Voices from another time

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text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis

They are usually found parked in front of Shinjuku station’s western exit, across the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kasumigaseki or around the Yasukuni Shrine, the controversial memorial for Japan’s fallen and red flag for the rest of the Eastern Asian countries since it awakens the memories of the Japanese imperialism of the period 1894-1945. And in some special days, like the Constitution Commemoration Day on May 3rd, they multiply to spread the word of their strong and continuing resistance to the “national humiliation” and the “disgrace” that followed the end of World War II and the seven-year occupation by the Allies. In Japanese they are called “gaisensha” (街宣車) or “propaganda vehicles” because either parked or on the move they loudly transmit their messages from their enormous speakers or the platforms rigged on their roofs and they belong to the groups that are collectively called “uyoku dantai” (右翼団体) or “right wing organizations”.

With more than 1000 (not necessarily related) groups, the rhetoric is rather broad; still the target is common: foreigners, usually in the form of the Americans, the Chinese or the Koreans, particularly because of their international politics and more particularly as it is expressed in the territorial disputes over the islands Senkaku and Takeshima. As for their phraseology it will sound very familiar to anyone having read Japanese history from the end of the 19th century afterwards: national identity, loyalty to the Emperor and his identification to the nation’s essence and the ideals of the samurai summarized in the “bushido”, the “warrior’s code” as expressed by Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure” and Yamaga Soko’s “Chucho Jijitsu”.

As is usually the case with followers of extreme ideologies, these groups conveniently overlook whole chapters of the same history they champion and misinterpret (usually on purpose) many details so they can support their views; if they didn’t they would see that present-day Japan is much stronger than that of the Taisho and Showa eras and more than that, it managed to gain this power without having to shed blood. And maybe because this knowledge is quite clear to the majority of the Japanese, the sight of the gaisensha is generally met with indifference and very few stop to listen to the fiery speeches their crews deliver from their roofs, surrounded by imperial crests and war flags. And why should they? Like everyone else, the uyoku are simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech…

 

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. For more information about his work and his writing, visit http://about.me/GrigorisMiliaresis and http://www.japanarekore.gr/

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