The Japan Teachers Union (Nikkyōso) is regarded as one of the more leftist-pacifist labor unions in Japan. This, and the fact that its members are responsible in large measure for developing the hearts and the minds of children, have put it at loggerheads with the LDP and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. It has also been the target of attacks, verbal and worse, from right-wing organizations.
Nikkyōso’s annual national get-together, the National Conference on Educational Research, is no exception. In fact, the national exposure it receives makes it the Super Bowl of sorts for right-wing activists, who gather at the site of the conference plenary in the thousands, camouflage gear, darkly painted vehicles and all, to stage lengthy, noisome protests. Thus, it is not always easy to find a hotel or other suitable convention center willing to host the main event, and Nikkyōso has on occasion had to resort to law suits to force venues that wanted to back out of commitments. This year’s event, scheduled to be held on February 2 came down to the wire, as the Tokyo High Court upheld a temporary injunction declaring the contract with Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa valid.
But this year’s event had a new twist. For Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa chose to ignore the injunction altogether and go ahead with another event contracted after they had decided to break the contract. Nikkyōso had no choice but to cancel the main event, and is considering suing the Hotel for damages. The Japanese mainstream media are understandably upset at this turn of events, and Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri (but not － yet － Sankei*) have come out with editorials condemning this turn of events.
The said editorials rightly see this as a threat to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. But they focus their criticism on the hotel for ignoring the injunction, and see it as a show of disrespect for the judiciary. Which I think is completely wrong.
Typical of the thinking behind the criticism is the following excerpt from Asahi:
Although the hotel is owned by a private company, by the very nature of its business, it essentially operates as a public facility.
This is very dangerous thinking. The hotel is owned and operated by a private-sector, for-profit corporation. As such, the corporate entity enjoys none of the privileges of a public-interest or non-profit entity, the quid pro for the restrictions under which the latter operates. Conversely, it is free to operate within, of course, the constraints imposed by the laws and customs of the land.
Remember, the hotel is not doing anything illegal. The court decision in question is a declaratory injunction. To be enforced requires another court decision. Did the hotel act cravenly? Perhaps. But it merely decided not to honor its contract, which is not that uncommon as business decisions go. A contract has been breached, but no contract law or civil procedures law is being called into question here.
What has happened is something more far-reaching than the media believes to be the case: a failure on the part of civil society. A fellow member is unable to exercise its rights and fulfill its obligations in order to conduct its business according to the land and customs of the land. Civil society has failed to protect its individual members. This is a communal failure and, as such, calls for a communal response. The media has spoken on behalf of civil society as a whole, but for only Nikkyōso, and somewhat misguidedly at that. In fact, the rights of the hotel, a private-sector business, to conduct its normal line of business is also being violated. It is the responsibility of hotelier associations and business federations (say, the chambers of industry and commerce) to act jointly to counter future infringements of their members’ rights.
Some members of civil society are more equal than others and carry an added responsibility. For example, Nippon Budokan, the preferred site for major professional sports events and pop concerts (think, Madison Square Garden meets Carnegie Hall), has in the past been sued, successfully, by Nikkyōso. It is important to realize that Nippon Budokan is a public-interest entity, which enjoy income-tax privileges and as such should be particularly careful about denying future requests to act as venue, lest it be accused of playing political favors in its revenue-earning activities.
In the government, the administrative branch, including in this case the Tokyo prefectural government, is also presumptively at fault for not providing civil society with an environment in which events undesirable to pressure groups can be held. Whatever their feelings for Nikkyōso may be, Fukuda administration and Governor Ishihara should be among the first to speak out on this matter.
This is of particular importance when the victims are those that you perceive as your opponents. For if you do not speak out in support of your enemies, then you surely cannot expect them to defend your rights**. And what greater denial of the communality that is the essence of civil society can there be than that?
Incidentally, a firm statement, carefully crafted, would go quite a long way in restoring confidence in a lackluster Fukuda administration without alienating anyone but the hardcore right-wing, which isn’t in Mr. Fukuda’s corner anyway. Doesn’t anyone around the Prime Minister have some imagination***?
* Don’t come down too hard on Sankei. The entire English-language media, including the wire services, have also passed on it so far.
** Yomiuri feels compelled to point out in its editorial that at other events, speeches have been canceled in the past due to pressure from the left as well.
*** In the LDP’s defense, I must mention that I can’t find anything about the matter on the DPJ website either. Or the Socialists'. Or the Communists'. Doesn’t anyone want to hug the teachers?