Literary critic Eitaro Ogawa won the Special Prize in the 1st APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize last year, and was awarded the Prize for Excellence in the Adult Division of this year’s 12th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest. Toshio Motoya spoke with Ogawa, who has made numerous recommendations to Japanese people in the past, about topics including what conservatives should do in this country with a drastically falling population.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. In this year’s 12th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest, you won the Prize for Excellence in the Adult Division for your essay, “Reiwa Japan: How to Build an Illustrious Nation in this Era.” Congratulations!
(O) Thank you.
(M) I respect your efforts to express your views; you have written a great deal and always clearly demonstrate a vision for Japan. How did you end up becoming a writer?
(O) I originally studied literature and music, and I ended up choosing literature when thinking about whether to enter that field or become a musician. I admired the work of modern Japanese literary figures like Soseki Natsume, Ogai Mori, Hideo Kobayashi, and Yukio Mishima, and I wanted to inherit that tradition. However, Japanese society rapidly transformed around the time the new emperor was enthroned when I was a college student. In the literary world, people had previously created new things based on a foundation of traditional techniques. But after that, authors with no talent or skills suddenly started drawing attention. Language itself changed as well, and the literary world I wanted to enter seemed likely to vanish. Ever since my university years, I have continually written critiques of pure literature and music with the intent of desperately protecting these past traditions. My name became known after the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was in power. I was concerned that Japan might be destroyed. Talking with my friends, I realized that endorsing Shinzo Abe was likely the only specific way to achieve a change of government. That’s why I wrote about my hope that Abe would become prime minister a second time. My first book, The Promised Day: Essay on Shinzo Abe (Gentosha Literary Publication), was published in September 2012. Right after that, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) became the ruling party, and Abe actually did regain the seat of prime minister. That’s how I began writing criticism about political conservatism. Since then, I have also published criticism on literature and music, my fields of expertise.
(M) I believe Abe saved Japan when he once again became prime minister. I also felt a sense of crisis right after the Great East Japan Earthquake, and I am sure your clear vision helped Abe become our leader once again. Furthermore, today the threats facing Japan are growing more and more serious. China – a country founded on some people exploiting the rest – keeps growing through military expansion, and North Korea has nuclear weapons as well. To withstand this, Japan must do more than adding a clear stipulation about the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to the constitution – we should remove the second paragraph of Article 9 to become a nation with a proper military. The constitution will have to be revised twice, which won’t be possible over the remaining two years of Abe’s term of office. I definitely hope he will be able to serve a fourth term as LDP president so this can be accomplished. If Donald Trump wins the American presidential election, he will be in office until 2024 as well. Japan and the United States should work together to stand against China and North Korea during that time, but the U.S. cannot deal carelessly with the nuclear North Korea, and unfortunately they are now on equal footing, including the summit meetings. Many Japanese citizens aren’t alarmed by this dangerous situation.
(O) Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un had a clear objective for obtaining nuclear weapons – he wanted his poor nation to be able to vie with its opponents as a major nuclear power. Still, North Korea’s main hypothetical enemy is China. China can’t currently take a hard line against North Korea because it is within the range of North Korean nuclear missiles. These missiles can’t reach the U.S., but they could certainly strike Beijing.
(M) The 2004 train explosion at Ryongchon Station in North Korea was actually an unsuccessful attempt by China to assassinate Kim Jong Il, who refused to abandon the nuclear program. After, Kim Jong Il stepped up nuclear development to protect himself. The first successful nuclear test was conducted in 2006, although the bomb was imperfect. North Korean nuclear weapons have always been aimed at China.
(O) The northern part of the Korean Peninsula and China have been at war since the Goguryeo kingdom. Korea was even victorious at times. The relationship between these two nations has been more tempestuous than their respective relations with Japan, which is located across the sea.
(M) Many media outlets mistakenly believe North Korea and China have a good relationship, but countries that share borders are traditionally unfriendly. China and the Soviet Union, both socialist countries, fought for dominion of Damansky Island in 1969. As an island nation, Japan was exempt from such conflicts in the past. The Marine Self-Defense Force, with the world’s most powerful deep-sea submarines, has played a major role in Japan’s national security. But a ballistic missile could cross the ocean and reach Japan in 10-plus minutes today. The benefits of this ocean barrier are being eroded by technological innovation, and Japanese people lack awareness about protecting ourselves.
(O) As an island nation, the only external threats Japan faced since ancient times were around the time of the Battle of Baekgang and the Mongol invasions in the latter half of the 13th century. This remained true until the modern Empire of Japan. Perhaps Japan lacks sensitivity to external dangers because of this history.
(M) During the Mongol invasions, Japan was supposedly saved by storms called “kamikaze,” or “divine winds.” However, another interpretation is that Japan actually won because of its superior weaponry. The Mongolian troops had bows with short ranges that were suited to use on horseback. In contrast, Japan used bows with long ranges to prevent the Mongolian force from landing. That’s why the divine winds did so much damage.
(O) Also, Japan wouldn’t have been able to withstand the fighting during the Fujiwara era – this counteroffensive was only possible in the age of the Kamakura Shogunate, a military government. The samurai government lasted in Japan for more than 800 years from the Kamakura Period. Cultural standards never fell, and Japan was not colonized by any foreign powers. The Empire of Japan was a modern state based on this military government awareness, and it was highly conscious of national defense. In contrast, contemporary Japan is like the Fujiwara era, when there was the assumption that Japan would never be threatened by external dangers. I think the Japanese mass media guides people to think this way.
(M) The military government quickly banned Christianity because it was afraid that letting this religion go unchecked would lead to Japan being colonized from the inside. It also paid careful attention to what was happening in other countries, even during the period of national isolation.
(O) At the end of the Edo Period, the Mito Domain, Satsuma Domain, and scholars of Western learning were quite fearful about national defense. This was inspired by the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, 50 years before that. They were not at all surprised by the First Opium War in 1840, and they must have felt increasingly restless about the Western European threat. Emperor Kokaku, who was enthroned in 1780, revived the former posthumous title given to emperors. He reinstated the ancient rite in which the new emperor makes a ceremonial offering of rice, implemented reforms out of the desire to cherish Japan’s national history including the Nihon Shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”), and encouraged greater reverence for imperial rule. The Mito, Satsuma, and Choshu Domains recognized these efforts, and this energy became a driving force in the Meiji Restoration that built a modern state. However, today attempts are being made to destroy this reverence, not only in the world of criticism but also in more fundamental ways.
(M) I think the growing respect for imperial rule was highly influential. Satsuma and Choshu were just two domains, so the government wouldn’t have lost if it stood against them together with the other domains. However, Edo Castle capitulated with no blood spilled because the Satsuma and Choshu forces raised the imperial standard as a loyalist army. This led to the foundation of the Meiji government, and even today we still look at history based on the viewpoint of Satsuma and Choshu. History is written by the victors in every nation of the world.
(O) The quick restoration of imperial rule was also influenced by the practice of emperors entrusting authority to generals. Since the Kamakura Period, there was a tradition of the nation’s government being delegated to a general, from Ashikaga to Oda, Toyotomi, and Tokugawa. That is why imperial rule was successfully restored despite the many feudal lords at that time.
(M) I think the emperor was a unifying force. I always find it fascinating that the Kyoto Imperial Palace is merely a mansion, not a fortified building like Osaka Castle. There are absolutely no other historical examples in the world of a monarch living in an undefended building.
(O) People say vagabonds could walk into the palace during the era when it had the least protection. I have started writing a book about Japanese history. Emperors had great authority from the Nara Period to the start of the Heian Period. After, the regency government was ruled by the Fujiwara Clan, and the emperor’s power faded for over 1,000 years. During that time, the emperor continually prayed to safeguard the country entrusted to him by Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess. The Imperial Family was connected by this sense of purpose even in times of economic severity. There is no other lineage like this across the world, and I find it miraculous.
(M) We must also emphasize the fact that the imperial family is connected solely through the male lineage. There was some talk during the Junichiro Koizumi DPJ administration about allowing a female emperor or female imperial house heads.
(O) The issue was not whether to permit a woman to become emperor. Some powers were actually plotting to cut off the male lineage. We absolutely must not concede this point.
(M) (M) The male lineage has nothing to do with gender equality. We should not get rid of systems that make sense in Japan. Another example is the extended family. Postwar families tend to split up, partially because of impartial inheritance. We could maintain the family structure if we brought back the prewar inheritance system centered on the family head.
(O) This issue exists across the globe. Faith within the family unit has been given importance in the Western, Christian world. However, rampant individualism is breaking down traditional religious views. Individuals cannot exist without families. Humans became more than animals when we developed language, and the only way we learn language is from the people around us. In other words, families and communities are the prerequisite for individual existence. But all types of communities are falling apart in Japan today, including families and relatives who share blood relationships, regional societies, and companies. Once these are destroyed, the only thing that remains is isolation.
(M) I believe dying alone is the worst way to go. The number of people who die alone is not released because these circumstances are unclear, but I think the total must be quite large.
(O) If individualism leads to many solitary deaths, then it does not ensure the dignity of the individual, which is an important point of the doctrine. This is a significant contradiction. We must honestly recognize the faults of individualism, but academism and the media stand in the way. Their religion of Marxism collapsed, yet no one can refute their claims about individualism and equality. That is how they have tried to crush the communities that are vital to mankind.
(M) I believe ranking-focused education is another factor behind the breakdown of the family. Students want to go to highly ranked universities, so in some families the son moves to Tokyo, the daughter to Kyoto, and the father is transferred somewhere by himself, leaving the mother alone at home. No matter how much money a household makes, it cannot enjoy an affluent lifestyle if all four members live apart from each other. I believe we should make regional universities more appealing and encourage people to study and work in their home regions to halt the trends of rural depopulation and overcrowding in Tokyo. The Big Four American tech companies are located outside of major metropolitan areas. Still, I founded my company elsewhere and then expanded my business by moving to Tokyo. I understand the difficulty of stopping this overconcentration in Tokyo unless national policies are implemented, such as providing better tax incentives in other regions. Even with transportation and communication progress, there are still major benefits to personally interacting with others.
(O) Tokyo must serve a powerful role in national security, but you are right about the other points you mentioned. Japan’s population will fall by 40 million people over the next 40 years, creating spaces where no people are living. If we do not change our laws that allow people of any nationality to buy land, Japan will be occupied by other countries like a house eaten by termites, even if no military invasion takes place.
(M) It’s certainly true that China is striving to achieve stable government by sending many members of the Han race to its Tibet and Mongolia autonomous regions to change the ethnic compositions there. As you say, Japan should probably be wary as well. I also think rural airports should be made into military bases from the standpoint of national security. Many of these are on the ocean, which is ideal for defense. We should built large underground hangars and store weapons there for emergencies. We must make sufficient preparations in times of peace – the worst thing is to become complacent and assume that nothing will happen.
(O) Since World War II, LDP administrations have consistently done all they can to ensure Japan’s security, including the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. They have maintained our latent military capabilities even though the media and educational system endlessly criticize any attempts to defend the country, and all military actions are immediately labeled as “militarism.” These repeated efforts have safeguarded Japan. The question is how to tell citizens about these truths that have not been reported and how to change their awareness. As long as the media has a monopoly on all microphones, people like Abe, you, and myself have no choice but to wage a guerilla war.
(M) That is right.
(O) The four countries of Japan, the U.S., Australia, and India have an unofficial alliance, and there are attempts underway to bring in France and England as well. Citizens should learn about this as a security issue, but I think Abe sharing the truth would inspire an outcry. Although the conservative movement to change individuals’ thinking is gaining momentum, we are losing the publishers that are the bases for this movement. Many highly lauded literary figures were conservatives in the postwar Showa Period, even at the height of left-wing sentiment. They were supported by Bungeishunju and SHINCHOSHA Publishing. However, these publishers decisively chose corporate cultures of liberalism by suspending publication of Bungeishunju’s Shokun! and SHINCHOSHA’s Shincho 45. The Sankei Shimbun newspaper is also having management difficulties, meaning the three important conservative print medias are declining in influence. A limited number of financiers control the Japanese media, from publishing to newspapers, terrestrial broadcasting, and satellite broadcasting. This is unthinkable in the U.S. or Europe.
(M) That’s prohibited by law in those regions.
(O) Yes, for example, American newspaper companies are banned from owning broadcasters in their areas.
(M) Other newspapers are apparently careful how they write their articles so they don’t receive complaints from The Asahi Shimbun. You seem unconcerned about complaints, but this newspaper is also famous for suppressing freedom of speech by asking for huge amounts of compensation in strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), which is awful.
(O) Asahi reporters boast that they can start incidents by the articles they write. An example is the Moritomo Academy and Kakei Educational Institution issue, which caused a huge outcry across Japan based on disinformation.
(M) In any case, there’s no way to stop The Asahi Shimbun and other print mediums from losing influence. Young people get all their news from the Internet.
(O) Conservatives must keep up with this. When Bungeishunju, SHINCHOSHA, and other publishers were strong, people tended to read coherent views that offered a great deal of variety. Today they only read fragmented information on the Internet. The Asahi Shimbun and other old media outlets are already treated as “fake news” online, and articles that get many hits are regarded as true. The Internet is also an ideal medium for the Communist Party of China to impact Japanese society. No one knows how many Chinese cells have infiltrated and are controlling information on the Japanese Internet.
(M) I believe we should create a “Ministry of Information” with a budget of 300 billion yen and a staff of 3,000. It should protect domestic information and also point out errors in any foreign reporting on Japan.
(O) China is actually stealing information by sending its citizens to American universities, research institutes, government agencies, and the film industry.
(M) Japan is also the target of this. Trump has taken note of this theft and is taking steps against it, but it went unchecked during the era of President Barack Obama. People used to assume China would democratize once it gained affluence, but that was a fantasy, and it ended up as the monster it is today.
(O) When the Soviet Union was formed, European intellectuals who adhered to Marxism actually endorsed the revolution.
(M) Intellectuals tend to have more reformist ways of thinking. There was even a time when Japanese intellectuals saw the Chinese Cultural Revolution through rose-colored glasses.
(O) It seems to me that intellectuals bring chaos to the society that is solemnly upheld by ordinary citizens. Society has progressed thanks to natural science, but I think intellects have done nothing but make mistakes over the past 200 years in the realms of political and social thought. The historical view based on the concept of class struggles is also mistaken. Europe fell into ruin because imperial rule mostly vanished after the end of World War I, and countries lost their fundamental structures. All societies have hierarchies, and nothing makes a society more unsettled than new people gaining power. Imperial rule was spoken of quite negatively right after the war, but today more people actually revere the emperor. This is partially because Japan is in immediate danger.
(M) I think we still have a stable national structure focused on the emperor. Japanese people took in Mahayana Buddhism, rejected Christianity, and learned about various cultures from China based on this. However, we did not emulate their foot-binding or eunuchs. Japan carefully selected what to take in and what to discard.
(O) Regarding these choices, the Japanese ethnic group has prioritized the sensibilities of its common people rather than the knowledge of its intellectuals. Edo rulers did not just accept what scholars said without questioning, yet today the intellectual academism and media are influencing the public opinion.
(M) We must build a society where every citizen trusts their own senses, without being deceived by the media’s arbitrary news and public opinion polls. We certainly talked about many important topics during our discussion today. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(O) I hope young people will study Japanese history and literature. History is particularly biased, so it’s important for them to take care to choose correct history. The important thing is that Japan was a powerful nation with a sense of unity centered on the emperor. I also want to point out that negative views of history are misinformed.
(M) Lately it bothers me that the news portrays the Imperial Family like our relatives or neighbors. I feel like they should have more mystique.
(O) I agree.
(M) I hope that Japan, a nation with an emperor-focused history, will continue being protected for a long time. Thank you for joining me today.
Date of dialogue: October 8, 2019
Born in 1967. Majored in Musicology at the Department of Aesthetics, School of Letters, Osaka University, then completed the Master’s Course at Saitama University. Ogawa published and supervised literary zine A Grain of Wheat during his time at university, and has released many works of literary and social criticism. In 2003 he submitted “Yasunari Kawabata’s Ancient Capital” to the Editorial Department of literary magazine Shincho at the recommendation of Kazuyuki Toyama, and this piece was chosen as a finalist in the Criticism Division of the 35th Shincho New Face Award. Today Ogawa is active as a literary critic in the fields of modern Japanese literature and 19th-century German music. He is also chairman of the Peace Studies Institute Of Japan.He has won numerous awards including the 18th Seiron Shinpu Prize (organized by the Fujisankei Communications Group) and 1st APA Japan Restoration Special Prize. His many published works include Heisei Chronicle (Seirindo).