A governor at Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) has lavished praise on a right-wing activist who shot himself inside the president's office of The Asahi Shimbun 20 years ago.
An essay in which Michiko Hasegawa showed where her sympathies lie adds to a growing furor over NHK's political neutrality after its chairman and another governor made controversial remarks in recent days about Japan's wartime history.
Hasegawa, 67, is a professor emeritus at Saitama University who specializes in comparative ideology and Japanese cultural studies.
Prior to becoming an NHK governor, Hasegawa contributed to a collection of essays paying tribute to Shusuke Nomura, the right-winger who killed himself at Asahi's head office in Tokyo's Chuo Ward in October 1993.
In the essay, she wrote that Nomura "gave his death to the gods."
The Feb. 5 revelation about Hasegawa's contribution comes just two days after another NHK governor, Naoki Hyakuta, campaigned on behalf of a candidate in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. In his remarks, Hyakuta asserted that the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication.
Both Hasegawa and Hyakuta were appointed to the post by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last December after their nominations were approved by the Diet in November.
Hasegawa supported Abe's quest in autumn 2012 to return as president of the Liberal Democratic Party, which was then in opposition. Abe became prime minister in December 2012. Hasegawa dined with Abe at the Prime Minister's Official Residence the following May.
In her memorial piece dedicated to the 58-year-old Nomura, Hasegawa praised the manner of his suicide because he invoked the emperor "who is not only the distant descendant of Japan's gods, but is also himself an 'akitsumikami' (deity who is a human being)."
She went on to write that regardless of how the Japanese Constitution defines the emperor, he once again became a deity who was human due to Nomura's suicide attempt. After shooting himself in the abdomen in front of Asahi executives, Nomura was rushed to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Hasegawa's piece was one of several included in a publication that was distributed on Oct. 18, 2013, at a memorial service for Nomura held in Tokyo. The collection was published by a company in Yokohama operated by Masahiro Ninagawa, who refers to himself as one of Nomura's disciples. One of the main activities of the company is to spread the thoughts of Nomura through publication of his works as well as the periodical "Moeyo Sokoku" (Light a fire, our homeland).
The collection was handed out to the 500 or so participants at the memorial service for Nomura.
In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, Ninagawa said: "(Hasegawa) is one of the scholars among conservative commentators who we most respect. Members of our group often greet each other by asking if they have read one of her books."
Hasegawa also gave a speech at the 2000 memorial service for Nomura. Ninagawa asked her to write an essay for last year's publication.
In response to questions from The Asahi Shimbun, Hasegawa said: "The piece is part of my activities as an individual and is unrelated to my role as NHK governor. While I never personally knew Nomura, I read his works and thought that he was presenting very important ideas."
Hasegawa seemed to have no problem with the fact that Nomura whipped out two pistols and fired live rounds inside commercial premises.
"Rather than consider it an act of terrorism or pressure against the media, efforts should be made to find spiritual meaning in the act," she said.
The Broadcast Law does not bar an NHK governor from voicing his or her personal ideology or beliefs in public.
An official with the secretariat of the NHK Board of Governors said, "We are not in a position to comment because it is related to personal beliefs."
Yoshihide Suga, who as chief Cabinet secretary is the government's most senior spokesman, refused to be drawn into the furor by telling reporters Feb. 5, "There is nothing that restricts NHK governors from expressing their personal beliefs."
Suga was also asked how Abe came to hand-pick Hasegawa as a candidate for the post of NHK governor.
"She has been active as a philosopher and commentator who represents Japan," Suga said. "She is also well-versed in Japanese culture."
Abe was asked at a Feb. 5 session of the Upper House Budget Committee about Hasegawa's essay.
He responded, "There is no way for me to comment since I have not read it."
Twelve people serve on NHK's Board of Governors. All the posts are subject to Diet approval. As the highest decision-making body at the public broadcaster, the board has the authority to appoint and dismiss the NHK chairman.
The board unanimously approved the appointment of Katsuto Momii as NHK chairman last December.
Momii found himself in hot water both in Japan and overseas for remarks he made at his inaugural news conference as NHK chairman on Jan. 25.
Momii used the occasion to suggest that he would emphasize the government's position on issues in the public broadcaster's reports and called into question South Korea's demands for compensation for the "comfort women" who were forced to provide sex to Japanese military personnel before and during World War II.
Commenting on the latest controversy, movie director and writer Tatsuya Mori said Hasegawa is not fit to be an NHK governor, adding: "Her piece praises an act of terrorism against a media organization. She is not qualified to be an NHK governor because she lacks a proper perspective on history in which blood was shed because the media (in prewar Japan) buckled under (government) pressure."
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Gist of Hasegawa's essay
When Shusuke Nomura committed suicide 20 years ago at the Tokyo head office of The Asahi Shimbun, he by no means died on behalf of Asahi.
There is no one who lacks the qualifications to accept anyone's death as much as those at Asahi.
Nomura presented his own death to the gods, in front of people who do not believe for a moment that it is possible to converse with the gods by giving up one's life.
When Nomura repeated three times the phrase "sumeramikoto iyasaka" (Long live the emperor), he invoked the presence of the emperor who is not only the distant descendant of Japan's gods, but is also himself an 'akitsumikami' (deity who is a human being).
At that time, even if it was only for an instant, Emperor Akihito became once again an akitsumikami (regardless of what the Japanese Constitution says or what was included in the declaration by Emperor Showa that he was a human, not a deity).
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