Big Talk

Admiration for Heroes Would Invigorate Japanese Society

Member of the House of Representatives Kiyoshi Odawara learned about Japan’s terrible war defeat from his father, a Japan Self-Defense Forces official. He abandoned his fulfilling business career at a foreign-affiliated investment bank to work for Japan’s sake in the world of politics, and is now striving for constitutional revision, the return of the Northern Territories, and to make Japan into a respectable country that can independently defend itself. Toshio Motoya spoke with Odawara about the impacts of World War II, measures against COVID-19, the media, and Japan’s future.

Japan still feels significant impacts from its defeat in World War II

(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk. You have given several talks at the Shoheijuku academy, and my way of thinking shares a great many things in common with your wonderful conservative ideology. I look forward to talking with you today.

(O) Thank you for having me.

(M) You recently spoke about your father at the Shoheijuku.

(O) My father was repatriated from Manchuria at the age of 10. He experienced great suffering, including losing his younger sisters who were eight and 1.5 years old. Back then, repatriates lived in extreme poverty back even after returning to Japan. Despite that, my father was accepted into a regular university as well as the National Defense Academy (NDA) that had been opened just two years before. My grandfather convinced him that poor students with good grades end up as communists, and my father enrolled at the NDA. Afterwards he became a Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) official and ultimately reached the position of Ground Self-Defense Force Eastern general before leaving the JSDF. JSDF members are transferred a great deal, so I went to four different elementary schools. Even as a child, I realized that the national government and people do not see the JDSF as being very important. Japan may have gained economic wealth after World War II, but today it is not a respectable country and lacks the will to defend itself. My life’s mission is to transform Japan into a decent country by first revising the constitution, then achieving the return of the Northern Territories and inspiring a spirit among the Japanese people that we must defend our own country. Even if I cannot manage this in my lifetime, it will be important to hand the baton down to younger generations.

(M) I agree entirely.

(O) When I mention that my life’s goal is to regain the Northern Territories, a huge number of people say they will never be returned. But I want to tell them that we are insisting on this because they are part of our homeland, not because of their utility value. If we do not stick firm to these principles, Takeshima and the Senkaku Islands will also be in danger. Japanese people must not give up on the Northern Territories.

(M) Many people think that way because Japan was defeated in World War II. A nation must not participate in a war it cannot win. Japan should have drawn up a strategy for victory before entering the war, but it attacked Pearl Harbor while ignoring the fact that the naval and diplomatic codes had been deciphered by the U.S. As a result, American President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew of the attack in advance, and the Japanese army was unable to sink the new warships and aircraft carriers that had been moved out of Pearl Harbor on the pretext of an “exercise.” The attack should have been a joint maneuver with the army, and they should have even occupied Pearl Harbor, which would have given Japan control of the docks and heavy oil tanks. And because many people of Japanese descent lived in Hawaii, I think it would have been possible to cultivate a feeling of unity with Japan throughout the island during the occupation. Japan should have also attacked the Panama Canal to destroy the important American distribution route between east and west. Japan might have been able to achieve a favorable ceasefire with the U.S. if it inflicted enough damage. It seems clear that countries in long-term fights against opponents with overwhelming economic strength end up gradually impoverished and defeated. I cannot understand what Isoroku Yamamoto of the navy was thinking.

(O) I ran in the House of Representatives election when the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) was an opposition party, so I worked with LDP President Shinzo Abe to regain political power and supported him. Seeing Abe’s August 28 press conference about his resignation was like listening to Emperor Hirohito’s radio broadcast at the end of World War II. My father called me and said he was reminded of when he heard that Yamamoto had died, back when he was a child.

(M) I think Yamamoto was resigned to death. Six guard planes were not enough. Because he knew so much about the U.S., I believe he predicted that Japan would lose and that he would be executed as a war criminal, so he decided to die an honorable death in action. Yamamoto should have firmly stated that Japan should not fight with the U.S., as doing so would result in defeat. Instead he responded in an extremely half-baked way by saying, “If you tell us to do so, we will put up a fierce fight for the first six months or one year. However, I have absolutely no confidence in what will happen after two or three years.” Influenced by the army, Japan decided to open hostilities with the U.S. Still, politicians serve more important roles in war than soldiers. Politicians must work to prevent wars, which requires a balance of power. Not making military preparations does not deter war; armaments are what stop wars from occurring. I think Japan plunged into World War II out of arrogance after its victories in the First-Sino Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. We need solid government so this mistake is never repeated.

(O) When my father fled Manchuria, the women all shaved their heads and disguised themselves as men because they were afraid of being assaulted by the Soviet soldiers. One of the women fleeing with my 10-year-old father told him, “You must not wage war when you grow up. But if you are drawn into war, make sure you are never defeated.” Today we keenly realize that war defeats are ignominious to citizens and create a breeding ground for future problems.

The U.S. violated international wartime laws to gain global hegemony in the postwar era

(M) Treaties are frequently broken, so it seems naïve to think the Soviet Union would not invade because of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact. Japanese people believe in the Bushido code of honor, but we cannot expect other countries to share this spirit. Japan was tried for crimes against humanity at the Tokyo Trials, yet I think the bigger crime against humanity was naturally committed by the country that dropped the atomic bombs at midday with no prior warning.

(O) Another crime against humanity was the firebombing of Tokyo in which the U.S. purposefully burned 100,000 people to death.

(M) The Hague Conventions and Geneva Convention prohibit killing and wounding civilians and attacks on nonmilitary targets and defenseless cities, meaning the U.S. brazenly violated international wartime laws. However, the U.S. did not do this to defeat Japan – it wanted to gain global hegemony in the postwar era. The Soviet Union grew into a massive military monster through extensive military aid from the U.S. in the Soviet Union’s fight against Germany. The U.S. was afraid that the Soviet Union would conquer from Eurasia to Africa if nothing changed, so it decided to complete and test the atomic bombs that were under development with secret Congressional funds as a way to intimidate the Soviet Union. The atomic bomb attacks on Japan were also a type of experiment conducted on actual humans. The U.S. had not firebombed either Hiroshima or Nagasaki, and it dropped the atomic bombs there to carefully research the damage on buildings and people after the war.

(O) The fact that there were two different types of bombs – uranium in Hiroshima and plutonium in Nagasaki – also indicates that these attacks were experiments. This is extremely upsetting.

(M) Still, some believe the two atomic bombs transformed World War III – which could have broken out in the postwar era – from a “hot” war to a cold war between the U.S. and Soviet Union. More and more countries have nuclear weapons today, including India, North Korea, and (probably) Israel. This frightens me.

(O) There are enough nuclear warheads to destroy the world multiple times. Politicians who say Japan should possess nuclear weapons during their campaigns would certainly lose elections. However, military strength does not come from weapons that opponents are not scared of. A backdrop of military power is necessary for diplomacy.

(M) It’s certainly true that nuclear weapons are the best defense against nuclear weapons, but I think it would be difficult for Japan to have its own weapons in terms of foreign relations, and also domestically and politically challenging considering the Three-Non Nuclear Principles that were passed in the National Diet. That is why I insist Japan should conclude a nuclear sharing agreement with the U.S. for “renting” American nuclear weapons to strike a balance of power. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that infectious diseases – not nuclear weapons – are the most terrible weapon of mass destruction. The novel coronavirus spread across the world in the past six months, and 900,000 people around the globe have died, including 190,000 in the U.S. One unique thing about this virus is that the deaths per million people are two digits higher in the U.S. and Europe compared to China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and other East Asian countries. There are 584 deaths per million people in the U.S., but the number is just three in China. Some have pointed out the possibility that this virus was developed as a biological weapon and leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and perhaps it is a manmade virus designed to cause more serious symptoms among white people. There is some persuasive power to the theory that there is little harm in China because methods to handle the virus were developed at the same time.

(O) I see. That may be true.

The media is increasing the harmful effects of COVID-19

(M) I think one issue is whether the Tokyo Olympics can be held next year. The second wave is coming to an end in Japan, but cases are spreading from the U.S. and Europe to South America, Africa, and India. There will likely be a big discussion about how many athletes and tourists from across the world should be allowed into Japan. The situation will change if we have a vaccine or specific remedies, but vaccines can’t usually be developed in just one year. I think there’s a better than 50% chance that the Tokyo Olympics will be cancelled or held on a reduced scale. The global economy is also stagnant. People, information, and money are all connected, and nothing else moves if people are stuck in place. Japan’s goal was to welcome 40 million foreign tourists this year, but the actual number has fallen sharply to about 10,000 as of right now. Many people are also avoiding domestic travel and refraining from nonessential, nonurgent business trips, turning instead to teleconferencing. APA Hotel’s breakdown is about 30% inbound travelers, 20% domestic travelers, and 50% business travelers. All of these have been heavily impacted. APA Group’s annual profit was over 35 billion yen during the past three years, totaling more than 100 billion altogether. However, we are resigned that this year’s financial results are going to be quite bleak.

(O) The daily number of cases exceeded 300 in Tokyo in August, which is one case per 50,000 people considering its population of 15 million. But is it right to tell the other 49,999 people not to eat out, leave their homes, or travel? I understand that elderly people and those with underlying conditions are extremely afraid of catching the disease, but I think right now it is imperative that we build a structure to help these people avoid COVID-19 as much as possible while also restoring a society where the rest of the population can move around freely.

(M) That’s right. I feel like the extensive damage caused by media reporting on COVID-19 is more serious than the actual disease. The news is in an uproar every day about the number of cases, which is meaningless. I wish they would compare these COVID-19 deaths to those caused by ordinary diseases such as influenza, colds, and regular pneumonia. I feel this would calm things down and show people there is no need to be particularly frightened of the novel coronavirus.

(O) That’s a good idea. I take issue with TV news programs as well. They color electron microscope images and add ghastly sound effects, while hosts talk about how scary things are and commentators nod in assent. How does this provide any useful information to citizens? So many programs stir up fear to prevent people from changing the channel when a commercial comes on. I wish they would once again realize that TV shows should convey the truth.

(M) Humans coexist with bacteria and viruses. Balanced reporting would not focus excessively on a specific virus. The news stirs up anxiety and makes people worry more than they need to.

(O) This has led to unneeded quarrels as well, such as people harassing cars with license plates from other prefectures or making snide remarks about people who have returned to their home regions.

(M) I think the media should have a calmer stance, and also feel the need for an external organization that checks the media. The media always checks our ads or commercials before they are run, but news programs and articles undergo no confirmation by external parties. We cannot allow the government or political parties to regulate freedom of speech like in a socialist nation, but I think there could be an institution that encourages the media to report correctly and in a manner that befits a liberal democratic nation. We could determine sufficient rules, such as bringing in members from the private sector. Commercial media outlets have to boost their sales, and I understand that they must increase their viewers and numbers of copies sold for that reason. However, it is problematic that they inspire unhappiness, worry, envy, and warped views as a way to earn money.

(O) Citizens become weaker as they continually interact with this media. We cannot overlook the harmful effects caused when Japanese people start hating their own country. Japanese media reports on the comfort women issue all state that Japan is responsible.

(M) We need to consider that issue with cooler heads.

News media should be monitored while safeguarding freedom of speech

(O) I was previously parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs in charge of Asia. Comfort woman statues have been put up in countries other than Japan and South Korea, but we told the truth to landowners and had the statues taken down. I also contributed an article to The Wall Street Journal. Without touching on historical issues, I wrote that there is no benefit to speaking badly of Japan only. North Korea is launching missiles, and Japan and South Korea are neighbors tasked with together restraining its reckless actions. Three years have passed, but unfortunately nothing has changed.

(M) I think there are issues with the South Korean way of thinking…they seem to have an envious nature. That’s why there are no genuine heroes in South Korea. An Jung-geun has been portrayed as a hero, but he was a terrorist who killed Hirobumi Ito. Furthermore, he actually promoted the annexation by eliminating Ito, who was against it. I cannot fathom why An is regarded as a hero. As a peninsular nation, South Korea has had to gauge the feelings of nearby powerful countries like China, Russia, Japan, and the U.S. I think this has affected the mental state of the South Korean people.

(O) Women from different countries became comfort women for various reasons, including Japanese women. Some people cannot help but sympathize with their circumstances, but it is not historically correct to say that Japan is fully responsible for this.

(M) It is also bizarre to take the stance of denouncing Japan only while ignoring the dark past of one’s own country. South Korean troops dispatched to the Vietnam War assaulted local women, resulting in the birth of 20,000 people of mixed ancestry known as “Lai Dai Han.” They also massacred citizens in other areas, and there are still murals depicting these acts in some villages. I’ve actually gone to these places and seen them with my own eyes.

(O) Yes, the Binh An mausoleum. I’ve gone there too.

(M) It is exceedingly difficult to hold dialogues with South Korea, which feigns ignorance about its own serious war crimes and continually warps historical facts to censure Japan.

(O) Yet we are neighbors, and cannot move away…

(M) Actually, I think this happened because Japan has weakened. China and South Korea were on Japan’s side when Japan became the world’s number-two economic superpower thanks to economic growth after World War II, but Asian criticism of Japan has grown in intensity since China overtook the number-two position. China is an outrageous country that sacrifices its citizens so just around 10 million members of the Communist Party can enjoy affluent lives. The Japanese left wing and media cater to China and South Korea by criticizing Japan. It’s definitely true that the enemy of the Japanese people is the Japanese people.

(O) People were always yelling “Abe, step down!” during his street speeches when there was a great deal of talk about national security legislation and the Act on the Protection of Specially Designated Secrets. These protestors were always the same people, around 200 in number, but the TV news made it seem like there were huge numbers of them. The organizers of events make absurd claims that there are 50,000 attendees – although you can see there are not even 1,000 – yet the media swallows and reports these stories as-is. That’s an outrageous thing for news organizations to do.

(M) I think we need some way to regulate incorrect reporting by the media. I’m sure political issues will arise in the future, but I hope you will work hard to resolve them. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(O) Because I meet with many fascinating young entrepreneurs at LDP section meetings and my policy study groups, I am highly optimistic about Japan’s future. During my 35 years involved in business, I’ve never seen so many high-quality entrepreneurs before. There are also numerous people with the strong will to share the value they have created with society, rather than just wanting to list their company on the stock market and quickly gain riches like in the past. For example, there are many companies that are trying to achieve ideas like gathering space debris and using smartphones to automatically integrate government office documents across Japan. These private-sector entrepreneurs with vibrant ideas share their value with Japanese society, create jobs, and inspire dreams and hope in our country. I think repeated efforts of this type will become a growth strategy for Japan. I hope young people will emulate these entrepreneurs and be passionate about what they want to do and fully enjoy their lives, without worrying about whether they can find jobs or their academic background.

(M) We could invigorate Japanese society by creating an atmosphere of admiring heroes and learning from past successes. Let’s work hard to that end.

(O) Yes, absolutely.

Date of dialogue: September 4, 2020


Kiyoshi Odawara

Born in 1964. Graduated from the Faculty of Economics, the University of Tokyo in 1987 and got a job at The Fuji Bank. Moved to a foreign-affiliated investment bank in 1996, and has worked at several companies including as managing director of Morgan Stanley Securities. Ran in the 2010 House of Councillors election with the official recognition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which was an opposition party at the time, but did not win. Ran in the 2012 House of Representatives election with official LDP recognition and was elected for the first time. Is currently in his third term, and also served as parliamentary vice-minister for foreign affairs since August 2016.