and a dozen Americans held prisoner.'  And also, '...the memory of the morning of August 6, 1945 must never fade.'   So far very good.

     He talked about two hibakusha in high esteem.  '...the woman who forgave the pilot who flew the plane that dropped the atomic bomb because she recognized what she really hated was war itself; the man who sought out families of Americans killed here because he believed their loss was equal to his own.'  Very moving words.

     About the nuclear disarmament, he said, and this is what we wanted to hear, that 'Among those nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.'  Very encouraging.  

     But he continued that 'We may not realize this goal in my lifetime'  This is exactly what he said at Praha seven years ago.  It is as if there has been no progress on his part.  Why is it so?

     I think we may find the reason in a different portion of his speech, where he said that 'And since that fateful day we have made choices that give us hope. The United States and Japan forged not only an alliance...'.  This is a military alliance and both Japan and the US are committed to the doctrine, of cold-war origin and long outdated, of nuclear deterrence.  As long as you stick to that theory how could you be expected to move ahead toward the nuclear-free society?  

     In another part also Obama said that 'We may not be able to eliminate man's capacity to do evil, so nations and the alliances that we formed must possess the means to protect ourselves'.  Here he speaks of the alliances in a plural form, which suggests that all the alliances are based on the above-mentioned theory.

     Thus, regrettably, we may have to conclude that Mr. Obama has given no clear desire, let alone a plan, for nuclear disarmament.  This goes against the high hopes and expectations of millions of people who watched him speak at no other place than Hiroshima the day before yesterday evening. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Murder again in Okinawa

     Just on the eve of Mr. Obama's visit to Japan, a horrible thing has been found in connection with the US military stationed in Okinawa Prefecture.  A 20-year old Japanese girl, working and living in Okinawa with her fiance, has been missing since 28 April.  On 19 May the police apprehended a 32-year old American male, who followed her, raped her, stabbed her, seized her by the throat, and finally left her body in the forest.  He was an ex-Marine stationed in Okinawa, and was working at a US base as an  engineer.

     The Coordinator of the four US services in Okinawa, together with the US Consul-General, called on the Deputy Governor of the Prefecture to offer their apologies.  Japan's Foreign Minister called the US Ambassador, Madame Kennedy, to his office to protest.  Again a word was given for observing stricter discipline in and out of the US Bases.  But those words have never been kept.  The heinous crimes by the US soldiers or ex-soldiers in Okinawa, such as murder, rape, burglary and arson, have been continuing to occur at the rate of more than a dozen a year.

     Why is it so?  It is because those Americans are not there to defend Japan, but to be deployed in whatever wars and operations the US may start in wherever part of the world.  In other words they are being trained there to kill, not to live and let live, with scarcely any concern with such a thing as the human rights.  Therefore as long as they are there the residents are in danger.  They are not wanted.

     The funeral of the girl was held, and was attended by hundreds of people, among them the Governor of Okinawa, Mr. Onaga.  Many of her former high school-mates were seen in tears. Japan's Prime Minister, Mr. Abe is going to accompany Mr. Obama to Hiroshima.  This would otherwise have added his prestige.  But if he does not put a strong protest now, which he is not very likely to do, his reputation will be greatly damaged.      

Friday, May 13, 2016

Obama's Hiroshima Visit

     President Obama, who made a famous speech at Praha, hoping for a nuclear-free world shortly after his inauguration in April 2009, is coming to Hiroshima on 27 May, on his way home from the Summit meeting at a different part of Japan, it was announced on 10.  This is going to be the first as an incumbent US President.  That should by itself be meaningful.  First an American Ambassador to Japan, followed by other high officials, and finally Secretary John Kelly earlier this year, visited the city so far.  The US must have admitted that now the ground has been prepared for the Presidential one.

     Everyone in Japan would hope that he would visit Nagasaki city also. What is more important is what he is coming for even if it is only Hiroshima.  Is it only symbolic in some sense, as a State Department spokesperson said?  Of course some may think that the visit itself is an expression of an apology.  But I would not deem a visit itself as an apology.  I strongly feel that if Obama comes empty-handed, so to speak, if his visit simply contributes to the status quo of the global nuclear weapons situation, it will make more harm than no visit at all.

     If Obama wants to be true to his Praha speech, made in the full view of the whole world, he must say something at Hiroshima which is reflective on the past, or would make the humanity more hopeful for the future.  For one thing he may well express regret on the dropping of the bombs.  After all the US has been the only user of these weapons so far.  Many Americans also, mostly at the numerous experiments, have suffered.  Gandhi of India expressed the opinion that not only the soul of the Japanese was destroyed, but of those who dropped the bombs could be brought into question.  Only if and when Obama expresses his regret on the past, he may show himself to be negative on the further use of these weapons.  Only then he can give a message for the future.

     For another, his message should be such that it will contribute to nuclear disarmament in the world.  As far as Japan-US relations are concerned, there is a secret agreement that in case of emergency the US can bring nuclear weapons into Okinawa.  It has been in place since 1969 when it was signed by the US President and the Japanese Prime Minister.  Obama can cancel it in his discretion.  By doing so he may disown the theory of nuclear deterrence which provides a theoretical ground for all the nuclear powers for their nuclear armament.

     At the same time, we in Japan must be aware that Obama's Hiroshima visit will also be an opportunity to think why that war was started.  If we had not done so, or even if we had ended the war a little earlier, the bombs would not have been used at all.  We should watch how the Asian peoples would react to Obama's message.

     Finally let us look at DPRK(North Korea).  By the 7th Labour Party Congress which ended on 9 May, they have put up a slogan of "parallel development" of nuclearization and industrialization. Is there no room for a dialogue any more?  I do not think so.  But the preparation for nuclear disarmament on the part of the US is a vital precondition.  It will greatly ease the tension in the Northeastern Asia.               

Thursday, April 28, 2016

"The Comfort Women of the Empire"

     I regret, once again, that there has been a considerable interval since my last blog in these columns.  This is due to my two-week visit to India in February to March, 2016 and other works.

     Here I am going to introduce to the readers a book entitled "The Comfort Women of the (Japanese) Empire", written by Park Yuha.  She is a Korean in her late 50's, a Professor at a University in Korea, but has a complete mastery over the Japanese language, and has written this book in both Korean and Japanese.  The Korean version came out first in 2013, followed by the Japanese edition, with some supplements, in 2014.  The book contradicts both of the major streams of existing thinking on the Korean comfort women, the view that they had been young girls, in many cases infants, abducted by force by the Japanese military, and the view that they were simply prostitutes who accompanied the Japanese military on their own will.  She says both are far from the truth.

       She says that those Korean women were the followers of the Japanese women, who went wherever Japan's colonial empire or the sphere of influence expanded, to give anchorage to the Japanese men, military or otherwise.  They were prostitutes, but were not there on their free will but were under the supervision by the consular police.  In that sense they were the collaborators of the Japanese overseas empire.  So were the Korean comfort women in later ages, irrespective of how they themselves intended to.

     There is no doubt that those Korean women were under the overall supervision of the Japanese military.  It was the military who wanted those women to be with them.  But it is wrong to say that they were collected by the military by force from wherever they lived or worked.  In most cases it was the Japanese or Korean agents who collected them, often by advertising in the newspapers.  In that limited sense they were voluntary, although it is true that many had been cheated as to the type and place of work and pay.

     Even after those women were placed with the military, their relationship was not always oppressive.  The Japanese in a way trusted the Koreans, viewing them as their fellow-Japanese, although of a second rank, speaking Japanese, and distinguished them from other comfort women who were from the hostile nations not to be trusted.  Here the Taiwanese women were in the same category as the Koreans.  Their conditions were of course horrendous.  Even then, a feeling of love sometimes developed between the soldiers and the women, and in the extreme cases they got married.  Some of the women came to feel that they and the soldiers had been both called upon by the Emperor to dedicate their lives to the country, and were therefore in the same boat.  What the author wants to say is that the existing stereotype does not apply to many cases.  But all these were dropped from the public memory in Korea, which consisted only of resistance against the Japanese, and there is little room to accept and examine the different varieties of the women's experiences.  Similarly, the common notion is that the Japanese military slaughtered or abandoned most of the women when Japan surrendered, but the fact is that most of them somehow returned home.

     She goes on to say that the major supporting body in Korea, 'teitaikyo' in abbreviated Japanese, had played a great role in establishing and maintaining for the past two decades and more the above stereotype.  They built a small girl's statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on the occasion of 1,000th Wednesday protest meeting in December 2011. Judging from her age, clothes, and expression, the statue, however, is that of a resistance fighter and not that of a comfort woman.  The teitaikyo on the other hand refused to commemorate those Korean soldiers who were drafted by the Japanese toward the end of the war.  They stuck to a single kind of memory, so that they were not able to arrive at a common understanding with the Japanese.  They have succeeded in internationalizing the movement, but it was only by incorporating a feminist element into it, and in the process heavily depending on the Western countries, which were former colonial empires themselves and are still in control of overseas military bases, with their own comfort women.

     Prof. Park says that on the Japanese sympathizers, too, a great mistake has been committed by not accepting the idea of distributing compensation to the comfort women under the initiative of the 'Asian Peace National Fund for Women' during the decade from the mid-1990's.  They have criticized it too harshly, which has stimulated the sympathizers in Korea, on one hand, and the right-wing in Japan, on the other, thus helping to consolidate the two diametrically opposing camps mentioned in the beginning.

     She concludes with those warm words.  'It is necessary to tell the ex-comfort women that you have done nothing wrong'.