At Mainichi, an opinion piece on Tamogami asks "Why is it that a person who has a distorted view of history and rejects the government's position is able to rise to the top of the ASDF?" (http://mdn.mainichi.jp/perspectives/news/20081108p2a00m0na012000c.html). I read the BBC piece that you linked to on Wednesday, which concluded that "for every black van, or the odd headline-grabbing revisionist statement, a wealth of unobtrusive signs suggests militarism and aggression have been durably expelled from Japan's collective psyche."Michael:
When I lived in Japan I felt somewhat differently. The headline-grabbing revisionist statements seemed more frequent than the BBC suggests, and while I never saw the black vans, I regularly met seniors who expressed (moderately) nationalist views. To me there seem to be two possible explanations for the frequency of the headlines, one of which is just that nationalism is a hot topic and hence overrepresented in the media, and the other that it's still far from being "durably expelled from Japan's collective psyche". My personal experiences led me to the latter conclusion, so I assumed that views like Tamogami's are the sort of thing that government administrators would turn a blind eye to as long as they're kept reasonably private.
The question from Mainichi gets to the heart of all that, so I'd really like to know how you would answer it.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of the Japanese public does reject anything that smells of what people conventionally understand as “militarism and aggression”. To see “Japan’s collective psyche” (whatever that is), you need look no further than the half of the Japanese public who oppose even the refueling operations in the Indian Ocean. Imagine the outcry if the Japanese government actually decided to send troops under a UN resolution and a request from the host nation to actually engage in fighting against terrorists.
Some mainstream political leaders do hold views regarding our recent history that most Koreans and Chinese find deeply offensive. But history is history; I see little if anything in their statements that could be projected into the future as even a precursor of “militarism and aggression.” If anyone reading this spots, say, Shoichi Nakagawa calling on the Aso administration to take back the Northern Territories by force, I’ll be happy to revisit that point.
As for “nationalism”, which is a very different subject, I’m sure there are many people, especially older males, “(moderately) nationalist” if you will, who hold views about our history that are… but I’ll refrain from repeating myself. Where the frequency of “nationalist” sightings in the media is concerned, it’s a matter of opinion, but I think they are rare and in any case are not necessarily evidence of tendencies toward “militarism and aggression.” Also keep in mind that Cabinet Minister and Diet member sightings at Yasukuni have trended down in recent years.
Finally, with regard to your point that “views like Tamogami's are the sort of thing that government administrators would turn a blind eye to as long as they're kept reasonably private,” I agree, and as a supporter of liberal democracy wouldn’t want it to be any other way. But that was not the case, if news reports are to be believed, with General (Ret.) Tamogami, who was anything but private with his views in his official capacities.
Over the course of this blog including this exchange, I’ve come away with a clearer understanding of the distinctions between the Yasukuni of Yushukan and the Yasukuni of Makoto Koga and Junichiro Koizumi, between aggression and nationalism, between history and destiny, and where people like Toshio Tamogami stand in all of this. But that’s for a another time.