Goodies in Tokyo


George Bush came to town two weeks ago. More than 9000 Tokyo police officers were out to greet him and assure his visit would be without any glitches. Choppers flying in formation at low altitude over the river west of the city, dozens of riot police buses left idling all day and all night near the state guesthouse and highways reserved for his motorcade made quite an impression. George came for dinner, was all smiles, and left with one big gift from his good friend Koizumi. Often regarded as Bush’s pet by his critics and sometimes shown as such on TV, the Prime Minister offered the ultimate souvenir of 1.5 billion dollars for reconstruction of some of the very same infrastructure destroyed by the liberators of Iraq. In order to make it look like the amount given was a decision of the host, rather than a not to be refused request, it was announced before Air Force One landed. Everybody knew that the gift would be withdrawn anyway because Tokyo remains Washington’s favourite, no secret number necessary, ATM. Although most Japanese were opposed to the war, the ones enraged by the selfless generosity were left with very little space to protest.

The flag of the world liberators was flying high and proud at the US Embassy. While approaching the compound one wondered if one was about to enter the bunker of a regime under siege, or perhaps, a prison of bloodthirsty inmates. The streets leading to the US diplomats stank of noxious diesel fumes from the numerous police buses and vans. Across the road from the main entrance, the police, in order to protect the few opponents from who knows what, were guarding a tiny rectangular area made of scaffolding pipes where the courageous few could voiced their opposition. The media was also confined to this same space of about 6 square meters. It was (and still is) ridiculously regulated. Police officers rushed to stop anybody crossing the front pipe to make a comment. No banners or posters were allowed to be attached or left hanging over the front pipes. No cameraman was permitted to step up on the concrete block next to the cage.

For months a few tireless encaged human beings have been facing the mighty world saviour hiding behind bombproof gates. Fernando an Italian, Sulejman from Yugoslavia, and his Japanese wife Kanako are present several times a week. Insulted on regular basis by some of the white embassy diplomats, they remain determined to show photographs of children murdered by the occupier in Iraq. For several days preceding George’s welcoming party the police phoned the couple up to six times a day to find out what their daily protest plans were. Easily identifiable undercover cops have often followed the two. In April, thirty or so “wanted” posters were put up in the couple’s neighbourhood. Although these posters were unofficial they claimed that Sulejman was wanted by police for being a “girl groper” on the trains. The nearest police station phone number was provided. The couple complained and was at first told by an inspector that the slander would get worse. Curiously the same official, a few days later, requested them to forget about the problem. Several demonstrations have been held in Tokyo since George pledged to free Iraq and teach democracy to the world. Compared to the protests in other countries they were fairly tame. The education system of the last two decades and the non stop primetime childish programs aired nightly on every channel have turned the youth of this country into a docile generation incapable of protesting or uttering a complaint except the ubiquitous word “shoganai”. Infrequent discussions of personal or societal problems are usually punctuated with this expression, which means, “it can’t be helped”. The street battling students fighting the construction of the Tokyo Airport or the American bases of the late 70′s and early 80′s are nowhere in sight. While some of their leaders are pushing for a showdown with North Korea, Japanese still flock to Tokyo’s Disneyland and line up at McDonald’s. After 20 years, Mickey Mouse is counting over 300 million visitors, more than twice the population of the country.

Being meticulous and well organized is a quality shared by many Japanese. The police force is no exception. Its subtle techniques of crowd control are quite remarkable. At anti-war rallies the force manages to make the peaceful demonstrators look quite scary to the subdued citizenry of this country. Whenever permission is given to walk the streets of Shibuya, the city’s youth playground and shopping Mecca, dozens of undercover officers standing side by side are seen filling their notebooks with names and relentlessly taking pictures and zooming their video cameras on the marchers from every imaginable angle. The ones with the uniforms or the antiriot gear walk at arm’s length of each other on the side of the protest. The one standing on the platform of the leading police SUV politely but endlessly reminds onlookers and pedestrians of the approaching marchers and of the local police station diligently taking care of the matter. His speakers are much bigger and noisier than the ones on the van of the thousand or hundreds of protesters following. Traffic lights changing to green are said to be hazardous. As they start walking, participants are subtly separated in groups of 200 to 300 and, squeezed towards the sidewalks and rendered incapable of properly unfurling their banners. Delayed by the police at every crossing the groups are forced to stop at red lights. This widens the gap between groups and severely weakens its numerical impact on the media. The marchers are treated like a bunch of kindergarten-aged children in need of white glove wearing policemen to protect them from the cars still left to accelerate in the other lanes. The calls to join in by the demonstrators are understandably ignored. Very few onlookers can muster the courage to cross the police lines, step in, and join the protesting group of students, grand mothers, young families, and handicapped people in wheelchairs.

As they have done for years the rightwing extremists roam the streets and roads of the cities and countryside all over Japan. They usually do so in black buses painted with signs praising the Emperor and also equipped with powerful speakers often blasting WW2 military songs. In contrast to the anti-war protesters, the rightist’s parades are left to flow unescorted by police vans. They are often seen wearing military uniforms and heard in front of major subway or train stations and foreign embassies giving xenophobic or pro-Emperor speeches. These men pretend to be the pure defenders of the bygone Japan of the pre WW2 years. They are also well known to be in collusion with the mighty Yakusa criminal organizations. They often work as professional extortionists capable of pointing their speakers in front of the house of a politician they despise or the corporate leader easily wanting to pay for some silence on a potentially damaging scandal. To the foreigners they look fairly silly has they seem to grumble when arguing or dribble when shouting on the roof top platforms of their sinister black vehicles. To the Japanese they appear to be not very bright but remain very fearsome nonetheless. Unless one wants to be severely beaten one does not obstruct them on the roads or dispute their views on the Emperor. Also, one does not question their refusal to pay highway tolls or their aggressive stance against North Korea. For many years school principals were able to refused to display the flag of the rising sun which many consider to be much related to the assault and untold suffering Japan inflicted on it neighbours when it was Nazi Germany’s ally. Last month the Tokyo government’s education board indicated it would punish teachers who refuse to hoist the flag or sing the national anthem at school ceremonies. Right-wingers will noisily approach schools that might forget. Nobody will ask them to put the volume down even if, as most often, nobody is listening to their hate speeches. Doing so in front of Shibuya’s station with its hundreds of potential witnesses and the visible presence of uniformed police officers standing at their box positioned 30 meters away is no guarantee of a lesser degree of violence on their part. As I have learned with my own blood a few years ago, the more people watching the more emphatic the lesson.

For three years Koizumi has been infuriating Asia especially, South Korea and China by paying annual tributes to the Yasukuni Shrine were WW2 criminals are enshrined amongst all the Japanese soldiers and civilian victims of that war. The Shrine is considered sacred since during the war soldiers shouted that they would meet there after death. Attempts to have it replaced by a non-religious monument are fought with much help from the right-wingers in their buses. Funds are now being collected for the construction of a Shrine dedicated to Hirohito the Emperor never convicted by the Allies after the war. Both Prime Minister Koizumi and current Tokyo Governor Ishihara, who is well known for his racist rhetoric, are heroes to the right-wingers. The governor has repeatedly said that Japan should attack North Korea. He is also known for his arrogant anti China opinions; he insists that Japan rearm itself, which is merely a case of publicly stating the obvious as Tokyo has been quietly building military strength for years. Last week he described the people of China as “ignorant” in reference to their recent success in launching a manned spaceship using what he considers outdated technology. A few days before he repeated that Koreans had chosen to be colonized by Japan. The black buses praise the governor on the streets even more since he has said a high-ranking official deserved the bomb found in his garage in September. Thus, most rightwing groups who had been vociferating there anti American stance for years suddenly support the American attack on Iraq hoping it will provide justification for a similar assault on North Korea. Several buses welcomed George last month by blasting the US national anthem around his embassy compound while roaring their aversion to North Korea.

These are tough times for peace activists in Japan. The media has fuelled the hysterical mood of many politicians and the country in general. Governor Ishihara is the most popular politician in Japan. Exhibiting anti war signs can be dangerous in this land of supposed harmony. As I have again learned the hard way during the protests in late March, the black bus drivers will not hesitate to try ramming a little van covered with a peace sign even if it is surrounded by ten police officers. NHK, the public television broadcaster, usually the last network to report on the country’s ruling party corruption scandals is obviously pro-American and still very much embedded. The network ignores the protests. The never-ending saga of the five former abducted Japanese by North Korea, repatriated a year ago is always big news while the hundred of thousands of still uncompensated South Asian war slaves abducted or forced to come to Japan 60 years ago are no news. According to the views of the right-wingers and many influential members of the ruling political party, Japan and its divine Emperor were the victims of the war. A huge and newly renovated imperialist war museum that sits beside the Yasukuni shrine explains the revisionists’ views. Could anybody blame the paranoid Kim Jung Il for wishing to acquire a nuclear deterrent? Last year he apologized for the abduction issue. Renewed dialogues with him should be the top priority of the Japanese government. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Installing fear and insisting on rumours of missiles heading to Japan are having a dangerous effect and they will, most probably, re-elect Koizumi and his cronies on November 9. George remains a good model. We can expect him to be back soon for more Japanese goodies.

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