Media Role Helps Inflame the Yasukuni Issue

September 3, 2006 Daily Yomiuri Hisahiko Okazaki

One of the myriad political science theories and expressions is the term “pseudo event.” A clear historical example of this is the Ako Incident of 1703, also known as the Forty-seven Ronin (masterless samurai) Incident, where a group of samurai from the Ako feudal region avenged their lord’s death by assassinating their enemy during a raid on his home.

From a popular perspective the incident was certainly the most significant event in the period from the 1615 fall of Osaka Castle to the 1853 visit to Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet, which fell during the 2-1/2 centuries of the Tokugawa shogunate. The Forty-seven Ronin Incident certainly electrified the country.

While the fall of Osaka Castle and the visit of Perry’s Black Ships were certainly of significance in changing the course of the nation’s history, the Forty-seven Ronin Incident did not actually have long-term consequences for the country’s political, economic or social structures, and thus cannot be considered epochal.

The Ako Incident, therefore, can be described as a pseudo event in contrast to ones that made real changes to the course of history.

Artificially brewed pseudo event

Turning to present-day Japan, the issue of Yasukuni Shrine will not bring about any lasting change to Japan’s politics and society, having nothing to do with the security and prosperity of the people.

Once this issue passes into oblivion, it will not leave a trace in history. What we currently see is the issue being discussed boisterously day after day and China’s top leaders refusing to meet Japan’s over the issue, with South Korea echoing the Chinese stance.

How did this pseudo issue come about?

Tracing the origins of the dispute, one can see that it was created artificially, and that it did not arise naturally from historical or political imperatives.

To put it briefly the issue arose out of the actions of leftist, antiestablishment movements in this country, as well as a diplomatic faux pas on the part of China. The problem is the fact that leftist forces in Japan have successfully thwarted one attempt after another on the part of China to rectify the faux pas and have effectively kept the issue burning.

It is inevitable that people’s memories of war fade in a single generation, with the issues stemming from those wars left for historians to mull over thereafter.

In the age of reactionaryism following the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, for example, former French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was considered by many to be evil incarnate–indeed Victor Hugo called Napoleon an errand from hell in 1822. Yet it was only five years later, in 1827, that Hugo lauded the glories of Napoleon.

The imperialist wars waged by Napoleon as well as the atrocities he committed in Spain were no longer discussed after the 1848 European Revolutions. For that matter, no Americans in Boston now seem to harbor a grudge against Britain nor demand an apology for the British government’s past tyranny.

In East Asia, too, as of 1980, one generation after the war’s end, the war had already ceased to be a political problem, having been turned over to the historians.

Fiction forged in 1980s

That Japan after the war had persistently been negligent in addressing wartime problems, and therefore was left isolated internationally, was a fiction forged in the 1980s.

In 1980, a generation after the end of the war, there was no evidence at all that war-related problems remained an issue either in Japan, China, South Korea or the United States–not in any commentary nor any remarks made by any politicians.

In Europe, the legacy of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis is lingering even today. But the Holocaust, as with the Inquisition in the 16th century, is an exceptional event in history and will be remembered for a long time in the future.

Japan’s wartime problems, however, had vanished from people’s memories after a generation, just like memories of a large number of imperialistic wars in the past.

The processes by which these problems were rekindled have already been proved in detail by a number of experts, so here I will simply repeat their conclusion that they were reignited, without exception, by the artificial and intentional maneuvers of Japanese leftists.

Behind such plots were, of course, the international communist forces who, during the Cold War, had a vital interest in keeping the antimilitaristic, pacifist atmosphere in Japan intact, thereby leaving Japan’s defense capabilities emasculated. Leftist forces in Japan were serving as communist pawns, either intentionally or inadvertently.

Real existence of real issues

Since a pseudo issue, by nature, is spawned in the absence of logic, there can be no way of resolving the problem logically, but two kinds of solution may be possible. First, its significance certainly vanishes when confronted by real issues.

Had the forty-seven Ronin Incident taken place before the fall of Osaka Castle or after the arrival of Perry’s fleet, a majority of people would likely have frowned upon the incident, arguing that no such action should have been taken at a time of national crisis.

Our nation is currently confronted with real issues, although their existence has yet to be generally accepted.

They are changes in the balance of power in the East Asian region because of the rapid increase in China’s military might. In particular, the shift in the balance of power in the East China Sea will most likely rise to the surface as an acute, real issue over the next several years, thus burying Yasukuni as a minor emotional issue.

Another solution is the passage of time.

The emotional conflict between Japan and South Korea in the first half of the 1990s was far more intense than it is today. Compared with those days, bilateral relations today can be said to be in a friendly phase.

The tone of anti-Japanese arguments in South Korea was so intense in the first half of the 1990s that pro-South Korean groups in Japan, who had endeavored to support South Korea against the leftist, pro-North Korean forces in the Cold War, practically vanished.

Yet time settled the issue. During a visit in autumn of 1998 to Japan, then South Korean President Kim Dae Jung declared an end to the anti-Japanese posture, and all through 1999, the South Korean side, in any summit or ministerial meetings, made no reference at all to Japan’s wartime past. China, for its part, also largely refrained from referring to war-related issues.

The tranquillity, however, turned out to be short-lived and was shattered again in 2000.

Leftist forces in Japan obtained copies of confidential drafts of school textbooks prior to their government authorization, when they were in the screening process to have incorrect or questionable passages removed. They had the sensitive parts of the drafts run in newspapers and aggressively invited criticism from authorities and the media in China and South Korea.

As the dispute flared up with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, China then committed the unprecedented diplomatic faux pas of linking the prime minister’s visit to the shrine to whether to hold a summit meeting between the two countries. Consequently, China has found itself unable even today to make up for this mistake.

In fact, the mass media in Japan hampered Chinese moves to ease tensions over the issue.

At the time of Koizumi’s visit to the shrine in autumn last year, a news report in China about the matter comprised only a few lines. The Japanese media, by contrast, made a point of highlighting the prime minister’s shrine visit day and night, pestering Chinese officials for comments. This forced the Chinese into a position where they could not back down over the issue.

Perfect, but impossible, solution

I often have pointed out that there is a perfect solution to the Yasukuni problem, the enforcement of which, though, is an impossibility.

The problem would be solved completely if Japan’s media stopped reporting on the problem. This would annihilate China’s strategic option to split Japanese public opinion over the Yasukuni issue.

While China is capable of silencing the media, Japan can never do so.

It is noteworthy that since the day before Koizumi’s visit to the shrine this year, access to anti-Japanese Web sites in China has been barred, obviously on the instructions of the Chinese government.

On Aug. 15, the Xinhua News Agency’s Web site described a protest filed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry with the Japanese government immediately after Koizumi’s latest visit to Yasukuni as a “vehement protest,” but changed the wording eight minutes later to a “strong” protest.

It seems that China intends to put a lid on the Yasukuni controversy.

I would therefore like to make a proposal.

Even if government control over mass media is not possible in Japan as a free, democratic country, its politicians should still put some restraints on their own actions.

Essentially, the Yasukuni problem should be dealt with as a suprapartisan issue, as a matter of how to cope with a foreign country’s interference in domestic religious affairs.

The reality, however, is that Ichiro Ozawa, president of the major opposition Democratic Party of Japan, who earlier backed the idea of the prime minister paying homage to the shrine, has now opposed the idea–clearly motivated by partisan considerations.

In addition, New Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party’s ruling coalition partner, has persistently been opposed to the prime minister’s visit to the shrine for religious reasons, as is its parent body, Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization.

The upcoming LDP presidential election, however, is an internal contest of the party.

Only if the candidates for the top party post in the LDP election are at one with each other in not making an issue of the prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni, will the heat be taken out of the problem.

The candidates in the party election should therefore all act in a statesmanlike way to ensure this can finally happen. Okazaki served as Japanese ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Thailand. He is currently a guest research fellow at the Yomiuri Research Institute.