Keiko Nakamura’s book was awarded the Prize for Excellence in last year’s APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize. She was inspired to write about correct history due to her frustration with the widespread yet erroneous belief that Hokkaido belonged to the Ainu people during the Edo period. She also feels uneasy about the anti-Japanese propaganda that is rampant on the internet and other mediums. Toshio Motoya spoke with Nakamura about many different topics, including what the government and politicians should do to make Japan into a normal nation.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You won the 2022 Prize for Excellence in the 5th APA Japan Restoration Grand Prize for your book, The Edo Shogunate’s Defense of the Northern Territories (Heart Shuppan). I think this book made many people aware that Hokkaido has been a Japanese territory since the Edo period.
(N) Thank you very much. Lots of people believe that Japan had no territory in Hokkaido during the Edo period, except some of the southern part of the island. In my book, I used historical facts to elucidate how the Edo Shogunate actively defended Hokkaido and the Northern Territories, all the way to Karafuto. The shogunate was particularly aware of the Russian threat in the 19th century, and twice brought Yezo under its direct control. Hokkaido was divided up to be governed by several clans in Tohoku, including Aizu, Sendai, and Shonai. I describe in detail how the government used a policy of “pacifying” the Ainu by providing support and education.
(M) The judging committee highly praised The Edo Shogunate’s Defense of the Northern Territories for unearthing historical facts and presenting them according to Japan’s national interests. What inspired you to write this book?
(N) I operated a clinic for 30 years while carrying out my life’s work of doing research on building a recycling-oriented society. I strongly believe in and have lived according to one of your concepts: “If you run after two hares, you will catch both.” As president of a regional medical institution, I ran the clinic while taking the health and happiness of our employees into account. This is based on my conviction that employees – the ones who help provide reliable care to patients – must feel a sense of happiness. Today, work-life balance is a concept that is taken for granted. When I started the clinic 30 years ago, I made efforts to establish a workplace where employees could enjoy a sense of well-being. And because there were many female staff members, this included allowing two-hour blocks of paid time off to take their children to the doctor or attend school events. They could consult with the clinic to develop individual work styles after giving birth to children. We also utilized the indices and ways of thinking for creating a “recycling-oriented society,” one target in Japan’s efforts to become a sustainable society.
I’ve conducted research on achieving a recycling-oriented society. This involves producing less waste; suitably processing the waste by re-using it, recycling it, and utilizing it for heat recovery; minimizing our use of natural resources; and reducing environmental impacts. As administration officer of the Japan Society of Material Cycles and Waste Management and head of the Waste Planning and Research Committee, I led the Kanto and Kansai groups in setting required themes every three years and doing various types of research on those topics. For example, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck right after I was appointed head of the Waste Planning and Research Committee. We determined issues to tackle and worked with nationwide researchers. This included disaster waste processing plans, as well as waste processing facilities and energy provision to contribute to Japan’s energy supply. It is important that each prefecture drafts wide-area plans to achieve this. These are viewpoints that will be needed in future waste processing plans.
Related to these efforts, I became a Ministry of the Environment counselor and a trainer for the Hokkaido Prefectural Government’s regional environment lectures. I also gave talks about the environment throughout Hokkaido, and I visited local museums while traveling around the island. Seemingly all of them had chronologies describing the Edo period in Hokkaido as the “Ainu era” and “era of Ainu culture.” However, Hokkaido was controlled by the Edo Shogunate and Matsumae Clan at that time. All over Hokkaido there are historical sites where Matsumae conducted trade, and where the Tohoku clans established camps to defend Yezo, Karafuto, and the Chishima Islands. I was bothered by these museum charts for a long time.
(M) Many people think Hokkaido belonged to the Ainu during the Edo period.
(N) For dozens of years, history has been falsified to encourage this assumption. As I clearly stated in my book, we can find proof in chronologies from ancient books that have never been altered. They tell us that Hokkaido was directly controlled by Matsumae and the Edo Shogunate. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) reviewed Tokyo Shoseki’s sixth-grade social studies and history textbook in April 2019. Hokkaido, the Chishima Islands, and Karafuto were colored red on its map of Edo Japan to indicate that they were Japanese territory. The reviewers said they should be colored white, so the children who read it would not misunderstand these areas as being part of Japan. The publisher followed this recommendation, and the textbook was approved. This clearly doesn’t match with the government’s view that Hokkaido and the Northern Territories are an inherent territory of Japan. The Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported on this review, which was opposed by Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) National Diet members as well as the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, but their efforts came to naught. I telephoned the MEXT department handling this matter and suggested that the ministry should send a rebuttal to the scholars who reviewed the textbook, but their reply was that they had to “respect the positions of the review committee members.” I wish the MEXT officials were correctly informed so they could refute this judgement. This is one reason why I feel so anxious about the continual spread of mistaken discourse. No one does the tasks that should be accomplished by historians, or voices the statements that should be made by the government and politicians. I decided to get involved, which is why I published The Edo Shogunate’s Defense of the Northern Territories in 2022. I referred to historical materials and sites to provide systematic proof by connecting facts together: the Edo Shogunate and Matsumae Clan governed Hokkaido, which was defended by the Tohoku clans and Northern Territory guards.
(M) I see.
(N) Unfortunately, Tokyo Shoseki’s sixth-grade social studies textbook has been once again changed for the worse. Based on last year’s review, which was announced this March, Hokkaido and everything north of it was the same yellow-green color as the continent in the Edo map. No newspapers covered this, and no one has spoken out.
(M) It seems this mistaken history is spreading gradually, despite the historical facts. As an island nation, Japan has been involved in few conflicts like the border disputes frequently experienced by continental countries. Some citizens spread propaganda and side with nations that do not agree with Japan. There is the threat that these “Japanese people with anti-Japanese sentiments” could gain more prominence.
(N) Yes, that’s why I am always saying that territorial education is of huge importance. We should teach the scope of Japan’s territory to elementary, junior high, and high school children and students, including how our ancestors worked so hard to safeguard this territory.
(M) Japan is a bizarre country where the media conveys anti-Japanese sentiments. When another nation shows contempt for Japan based on its own interests, the anti-Japanese people in this country agree with what they say, and the media shares their views.
(N) The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ) poisoned the Japanese media, and its nature remains unchanged today. Still, many citizens have woken up and realized that our mass media is not normal. It might be only a matter of time before the anti-Japanese media is eliminated.
(M) Perhaps Japanese people have weaker defenses because they live on an island nation.
(N) I think so. For instance, people from China and other countries are using their capital to buy land in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kyoto, Niigata, and other parts of Japan, which has no laws to hinder this. The Act on the Review and Regulation of the Use of Real Estate Surrounding Important Facilities and on Remote Territorial Islands requires notification from land owners in specific areas, but it merely limits land use. We need a law that prohibits foreign nationals from acquiring real estate in specified zones.
(M) Foreigners are even trying to buy state-owned land, but I don’t think they would ever claim this territory for their own countries…
(N) This danger is only growing. I’ve heard there are cases when the owner internationally resells the property, and the current owner can’t be found to collect real estate tax. We should establish new laws to make it harder for foreigners to buy land in Japan, such as charging them 10 times more real estate tax, or requiring them to return it several years after the purchase. If not, the whole country might be bought up while the yen continues depreciating. A country cannot exist without its own territory. In any case, we must put strict regulations on foreign land acquisition.
(M) I agree entirely.
(N) Anti-Japanese powers have spent decades falsifying Hokkaido’s history, including chronological documents and maps. They say the island belonged to the Ainu until it was developed by the Meiji government. Some even make the extreme claim that mainland Japanese committed a genocide and plundered Ainu land while destroying its culture. You can see this anti-Japanese influence in the dismantling of the Hokkaido Centennial Memorial Tower. It was built in 1970 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hokkaido becoming part of Japan. It’s located in Nopporo Forest Park in Atsubetsu Ward, the City of Sapporo. The 1968 ceremony was attended by Emperor Hirohito and his wife. The tower celebrates Hokkaido’s centennial and was designed to last for the next 100 years, but it has apparently “deteriorated” enough that a policy to dismantle it was determined during former Mayor Harumi Takahashi’s term of office. The deconstruction work started this year.
(M) I didn’t know that.
(N) The tower is a big topic of conversation in Hokkaido, but not so much on the national stage. I think The Sankei Shimbun has published a few articles on it. An architect questioned whether the tower has deteriorated enough to pose safety issues. The prefectural government hasn’t changed its decision, even after many people have spoken out. I was involved in a petition with 514 signatures that was submitted to the assembly, but its members and Governor Naomichi Suzuki kept the policy set forth by Takahashi. My book contains more detailed information about this. I feel like the tower is an extremely political maneuver aimed at denying how the government developed Hokkaido.
(M) Besides our national borders, it seems like Japanese people lack awareness about defending our history as well.
(N) We must have a strong will to protect our territory so none of it is taken by foreign nationals, not even a single island. The Edo shoguns took exceedingly severe measures against this. They enacted the sakoku (“closed country”) policy to expel all foreign powers, including the so-called Christian missionaries who enslaved Japanese people.
(M) People say that Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu oppressed Christians, but I think their policies were largely aimed at defending Japan from the outside world.
(N) They were. Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun, was the one who finally put sakoku in place with intense regulations to guard against invasion. Nagasaki was the only point of contact with other nations. In the second half of the 18th century, the Edo shogunate realized the newly powerful Russia had its eyes on Yezo, Karafuto, and Chishima. The shogunate brought Yezo under its direct control in 1807. The Matsumae Clan was relocated to Yanagawa in Mutsu Province. The Sendai, Aizu, Nanbu, and Tsugaru Clans were ordered to dispatch troops for defense. The Yezo government was also moved from the Hakodate magistrate’s office to the Matsumae office.
(M) The shogunate had a powerful structure to defend against Russia.
(N) It did. During that period, the Golovnin Incident occurred in 1811. Russian Captain Vasily Golovnin was ordered by his country to survey the coasts of the southern Chishima Islands, when he was taken prisoner by Japan. In retaliation, Russia abducted Takataya Kahei, a Japanese sailor, and transported him all the way to Kamchatka. Takataya served as an intermediary in the 1813 negotiations between Russia and Japan. The shogunate said it would return Golovnin in exchange for its bold demands: the return of Takataya and Russia’s loot with a letter of apology from the government. The Russian government went along with these conditions and apologized. The shogunate returned Golovnin to Russia. Back then, the shogunate made a clear judgement and fully expressed its views. I’m sure there were both good and bad rulers among the shogun and daimyo, but I think the national government had a clear purpose.
(M) They believed the isolationist policy was necessary to protect Japan, and brought Yezo under direct control for the first time as a way to oppose the Russian threat.
(N) That’s right. Some say Japan would have progressed further without sakoku, but I think the Japan of today would not exist if the country had not been closed at that time; it would have been trampled by outside powers. I praise the shogunate’s dealings with Russia, and how it took pragmatic measures to exclude foreign nations that were hungering for Japanese territory.
(M) Japan needed military power to maintain isolation. People say Japan had one of the world’s largest numbers of firearms from the Sengoku period until the early Edo period. Japan was a country governed by samurai – in other words, by warriors.
(N) Military strength gave the government enough confidence to declare isolation. I also think that’s why it could negotiate so confidently with Russia.
(M) A country must have some level of military power. Basically, a nation should defend itself before asking allies to supplement what is lacking. This applies to the Japan-United States Security Treaty, too. We can’t just assume the U.S. would come to our aid. Our neighbor China has a population 10 times larger than Japan’s. China used to be poor, but it has rapidly obtained economic power that it uses to enhance its military strength. Against this backdrop, it isn’t difficult to imagine that China could make harsh demands of Japan or treat it like a colony. Japan needs military strength to prevent this from happening. If Japan was forced to submit because it didn’t have a military, I doubt war would break out. However, that peace would come from being ruled by another country.
(N) That would lead to Japan becoming a slave. Like you said, the Edo period had a military government founded on armed might. I think that’s why it was capable of such decisive actions.
(M) I imagine the samurai felt pride in having defended Japan from the Mongolian invasions of the Kamakura period. If Japan hadn’t fought and defeated the invaders, it might not exist today.
(N) Yes. All sovereign nations have the right to defend themselves. Japan is dependent on its security treaty with the U.S. Although this situation was created by the U.S. right after World War II, it puts us in an extremely unsound position. Now that 78 years have passed since the end of the war, we must express our views and become a normal country. Japan should revise its constitution to turn the Self-Defense Forces into a military that could respond if any of our territory was stolen.
(M) That’s right.
(N) The U.S. withdrew its military from Afghanistan in 2021. President Ashraf Ghani’s government fell apart soon after, and the Taliban grasped political power. Afghanistan’s military had almost no conflicts with the Taliban under Ghani. America President Joe Biden stated that the U.S. would not fight in a war unless the Afghan forces were willing to fight. I felt like he was speaking to Japan as well. At this timing, Japan should persuade the U.S. so Japan can fight on its own by revising our laws and systems and creating new ones.
(M) Japan’s postwar pacifism is founded on the belief that wishing for peace is enough to achieve it. That doctrine does not work in the real world, where survival of the fittest rules. That’s why military power is necessary to deter war.
(N) However, I do think Japan will have to express itself to and persuade the entire world before we can amend the constitution to gain a military and become a normal country. Naturally, we would have to negotiate with nations that oppose this according to their own interests. But if Japan doesn’t voice its own views, our rights will keep being violated. Japan is the oldest nation of all, and the whole world would suffer if our traditions, history, and culture were destroyed. Japan’s media and education system (symbolized by the textbook I mentioned) are working to encourage this destruction. Wars are no longer fought in the same way today. Now, countries use “cognitive warfare” to affect the public opinion. Japan has been weakened by cognitive warfare attacks over the past decades via textbooks and the mass media. Online propaganda is also heating up in recent years. The government, public administrations, and politicians should be working to make citizens aware of this.
(M) I agree.
(N) We should also change our stance against North Korea. Japan has spent huge amounts of money, including the J-Alert warning system, in response to numerous North Korean missile launches. What if we sent North Korea a bill asking for one billion yen per missile? There has been no progress to solving the North Korean abduction issue, either. According to the National Police Agency, there are about 900 missing people who may have been taken to North Korea. Japan should demand reparations from North Korea for lost profit, totaling hundreds of millions of yen per person. Japan’s current dealings with North Korea prioritize the restoration of diplomatic relations, rather than atonement for human rights violations. If diplomatic relations were restored, I imagine North Korea would ask for compensation for World War II. However, I’d rather North Korea pay us back for the money Japan spent there, including hydroelectric plants and other infrastructure, chemical factories, and schools. There’s no need to provide compensation – Japan should be demanding reparations for its abductees. Today’s government is incapable of acting like the Edo Shogunate, which dealt with Russia in a reasonable way. It’s a deplorable situation.
(M) I wish the government had the mettle to demand the abductees be returned, even if it involved some conflict. That wouldn’t be so easy, however. In any case, Japan should strive for peace based on a balance of power, not the peace that comes from ruling another country or being ruled by them. That’s why we need military force to deter war. Japan modernized and became a major power after the Meiji Restoration by fighting two wars against China and Russia. It was weakened by a single defeat. These circumstances cannot continue.
(N) Besides regular military force, Japan has to become more powerful in the fields of cyber warfare, cognitive warfare, and the economy. New legislation is also important. Several Japanese people have been arrested under China’s anti-espionage law, and have been detained for long terms pending their trials. Japan could counteract this if it had a similar law. I wish the National Diet members would do more… I want to vote for Diet members who can accomplish our desires, but they are more concerned about their own interests under the single-seat constituency system. We should promptly bring back the system allowing for multiple candidates, which would encourage friendly rivalry between party members in the same precinct.
(M) That would lead to more Diet members with healthy ways of thinking.
(N) Yes. Some of them prioritize votes above Japan’s national interests. I want leaders who are willing to work hard for Japan’s sake, much like yourself.
(M) I hope Diet members will have the strong will to defend Japan, and that our country will work to develop such people. I think your book will be one way to educate them.
(N) Many people in other countries also hold the mistaken belief that pre-Meiji Hokkaido was the land of the Ainu. After winning the prize last year, I was giving a talk when I met an interpreter and translator who suggested sharing my work with the world in English. The first article, “Hokkaido From Edo Samurai to Reiwa Japan: The Challenge of Preserving History,” was posted in August on JAPAN Forward, an English-language news and opinion site. One article certainly can’t erase all these misunderstandings, but I hope the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others will share information as well.
(M) I look forward to seeing what you do in the future. At the end of the article, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(N) Japan exists today thanks to the great efforts of our ancestors. I hope young people will learn about our history, understand how our predecessors felt, and think about how they can defend our country.
(M) Thank you for sharing such an interesting conversation with me today.
(N) Thank you.
Born in the City of Sapporo. Graduated from Hokkaido University’s Graduate School of Law. While operating a medical corporation, she served as administration officer of the Japan Society of Material Cycles and Waste Management and head of the Waste Planning and Research Committee, and today she is a fellow. She won the Minister of International Trade and Industry Prize in the FY1995 Recycling Promotion Distinguished Service Awards. Nakamura is director of the Health and Environmental Design Research Institute and also appears on Channel Sakura Hokkaido.