Monday, November 30, 2015


(reblogged from 2015)



Listening to the news these days you’d think Japan had won the war. Prime Minister Abe is staunchly unapologetic about Japan’s past misdeeds and his adherence to the cult-like veneration of fallen war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine is more provocative than commemorative. Former Prime Minister Aso Taro has gone so far as to praise certain aspects of Nazi policy. NHK governor Hyakuta Naoki claimed this month that the Nanjing Massacre “never happened” while another Abe associate, NHK Chairman Momoi Katsuto, has indicated that the sexual slavery of “comfort women” is a topic unfit for NHK’s quasi-governmental station which has a remit to show “what a wonderful nation Japan is.” Former Abe advisor Ayako Sono has suggested an Apartheid-type sequestration of foreign workers. 

Listening to these hawkish men and women, one could escape with the mistaken impression that Japan’s fascists had won, not lost, the reckless Asian war of invasion and plunder. What's fair ground for a fiction writer can be outright toxic for a politician. Ishihara Shintaro is a case in point; he was a sensitive and nuanced fiction writer but a terrible, tone-deaf politician.

‘What if’ scenarios about Japan winning World War Two have enjoyed traction in novels, manga and film ever since the US Occupation lifted a tight censorship regime in  1952 and after ANPO tensions in 1959, Revisionist literature written by Japanese authors ranges from the starkly self-critical to shockingly unapologetic; some of the greatest works of anti-war art and literature have been produced in Japan, such as “Barefoot Gen” by Nakazawa Keiji, Ichikawa Kon’s “Fires in the Plain” and “Grave of the Fireflies” by Takahata Isao but there is also a cottage industry producing schlock for sore losers which either whitewashes Japan’s many documented war crimes, or finds laudatory nuggets of heroism amidst the general nastiness that help shore up a fantasy vision of  “Japan the beautiful.”  Kobayashi Yoshinori is a virtual cottage industry of provocative revisionism unto himself, with titles such as “On Yasukuni” “On Taiwan” and “On Okinawa.”

One of the most outstanding works in the ‘what if’ genre was written not by a Japanese lamenting loss or fantasizing about a non-existent victory, but by an American writer wondering what the world would be like had things unfolded differently. Philip K Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” which won the Hugo Award for science fiction in 1963 has just re-entered the media conversation, having been green-lighted by Amazon for a series after the successful online release of the pilot film in October 2014.

The time is the early 1960’s and the setting is a divided US, occupied by the Nazis in the east and by the Japanese in the west. One of the many rich ironies in Dick’s work is that even though the victors in his imaginary world win battles beyond the wildest dreams of Hitler and Tojo, they are still not happy, for, having vanquished the US and UK, the USSR and China, it is only inevitable that their lust for power should put the two victors on a collision course.

In this upside down world where New York’s Times Square is bedecked with swastika banners and portraits of Hitler, and San Francisco has taken on the appearance of its charming Japantown writ large, where Americans struggle to get by under a relatively benign dictatorship symbolized the ‘Nippon Times Tower’, the tallest building in the occupied city.

Judging from the book and TV series pilot, it is tempting to compare the two imaginary realms and say, hey, I’d rather live under the Japanese than the Nazis. Amazon’s pilot episode of “The Man in the High Castle” reinforces this distinction through its brilliant set design in which New York is unremittingly dark and gloomy while San Francisco, although also a fallen city, has snatches of color and a pronounced aesthetic of “wa” harmony.

Dick takes us into a world where Americans can get ahead by aping Japanese values, whether it be mastering martial arts, showing deference with deep genuflection or in rare cases, risking cross-cultural friendship.  In a way it’s a color negative of US-Occupied Japan, in which opportunistic ne’er-do-wells tend to do better than earnest loyalists to the old way of life, though all share a similar nostalgia for the past. The imagined glory of the past before the foreigners came marching in is part of the occupied citizen’s toolkit for coping with the indignity of foreign occupation.

Seventy year’s after war’s end, there are few Americans around who lived under Japan’s wartime boot, but there are many registered legal aliens living under the ‘silken slipper’ of democratic Japan who are uniquely well-situated to understand the depth of Dick’s insight and humor in imagining how Yanks would feel if the boot were on the other foot, so to speak.

As “High Castle” suggests, there’s a lot to like about Japan, even when one is in a subordinate relationship to it, as long as one can avoid conflict with authority. It would be a different sort of challenge for any author to imagine cottoning up to Hitler’s occupiers in the same way, and Dick later stated that he couldn’t write a sequel to his novel because the idea of creating true to life villains of Nazi caliber was too repellent to him.

But to say that’s Japan’s crimes against humanity are, on account of the incomparable horror of the Holocaust, less horrible than Germany’s is not to say that fascist Japan was less than horrific. Killing competitions and countless summary executions took place, especially in China, where racism and rape were widespread, predations against civilians were brutal and heartless policies that lived up to the name of “kill all, loot all, burn all” (politely known as ‘burn-to-ash strategy’)

In fact, it could be argued that for the fighting man, at least, being taken prisoner by Nazi Germany offered a better outlook than being taken prisoner by the forces of Imperial Japan in the Pacific theatre of the war where Geneva-inflected wartime conventions were mostly observed in the breach. Hollywood has dealt with this topic in some depth and breadth, ranging from the relatively anodyne internment camp portrayed “Empire of the Sun,” (Spielberg, 1987) to the torture and brutality of the newly-released “Unbroken” (Jolie, 2014) and the classic “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” (Lean, 1957). The Japanese-British production “Merry Christmas Mister Lawrence” (Oshima, 1983) offers a hard look at the POW issue as well. In short, you wouldn’t want to be an enemy combatant in any camp, but the survival rate was higher under the Nazis.

This important anniversary year in the global remembrance of World War Two has already seen Japan paint itself into a corner in regards to its neighbors because of the intransigent and cavalier way Japanese politicians talk about the war. In contrast, the German government has come to terms with its sordid past because it does not minimize or whitewash the horror of Germany’s historic crimes, but strives to make amends to past victims and its contemporary neighbors in a way that Japan has failed to do but might yet emulate.

Perhaps the best advice one could share with the gaffe-prone right-wing extremist politicians cited above is that they should abandon the high castle of political delusion and war revisionism and instead restrict themselves to fantasy and fiction. They may lack the obvious literary talent of the hothead honcho,  rightwing revisionist Ishihara Shintaro, but a few bad novels is a small price to pay for an era of peace. 

Simply put, Japan will be a better place without the right-wing history rewriters in the political arena. The nuanced work of political compromise, pragmatic accommodation with neighbors and the pursuit of peace are activities better left to those with more forbearance and fewer fanatic fantasies.

I have updated this post about history and revisionism to include a collegial but curious reaction from the Japan Times, a paper I enjoy reading and sometimes write for. In the last 25 years, in which I have written probably a hundred pieces for the Japan Times, I was never once edited for opinion until now. That's not to say every story deserves to be printed, or that my personal opinion suits the needs of the publication in question, but since when are opinion pieces edited for content? It's par for the course to edit for length, style or simply turn down a piece for which there is insufficient space or which does not accord with editorial judgement, but is it really the business of the op-ed editor to alter an opinion writer's opinion?

Could be a quirk, but the February 24, 2015 email reproduced below suggests a pro-Abe party line is being clumsily enforced at the Japan Times and awkwardly applied in a top-down fashion. This kind of editorial interference is of a piece with more general indications that Japan's once-vaunted media freedom is under siege, as the Abe crony takeover of NHK and right-wing assault on Asahi Shimbun would suggest. In any case, the editorial hemming and hawing at the Japan Times jibes with the more generalized caving in to government party line and powerful vested interests. The rise of rightist nationalism in the media tide is making things murky and suggests that times are indeed a' changing.  -Phil

.....................................(from the Opinion Department of the Japan Times)............................................

Hi Phil,

Kitazume-san has read it. He would want some revisions if we were to use it. According to him it would need some fact-checking/correction, some over generalization (in his opinion) reduced regarding the extent that the extreme right is controlling Japan, and in the 3rd paragraph, he's wondering where you've seen that kind of manga as he hasn't seen or heard much about anything being published for many years. Who do you mean by "right wing extremists," in the last paragraph in particular, and so on. 

If you're interested in revising it we can send more detailed points, but if you'd like to keep it as is, then feel free to offer it to someone else.

Best regards,

Postnote: Just for the fun of it, and because Philip K. Dick's writing is appropriately thought-provoking if not eerily prophetic in terms of taking Japanese right wing dreams of conquest to an absurd but logical conclusion, I have done a riff on the title and illustrated this blog post with cover art taken from Dick's "The Man in the High Castle."

Sunday, November 29, 2015


A look at Japanese TV coverage of China in the spring of 2014

The intensity of Japanese TV reporting on China comes and goes according to political season. The valance of views swings from the mildly condescending to outright condemnation. China is variously portrayed as an ancient paragon and modern nemesis, alternately amusing and astonishing. It is a sort of Rorschach test for how confident Japanese are feeling about their own country. In the spring of 2014, the TV shows I monitored ranged from curious to contemplative, from condemnatory to a stance of begrudging admiration. Political correctness keeps most TV coverage within polite bounds, but there is a tendency to portray China as a threat, if not  public enemy number one.

Japanese variety shows tackle the rise of China  in a light-handed way with help of comedians and celebrities 

Comdedian Beat Takashi hosts show about lack of free expression in China 

Anger in Hong Kong about lack of accountability for Tiananmen massacre

Japan's talk shows discuss "Tenanmon Jiken" prior to June 4 anniversary

Chinese living in Japan are invited to the studio to field tough questions

Game-show style, interviewees are confronted under pressure

What would you like to say to the Chinese government?
"There's nothing I want to say."

What would you like to say to the Chinese government?
"The government is good"

Obama assures China's worried neighbors, US supports Japan in Senkakus

Japanese TV features pointed maps and graphics. Xinjiang in red, as if outside China, in map citing terror events 

After the Xinjiang terror event, Xi declares an all-out war against terrorism

Talk show pundits debate urgent Sino-Japanese issues in May 2014 --What is the path that Japan must take? 

A TV news special on Chinese court's unprecedented case demanding forced labor compensation from Mitsubishi 

NHK veteran Ikegami Akira discusses demand for war compensation.  Didn't China relinquish rights back in 1972?

Japanese TV is richly augmented with catchy graphics  and manga art, here showing Chinese court case against Japan

From "Things about Chinese we can't understand"   Can China's economic disparity be eliminated?

China--Where is the democratic movement going?

A Beijing-born Chinese guest on Japanese TV talk show
Cultural ambassador--Mizuno Eiko subtitles Chinese films

Graphic showing Japanese how to pronounce the Roman alphabet in Chinese

How to say 'email'? 'Cellphone'? Up the power of your Chinese language skills
 TV teaches how to say "@" in Chinese

Beijing's English television channel is available on cable TV in Japan. Here CCTV's Yang Rui quizzes Oliver Stone

Taiwan's Theresa Teng was immensely popular in Japan and her songs,
many of which she sang in Japanese, are still a staple of the karaoke circuit

Theresa Teng wore black for HK show after Tiananmen tragedy

This NHK special discusses the Cold War art and politics of Theresa Teng

The NHK documentary on Teng, aired just before the 25th anniversary of the
Tiananmen tragedy, is a superb example of Japan TV's mastery of "soft power"   

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Japan Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in the news, as seen on CCTV in China

When it comes to China's latest propaganda push, the Deng Xiaoping maxim of keeping a low profile and biding one's time no longer seems to apply. China's profile is high and the time is now. A glimpse of how the brass new China views itself in the world can be gleaned from the increasingly strident, orthodox tone of CCTV, the flagship station of state-run television. Nationalism is increasingly worn on the sleeve, or in the case of newscasters and spokesmen, in the form of China flag lapel pins. This article will consider CCTV's twin round-the-clock Chinese language news channels, one directed at the vast home audience, CCTV Xinwen, the other directed at Chinese speakers abroad, CCTV 4.
The English subtitles on CCTV Chinese language news speak the linguistic diversity of the Chinese diaspora

In late May 2014, Sino-Japanese tensions were at high dudgeon due to a spate of aggressive patrols by both sides at sea and in the skies above disputed waters. Though the stepped up patrols and military posturing on both sides were almost certainly meant as a show of aggressive defense rather than as a tripwire to a hot conflict, a desire for hot conflict, the spectre of an armed conflict, even war, breaking out due to a chance accident or mutual miscalculation seemed all too real. The late May round of islet tensions came on the heels of bitter diplomatic spats between Tokyo and Beijing due to decidedly undiplomatic act of Prime Minister Abe making a ritual show of fealty to Japan's war dead, including class A war criminals, by visiting Yasukuni Shrine and China's sudden litigious interest in prosecuting wartime financial claims. 

With both sides tone-deaf to the sensitivities of the other, with each calling for more military spending and fewer checks on military deployment and more aggressive enforcement of territorial claims, the virtual game of "chicken" over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets took on an ominous edge. Otherwise non-newsworthy events such as attending an armaments trade show or the unveiling new military capabilities took on an ominous tone.  Given that a number of near misses were recorded at sea and in the air,  even making a show of force could produce deadly consequences.  This, on top of the tangentially-related issue of China's South China Sea navigation, oil exploration and territorial spats with Vietnam and the Philippines, imparted to the CCTV news cycle of May 2014 an aura of increasing tension, and the venting of strident nationalism, fueled by fears of a future war.

            CCTV's all-news station covers the Japan threat from many angles

CCTV questions arrival of US Global Hawk drones in Japan


Consider the coverage of Japan and the rest of the world on CCTV's Xinwen channel, China's answer to both Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV and the 24/7 style coverage of CNN. The round-the-clock news channel begins its news cycle with “Midnight News,” the first broadcast of the day. On May 30, 2014 the cycle begins with a series of strident reports about Japan. The program opens with an indignant report about how Japanese pilots have been engaged in provocative behavior threatening the legitimate passage of Chinese aircraft on the high seas. 

The first bulletin of the day goes on to accuse Japan of a series of "irresponsible and dangerous maneuvers," including the twin incidents of May 24 in which a Chinese jet came within 50 meters of a Japanese surveillance plane, and cites another case in which a "Japanese warplane" came within 30 meters of a Chinese jet. Both stories are iIlustrated with visuals drawn from stock footage of aircraft similar to those in question, though some viewers might be lulled into thinking the ubiquitous eye of the all-seeing news camera was actually there as witness to events being described. The TV anchor states that Japan’s outrageous provocation is only the latest in a series of "deliberate close encounters" inside China's "Air Defense Identification Zone." 
File footage of Japan military maneuvers is used to highlight the story about so-called collective self-defense
The anchor makes a point of pointing out that China had been acting with restraint and very much within in its right, conducting a legitimate air-sea drill in the sea off its shores. 
As if the danger of collision, inadvertent or otherwise, weren’t obvious enough, the news report brings up a previously undisclosed case dated months earlier in which saw two aircraft come within ten meters of each other, a hair’s breath in aviation terms. The report suggests it was all Japan's fault, as China had been engaged in professional operations conforming to policy and regulations, and it is stated that China scrambled its jets for identification in accord with internationally accepted practices. 

Map showing scene of a narrowly missed aerial collision

Maps are an important cultural tool used to reinforce Chinese claims. Here CCTV shows Japan entertaining China's unilaterally declared Air Defense Identification Zone which China was quick to defend. The drama of the unseen incident is heightened with file footage showing Chinese and Japanese aircraft doing maneuvers in flight.  The news report drama further reveals the previously undisclosed details of terrifyingly close encounters in the air.

CCTV questions whether Japan's desire for collective self-defense is really about protecting Japan

This hot lead is followed by an indignant piece of analysis about how Japan Prime Minister Abe is single-handedly trying to change collective self-defense to allow Japan a more aggressive international role. 

China's smooth and unruffled Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, wearing a red flag pin on his lapel, denounces "An-be" as the Japanese prime minister is called in Chinese, in plain, no-nonsense terms that suggest a fit of diplomatic pique. The accompanying images of the Japanese Prime Minister, though drawn from file footage, do not show to his advantage.
The Beijing-based chastisement of Abe is followed up by a satellite link report with a CCTV reporter in Tokyo who interviews a Japan antiwar activist whose position happens to hew close to the Chinese one. The cursory vox populi is aired in the original Japanese, translated with subtitles. 
Footage of US drones in Japan is cut with civilian anti-war, anti-rearmament demonstrations in Tokyo 

The Tokyo satellite report then cuts to a news clip of a small but lively Japan demonstration against Abe's unwarranted shift in policy, which is evidence, CCTV concludes, that among Japanese ordinary people, (minjian) there is opposition to Abe’s proposed changes. The graphics that go with the story ask if lifting the ban on Japan's so-called "collective self-defense" is really about protecting Japanese citizens. CCTV reports on the fervent opposition of Japanese citizens in Tokyo to Abe's proposed changes to the Peace Constitution and his desire to expand the notion of so-called "collective self-defense."Although such demonstrators may be fewer in number than the carefully cropped photos would suggest, it is important for Chinese viewers, accustomed to uniformly negative reports about Japan, to realize that not all Japanese agree with the controversial Abe government.

The two lead stories with a focus on bad news about Japan have now run nearly ten minutes, an eternity in news time. As if to capture the flagging attention of the late night viewer or random channel surfer, the news puts an emphasis on striking visuals and arresting catch copy. The just-aired pieces cut from the narrator to show a series of bombs and jets and Top Gun maneuvers drawn from impressive TV file footage of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces exercises. The Japanese Hinomaru flag, and its likeness as an insignia on jets, planes and ships, is displayed prominently in many shots.
The virtual war scenes, stitched together from innocuous footage and the TV producer’s imagination, are followed by actual horror of war scenes as the first news report of the day turns other big stories of the day. The youthful, well-groomed announcer turns his attention to Ukraine, where wire services footage of bombings, fleeing civilians and wanton destruction on the ground offer a harrowing, unglamorous counterpoint to the slick illustrated theatrics of Sino-Japanese tensions in the previous segment.
The next story in the top of the hour lineup features Edward Snowden, talking to NBC reporter Brian Williams in Moscow. It includes a subtitled clip of Snowden explaining in English how your phone can be turned on remote, how people can be hurt by unwanted electronic intrusion and unfair profiles based on metadata
Next up is a brief pro-Russia PR segment about how Russia is strengthening its good relationship with former Soviet states of Kazakhstan and Byelorussia. This glowing coverage is in tune with over two weeks of positive coverage and optimistic pronouncements reflecting an upswing of mutual admiration dating to the Shanghai Confidence Building Conference that was boosted by the attendance of the image-conscious leader Vladimir Putin, who enjoys considerable popularity in China.
The report makes note of a prospective Sino-Russian pipeline and gas deal worth hundreds of billions of dollars, a possible game-changer in global energy fortunes, and The pro-Russian reportage caps off a news cycle that has been demonstrably favorable to Russia, with a segment about the joint Sino-Russian naval exercises recently held in the South China Sea, and serves as a geopolitical context for the opening report on the aerial near-miss with Japan.
A final tidbit of Japan news is presented, again showing pictures of Abe, saying Japan will ease sanctions in return for more cooperation in finding evidence of Japanese kidnapped citizens in North Korea. The subtle uptick in Japan-North Korean relations in the context of a broader honeymoon between China and Russia suggests a departure from the Cold War alignments, but the Cold War norm of a world divided into camps still seems to apply. China-North Korea relations have cooled sufficiently, and Japan’s foreign policy moves have been met with sufficient official outrage and skepticism to leave doubt in the mind of the viewer about the true intentions of Japan’s delicate rapprochement with its long-time bete noir, North Korea.
The CCTV Xinwen "Midnight News" report on the state of the world of is followed by a few short clips of domestic developments in China, making it an almost exact reverse of the flagship nightly news at seven, Xinwenlianbo, which is almost entirely focused on domestic news, with a just a few minutes to cover the rest of the world at the end of the program.
There’s a report about the record-breaking heat wave scorching Beijing and many parts of the country.
Next is a cultural item about fabled Chinese writer Qian Zhongshu, whose magisterial novel "Fortress Besieged" describes China during the time of Japanese invasion. Qian's extensive foreign language notes and manuscripts have been published. The midnight news program closes with a series of brief clips touching on transportation, including China's ever-expanding high-speed train network, regulations for truckers, a clip of Google's driverless car and some stunning footage from the Kazakhstan launch of the Soyuz spacecraft, shown at liftoff and docking with the International Space Station. The closing bumper, with its feel-good good-news of advances in transportation, is of a piece with China’s hunger for new technology and visionary, if not slightly insane, projects like building a high-speed train line from China to Alaska via Siberia, an alternative to the Panama Canal in Nicaragua, and planned moon shots. 

Japan's prime minister Abe Shinzo, who frequently cuts a dashing figure at home due to good PR and apt photo ops by the political machine that backs him, is not an attractive individual as portrayed in China. It's as if denouncing his policies is not enough, a mockery needs to be made of the man as well. Abe has shown a tenacity for holding a top leadership spot that is unusual for Japan, where bureaucratically appointed Prime Ministers come and go on the average of every year or two. His forceful personality and an enthusiastic, if limited, fan base brings to mind former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro, who also became the face of Japan during a period of high Sino-Japanese tension.

On CCTV the hidden message is beautiful China, ugly Japan

As such, Abe is not just another grey eminence keeping the PM's seat warm, but a singular figure upon whose shoulders singular blame can be placed. Abe's notoriety as a rightwing revisionist, and his penchant for annoying China with Yasukuni theatrics and stridently nationalistic gesturing makes him a perfect foil for Chinese news services seeking to personify the perfidy of militarism in Japan. Abe's bloodline also riles those in the know, not so much his mild-mannered father, the China-friendly former foreign minister Abe Shintaro, but his maternal grandfather, Kishi Nobusuke, who as an accused war criminal complicit in the military occupation of China during the war, stands for everything that China opposes politically. Kishi's subsequent re-invention of himself as a staunchly pro-US politician who enjoyed CIA support may have made him politically acceptable to US authorities, but did nothing to improve his image in China where his name evokes hurtful memories.
Abe gets airtime as a symbol of all that is wrong with Japan


CCTV's Channel 4 is broadcast in Beijing with a global Chinese-speaking audience in mind. Naturally this includes Taiwan and Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. In keeping with its mission, English subtitles are added for clarity and reach. If anything, the CCTV 4 coverage of Japan was even more strident than the coverage of the domestic all-news station, suggesting that there is an audience for an anti-Japan narrative in other parts of Asia and in the Chinese diaspora in general. Korea and the Philippines are among neighboring nations that still nurse grievances with Japan's wartime behavior, though Taiwan probably disappoints mainland pundits and opinion leaders because it seems to have come to terms with Japan better than other polities in the region.

(Screen captures below taken from CCTV 4 News broadcasts from May 26-31, 2014) 

Eurosatory is a Paris-based trade show for armaments and security equipment

China is suspicious of Japanese intentions regarding the Diaoyu/Senkaku islets 

Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force is accused of "fishing for trouble" in the South China Sea

Japan looks to Australia for expanding its submarine force

Submarine strength is critical to any calculus of war. The CCTV editor's skilled use of clips from Japanese TV and foreign file footage, Hinomaru and all,  drives home the point that Japan has a modern fleet, and the subtext is that China, the historic victim of Japanese militarism, must modernize its forces, for fear of conflict over sea lanes or isolated islets claimed by both sides. 

The Rising Sun insignia, a point of pride for Japan's nationalists, is unhappily associated with war for many in China