DREAMING OF A JAPAN THAT CAN SAY " BANZAI": THE COMING OF THE SHINTARO SHOGUNATE
One of the more interesting periodicals on international relations is Foreign Policy
magazine, noted for out of the box thinking and an ability to attract heavy-hitters as writers. The current issue is no exception which features a number of big names in the "Here today, gone tomorrow
" feature, including the current governor of Tokyo and one of Japan's most popular political figures, Shintaro Ishihara
, who fiercely decries " Japanese Passivity":"...The Japanese used to have the spirit and backbone of the samurai, the same warriors who were applauded by Walt Whitman when they visited the United States in the 1860's. When will we recover our national virtue, described so well by Ruth Benedict in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword?"
This is a fairly shocking reference. It is true that foreigners can sometimes capture the essence of another nation's character and Benedict, who labored under considerable wartime constraints in writing her classic treatise, deserves to be alongside Alexis de Tocqueville and the Marquis de Custine in that regard. That being said, we need to note that Benedict's critique was not exactly a laudatory one as well as being tilted toward describing what even then would have been an interpretation of Japanese social mores favored by State Shinto reactionaries. This is not the equivalent to Senator Clinton or Speaker Hastert favorably alluding favorably to Democracy in America;
it is more on par with a Southern politician praising the values extolled in Birth of a Nation
reactionary romanticism is not the real problem. Shintaro Ishihara, who has his eye on the Prime Ministership of Japan, clearly has ambitions to overturn Japan's postwar consensus and security relationship with the United States, whom he does not trust, to rearm against a resurgent China whom he fears yet frequently seeks to provoke
. This is no small task, given the make-up of the Diet, the strength of the consensus viewpoint even among Japanese conservatives and the fear among the Japanese elite of allowing another "shadow shogun"like Kakuei Tanaka
to amass personal control over the levers of government. Something Ishihara would absolutely need to have in order to effect Japan's rebirth as an independent power on foreign policy and defense issues.
While this would seem to be an unlikely outcome we need to remember that in historical terms Japan's relationship with the United States is highly abnormal and continues to exist despite the fact that economic and strategic circumstances have shifted radically since the 1950's. The current consensus of Japanese military dependency on America may be more fragile than Western or even Korean and Chinese observers realize. Japan's " natural" position would be the world's number two military power, which it could assume easily and probably would benefit from economically in the short run due the Keyenesian effects of a robust defense build-up.
This would of course be dangerous for Eastern Asia which would see a resumption of the arms race as Japan nervously eyed China and the two Koreas, inevitably inducing India to try to keep pace with China and Pakistan with India. The United States would then have the thankless task of trying to manage this unruly herd of rising yet insecure powers. This is not any kind of future worth creating in my book.
Let's be glad Ishihara isn't getting any younger.