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Cool heads needed to defuse exploding nationalistic fervour

Publication Date : 04-10-2012

 

The one good thing about Japan is that there still are some cool heads among the rigidly conformist Japanese, though always a very, very small minority. Some 800 of these people, considered mavericks in Japan, gathered together in Tokyo last Saturday to call for calm in the current Japanese spat with China, Taiwan and South Korea over the disputed islands in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Among them was novelist Kenzaburo Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994.

Another author, Haruki Murakami, who may become a third Japanese Nobel laureate in literature for his novel “Norwegian Wood” wishes that cool heads will prevail. Oe's civic group launched a signature campaign urging the Japanese government to solve the sovereignty dispute over the Tiaoyutai or Diaoyutai Islands with Taiwan and China and over Takeshima, known as Dokdo in Korean, with South Korea that has occupied it after the World War II, because all these islets were taken over by Imperial Japan while China and Korea were so weak that they could not defend their territories against the Japanese encroachment.

In particular, Oe recalled that Japan had tacitly agreed with China in the 1980s to shelve the Senkaku dispute in pursuit of better overall relations. That tacit agreement was broken by Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda, who “nationalised” three of the Senkaku islands ultra-nationalist Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara had tried to purchase so that he might defend them against an imagined, imminent Chinese takeover.

While these cool-headed citizens are calling on the Japanese government to accept that there exists the dispute over sovereignty, which Tokyo denies, and restrain ultra-nationalism to dispassionately solve it, Murakami is warning of the peril of politicians offering the “cheap liquor” of nationalism.

Writing in the Asahi Shimbun, the popular author pointed out that when “a territorial issue ceases to be a practical matter and enters the realm of 'national emotions,' it creates a dangerous situation with no exit.”

He compared the situation to cheap liquor which “makes you speak loudly and act rudely...But after your drunken rampage, you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.

Of course, these cool-headed people's call for calm will, without a doubt, fall on the deaf ears of politicians and polemicists not just in Japan but also in China and in Taiwan in much smaller numbers. Nonetheless, these Japanese doves are braver than hawks.

They know what happened to Akiko Yosano who wrote her brother in Manchuria in 1904 during the Russo-Japanese War, urging him “not to die” even for the country and to Tatsukichi Minobe, professor of law at Tokyo Imperial University, who was persecuted in 1912 for describing the role of the emperor as the “organ of state”. Oe and Murakami may be boycotted in Japan's conformist society where ultra-nationalism is speedily on the rise.

But public opinion is turning ever so intensely nationalistic to make it impossible to put an end to the current sovereignty spat.

It is understandable that the people on the Chinese mainland are much more anti-Japanese than their brethren in Taiwan, simply because of the atrocity the Japanese Imperial Army committed from 1931 to 1945.

But in Taiwan, the media almost idolise politicians and polemicists who feed the unknowing people “cheap liquor” to arouse and encourage anti-Japanese sentiments.

There may be quite a few cool-headed people in Taiwan who dare to speak up for a dispassionate, pragmatic resolution to the dispute, but what they say would never be reflected as public opinion in the vernacular media. It is true that most of the media dutifully report President Ma Ying-jeou's opinion on how to solve the question, but the coverage is overwhelmingly outdone by polemicists to make it possible for public opinion to continue keeping his government hostage to misguided nationalism.

 

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