Koizumi, Lorelei of the Pacific? - do we understand our Japanese friends?

Koizumi told Robert Novak of CNN, about his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the war deads 'including 14 “Class A” war criminals from World War II'

  • "I understand because of the war 60 years ago [that the Chinese] feel Japan is a threat. So, I understand that they want to contain Japan. I think to advance this perception of Japan as a rival and to create a sense of ‘anti-Japan’ in China would be advantageous to the Chinese leadership.”
  • He then parrots Rummy, "We have to be careful about China’s military buildup, it has to be made more transparent than it is”, conveniently forgetting to mention Japan has been maxing its own defense budget at 1% GDP, or $45bn this year, compared with China's $30-45bn (official vs Rand's high end). Japan's number does not include its space program and it has a much smaller territory to defend. (See for yourself Yosukan's view of history in this picture (via Life After Jiangxi).
I seldom blog about the recent diplomatic problem between China and Japan. Because there is not much reasoning or solution I could offer.

  • China is obviously worried about a re-arming Japan. It is further pissed off by Japan's meddling with the Taiwan matter. It also oppose granting a permanent seat in the UNSC to a Japan which is still ambiguous about war of aggression in general
  • Western media (I mean US mainly), mostly side with the Japanese, with different motivations, ranging from the generic distrust of China's current political system to those who prefer to enlist Japan into the front of containing China

China did conveniently leverage the popular discontent to support its decision to block Japan's bid to UNSC (and let some steam off the pressurized cooker). But its reaction to Koizumi's recent Yasukuni visit has become much more restrained (since that objective is already achieved - thanks 88s for the clarification). In fact, even the street protests this spring has led to only very limited damage. CCP is more worried about letting popular movement out of control. That is why the scale of protest you have seen in Korea in the past 60 years has not been observed in China until this spring.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that today's Japan is hardly the Japan in 1930s, nor is today's international environment which is dominated by globalization and commercial interests.

In fact, one key fact that is consistently missed in westerm reporting is that PRC had always been careful to distinguish the "majority of peace-loving Japanese people" from the "minority right wing revisionist". Your can discount this as party rhetoric, but that has been emphasized every single time domestically and internationally, from 1949 to 1972 to 2005.

Personally, I have no doubt the majority of the Japanese would not endorse any war of aggression, nor do the Chinese. We have all learned that it is easier to assure one's interests through trading and negotiating (than warring). I also believe that many of the Japanese soldiers killed in WWII are innocent and there is nothing wrong in honoring them. I actually was told by some old Chinese that some officers in the Japanese Army were very friendly to kids. Furthermore, I am sure we all agree that those who run Yasukuni and Yushukan represent only the minorities in Japan.

However, what has been troubling the Koreans and the Chinese are

  • Is this minority right wing endorsed by some in the mainstream in Japan? if so, what is the extent?
  • How many percent of the vote do they really represent?
  • How likely will the support of the right grow, given the official endorsement such as the Yasukuni visit?
  • What the Japanese school and Japanese society really teach their next generation?

These are important issues, given Japan is a 'democracy'. I do not have an answer. I will just share with you some anecdotes I found.

  1. The interviews by Japan Today in Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, a random sample of personal views. Please read for yourself.
  2. Kyodo News Poll in MAy/2005 (via Japundit): 57.7% are of the opinion that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should not visit Yasukuni Shrine this year. BUT 34.3% said he sould (the rest probably won't care). A similar survey in Dec/2004 (before the Korea/China protests): 40.8% vs 51%, so there has already been dramatic change in 5 months.
  3. There is a movie call "Lorelei: Witch of the Pacific", which was a blockbuster in Japan this spring, viewed by 2M people in theatres, collecting Yen2,5Bn ($22.5M) in box office.
    • For US comparison, Yen2.5M is about 8.3% that of all time high Howl's Moving Castule's Yen30Bn. 12% of all time high US Box Office (Titanic's $600M in 1997) would be $50M, i.e. comparable to the "Phantom of the Opera (2004)" or "Austin Power: IMM (1997)"
    • This in important because its box office success and the popularity of the author of the original book, Harutoshi Fukui. I would talk about why this movie troubled me below
    • For a review see this, for interview with the director here. Japundit called it 'ring winged and nationalistic".

I think Japan deserves to be treated as a normal nation, like Germany does. To require Japan do what Germany did is probably too demanding, but there is definitely more Japan could do. I would still want to believe the right wing will be contained at the minority status, but the trend is not entirely optimistic. While there is perhaps no clear reason to be worried about Japan today, I really hope US can take over the enormous Plutonium stockpile Japan owns. This would serve Asian people, including the Japanese people, a great favor.


Appendix: some comments about the movie Lorelei:

The film is entertaining by itself, except the the CGI is very primitive (even compared with computer games). It is basically a what-if scenario fantasy, telling a story of how a submarine, equipped with a human sonar, stopped the evil American's B-26 which planned to drop its 3rd A-bomb on Tokyo. Instead of going into the revisionist approach of "what-if" Japan acquired this secret weapon, and potentially changed the result of WWII, I will just list a few examples

  • The background of the movie is told in 3 lines. "1) 1945 Summer, the world was full of pillage and discord; 2) it was the waning days of WWII; 3) people had lost all hope in life" (click screenshots in the right). Nothing more. It then shifts to the bombing of Hiroshima, and then Japanese Navy's heroic effort to stop further nukes
  • It is adrenaline ride afterwards, until the sub accomplished its mission and disappeared into the sea in front of some 5 dozens of US destroyers. It ends with the aged US navy officers talking with admiration the "Witch of the Pacific" in Saipan years later. Maybe US surrendered unconditionally, maybe Japan did, choose your own preferred version.
  • Throughout the movie, all Japanese soldiers and officers talked about how their family members were killed (presumably by US air raid). One of the main characters was so vengeful wanted to revenge the Kamikaze way.
  • The movie talked about Nazi's eugenic experiments. But apparently the best gene comes from a Paula who is half Japanese and speak fluent Japanese
  • The only anti-war dialogue is from the American naval officers, who said "I hate war"
  • Norimitsu Onishi of NYT commented, 'Colonel Asakura, wants America to annihilate Tokyo with an atomic bomb so that Japan can be reborn; if Japan simply submits to America, Colonel Asakura says in one of the movie's most memorable lines: "Japan will degrade itself and become a slave to the United States. Does a country like that have any worth?".....Those sentiments, Mr. Fukui says, are the movies' most salient because they reflect widespread feelings among Japanese that their country is stumbling forward....Those extremists, though destroyed in his stories, are more attractive than the heroes. The good guys, in another commentary on today's Japan, ''have no strong vision,'' he said.....Mr. Fukui's stories reflect prevailing beliefs among the political class. But more than speeches or newspaper editorials, the big-budget movies based on his stories may go a long way toward influencing ordinary Japanese who, according to polls, have yet to be convinced that Japan needs a strong military.'

More reviews in Chinese can be found here , here and here.


Anonymous said...

If Prime Minister Koizumi were going to the shrine to worship war criminals then maybe China would have valid complaint, but he doesn't so they don't.

The day that Prime Minster Koizumi personally lays an offering before a picture of Tojo Hideki, then China may get upset, as things stand, it is deliberately using this for political gain

There are 2.5 million dead named at that shrine. Most died before WWII and many of those who died during WWII either died fighting Amricans or defending Japan from the Americans, and they didn't commit war crimes or attrocities against anybody (Half of them never even saw a Chinese let alone did anything to one).

The Shrine is also not a 'war shrine', it is a war grave and a peace shrine. People who go to it can't glorify war, they can only mourn the loss of war, attendance is a sign of contemplation and reflection on the loss and the tragidy of war. You can go there to pray for peace, but you can't go there to glorify war, especially not a war that you lost, it just doesn't make sense.

If George Bush goes to Confederate civil war monument, is he worshiping war criminals and glorifying war?

China is deliberately misespresenting things and is using ignorance and a lack of understanding to perpetuate the myth that visiting a shinto shrine with a handful of war criminals in it is the same thing as visiting an budhist ancesteral shrine dedicated to war criminals.


Sun Bin said...

The problem is easily addressed. Koizumi could just say, "I do not endorse the 14 class A war criminals. I come here for those who could not control their fate. But Yasukuni is a private establishment. I have no power over how they run it." This would leave the Korean/Chinese with no defense.

Koizumi did not say so. The reason is very simple. Many in Japan (incl Koizumi) do not recognize the legitimacy of the Far East Military Tribunal. They thought it was imposed on them by the Allies.

As for my personal view. I really don't care if Koizumi visit Yasukuni. I am more troubled that the right wing view this as an endorsement and it is going to influence what the next generation in Japan will think and act.

It is really not about China or Korea. If (right wing in) Japan seeks revenge, it is whoever dropped the 2 bombs who should worry.

Sun Bin said...

Koizumi (and you) said "China is deliberately misrespresenting things" to suit its own "political agenda".

1. What are the agenda specifically? How could China benefit from doing this?
2. What about the Koreans? Are they trying the same trick China does? What are their agenda? They are not communists nor "dictatorship".

Sun Bin said...

"People who go to it can't glorify war"

Perhaps you are right. But there are certainly some Japanese who disagree with you.

Sun Bin said...

"If George Bush goes to Confederate civil war monument, is he worshiping war criminals and glorifying war?"

If there is class A war criminal who murdered 100k people inscirbed on the monument. Or if there is a single Nazi member's name on it. You tell me.

As I said, I believe 80-90%+ of the souls there couldn't control their own fates. They died bravely and honorably. They did not kill innocent people. Even some who fought in China are good people in nature. In fact, some would probably hate to share the shrine with Tojo.
I do not think we disagree on this.

Anonymous said...

Sun Bin,

That is the most balanced statement I have seen from any Chinese on this issue. However, the CCP does use this issue for its own purposes.

1. What are the agenda specifically? How could China benefit from doing this?

The agenda is to keep Japan off of the Security Council. S. Korea has the same agenda. In other words, they don't want Japan on the UNSC for reasons that have nothing to do with visits to a shrine. In this sense, they "use" this issue with an ulterior motive. From the CCP's point of view, Japan is just another way of saying "US." Increased Japanese power and influence in the region equals increased US power and influence in the region. On top of that, you have all of the historical reasons to be suspicious of Japanese power.

>> But its reaction to Koizumi's recent Yasukuni visit has become much more restrained.

But why? The protests already served their purpose: Japan withdrew its bid for UNSC membership. If that bid were still alive right now, I would bet you would see huge demonstrations in Shanghai again right now (although it does make the CCP nervous about protests getting out of control).

Well, if I were Chinese, I would probably protest against these shrine visits as well -- but that is a separate issue.

Sun Bin said...


Exactly. I agree 100% with you.

That is why Koizumi's conspiracy theory today (after the UNSC issue) is not convincing. It would have been valid 6 months ago.
Also, regardless of CCP's objective of the issue, more important is whether such shrine visit would shift the balance within Japan's right and moderates (hence if the Chinese/Korean complaints are legitimate).

Anonymous said...

>>"I think to advance this perception of Japan as a rival and to create a sense of ‘anti-Japan’ in China would be advantageous to the Chinese leadership.”

A few points:

It is always useful domestically to have an external enemy. Japan is a very convenient one for China now because Japan has been an external enemy many times over the past thousand years. The CCP has used the US in a smiliar way over the past 50 years. This is part of the "China as eternal victim" mentality that they foster. So why? Deflection. All of China's problems are caused by evil external forces -- and, by implication, are not caused by corrupt leadership at home. Also, like you mentioned, external enemies are good outlets for blowing off steam that could be directed domestically.

There are several issues that get mixed up here, though. Japan does want to contain China. So does the US. Japan does have a hyper-nationalist right-wing element that has been growing in influence.

My point: both things are true and one doesn't cancel out the other. It is like the "stability" issue in China. The CCP uses this as an excuse to avoid fundamental reform, but stability is a legitimate issue. The West thinks it is only an excuse, while China thinks it isn't used to avoid reform and is completely legitimate. It is both legitimate and an excuse.

A US version: terrorism is a legimate threat, but the Bush administration uses it for other purposes.

Sun Bin said...


I like your insights.
Question: will such mix-up hurt the fundamental ("legitimate") cause?

Anonymous said...


Kids in Seoul.

Sun Bin said...

I saw that, "patriotic education" :)

Seriously, the issue is, do they have a legitimate reason to protest? If so, then the kids have every right to know the truth and tell what they think.

Anonymous said...

>>will such mix-up hurt the fundamental ("legitimate") cause?

Well, it is always difficult to sort out what is fundamental or legitimate and what is an excuse or cover for something else. I would say that the use of an issue for an ulterior purpose usually devalues the legitimate issue.

Terrorism in the US is a perfect example. Because the Bush admin. has used it as a pretext for other unrelated goals, people don't take the threat as seriously as they should.