Japan novelist and Haruo Umezaki: Sakurajima and nationalism under PM Kishida
Lee Jay Walker
Modern Tokyo Times
The Japanese novelist Haruo Umezaki (1915-1965) belongs to the Taisho (1912-1926) and the Showa (1926-1989) periods of Japanese history. However, like his war novella titled Sakurajima, it is the Meiji Period (1868-1912) that shaped Japan and set off future convulsions. Therefore, the legacy of Meiji ultimately led to increasing militarism and the lust for empire.
The various convulsions ultimately led to America dominating Japan in the post-World War Two period and continuing now under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. Interestingly, the last two administrations in Japan are increasingly nationalist (Yoshihide Suga and the current leader Kishida who is anti-Russia). After all, when Tiananmen Square happened in 1989 in China, the government of Japan stayed neutral and even provided economic support to China in this period of history.
However, since the ending of Japan’s economic growth period that was notably dynamic in the 1960s and 1970s – bar the odd hiccup – nationalism is filling the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) void.
Umezaki, despite passing away in 1965, would understand the modern LDP since Junichiro Koizumi and the nationalist ramblings of the Suga and current Kishida administration that hold sway. Irrespective of Umezaki’s opinion (if alive today), he would understand the creeping angst of Japan concerning the declining birth rate, the enormous debt Japan is blighted by, the growing power of China, and how the modern LDP has moved away from economic innovation since the lost three decades and turned to petty nationalism to preserve its power base.
Umezaki witnessed the growing influence of the far-right to far-left in Japan when only a teenager. Ultimately, the militarists won the day.
Thus his book Sakurajima delves into many angles of the war. Hence, you have disillusioned soldiers who no longer believe in the war because of exhaustion and trauma: to nationalists in the upper echelons of the armed forces who forbid defeatist thought patterns. Therefore, among the ideas are ordinary people – the ordinary people who are not seen in the majority of history books concerning the civilian deaths of German and Japanese citizens (carpet bombing, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and other horrendous realities) – who merely seek to survive the war and escape brutal bombardments.
Turning back to modern Japan – then since Koizumi (2001-2006) and his many visits to Yasukuni Shrine (the shrine honors Japanese war criminals and ordinary soldiers – but nationalists hide behind ordinary soldiers similarly to Japan playing the anti-nuclear card while being protected by America’s nuclear umbrella) the gradual momentum of nationalism is now witnessed under Kishida (similar to the Suga administration).
Not a week goes by where Kishida isn’t condemning the Russian Federation or China. This is despite Kishida knowing full well about Agent Orange, Iraq, Libya, Operation Condor, America supporting the deaths of millions in Indonesia since the 1960s and continuing today (murder of over a million communists, East Timor, and ongoing conflict in West Papua), and Obama’s huge military sales to the Saudi Arabia-led alliance that is still bombing Yemen. Hence, Kishida’s rhetoric is little more than the anti-Chinese, anti-Korean, and anti-Russian period that manifested itself in the Meiji Period and continued until Japan’s ultimate defeat. Therefore, unlike the rest of Asia, only Japan is plying the anti-Russian Federation card – to such a height that serves Japanese nationalism and America’s geopolitical intrigues against China and the Russian Federation.
Turning back to Sakurajima. Tensions existed between realistic navy personnel and the kamikaze who sought death.
This tension is happening today between the supporters of a multipolar world and the supporters of America’s hegemony via its potent voice in NATO and the G-7. However, unlike the period experienced by Umezaki, Japan’s nationalism concerns the economic debacle of the last three decades – under the LDP and the endless spiral of debt. Therefore, the only thing left for the LDP and the traditional family ruling elites is nationalism because the economic dynamism of old seems like a different world away.
Hence since Koizumi – and increasing under Suga and Kishida are the usual scapegoats of the Meiji Period (anti-China, anti-Korea, and anti-Russia). However, unlike old Japan – which believed in itself – the modern version hides behind the coattails of America, the G-7, NATO, and other forces that care little about Asia apart from dominating the region.
Therefore, while China, India, and ASEAN rejoice in their independent spirit, the political elites in Japan are pushing for Western encroachment throughout the Asia Pacific. This is witnessed by Japan being in league with AUKUS, the NATO bloc, and the QUAD Group – while also encouraging the navies of France and the United Kingdom to play an increasing role in the region. India refuses to condemn the Russian Federation despite the pressure America, Australia, and Japan are putting on independent India.
Overall, if the writer Umezaki was alive today – the question would be is America endangering Japan with major regional nations concerning the web of Washington – or should Japan be similar to India in seeking an independent role in the modern world?
Hence, are the ruling LDP modern-day kamikaze that will draw Japan into a regional war on the coattails of America – or is the ruling LDP the pragmatic naval officers who are setting the path of safety during turbulent times?
The nationalist pendulum is growing – so maybe this time Kira is on the path to swinging the sword to a new convulsion that awaits Japan?
Pragmatism – like Japan’s golden economic period seems like a long way away!