Posts Tagged ‘Futenma’

Some Progress

March 28, 2012

One hundred years ago today, on March 27, 2012, First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador to Washington, went down to the Tidal Basin, hoisted their spades, and planted the first two of 3020 cherry trees presented to the District of Columbia by the city of Tokyo.  This low-key but ground-breaking event not only established a  tradition of flower-viewing à la japonaise in America, but also implanted in the collective minds of both Japanese and American people the awareness that a special relationship might exist between their two countries.

One manifestation of this awareness is the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival held at this time of year at the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC.  This year, to celebrate the centennial of the trees’ arrival, a special extended edition is being held from March 20 through April 27.    According to the festival sponsor, “The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.”


The original gift came about not through official government channels, but through the efforts of one man in particular, Yukio Ozaki, who at that time was serving as Mayor of Tokyo, and was in fact intended to honor something more specific and controversial than “lasting friendship.” According to the Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation, the Mayor arranged for the gift of cherry trees in order “to express the appreciation of the Japanese people for America’s role in assisting Japan” in the Russo-Japanese War.


This appreciation, however, was not universally shared among the Japanese, many of whom resented the American-brokered outcome of that war, which deprived Japan of war indemnities and the northern half of Sakhalin.

Known in Japan as “the father of constitutional government,” Mr. Ozaki was a liberal politician who was instrumental in the establishment of parliamentary democracy.  In 1912 Japan, liberalism and a love of democracy were enjoying a brief and fragile flowering that was soon to be swept away by the winds of militarism, which Mr. Ozaki opposed.

In the same year as the gift of the trees, a daughter Yukika was born to the Mr. and Mrs. Ozaki.  When Yukika died in 2008 at the age of 96, an op ed piece about her appeared in the Daily Yomiuri.  The essay mentions the prejudice she endured as a schoolgirl because of her father’s liberalism.  “Cherry trees symbolize the soul of the Japanese people.  A traitor sold our soul,” her teacher told her class, referring to her father and the same blossoms currently being enjoyed at the Tidal Basin.  Yukika grew up to become president of the Association for Aid and Relief, Japan, devoting her own life to helping those who suffer from war.  (The AARJ is active in various war-torn areas of the world including Afghanistan, where it helps people injured by land mines.)

Thus, the original intention of this gift was not just to foster some sort of vague and flowery friendship to which governments could easily pay lip service, but to commit a relationship between two powerful, potentially rival countries to the nurturance and propagation of world peace.  Needless to say, the course of this friendship from that March day in 1912 to today has been anything but smooth and straightforward.  It has endured imperialistic joustings in the early years of the 20th century, open hostilities and mutual bombing raids in World War II, the post-war American Occupation, trade frictions, and tensions over the continuing presence of US air bases and attendant troops on Okinawa even now in the 21st.

Somehow this so-called friendship has survived, just as the two original trees planted 100 years ago today still stand their ground, ancient now and gnarled, testimonies perhaps to the enduring possibility of a “world peace” which seems more elusive now than ever.  Meanwhile, the United States still fights in Afghanistan, and Japan readies itself to shoot down another one of those unidentified flying objects North Korea threatens to launch in their direction some day soon.  No one, it seems, is busier preparing for peace today than anyone was a hundred years ago.  Some progress.


Bill of Rights Comes Due; Embassy Refuses to Pay

March 9, 2011

Still unresolved since the Tree last reported on it [see “Futenma Update,” June 23, 2010] is the issue of the relocation of Futenma Air Base to Henoko.  Politicians are apparently too busy engaged in power struggles on the Diet floor and in back rooms to deal with this hot potato up front and decisively.  The mainstream media here as well have found other more entertaining diversions, like the sumo bout-rigging scandal or the recent case of a student using his cell phone to copy answers to entrance exam questions, to report as news.  Lost in all this vaudevillian soft-shoe and shuffle is any serious news of what’s happening in Okinawa.


Meanwhile, the eyes of the world’s media outlets are on events in Africa and the Middle East.  I have an email subscription to Global Voices, “an international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media around the world.” <>  In their email notice of Sunday, February 20, 2011, the following stories among others were posted:  “Arab World:  The Uprisings Continue,” “Algeria:  Protesters Hurt as police try to stop demonstration,” “Bahrain:  Protestors continue to camp at Pearl Roundabout,” “Morocco:  Across the Nation, Demonstration.”  A story was filed for Japan, too:  “Japan:  It’s Nursing Time on Twitter!”  You would think that all must be quiet here in Japan, and that all the turmoil is concentrated in other parts of the globe.


But things are not quiet on Okinawa, and the apparent large percentage of the population that is more concerned with personal than political issues represents not general satisfaction with the way things are so much as a sublime indifference to it.  Not treating an event as “news,” however, does not mean it never happened; nor does ignoring it mean that it will quietly go away.  On the same day of the above-mentioned Global Voices posting which gave the impression that all was quiet on the Japan front, a report appeared in the citizen reporter blog JANJAN (Japan Alternative News for Justices and New Cultures) on a demonstration that had taken place that same day near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.


According to a post by citizen reporter Umigata Masashi, “Two Protesters Arrested near American Embassy” 「米大使館付近で逮捕者2名発生」,  approximately 200 people gathered near Shinbashi Station to march to the Embassy to deliver a formal written notice protesting the construction of helipads in the village of Takae in Okinawa for use by the U.S. military.  The march was sponsored by the “Don’t Tread on Okinawa!” Emergency Action Committee.  Although the march was orderly and protesters kept to the sidewalks, they were accompanied and outnumbered by a sizable force of both uniformed and plainclothes police, who also filmed them with video cameras.


One day last fall I attended an event at the Okura Hotel, located across the street from the American Embassy.  My route from the subway exit to the hotel took me right past the Embassy, and I arrived a few minutes late because I had not allowed time for the detour I was forced to make.  The Embassy is surrounded by Japanese policemen who ensure that nobody who has no business at the Embassy sets foot on the public sidewalk that runs next to it outside its gates.  When I attempted to do so, I was stopped and instructed to take a wide semi-circular rather than direct route to the hotel.  I felt at the time not only put out by the inconvenience but embarrassed at my position.  Here was I, an American citizen, being ordered by a Japanese policeman to keep away not from some secure area belonging to Japan but from the grounds of (what I apparently foolishly think of as) “my own” Embassy, which now resembled more a military stronghold than the diplomatic outpost of a democratic nation.


It was no surprise, then, to read in the JANJAN report that when the protest marchers reached the vicinity of the Embassy, they had to stop because the Embassy does not permit political demonstrations in front of its buildings.  However, several marchers began to call out to the others to move on to the Embassy anyway, and everyone began chanting loudly in chorus.  At this point, the police moved in and arrested two of the protesters for “interference with a government official in the exercise of his duties.”  After the arrest, representatives of the Emergency Action Committee went to the Embassy to deliver their written notice protesting the helipad construction, but the Embassy refused to accept it.


Mr. Umigata appends some commentary to his report that is especially of interest to the Tree.  He notes that while President Obama apparently welcomed the recent citizen revolution in Egypt, it seems to be a different story when it comes to citizens protesting in Japan.


Ironically, “it was America who taught democracy to Japan after the war. And now America is teaching Japanese people again to assert their anger and take action,” he writes.


He suggests that this protest march, and the arrests made, are a sign that the usually well-behaved Japanese people, who are perceived as “obediently listening to whatever their superiors say,” are undergoing change.  They are becoming more excited, and they are getting angry.  The refusal of the Embassy to accept the letter of protest will, he predicts, “up the voltage.”  “The dislike of America will increase, which may be a sign that we will grow into an independent democratic nation.”  He ends his post in English:  “Thank you, America!!”


[For the full article (in Japanese) with photographs of the scene visit <;.  For a video of the event, see <;.  Many thanks to Umigata Masashi for permission to quote extensively from his post, sine qua non.]

When I read Mr. Umigata’s post and learned of the Embassy’s rejection of the protesters’ petition, I could not help being reminded of the scene in ANPO [see previous post, “Film Review:  ANPO“] where the Embassy personage tosses his cigarette butt at the crowd before turning away from them.  Has nothing changed in the 50 years since that event?


Film Review: ANPO

March 9, 2011

It begins with a close-up of a painted image of a dog with an unnatural human-like mouth smeared with bright red lipstick.  The camera moves about the canvas, zooming in and out, revealing a little more.  Above the dog is a dark monster, red tongue hanging out, who holds the dog by the tail in one claw-like hand and by one ear in the other hand.  Tied around the dog’s neck is a white napkin with the words “Yellow Stool” scrawled across it.  The scene then changes abruptly to another painted image, that of Manhattan in flames, encircled by a fleet of Mitsubishi Zeroes.


The film is ANPO:  Art X War (2010), a documentary by the American filmmaker Linda Hoaglund.  The word anpo (a shortened form of anzen hoshou “security”) refers to the Japan-US Security Treaty. The film deals, however, not so much with the Security Treaty per se but with the responses of Japanese visual artists to various issues connected with it, including the 1960 mass protest against the signing of the revised Treaty, the continued presence of US bases on Japanese soil, especially in Okinawa, the ill treatment of Japanese women by GIs stationed at those bases, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war guilt of the Japanese, and the fire bombings of Tokyo.  Because the film explores these issues through the eyes of the artists, it comes across more like an art exhibit than a documentary.  Some of the artists speak on screen so we have their words to mull over as well, but most of what we see is the art works themselves, and it is those works which speak most eloquently and appeal to viewers most forcefully.  Being works of art rather than reason, they do not argue what to do about the Security Treaty itself, but rather pose some troubling questions and leave the drawing of any conclusions up to viewers.


The scene of New York burning is from “Map of an Air Raid of New York” by Aida Makoto (1996).  It shows skyscrapers, many easily identifiable such as the Chrysler and Pan Am Buildings, engulfed in flames.  In the foreground a fleet of Zeroes forms a figure eight, the sign of infinity.  This scene, interspersed with shots of the artist being interviewed, is accompanied by a melancholy instrumental rendition of Takemitsu Toru’s anti-war song “All That the Man Left Behind When He Died.”


Mr. Aida:  “For the Japanese, whether or not we like America is a loaded question that isn’t easy to answer.  Whether or not you like France is a matter of personal taste.  But America is a more searing presence, with love and hate always flip-flopping.”


The rest of the film, and the artists and artworks featured in it, elaborate on this basic theme.  While many of the works depict the horrors of war, and some express anger not so much at the US military presence as at the Japanese politicians who allow it, the impression that comes through loudest and clearest is of a deep wellspring of unresolved and complicated anger toward America hidden beneath the quiet surface of Japanese society.  This unresolved anger and its implications is perhaps best expressed by the two paintings that open the film.


The Zeroes were, of course, designed as fighter jets, not bombers.  They were turned into bombers, however, in the latter years of the war when they were used for kamikaze suicide attacks on American ships.  Thus, “Map of an Air Raid” depicts New York being attacked by airplanes turned into bombs themselves.  The scene would be reminiscent of 9/11 were it not for the fact that it was painted five years before that event.


The “Yellow Stool” makes several reprise appearances, and eventually it becomes clear that the dog represents Japan, and the dark monster who holds it in his grip is the United States.  On another level, the dog represents the women who were hired by the Japanese government in the early days of the Allied Occupation to work as prostitutes serving the American GIs posted to Japan.  A bit of film footage shows a young white soldier with his arm slung casually around the shoulders of a pretty Japanese woman.  They are both smiling and looking happy, but the man keeps stroking the woman’s cheek with the hand that lies on her shoulder, and she keeps reaching up and pushing the hand away, even while she continues to smile, even while he keeps ignoring her signal and returning his hand to her cheek, while she continues to smile, like the dog in “Yellow Stool.”


Another painting:  “And Still They March” by Katsuragawa Hiroshi.  A man wrapped in bandages and barbed wire walks on crutches away from us down a long red-carpeted gray-walled corridor toward a black rectangle of a doorway at the further end.  One leg is in a brace and the other has been removed at the knee.  His bottom is unbandaged but also unclothed.  Around his head the bandages have been wrapped in such a way as to suggest the ziggurat-like dome of the Diet Building.


When I first saw the title, I thought the painting depicted soldiers going to war, again and again and again, despite the futility of war, despite its horrors, despite the damage that it does to everyone and everything.  But listening to the interview with the artist, and looking more closely at the painting, I realized he meant to depict the Japanese parliament.  Despite the widespread protests against the Treaty, in which millions of citizens participated, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party led by Prime Minister Kishi effectively cut off all debate and shut out the opposition from the vote to approve the Treaty. “Parliament wasn’t functioning anymore so I wrapped it twice in bandages, but it’s Parliament hobbling along on crutches,” explains the artist.


“March” may also refer to the protest marches, and the determination of the people not to give up.  Parliament may not have been functioning, but ordinary citizens were filling the streets demanding that their voices be heard.  Artist Ikeda Tatsuo participated in that 1960 demonstration, and tells of a friend who marched with him.  Because he had had polio as a child, this friend walked with a crutch, dragging one leg behind him, “desperately chanting and zigzagging” for three kilometers.


ANPO includes scenes from a film made of that protest [Rage at ANPO (1960), Tomizawa Yukio, dir.], and in one of them, the march has arrived at the U.S. Embassy.  The camera zooms in on a white man standing on a balcony of an Embassy building watching the goings-on and smoking a cigarette. He flips his cigarette butt down at the crowd and exhales a cloud of smoke before turning away.


In the end, the protest failed to stop the signing of the revised Treaty.  One scene shows Mr. Katsuragawa’s painting being taken out of storage, perhaps on its way to be photographed for the film.  It had been stored not in a museum but in the attic of the garage of a kerosene salesman, a friend of the artist.  So too did the protest march end with everybody going home and putting their anger into storage, not to be shown in public.  As Mr. Ikeda asks at the end of the film:  “So what the hell is democracy?”


[To view a trailer of ANPO, visit <;.  For an excellent critique of the film, see Ryan Holmberg, “Know Your Enemy:  ANPO,” Art in America, Jan. 1, 2011, at <;.   Future screenings will be held at the Hong Kong Film Festival on March 24 and 27, at the Association of Asian Studies/ICAS Film Expo 2011 in Honolulu on April 2, and at the Harvard Film Archives in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 11.]


Futenma Update

June 23, 2010

Vol. 3, No. 7.

“What part of muzukashii don’t you understand?” There are many ways of saying “no” in Japan, and “no” is not one of them.

For example, muzukashii, which by itself means “difficult,” but when spoken in response to a request most likely means “no.”  In other words, muzukashii means “Please do not bother to ask me again because circumstances make it too difficult to comply with your request.”

On Friday June 18, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos visited Okinawa and met with its governor, Hirokazu Nakaima.  The latter told Roos that relocating the Futenma Air Base to Henoko in Nago City would be “difficult in the extreme.”  (Uh oh.)  Apparently unfazed by this rejection—perhaps adhering to the “the-sale-begins-when-the-customer-says-no” principle—our Ambassador assured the Governor that the US government plans to continue seeking ways to “reduce the burden on Okinawa…of hosting the bulk of US forces in Japan.”  There is no sign yet, however, that moving Futenma out of Okinawa is one of those ways being sought.

The following day, June 19, marked the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the revised Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960.  It is also the date President Eisenhower was scheduled to visit Tokyo but did not.  Here’s why:  The streets of Tokyo through which his motorcade would have to pass were filled with Japanese citizens protesting both the Security Treaty itself and the undemocratic way in which it had been approved in the Diet.

The Prime Minister at that time was Nobusuke Kishi, member of Tojo’s cabinet during World War II, subsequently imprisoned as a war criminal by the U.S. Occupation.  Kishi was released from prison in 1948 as part of the Occupation’s “reverse course” policy, in which immediate post-war projects designed to foster democratization in Japan were sacrificed to Cold War ideology and the need to build up the economy to keep the country from going communist.  As Prime Minister, he was determined to get the revision through the Diet as quickly as possible and in spite of widespread opposition to Japan’s willing and active participation in the U.S. military enterprise, which the revision represented.

According to the Encyclopedia of Japan, “Kishi finally ‘rammed’ the approval through in a plenary session shortly after midnight on 20 May while the opposition parties were unaware that the majority party was voting for the treaty and without providing an opportunity for counterarguments.” Millions of citizens poured into the streets in protest.  (Numbers from the Encyclopedia article:  4,580,000 at rallies; 4,280,000 in demonstrations; 7,060,000 in labor union strikes.)  They were unable to prevent the signing of the undemocratically “approved” revised treaty on June 19.

It is this same Treaty that makes it possible for the U.S. to maintain its military presence in Japan.  Yet the problems both created at the difficult birth of its revision and inherited from its original version have never been squarely faced and adequately resolved. They still lurk in the background, casting their shadows over any attempts to solve the current Futenma crisis.

It might be a good idea if Washington reminded itself of the terms of the Treaty.  One of the new provisions in the 1960 revision states that “the expiration of the Treaty is no longer dependent on mutual agreement. Beginning ten years after implementation of the Treaty [that would be 1970], either party may give notice to the other of its intention to terminate it, and expiration will become effective a year later.”

An Idiot’s Tale

June 7, 2010

PRIME MINISTER HATOYAMA RESIGNS. Last fall during the early days of the Hatoyama Administration, I asked students in one of my reading classes at Keio University to try using the word “incandescent.”  This word had come up in a Paul Auster essay we were reading and had been used to describe Willie Mays.  “Who would you describe as ‘incandescent,'” I asked, and one group of students answered “Yukio Hatoyama.”  At the time, I didn’t quite see his incandescence–other than the gold-colored ties he was in the habit of wearing–as he was already coming across to me (via the media, of course) and just about everyone else as wishy-washy and indecisive, not exactly the sort of qualities one associates with incandescence.

This morning (June 2) I turned on the TV intending to record a suspense drama for later viewing, but there was Mr. Hatoyama, standing pale-faced in gleaming gold-striped tie in front of a microphone and TV cameras announcing his resignation as Prime Minister of Japan.  So I watched his drama instead.

He faced the cameras without flinching and spoke without notes and seemingly without guile.  There was nothing wishy-washy or indecisive in anything he said.  He spoke passionately and powerfully of his hopes for the future of his party and for Japan, and of his deep regret at not being able to fulfill his promises, particularly the one made to Okinawans to rid their island of American bases.  His voice cracked, and he looked on the verge of tears as he called for a Japan that would one day no longer need the American military presence to maintain its peace for them.  For a few moments he burned fiercely, and then when his speech was over, he bowed and quietly left the podium, “his hour upon the stage” ended, his brief candle extinguished.  His term as Prime Minister was over, but on this his last day in office, and in the middle of his ignominious failure, Mr. Hatoyama had finally achieved incandescence.

It was impossible not to think that he was showing his true colors at last, and that after all, he had been sincere in his desire to renegotiate the Futenma agreement with Washington so that Okinawa would no longer have to host the air base.  Why, then, had he not spoken this forcefully before?  I cannot answer that question because all actual political activity takes place behind the scenes here, and I am only a member of the audience watching the play.  The media colludes in this make-believe by reporting only on the play, what is presented to the public, and not on what is going on back stage.  One can therefore only speculate about what is making a particular actor out front speak the lines he does, or behave the way he does.

One possible explanation for Mr. Hatoyama’s ineffectiveness as prime minister is a flaw in his character that prevented him from acting decisively when decisiveness was called for.  In this case, the drama we have been watching would qualify as a tragedy where a leader with noble ideals is brought down in the last act by his own internal shortcomings.

Another possibility is that Mr. Hatoyama, though bearing the title of Prime Minister, was never really in control of his government, but a mere puppet manipulated by other more powerful forces hidden in the shadows behind him.  In this case, one of those forces would be Ichiro Ozawa, until today the Democratic Party of Japan’s Secretary General, whom a recent issue of The Economist (Jan. 23, 2010) calls the DPJ’s “fixer-in-chief.”  If Mr. Hatoyama accomplished anything in his last act, it was to insist on taking Mr. Ozawa down with him when he resigned, so that the Democratic Party of Japan could start all over again with a clean image.

But a third, more troubling (to me as an American) possibility suggests itself:  Mr. Hatoyama could not be effective because Washington, including our Commander in Chief, did nothing at all to help him.  The U.S. position, unlike the muddled Japanese one, is clear:  We have our bases all over the Japanese archipelago (especially concentrated on Okinawa), and we don’t want to give them up.

Other than to maintain inflexibly throughout the Futenma uproar that only the agreement already made in 2006 was acceptable, and then to sit back and watch while Mr. Hatoyama twisted in the wind until he fell, Washington did nothing to contribute to a satisfactory resolution of the issue.  Washington seemed to know that if it simply waited, and did not cooperate with Mr. Hatoyama, his government would fall soon enough and the threat that his campaign promises posed to our Okinawa strongholds would disappear with him.  Apparently nothing is more important than keeping these bases: not the sovereign rights of a supposedly equal partner, not the opinion of the people whose land has been usurped, and most certainly not democracy itself.

What keeps getting shoved aside as if it were of no importance in the media coverage following Mr. Hatoyama’s resignation is that this is not just about the failure of one man, but the failure of what he represented:  a chance for a government elected by the people to wrest power from an intractable, unelected bureaucracy; to stop the spread of concrete that is covering up Japan’s once-beautiful natural environment; to respond to the cries of the Okinawan people for relief from the 65 years of noisy and noisome foreign military presence in their midst.  It is this agenda which has now failed, not the individual Yukio Hatoyama.  And it is this agenda which America, by not working actively to meet Mr. Hatoyama halfway, helped to defeat.

With Hatoyama out of the way, Washington expects smooth sailing into the waters off Henoko in Nago, Okinawa.  Where Naoto Kan, the new Prime Minister, stands on the issue of the Futenma air base relocation is not yet known.  We do know, however, where the Nago mayor stands:  adamantly opposed to the relocation to Henoko.  And unless he can be bought off, an ugly confrontation lies ahead.


Kore wa nani? Answer:  recycled chopsticks.

At the entrance to the Igusa Hachiman shrine, the short drive from the street up to the torii was lined with these small lanterns on the night of the Noh performance.  The lights are battery-operated bulbs, and the shades, each one different, were made by school children from the elementary school next to the shrine.  At lunch they use disposable wooden chopsticks, which are seen as a waste of resources, so the children saved the thrown-away chopsticks and recycled them as lanterns to guide our way in the darkness.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

[from Macbeth, Act V, Scene 5]