Shintaro Ishihara, Japan's first postwar far-right party leader

December 14, 2012

Masaya Kobayashi

A professor at Chiba University's Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Masaya Kobayashi was born in 1963. A graduate of the University of Tokyo Faculty of Law, he has been professor at Chiba University's Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences since 2006. He is also co-director at Chiba University's Research Center for Global Environment and Welfare. His specialties are political philosophy, public philosophy and comparative politics.

When Shintaro Ishihara resigned in October as governor of Tokyo to form his own party, the media shadowed his every move, perceiving him as the vortex of a nascent "third force" in Japanese politics.

And sure enough, Ishihara was right in the center of action as new party alliances began to take shape in November. Let's look at the timeline.

Shintaro Ishihara (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Nov. 13: Sunrise Party of Japan, a conservative entity made up of five Diet members, joined forces with Ishihara to establish the Sunrise Party, with Ishihara as co-leader.

Nov. 15: Ishihara announced that the new Sunrise Party would merge with Genzei Nippon (Tax Cuts Japan) headed by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura.

Nov. 16: Ishihara retracted the merger announcement and went on to disband the Sunrise Party, which was then only three days old.

Nov. 17: Ishihara joined and became the leader of the Japan Restoration Party.

With Ishihara at the helm, the media positioned the Japan Restoration Party as a definitive "third force" to challenge the two major parties in the Dec. 16 Lower House election. But Ishihara noted at a news conference: "It won't do (for the party) to remain just a third force. We've got to become a second force."

Back in April when Ishihara was still Tokyo governor, he created a stir by announcing the metropolitan government's intention to purchase the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

The Noda administration sought to restore calm by purchasing some of the uninhabited islands from a private owner and making them state property.

The move outraged Beijing and the Chinese public. Violent anti-Japanese riots erupted in dozens of Chinese cities, triggering fears that an eventual armed clash between Japan and China was in the cards.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in November, Ishihara stated that the United States "would not come to help us unless we have the resolve to defend the Senkaku Islands even at the cost of our blood."

He went on to assert that "simulations about (owning) nuclear arms are something worth doing."

Will Ishihara's new party, and Ishihara himself, contribute to the creation of a legitimate third force in Japanese politics and help restore democratic functions in our country? Has the merger of his Sunrise Party with the Japan Restoration Party eased democracy's crisis?

Many people point out that the Sunrise Party and the Japan Restoration Party merged despite certain irreconcilable differences in policy. Other political parties decry the merger as an unholy alliance of pure political expediency.

These observations are right on the mark, but there are also other important factors to bear in mind. For instance, Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who stepped down as leader of the Japan Restoration Party in Ishihara's favor, said on Nov. 18: "I want to see Ishihara become prime minister. For that, I will do everything I can to help the party win as many seats as possible (in the upcoming Lower House election)."

Put simply, the Japan Restoration Party's goal is to make Ishihara the prime minister of Japan. But is Ishihara the right person for the job?

Let's leave the current political situation aside for now and examine Ishihara's personal political views.

Ishihara, 80, is often described by the overseas media as a nationalist and far-right politician. The Japanese media rarely refer to him in such terms, but I must say his political views certainly are those of a nationalist and far-right politician.

Take, for instance, his recently published book from Sankei Shinbun Syuppan Co., titled "Heiwa no Doku, Nipponyo" (Poison of peace, oh Japan).

In the book, Ishihara laments that postwar Japan is characterized by "egoism, lust for sex and money, materialism and instinct for self-preservation." And citing environmental problems, he warns that our planet is doomed unless we change our ways. I quite agree.

But the rest of the book is an entirely different matter. I could not disagree more vehemently with Ishihara's thinking.

Calling for a "national regeneration," Ishihara attacks the "stupid Foreign Ministry" and other government ministries and agencies, refers to China as "Shina," which is a derisive term used during Japan's colonial era, and voices his disbelief in U.S. readiness to protect Japan in the event of an armed conflict with "Shina" or any other country.

"The power of a nation is ultimately judged by its military capabilities and whether or not it possesses nuclear weapons," he argues, and asserts that the Japanese people, whom he fears have been "tamed into submission by the 'poison of peace,'" should be considering arming their country with nuclear weapons.

He goes on, "Only humans have the wisdom to use nuclear energy, and to deny its use after just one accident is actually a barbarous act motivated by unhealthy sentimentalism."

Ishihara is adamantly opposed to ending Japan's reliance on nuclear power generation, which makes perfect sense because he is in favor of nuclear armament, and knows that getting rid of nuclear power stations will make it difficult for the nation to build its nuclear arsenal quickly.

I have to say that Ishihara is a nationalist who aims to continue with nuclear power generation and arm Japan with nuclear weapons.

Ishihara was quoted on June 20, 2011, as saying: "Japan must possess nuclear weapons. Until it does, it will never be treated as a sovereign nation. The only way for Japan to survive is to establish a military regime. Failing to do so, Japan will become a vassal state of some other country. I believe we should revive military conscription."

And on Aug. 5 of that year, he said, "Unless Japan becomes a great military power, it will completely and absolutely lose its presence (in the international community)." He went on to insist that Japan should do simulations of nuclear weapons, noting, "We've got mountains of plutonium."

Last January, he stated: "My condition for joining a new party is that the party must propose to conduct nuclear armament simulations. I've always believed that Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons. If that's not feasible, Japan should at least do simulations on super computers." A draft policy outline of his new party, unveiled in February, called for such simulations and the establishment of armed forces.

It goes without saying that Ishihara's assertion that Japan should arm itself with nuclear weapons runs counter to public sentiment, given the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For most Japanese citizens, a world free of nuclear weapons is their most cherished dream.

As is obvious from his incessant attacks on the Foreign Ministry for "being a lackey of the United States," Ishihara is an anti-American rightist. His stance is quite different in nature from the brand of pro-American conservatism pursued by the Liberal Democratic Party.

Ishihara's anti-American position was already quite evident in "NO to Ieru Nippon--Shin Nichibei Kankei no Hosaku" (The Japan That Can Say No), which he co-authored with Sony Corp. co-founder Akio Morita in 1989. The book became a blockbuster bestseller.

I have no doubt that almost all governments around the world, including Washington, are firmly opposed to Japan going nuclear. If Japan went ahead and armed itself with nuclear weapons, I am sure that the rest of the world would slap economic sanctions on Japan for being a threat to the nuclear nonproliferation system, just like North Korea and Iran. And let us not forget that the regime of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was overthrown because it was suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction and developing nuclear weapons--suspicions that were later disproved.

The policies Ishihara intends to push are dangerous in the extreme. He is definitely not a politician who can be reasoned with.


Not only is Ishihara an anti-American rightist, he also despises the current Constitution of Japan, claiming it is "null and void" because it was "forced on Japan by the Allied Occupation Forces for their own benefit."

He once wrote: "Instead of going the tedious, roundabout route of revising the Constitution, all we need is a strong Cabinet declaring the Constitution null and void and simply writing a new Constitution. There are various complicated procedures involved in revising the Constitution, but the leader of the nation can decide to annul the Constitution, and there are no legal grounds for stopping that."

Let's assume the Japan Restoration Party does really well in the December election and Ishihara becomes prime minister, just as Hashimoto hopes. There is no doubt that the Japan Restoration Party will secure a good number of Lower House seats, and if the LDP and New Komeito together fail to win a majority, it is quite conceivable that LDP leader Shinzo Abe will invite the Japan Restoration Party to join his coalition government.

This coalition government will likely go ahead and revise the Constitution, but let's just say for the sake of argument that the revision will be personally dictated by "Prime Minister Ishihara." In that event, Ishihara will simply annul the Constitution, and a new Constitution will be written immediately.

Ishihara once cited Articles 73 and 75 of the old Meiji Constitution (which remained in effect until Japan's defeat in World War II) as grounds for the invalidity of the current Constitution. Are we to expect, then, that the prewar Constitution will be revived to replace the current Constitution, at least until a new Constitution is written? Or will Japan become a dictatorship without a Constitution?

Either situation, of course, goes counter to the principle of rule by law and constitutionalism, and spells the collapse of democracy itself, which would amount to a coup d'etat. Incidentally, a democratically and legitimately elected national leader may pull off what is called a self-coup to vest himself with absolute power. In any case, the threat of a coup d'etat could be a distinct possibility in Japan if Ishihara's party becomes the ruling party.

In fact, Ishihara was quoted April 16 this year as saying that "the Diet should be disbanded" in the event the government decides to annul the Constitution and refers the decision to the Diet but the latter opposes it. Obviously, what Ishihara had in mind then was nothing other than a coup d'etat.

The May 2001 issue of Ronza magazine ran an interview with Ishihara. A chuckling Ishihara said, "I'd love to be Hitler, if I could." He may have been half joking, but I am certain he also meant it.

In "Shin Daraku-ron: Gayoku to Tenbatsu" (New discourse on decadence: Greed and divine punishment), a 2011 publication from Shinchosha, Ishihara laments the "decline of the Japanese race due to lethargy and the degeneration of the value system." He goes on to quote the lyrics of "Showa Ishin no Uta" (Song of Showa Restoration) and says he identifies completely with the song's writer, Takashi Mikami, who was an officer of the Imperial Japanese Navy and one of the masterminds of the so-called May 15 Incident in 1932. Launched by reactionary elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the attempted coup ended with the assassination of Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai.

We must never make light of the fact that Ishihara identifies fully in spirit with this champion of Japanese fascism. If realized, the annulment of the Constitution he advocates in the name of "national revival" may well lead to this sort of fascistic coup.

Such a political philosophy that threatens the destruction of democracy is labeled "far right" to distinguish it from conventional rightist thought, and a party that embraces this dangerous philosophy is called a "far-right party." LDP leader Abe, who is a nationalist, is not a far-right politician because he is aiming for constitutional revision. By the same token, the LDP is not a far-right party, either.

In fact, Abe distanced himself and his party from Ishihara when he stated on Oct. 26, "The annulment of the Constitution is tantamount to staging a revolution." Abe's statement illustrates a clear difference in thinking between LDP politicians and far-right politicians.

Moreover, even Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who stepped down as Japan Restoration Party leader in favor of Ishihara, had criticized Ishihara on Oct. 13: "To arbitrarily annul the Constitution is one line that nobody in authority should ever cross," he said. "It's too frightening a prospect for the people, and it must never be condoned. And on this matter, Governor Ishihara and I are not in agreement." But then, it took Hashimoto only a month to let Ishihara become his boss on Nov. 18.

Right-wing parties are legitimate players in the democratic system so long as they abide by the rules of democracy in seeking legislative representation. In contrast, the term far right is applied to political organizations that uphold fascism or other political philosophies that ignore the rules of democracy and seek to destroy democracy itself.

Obviously, the media should distinguish far-right parties from conventional parties and treat them as dangerous, anti-democratic organizations.

From the standpoint of democracy, such organizations deserve to be kicked out of the "arena of democratic party politics" for their extremist political positions.

The concept of "militant democracy" has been built into the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany (the German Constitution), whose writers were resolved never to allow the revival of Nazi Germany. Under this Constitution, all German citizens, including politicians, are duty-bound to protect and swear their allegiance to their nation's Basic Law.

In Germany, far-right political parties are banned by law. Some people object to this as a violation of the principle of complete freedom of thought, but l believe the Diet should at least discuss in earnest the ethical or moral implications of whether to allow the existence of any political party that insists on annulling the Constitution.

From National Front of France to Austria's Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria and Greece's Golden Dawn, far-right parties are surging in Europe. In Japan, no such anti-democratic party has ever won a Diet seat after the war.

But with the birth of Ishihara's Sunrise Party, Japan got its first postwar party led by a far-right leader in the Diet.

Since the Sunrise Party's platform makes no mention of Ishihara's thoughts on nuclear armament and the annulment of the Constitution, whether the entire party is far right is open to debate. However, I have yet to come across any media report on Ishihara changing his political stance. It follows, then, that the birth of the Sunrise Party definitely spelled the debut of a far-right party co-leader for the first time since the end of World War II.

But the situation got a whole lot more alarming when Ishihara became the leader of the Japan Restoration Party. Whereas the Sunrise Party could not be expected to win too many seats in the Lower House in the December election, the Japan Restoration Party is now definitely growing into a veritable third force, which means its leader will be capable of wielding tremendous influence on national politics.

Since the merger agreement signed by Ishihara and Hashimoto says nothing about nuclear armament or constitutional annulment, nobody can say at this point that the entire Japan Restoration Party itself is a far-right party. Still, there is no denying that this party has chosen a far-right politician as its leader.

Hashimoto's goal is to make Ishihara the prime minister of Japan. But even in the event this does not happen, there is every possibility of Abe's LDP forming a conservative coalition government with the Japan Restoration Party and Ishihara becoming deputy prime minister or being given a key Cabinet post.

In other words, Japan is faced with the danger of getting its first postwar "far-right prime minister" or "far-right deputy prime minister" or "far-right key Cabinet minister" as a result of the December election.

It is unlikely that Abe's LDP, or the original members of the Japan Restoration Party, including Hashimoto, will agree to annul the Constitution and establish a new administration through a "coup d'etat." However, as shown by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda when he dissolved the Lower House, the prime minister can exercise tremendous power if he puts his mind to it.

Should a far-right party leader come to influence Cabinet decisions, or even become prime minister, there is no telling what that person may do under certain circumstances. Right now, at least, there is no guarantee that a "far-right prime minister" will never pull off a coup d'etat.

Like it or not, Japan now has its first postwar far-right party leader. The danger here is that Japan could get its first far-right prime minister or key Cabinet minister. I wonder how the general public, members of established political parties and original members of the Japan Restoration Party are perceiving this situation.

(The Japanese original article appeared on the WEBRONZA site on Nov. 20.)

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