Kent Gilbert won the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the 8th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest this year. While working as an attorney, he appeared on a TV program that led to his big break. As a conservative controversialist, his recent activities including writing books and columns and appearing on TV. Toshio Motoya spoke with Gilbert about the good qualities of Japan and the weak points that stem from these characteristics.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today, and congratulations on winning the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest.
Gilbert Thank you very much.
Motoya Your essay was very easy to understand, showing how the good nature of the Japanese people leads to masochistic views of history. The judges unanimously decided to award you the Grand Prize for your fantastic essay.
Gilbert I could write volumes about the good qualities of Japanese people.
Motoya I’ve heard that you first came to Japan in 1971.
Gilbert Yes, that’s right.
Motoya APA Group was founded in Komatsu City, Ishikawa Prefecture on May 10 of the same year.
Gilbert Is that so? I have stayed at the APA Hotel in Komatsu City.
Motoya That’s APA Hotel Komatsu Grand. I started the residential housing business before the hotel one. That was 44 years ago.
Gilbert I came to Japan on December 17. I was a student, and I remained in Kyushu for some time.
Motoya You then returned to the United States and earned degrees and qualifications. After coming back to Japan in 1980, you joined a law firm in Tokyo. Afterwards, your big break came after you appeared on Sekai Marugoto How Much. Lately you are very busy expressing your views in various ways, including publishing books and appearing on television.
Gilbert It’s a lot of fun.
Motoya When I read your essay, I felt that you have a Japanese-like sensibility that even exceeds that of Japanese people, and that you are looking at Japan with an extremely perceptive viewpoint. Robert D. Eldridge also won in the Honorable Mention category of this year’s contest. It is very significant for you two Americans to point out various things about Japanese views of history from the outside, and also draws attention. This contest is being reported on in many media outlets as well. What has the reaction been like for you?
Gilbert been like for you? (G) Many people have congratulated me. There has been no negative reaction regarding myself, but I read on Twitter that a foreign reporter for The Japan Times was criticizing Eldridge.
Motoya Perhaps these objections stem from a lack of real understanding.
Gilbert These criticisms are mistaken. The people that say them are brainwashed and do not realize they have mistaken ways of thinking. People who believe they are top-grade reporters should study more. Fortunately, today there are new types of media like the Internet in addition to television and newspapers. It seems that Japanese people are more vigorously discussing history and politics than in the past.
Motoya I think this temperament came about when Toshio Tamogami won the Grand Prize in the 1st Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay contest in 2008. He was simultaneously bashed by the mass media, but many people came to desire the truth when they explored just why Tamogami was being criticized to that degree. This has led to a growing trend of conservatism in Japan and Shinzo Abe becoming prime minister for a second time. In the postwar era, up until now the media has been bound by the 30-item Press Code established by the army of occupation. Japan cannot criticize China, South Korea, the U.S., or other parties according to this Press Code.
Gilbert Other taboos include the process of establishing the constitution and Japanese prisoners of war in Siberia. For that reason, no one can say anything except insults regarding the Japanese government.
Motoya I am also suspicious of the media because the tenor of its arguments is always the same. We should have media outlets that perform independent investigations and provide various viewpoints to its readers, but that’s not what really happens. The Sankei Shimbun newspaper is working comparatively hard, but regrettably it has a small circulation.
Gilbert This situation regarding the media is extremely frightening. It was fine when China was docile, but now…
Motoya China was acting docile for a reason. A book was published saying that China has a “Hundred-year Marathon” plan of overtaking the U.S. in all realms by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the country’s foundation. It’s certain that China views itself as on par with the U.S. to a certain extent today. I suspect the fact that China is performing land reclamation at reefs in the South China Sea and turning them into military bases is a demonstration of this recognition.
Gilbert Yet the U.S. finally dispatched the USS Lassen, an Aegis ship.
Motoya I think that was a correct response. The entry of official Chinese ships into Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands has become normalized. A regular country would have warned these ships and then sunk them. Even the Republic of Palau, a country in the Pacific Ocean with a population of 20,000 people, shot at a Chinese fishing boat encroaching into its territorial waters. It killed one of the sailors and arrested the rest, and made China pay a fine. I think the occupation policy of the U.S. is the reason why Japan’s common understanding is irrational compared to the rest of the world. Japan was too strong during World War II. The U.S. thoroughly nipped in the bud the threat that Japan would once again become a strong country.
Gilbert The American Army was truly afraid of the Japanese Army, which fought to its limits. This was partially because of a misunderstanding on the part of the U.S. – it was under the impression that all Japanese citizens, even babies, were staunch militarists. For that reason, the occupying army destroyed Japan in the spiritual realm. This raises humane issues, but it was very successful.
Motoya Another goal of the occupation policy was to portray Japan as a bad country. The U.S., after committing the inhumane act of dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had to make Japan – the victim of these bombs – look bad so the U.S. could continually be seen as a good country. The ostensible reason for bombing Japan was to make it surrender more quickly. However, the real reason was to gain global hegemony in the postwar period and restrain the Soviet Union to halt the spread of communism across the world. Japan’s only condition for surrender was the continuation of the imperial system. The U.S. purposefully gave vague answers regarding the condition to ensure Japan didn’t surrender quickly and buy time until the atomic bombs were completed. The item recognizing the continuation of the imperial system was also purposefully removed from the Potsdam Declaration. Secretary of State James F. Byrnes was the leader behind this series of actions. I think he acted in a way that was only natural; all countries kill people and lie for the sake of their own national interests.
Gilbert I agree entirely.
Motoya Japan must break the American curse of the atomic bombs in order to build a true Japan-U.S. relationship. We should recognize the significance of these bombs that transformed World War III from a fierce fight into a cold war. In exchange, we should ask the U.S. to fully repudiate historical falsehoods such as the stories about 300,000 people being slaughtered at Nanking and the forced transportation of 200,000 comfort women. After all, the U.S. has many pieces of evidence. For example, Tony Marano, nicknamed “Texas Daddy,” discovered a report of comfort women questioned by the U.S. Armed Forces in Myanmar, which concluded that they were regular wartime prostitutes.
Gilbert The stance of the Obama administration regarding Japan and Asia has changed a bit recently.
Motoya Obama declared that the U.S. will no longer serve as policeman of the world, which led to global disorder such as Russia’s annexing of Crimea, the rampancy of IS, and China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea.
Gilbert Still, he has finally noticed the situation in Asia and taken actions such as dispatching the Aegis ship.
Motoya Perhaps he didn’t know much about Asia.
Gilbert I suspect he wasn’t aware of the distinctions between China, South Korea, and Japan. Incidentally, his friend Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, was attacked by a hoodlum wielding a knife in March 2015. This may have shown Obama just what kind of country South Korea is. China held a military parade in September to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its war victory, where President Xi Jinping gave a speech that was full of lies. South Korean President Park Geun-hye also nonchalantly attended this parade. I am sure Obama once again realized that Japan is the most trustworthy country, and he probably gained new determination not to give the South China Sea to China.
Motoya It sounds like he has gradually come to understand Asia.
Gilbert I think so.
Motoya Including Obama, Democratic presidents have traditionally treated Japan with coldness. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who began World War II, and Harry S. Truman, who dropped the atomic bombs, were both Democrats. I hope the next American president is a strong member of the Republican Party.
Gilbert I do, too. But the battle over the Republican Party nomination is pandemonium.
Motoya Hillary Clinton, the Democratic favorite, was hurt by the scandal of her using a personal e-mail address to conduct official business for some time, but has regained her approval rating recently through events such as television debates. However, the Republic Party is still disarrayed.
Gilbert It looks 95% sure the Democratic Party candidate will be Hillary Clinton. I think the only matter of concern is her health.
Motoya Yet isn’t the American populace entirely sick of the past eight years under the Democratic Obama government? I think some people must also feel a sense of the past hearing names like “Clinton” and “Bush.” I get the impression that many Americans are seeking for a person who can bring a breath of fresh air and has fortitude regarding all circumstances.
Gilbert Even so, I doubt they will pick Donald Trump.
Motoya Trump has become a hot topic of conversation because of his grandiose statements on all topics, but I don’t think even he understands what he is saying.
Gilbert Public opinion polls show his approval rating has fallen from first to second place.
Motoya I keep saying that I think Marco Rubio will become the Republican presidential candidate.
Gilbert Rubio would be a good choice. He has political experience and says respectable things. I also like Jeb Bush, the younger brother of President George W. Bush, but I am not a huge fan of Ted Cruz from Texas. From now on it’s likely that lots of money will be spent on media warfare.
Motoya To the media, this is a way to make unparalleled profit. The media has long determined victory or defeat; people even say that John F. Kennedy won the presidential election because he looked good on TV, but that his opponent Richard Nixon was more highly appraised in terms of policy.
Gilbert In contrast, people say Nixon lost because he refused to wear makeup on television (laughs). Today each candidate has image consultants who provide advice spanning from makeup to clothing colors.
Motoya Rubio drew my attention because he served as a central figure in jointly sponsoring and passing a resolution in the Senate reproaching China for suddenly declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone last year that included the Senkaku Islands. He also understands Japan. For instance, before that he paid a courtesy call on Abe and declared that he supports efforts to strengthen the security partnership. He is impeded by the fact that he is not a WASP but a Catholic who is the son of Cuban immigrants. However, Kennedy was an Irish Catholic and Obama is black, so I think Rubio has sufficient potential.
Gilbert The large-scale Irish Potato Famine took place at the end of the 19th century and many people immigrated to the U.S. to escape starvation. They were Catholics, and at first they faced harsh discrimination in employment and other realms. Stores and other establishments looking for help would post signs in their windows, some of which read “NINA.” This stood for “No Irish need apply.” However, today few people care whether someone is a WASP or a Catholic. The current vice president, Joe Biden, is a Catholic.
Motoya Is that so? In that case, there an even greater chance that Rubio could become the candidate because he is a skilled debater. People who can win in heated discussions often become popular among the citizens and end up winning the presidential race.
Gilbert It’s true that he’s good at debating, and also has great power of expression.
Motoya Rubio is also well versed in politics. He’s just 44 years old, but I don’t think he’s too young since Kennedy was elected at the age of 43.
Gilbert I don’t see any problem there. Yet there are currently no candidates in the Republican or Democratic Parties who know a lot about Asia. Trump, who blames everything on China, is out of the question.
Motoya Americans traditionally believe that China is their own market. For that reason, before the war with Japan the U.S. sent fighter pilots to China disguised as a volunteer army to form the “Flying Tigers” and attack Japan. This is grandly displayed in the Chinese military history museum, but the Japanese media doesn’t report on it at all.
Gilbert They have a biased stance.
Motoya More than half the time, China and South Korea’s reasons for fighting with Japan are triggered by the Japanese media, including the issues of the comfort women, textbooks, and Yasukuni Shrine. The media and publishing companies were brainwashed by the War Guilt Information Program (WGIP). To smoothly implement the occupation policy, they continually put out mistaken news reports and textbooks, which still continues today. The Asahi Shimbun originally encouraged the fighting spirit of the citizens during World War II. When it published a statement by Ichiro Hatoyama directly after the war saying the atomic bombs were a war crime that violated international law, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) punished this newspaper with a two-day ban. Since then, it has completely transformed its attitude.
Gilbert It changed its mind very quickly.
Motoya A uniform media results in the citizens losing their ability to ascertain the truth, which leads to the reckless use of political power. I needn’t mention the example of the Nazi Party gaining prominence in Germany.
Gilbert The media should serve as a monitoring institution.
Motoya Yes, because it is a Fourth Estate.
Gilbert Yet some Japanese media outlets are interested parties or activists.
Motoya A regime change took place through the general election in 2009, which was created by the media. Abe has a high approval rating today exactly because the citizens have repented this. But I think there are still many people who depend only on newspapers and television as sources of information without looking up things on the Internet.
Gilbert I think they have become considerably enlightened. In the uproar over the security legislation, the powers opposed were only able to carry out the most primitive type of propaganda by labeling this legislation as “war bills.” When the tumult died down, some people who participated in demonstrations began thinking it was good these bills were passed. Abe’s approval rating didn’t fall – it rose.
Motoya People were talking about SEALDs, the student group that held the demonstrations. But I got a different impression from them than the past conflict over the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.
Gilbert They were just being used effectively by the Communist Party. I don’t know if the members realize this.
Motoya SEALs was created as a result of incitement by the media.
Gilbert That’s certainly true, since there are less than 100 central members. I have met directly with several members, and they don’t have solid ideologies or ways of thinking. They are merely voicing their opposition but can’t say what’s bad about the security legislation.
Motoya My favorite part about your essay was when you said, “However, unfortunately the reality of this world is a cruel one. This national character of reading a situation, of which Japanese people should be proud, is the biggest obstacle in the field of diplomacy, including military affairs.” Many people haven’t noticed this. Unlike Japan, which is a blessed country, survival of the fittest rules in the rest of the world.
Gilbert The U.S. and Japan clashed in the 1980s over trade issues. At first it seemed like the sincerity of the Japanese people would not be communicated, but it eventually was. Yet it is not understood in Asian countries with negative views of Japan.
Motoya The comfort women issue is a perfect example of that. Park continues insisting on the false story that 200,000 women were forcibly transported, even though Japan has demonstrated its good faith through the Kono Statement and Asian Women’s Fund.
Gilbert That’s impossible. I also can’t see how people can say that 300,000 people were massacred in Nanking – a city of 200,000 people – and then the population swelled to 250,000 one month later. I’d like to know who taught arithmetic to these people.
Motoya I wrote about this in my book, Theoretical Modern History: The Real History of Japan. I will send you a copy.
Gilbert Please do; I would like to read it.
Motoya At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Gilbert I hope they will not be deceived by biased news reports, but will fully do their own research and think for themselves about the path Japan should take in the future. Today, people who want to study can obtain all sorts of information. If they do study, they will find that Japan is a wonderful country.
Motoya I hope they make full use of the Internet.
Gilbert If they learn enough about the constitution, they will definitely see that it must be amended. I think they should consider what needs to be changed and think from the viewpoint of what contributions Japan can make to the world.
Motoya I agree, and look forward to your talk at the Shoheijuku school. Thank you for joining me today.
Kent Gilbert Born in Idaho, the United States in 1952 and raised in Utah. Came to Japan for the first time in 1971 at the age of 19 when he was a college student. Graduated from graduate school in 1980 with Doctor of Laws and Master of Business Administration degrees, and then passed the bar exam. Worked at a major international law firm in Tokyo. In 1983, he began appearing regularly on the TV program Sekai Marugoto How Much, by which he became a popular media personality. In recent years he is involved in corporate management, speeches, writing, etc. His recent publications include Japanese People are Still Bound by the GHQ’s Brainwashing (PHP Institute), A Message to the Wonderful Country of Japan (Seirindo), and Japan’s Independence (Eastpress).