The Judging Committee of the 12th Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest met on October 1. It is said that an essay contest’s quality is dependent upon its judges, and once again our committee was of a very high level, including Chairman Hideaki Kase, University of Tokyo Professors Emeriti Keiichiro Kobori and Takashi Ito, former The Hochi Shimbun Chairman Kazuo Komatsuzaki, and Member of the House of Representatives and former Minister for Reconstruction Masahiro Imamura. After rigorously judging the nearly 200 submitted essays, they awarded the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) to Kagoshima University Professor Emeritus Sadayuki Murashima for his essay, “Heisei Japan Declined for Lack of Psychological Independence.” Murashima is a computer scientist who also studies Japan. This critic believes that Japanese is exceptionally functional because it is the only language in the world that uses both ideographs and phonetic symbols, and states that the rampant use of foreign loanwords leads to unique cultural features being lost. Part of his prize-winning essay reads as follows:
The Japanese economy shrank during the Heisei Period (1989 – 2019), from accounting for 17% of the world’s economy in 1995 to 6% in 2015. This major decline is comparable to Japan’s defeat in the Greater East Asian War, when it lost Korea, Taiwan, Karafuto (Sakhalin), and Manchuria. This essay demonstrates that this “Great Heisei Decline” was caused by the masochism implanted in the Japanese people by the occupation forces, as well as by Japanese people who benefitted from the defeat and became the main faction with help from the occupation forces.
Japan immediately started working to rebuild the nation after its defeat in the Greater East Asian War. A 1955 economic white paper, subtitled “The Postwar Era is Over,” stated that Japan had exceeded the highest pre-war gross domestic product (GDP) and set a new record in the 10th year after the end of the war. A turning point came when Prime Minister Nobosuke Kishi amended the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and then Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda advocated a plan to double earnings. These actions signified that Japan was focusing on economic issues and putting off efforts to restore Japan’s independence and spirit. The economy was successfully rebuilt thanks to these efforts, and Japan became an economic superpower, second only to the United States, around 1989 (the last year of the Showa Period). For this reason, Japan posed a threat to the U.S.
After winning the Cold War between the West and East, the U.S. was overwhelmed by Japan’s economic power. Although the U.S. was the victor of the war, it seemed like the true winner was Japan, which was under American military protection.
The clauses in the Constitution of Japan that renounce war and the right of belligerency display an indifference to Japan’s destruction. In other words, these provisions prioritize the interests of Japan’s neighbors rather than putting Japan first – something that was forced on Japan as punishment for its defeat.
During the Japanese asset price bubble, land prices soared consistently. As predicted, this bubble burst right after the start of the Heisei Period. During the bubble economy, people believed that buying land was a winning proposition, even if they had to go into debt to do so. When land prices stopped climbing and then fell, many people who borrowed money to buy property were burdened with debts that were impossible to repay. Many bureaucrats attended famous high schools and graduated with relatively high grades from universities like the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, and Hitotsubashi University. These accomplished test-takers can handle questions with clearly correct responses, but they cannot do the same when they do not know the right answer.
Since Japan’s marked economic recovery, propaganda began circulating that Japan was the world’s worst war criminal and the bearer of the highest debt in the world (Japan was conspicuously affluent, and no one could criticize the degree of freedom given to citizens). Powers that did not desire Japan’s growth used any possible means to attack Japan, as there was nothing they could say about its economic performance or the freedom of its citizens.
Japanese bureaucrats cannot respond properly to this propaganda. When the comfort women and Nanjing Massacre are brought up, they merely say, “The Japanese government has already apologized,” or, “We cannot deny there was a massacre in Nanjing.” Therefore, it is easy to make false accusations against Japan. These types of issues continue today because the Japanese government is so powerless that it cannot even speak the truth. This weakness stems in some ways from Article 9 of the constitution. Japan lacks the right of belligerency. In other words, Japan is weak because it thinks as a criminal that is still serving its sentence. On the topic of economic issues, no one puts up strong opposition when someone attacks Japan by saying, “The Japanese government has a huge amount of public debt, and is effectively bankrupt.” Of course fiscal austerity is necessary, but the correct answer to this statement is, “Public debt signifies that the Japanese people are affluent enough to lend so much money to their government. Public debt of one quadrillion yen does not mean the government is bankrupt, but rather symbolizes the wealth of the Japanese people.” Naturally, “extensive fiscal stimulus to fill in the deflationary gap” was necessary. Still, the Japanese government has been guided by propaganda to continually implement policies for achieving a primary balance, which have suppressed demand.
Shinzo Abe became prime minister in 2012, and his cabinet implemented bold monetary easing by printing 80 trillion yen and pouring it into the market each year. However, Japan is still in a state of deflation. Printing money is a type of monetary easing that accelerates the economy, but the government also hit the brakes with its primary balance policy. Spending was still suppressed, and the unused money flowed to the U.S. and other countries, depreciating the value of the yen. New bureaucrats inherited the policies of the first ones who believed the mistaken claim that extensive public debt is effectively bankruptcy, and who set forth the erroneous primary balance policy. Deflation continued for this reason, leading to the Great Heisei Decline. The too-low level of spending over the past 30 years exemplifies the constantly poor, low evaluations of Japan’s economic strength. Japan did not spend money in a manner befitting a major economic power with a GDP equaling 60% of the American GDP. Rather than saying, “Japan is a country with a lot of debt, so we must not spend money,” the correct thinking should have been, “Japan is the richest nation in the world, and we should put together a budget with this wealth in mind.”
Japan’s net external assets (the net worth of plants built abroad and money loaned to other countries) exceeded 400 trillion yen at the end of 2018, the largest amount of any nation. In the last fiscal year, corporate internal reserves totaled 450 trillion yen. Since Abe’s inauguration in 2012, the government has printed 80 trillion yen of Japanese banknotes annually as a type of bold monetary easing. The total amount of these banknotes is 450 trillion yen. Together, these three categories total 1.3 quadrillion yen. This money could have been used for the Japanese people, but it was not. Despite this surplus of 1.3 quadrillion yen, the Japanese public finance authorities are working to hike the consumption tax to 10% to gain just several trillion yen in tax yields. In my opinion this is insane behavior.
At soccer games and other competitions, it is essential that participants intend to win. Without a thirst for winning, victory is impossible. Even if a nuclear weapon can be built in one month, this is impossible without the will to do so. On the Yasukuni Shrine issue, we cannot just silently make the argument that visiting the shrine is permissible. Even if one dedicates holy evergreen branches to the shrine for each annual festival, not visiting is the same as recognizing that visits are improper. For instance, China claims dominion over the Senkaku Islands, and there is concern about whether Japan can fully protect them. If we fear this country with a population 10 times larger than ours, we will not be able to guard the islands. But if we decide to protect them at all costs, we will find a way to do so. Abe is the only politician who believes the Japanese constitution can and must be revised, which is why it has been neglected in the past.
A characteristic of postwar Japan is that the ruling party, which believes in “Japan First,” and the opposition parties, which prioritize our neighbors, have difficulty coming to terms with each other. According to the principal of putting our interests first, Japan should abolish Article 9 to gain the right of belligerency and have our own army, a military force that can fight for our survival.
Imagine that Japan increased its defense spending to 3% of the GDP back when it equaled 60% of the American GDP. Defense production would likely account for a large portion of domestic demand, which would help prevent deflation. Perhaps Japan would be in the position of maintaining world peace together with the U.S. Deflation is an illness that comes from not doing one’s job, and it makes sense that Japan was punished for not doing the job it should have as a major power. Japan has not been psychologically revived; even when it became an economic superpower with half the economic strength of the U.S. or more, it did not think of using this economic strength in the political realm. Because of the masochism and passivity instilled after the defeat, Japan did not conceive of transforming into a major military power or a nation renowned for its science and technology. There must have been other methods for continually stable growth. Various types of self-inhibition were in effect as people said, “Japan is in debt,” “Our country is still under construction,” and, “No mistakes are allowed.” No one did anything because of this “debt,” which brought about long-lasting deflation.
After winning the Greater East Asian War, the U.S. judged Japan while feigning innocence about its own crimes. The U.S. used its position of absolute power as the occupying army to implement the War Guilt Information Program, which it came up with during the war, to inspire a sense of guilt among the Japanese people. The U.S. censored information to hide the truth. China portrayed Japan as an evil aggressor to prop up the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China (CPC) government. To conceal the history of Korea as a backward nation, Korea spread propaganda and taught its people that Japan was a war criminal. Leftist political parties in Japan attacked the former leaders by saying these leaders had waged an ill-advised, aggressive war and obscured their responsibility for doing so. This was actually an attack on the ruling party, and was an advantageous way to enhance the leftist parties’ strength. The Imperial Rescript on Education was declared invalid in the National Diet. Children are not taught about Shinto or Buddhism, and moral education is watered down. Japan has continued retreating and been unable to wage effective counterattacks against China, South Korea, opposition parties, and others that prioritize neighboring countries’ interests regarding the comfort women and Yasukuni issues.
Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone promised not to go to Yasukuni Shrine during his term because these visits could “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” We must not forget that these nonexistent issues were created and inflamed by the left wing. We must also disregard what these people say and realize there are fundamentally different values at play.
If Japan is superior to other countries in some ways, I think this is likely due to the “software” that only Japanese people are programmed with – our language that combines kanji (Chinese characters) and the native kana syllabaries. Having a skillful grasp of the Japanese language makes one more intelligent. This is my view of the Japanese people and Japanese language. Missionaries who came to Japan during the Sengoku Period wrote that Japan had the world’s highest literacy rate. It seems natural that the society of Japanese people, who have a language of this type, is one with an advanced culture and a high level of affluence.
During the Deng Xiaoping era, China must have studied Japan’s high-level growth to find out what made it successful. Finally, I think China grasped the principal that building roads and Shinkansen, and manufacturing vehicles and other products, leads to economic growth and increases national income. That is why it promoted policies for reforming and opening up the economy to build this type of environment. Good relations with other countries are essential for smoothly transferring technologies and bringing in funds, and China knew it was not enough to just commend Japan for its overwhelming economic strength. To firm up its position, China spread propaganda saying that Japan was the world’s worst war criminal and bearer of the world’s largest debts. After the Tiananmen Square protests, Jiang Zemin introduced anti-Japanese education in which children repeated and recited the phrase, “We must not forget that China was invaded and disgraced by Japan.” They were taught to detest Japanese militarism instead of the CPC, with the Nanjing Massacre serving as a central theme. The CPC knew this story was false, but started producing fabricated evidence to the contrary. Iris Chang’s book The Rape of Nanking was published in the U.S. in 1997. The CPC provided Chang with falsified documents and made her write this book, then turned it into a best seller by forcing Chinese people to purchase it. In 2004, Chang committed suicide with a pistol in a car at the age of 36. I wonder if she was killed for some reason, perhaps because she realized her book was full of nonsense.
Japan’s unbroken imperial line is one great element of its profound history and culture, yet many people are displeased if this heritage inspires pride and encourages people to think and act with presence of mind.
Japan was still shining brilliantly at the end of the Showa Period, and it seems like Japan caused great anxiety in the U.S., China, and other countries. The U.S. introduced Bank for International Settlements (BIS) regulations to impede Japan’s growth, forcing banks to maintain a capital ratio of at least 8%. This was one American tactic to slow down Japan’s economic growth; banks could not freely lend money to Japanese companies, and many had to withdraw loan credit.
When the asset bubble burst, a campaign was implemented in Japan saying the Liberal Democratic Party had built too many dams, roads, and Shinkansen. Some people also claimed Japan should not be spending money because it had the world’s heaviest debt, that printing money would lead to hyper-inflation, and that a primary balance is needed for fiscal reconstruction. They said expenditures must be curtailed and taxes increased to that end. Just like the American BIS regulations, this was clearly aimed at keeping as much money out of the Japanese economy as possible and curbing spending. This may have been a scheme by Japanese people who did not put our own interests first, or perhaps it was carried out under orders from China. This strategy was successful, and Japan fell into a period of prolonged deflation known as the “Lost 20 Years.” The anti-Japanese powers that wanted to catch up Japan, and those who desired to impede its growth, executed their tactics to great success.
The inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet in 2012 was the best chance for breaking free from deflation. It was also the riskiest moment for those who do not want Japan to grow. The Abe administration printed 80 trillion yen annually and started circulating this money into the market, but it was only used to purchase existing government bonds, which did not help relieve deflation. Buying government bonds is merely a means of repaying debts – it does not increase the GDP or bring larger tax yields. If the government had used these newly printed banknotes for extensive fiscal stimulus with a large budget of 140 to 150 trillion yen, domestic demand would have been significantly expanded, and inflation of 2% easily achieved.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which states it is acceptable to have massive debts for government bonds in one’s own currency, is drawing attention in recent years. When the Japanese government bond rating was lowered because they were too numerous, the Ministry of Finance protested by saying, “Yen-denominated government bonds will never be defaulted on.” The government should have been unafraid to increase its debt and use newly printed banknotes to pay it off, which would have achieved growth.
The root of all these evils is the harmful effects of the primary balance goal that has been maintained for 30 years. Japanese bureaucrats, scholars, politicians, and others lack a sufficient spirit of independence and are terrified of failure, so they handle criticisms and attacks in an excessive way and are led astray from the correct path.
The Constitution of Japan, which renounces war and the right of belligerency, was forced on Japan as punishment for its defeat in World War II. It was used to shield Japan and keep it out of wars in the post-World War II era. The Japanese economy was rebuilt thorough emergency demand for the Korean War, and it became the world’s number-two economic superpower via special procurement for the Vietnam and Cold Wars. Afterwards, Japan was the target of contemptuous propaganda describing it as the world’s worst war criminal and bearer of the world’s most massive debts.
To make Japan into a decent country today, we must amend the constitution and set defense spending at 2% of the GDP. Japan should develop and equip itself with railguns and laser guns, which are types of cutting-edge scientific weapons. We should also deploy around 30 deep-sea submarines, with the Japanese deep-water torpedoes that are said to be the strongest in the world; station anti-aircraft interceptor missiles at rural airports across the country; build underground hangars and ammunition depots that can withstand air strikes, protected with a fully automated counter-attack system using Phalanx Gatling guns; and deploy thousands of vehicles including unmanned attack and reconnaissance aircraft, Tomahawks and other cruise missiles, small attack drones, and small enemy search and reconnaissance drones. Japan should also modernize the weapons of the Ground Self-Defense Force and cultivate a small number of superior soldiers. About 5,000 cyber soldiers should be trained and a “Ministry of Information” established to create a national defense army that can be victorious in information warfare.
With the aim of becoming a major tourism destination, Japan should build expressways with three lanes on each side (of which there are still not enough today) to create a major high-speed network linking Sendai, Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima. (The speed limit should be 130 kilometers per hour on sunny days and 110 kilometers per hour on rainy days.) We should also build a high-speed linear railway connecting Tokyo Station with Haneda and Narita Airports and significantly expand the facilities at Yokohama Port to make it into an Asian hub. I also recommend constructing one or two more floating runways at Haneda Airport and doubling the number of flights.
In this era of ultra-low interest rates, Japan should strive to once again become the world’s number-two economic power by issuing extra-long-term government bonds at ultra-low interest rates to pay for burying power lines in Tokyo and doing other necessary public-works projects.
Now that our neighbors Russia, China, and even North Korea are nuclear weapons states, Japan must achieve a balance of power in East Asia by concluding a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. like its arrangement with four North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. Bold fiscal stimulus, without concern for achieving a balanced budget, is needed to obtain the necessary funds. This would help ensure national security and also stimulate the economy. I am exceedingly proud to be able to share Murashima’s prize-winning essay with society.
October 7 (Monday), 6:00 p.m.