Japan and the Right

It’s election season here in Japan, and the old two party order looks weaker than it ever has before. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is hardly even entertaining the thought that it will retain power after this election, as it knows that the public opinion polls show that it has lost much of its support among the Japanese people. The formerly ruling Liberal Democratic Party is looking to retake its position as top dog in Japanese politics, but it still doesn’t have the support that helped it maintain power in Japan for almost 40 years. What other option is there then? What are the issues facing Japan, and who will be there to step in and help solve Japan’s problems? The answer to that question is not one that makes a leftist such as I very much at ease.

The Issues

What is at stake this election? Quite a few things to be honest. The DPJ hopes to solidify its tax hike of 5% on the consumption tax, while other parties want to scrap it. There is the ongoing disputes over territory with Korea and China, that no one seems to know how to handle. The Yen is still too high, hurting exports and tourism revenue, the economy is in recession, and many Japanese citizens are against the restarting of nuclear plants. These are just a few of the issues facing the Japanese this election cycle.

The Parties

Aside from the two aforementioned parties, there are a host of political parties in Japan vying for supremacy. Let’s look at them one by one, in order of their prominence in this election.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)

The DPJ took power from the LDP in 2009, ending 40 years of almost unbroken rule by that party. Riding on waves of electoral euphoria, the party then set about making a complete mockery of the electoral process. They were unable to keep a Prime Minister in office very long, running through a list of PM who couldn’t seem to handle the job and would invariably quit after a few months in office. The next prime minister, supposing that it’s not Noda, the current prime minister, would be the 7th prime minister in 6 years, surely a record among liberal “democracies”. They have long lost the trust of the Japanese people, and are likely to take a drubbing in this elecction. They have supported nuclear power, entry into TPP (a free trade agreement with the US and other Asian countries) and have failed to govern with any visible competence. Their days are very clearly numbered.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)

The LDP is the epitome of the good ol’ boys political club of Japan. They are essentially political chameleons who move whichever way the winds blow, but always keeping in their sights, in their actions the heart of what they work for. They represent the capitalist class wholly and without apology. The old infirm members of this political party are those who are descended from the fascists in WW2, those who wish to maintain the old system of bureaucratic  corruption, the corporatism that has defined Japan’s modern rise to power. They are xenophobes, hateful of China, hateful of Korea, really hateful of everyone and everything that doesn’t fit into their outdated paradigm, their diseased delusions of Japanese empire. They love the US, they support the occupation of Japan by US forces, and are willing to sell their souls to be part of the US empire, as if living vicariously through the US’s imperialism is a substitute for not having their own anymore. This party is, unfortunately, likely to retake enough seats in the Diet to regain the post of Prime Minister.

Nippon Isshin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party)

To explain this recent entry into Japanese politics I must first explain the two major players in this party. The first is Osaka mayor and tattoo hater Toru Hashimoto, who is known throughout Japan as a rabid nationalist, and an 85 year old in a 45 year old’s body. Youthful though he may be, charismatic though he may be, Hashimoto represents the worst of the Japanese right. He is known for his attack on teachers who refused to stand and sing the national anthem “Kimi Ga Yo”, a song that is steeped in Japan’s imperialist past, a clear violation of Japan’s standards of civil liberties. He has attacked city workers in Osaka for having the gall to have tattoos, as if tattoos made them unfit for public service. He even proclaimed, as a response to civil servants protesting his invasive and dictatorial style (he has even advocated for a dictatorship in Japan openly saying “What Japan needs now is a dictator”) he responded by telling them that they have no fundamental human rights.He supports the US occupation of Japan, wants to change article 9 of the Japanese constitution forbidding Japan from engaging in war, and is a supporter of the US controlled “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that would expose Japan to the whims of countries like the US. He is far right, he is nationalist, he is anti-democracy, and sadly he is pretty damn popular in Japan.

The other main player in this newly formed party (formed from his regional “Osaka Restoration Party”) is the newly resigned former Governor of Tokyo, the eternal racist demagogue, Shintaro Ishihara. This man had formed a national political party prior to joining forces with Mr. Hashimoto, called the “Sunrise Party”. This man over several terms as Tokyo Governor, left behind him a trail of racism, nationalism and downright batshit craziness. You Americans think your rightwing is bad? Oh it is, but Ishihara tries to even outcrazy the tea party. He has called Africans “unintelligent”, he has, like Hashimoto I might add, been a denier of the war crimes of Japan in WW2. He is pronuclear power, pro-TPP, pro US bases in Japan (Although ironically in his other life as an author became famous for his essay entitled “The Japan that can say NO”, an essay against the US in Japan) he is responsible, partially, for the recent outbreak of hostilities with China over the Senkaku islands, and he is the epitome in Japan of the racist, sexist, homophobic, backwardsness that is the hallmark of the senile geezers who run Japan. A perfect fit for senile geezer wannabe Hashimoto, I suppose. The only ray of light in this horrid party of sick twisted fascism is that the party doesn’t look like it will field enough candidates in the election to be able to secure a majority. Most likely though their votes will go towards propping up another long stretch of LDP dominated Japan, this time with an even further rightward slant.

It would take me too long to go over the many other parties, but I wanted to focus on the major right wing parties that are contending for power in Japan. Instead of really ernestly trying to solve its problems, Japan seems to be retreating to the old haven of nationalism, xenophobia and racism. There is a clear danger of Japan turning towards its old fascist corporatism, and a very real threat it is. I hope that Japan doesn’t make the mistakes of the past. It needs to move into the future, and progress, or ignore that advice to its detriment.


Homeless Asakusa

Homeless Asakusa

Milling bodies quiet sounds

Jinrikisha clatter cold breeze

Bicycle tires whirring over pavement

And I stand on the street alone

The bars are open

People shouting to friends

A family walks by wrapped tight in conversation

And I stand on the street alone

Smells of happiness drift by

Intermixed in the smell of money

Betwixt the lonesome shops I go

And I stand on the street alone

To the deserted lane I tread

The metal walls surrounding

An umbrella for my hoary head

And I stand on the street alone

One hundred yen for onigiri

A coat to wear till May

The cardboard keeps the fears at bay

And I sleep on the street alone.

Hashimoto’s Rise

This is a serious post, obviously. I did promise my take on Asian politics, Japan in particular.

The Japanese media has followed closely the rise of the young and charismatic politician from Osaka, Toru Hashimoto. They have documented his political rise, and his political maturation as he recently took his regional Osaka political party to the national level, and is expecting to do well in the upcoming elections that are expected to take place some time in November.  Many articles have been written about his draconian and heavy handed sty; including such problems as attacking city workers for having tattoos. (The horror.) In a way he’s an old school Japanese fascist, with his banal talk of loving country and hating foreigners. On the other hand he seems to be a a new breed. He does not want to restore the Japan of old, with worship of the emperor and kamikaze pilots, but instead wants to ally more closely with the US against a rising China. In addition to this he wants to whittle away at the 9th article of the Japanese constitution, the one that forbids Japan from ever again using war as a right to solve conflict with other nations. He wants Japan to participate in so called “collective” defense, that is ganging up on other countries, probably by the side of the United States. He wishes to further make Japan the lap dog of the US, but only enough for Japan to regain it’s militarism. This man is not stupid, he is quite shrewd I think. I certainly hope that the Japanese people are much more shrewd and reject this mindless militaristic nationalism that threatens the future of peace in the Asia pacific area. With nationalistic rhetoric heating up over territorial disputes, the last thing Japan needs is to pick more fights with its neighbors, or even make them nervous. It just goes to show you that the right wing is destructive and harmful in whatever country you’re in. For the future of peace in Japan and East Asia, reject this nationalistic tripe, and reach for building trust and cooperation in Asia. Otherwise, it will be the Japanese people, not assholes like Hashimoto who will pay the ultimate price for this foolishness. UPHOLD ARTICLE 9!!!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, please join in the debate!!

Subways and Compliments

I had been to Tokyo more than once before. It had always seemed like a strange city to me. Full of people, full of life, impossibly large and sprawling; at the same time it was impossible cramped and claustrophobic, and at times the loneliest place on earth. It always seemed surreal to me.

I remember one time in Shinjuku, Kabukicho, at that time of night where you’re not sure to call it really late or really early. The wee hours, some say. The sky was glowing, the bright lights of the rowdiest part of Tokyo cast up and bounced off the atmosphere overhead. In the square, a raised platform balanced the urban landscape against the tall department stores and karaoke havens that surrounded it. The raised platform in the center was strewn over with too many to count. Some were very obviously homeless. Some were very obviously drunk and passed out, their hands still gripping their suitcases, their ties flopping haphazardly across their shoulders. A surreal scene, it still makes me think of battlefield paintings, the wounded and dead strew by the hand of chaos across the ground.

I live in Tokyo now, and have for a month. I’m still getting used to the sights, sounds and bustle of living in one of the world’s greatest cities. The subway rides in the morning, packed closer to complete strangers than I would like. Many jokes about a certain can packed fish can be heard from time to time. (Hint, not tuna) People on bicycles, oblivious to your existence, missing you by a hair and giving you a mini-heart attack. Vending machines, vending machines everywhere. The smell from the noodle shops as you walk past.

I feel like an old pro now. I’m not a tourist here. I used to live in Japan. I know the customs. I know the culture. I speak the language, decently for a gaijin I suppose. However, moving back after two years in the states means that I feel all out of whack. Caught between cultures, struggling with a language, working two jobs and taking 5 courses at university. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. The city humbles you. You feel small next to the massive towers, amidst the throngs of people shoving their way through life in old Edo.

The key to living in Tokyo is simple. Fall in. Blend in. (As much as you can at least, being a gaijin and all that) I have a metro passmo card. No tickets for me. I know where I’m going and I know where to touch my IC card and flow through the gate to the subway. And sometimes I get on the subway that’s going the opposite direction. Ah, crap. Well, don’t panic. Just calmly get off at the next station, walk with a determined, but slightly bored expression on your face, trip over two people and elbow three until you’ve successfully launched yourself on the metal coffin going the right way. Nothing to it really.

I was in the famous Ginza shopping district last week. I stopped at a bar for a drink. The place had a nice nautical theme. The bartender spoke brilliant English, said that he had gone to university in the US. California to be exact. Then he told me something that surprised me. (This is after talking a while) He said that I seemed Japanese, that I didn’t seem American. He said that when I walked in, he thought that if I didn’t look so not-Japanese he would have thought that I was. I seemed to hold my self like a Japanese person would. I’m not quite sure what this meant exactly, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

Compliments are nice.