In the wake of World War II, Japanese ex-military officers and ardent nationalists formed a loosely knit network to preserve the prewar Imperial system (insofar as possible under the yoke of the U.S. occupation) and eventually to reconstitute the Japanese Army. This network was established in part by Arisue Seizo, chief of the intelligence department at Imperial General Headquarters at the end of the war. Many former Japanese Army and navy officers, who were purged during the occupation, maintained close ties with one another, their subordinates, and their superiors.
In September 1945, Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, MacArthur's devoutly conservative and anti-communist chief of intelligence (G-2) for the Far East Command, quietly enlisted Arisue to set up a clandestine intelligence section. United States intelligence personnel put unrepentant Japanese nationalists and military officers, some of whom had planned and conducted a pitiless war against Western influence in Asia, to work on projects designed to enhance U.S. security in the region and resist the spread of communism. In so doing, the United States offered material and financial support to a group that shared only the vaguest of anti-communist goals with US officials and actively pursued its own often varying and conflicting - but primarily ultra-nationalist - agendas. Moreover, many Japanese agents directly or indirectly employed by military intelligence had criminal or suspected criminal pasts. According to the CIA, G-2 cut funding for its Japanese-led operations in 1952 in anticipation of the end of the occupation.
Right-wing extremists were diverse. In 1989 there were 800 such groups with about 120,000 members altogether. By police count, however, only about fifty groups and 23,000 individuals were considered active. Right-wing extremists indulged in a heady romanticism with strong links to the prewar period. They tended to be fascinated with the macho charisma of blood, sweat, and steel, and they promoted (like many nonradical groups) traditional samurai values as the antidote to the spiritual ills of postwar Japan. Their preference for violent direct action rather than words reflected the example of the militarist extremists of the 1930s and the heroic "men of strong will" of the late Tokugawa period of the 1850s and 1860s. The modern right-wing extremists demanded an end to the postwar "system of dependence" on the United States, restoration of the emperor to his prewar, divine status, and repudiation of Article 9. Many, if not most, right-wingers had intimate connections with Japan's gangster underground, the yakuza.
The ritual suicide of one of Japan's most prominent novelists, Mishima Yukio, following a failed attempt to initiate a rebellion among Self-Defense Forces units in November 1970, shocked and fascinated the public. Mishima and his small private army, the Shield Society (Tate no Kai), hoped that a rising of the Self Defense Forces would inspire a nationwide affirmation of the old values and put an end to the postwar "age of languid peace."
Although rightists were also responsible for the assassination of socialist leader Asanuma Inejiro in 1960 and an attempt on the life of former prime minster Ohira Masayoshi in 1978, most of them, unlike their prewar counterparts, largely kept to noisy street demonstrations, especially harassment campaigns aimed at conventions of the leftist Japan Teachers Union. In the early 1990s, however, there was evidence that a "new right" was becoming more violent. In May 1987, a reporter working for the liberal Asahi Shimbun was killed by a gunman belonging to the Nippon Minzoku Dokuritsu Giyugun Betsudo Sekihotai (Blood Revenge Corps of the Partisan Volunteer Corps for the Independence of the Japanese Race), known as Sekihotai (Blood Revenge Corps). The Sekihotai also threatened to assassinate former Prime Minister Nakasone for giving in to foreign pressure on such issues as the revision of textbook accounts of Japan's war record. In January 1990, a member of the Seikijuku (translatable, ironically, as the Sane Thinkers School) shot and seriously wounded Nagasaki mayor Motoshima Hitoshi. The attack may have been provoked by the leftist rocket attacks on imperial residences in Tokyo and Kyoto a few days earlier as well as by the mayor's critical remarks concerning Emperor Hirohito.
During the 1990s the right made a comeback, charging that American feminism and liberal, Western guilt were causing the Japanese to lose their pride in themselves. In 1998 Justice Minister Shozaburo Nakamura captured these sentiments when he declared to several hundred ministry officials at a New Year's Party that the "peace constitution" was an oppressive relic "handed down by the Allied forces to the Japanese people." He further complained that globalization was an American plot to destroy the Japanese economy and society. Nakamura had to resign in March 1999 over his remarks -- and alleged abuse of power -- but his contempt for the United States was widely shared.
Japanese nationalists argue they have a "clean" past, and that the postwar decades have been a detour from a proud, strong and independent Japan that should always exist. Resentment of shifting attention to China, coupled with strategic tensions with China, have strengthened the hand of Japanese nationalists who think their country should once more possess the military power to rival that of its neighbors. The lack of recognition of Japan at international institutions struck many Japanese as profoundly unjust - and led some to wonder whether military rearmament might be one way to help their country get the respect it lacks and deserves.
The apotheosis of Japanese conservative nationalism, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, resuscitating the "arrogance" of Japanese imperialism, said Koreans chose Japanese annexation of their country in 1910. Ishihara added salt to the Korean wound: ". . . the annexation was the fault of their ancestors, and even though Japan's rule was in the form of colonialism, it was advanced and humanitarian."
One sign of Japanese nationalism is the rapid growth of youth nationalist societies, some of which inserted themselves in the island disputes between Japan and China on the South China Sea, especially over the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Tai). Due to the North Korean threat, the mood in Japan was one of a feeling of powerlessness. Reports of "North Korean guided missiles threaten Japan" were plastered widely. With uncomfortable echoes of a leaderless, drifting Japan of the Taisho period of the 1920s and 1930s, Japanese nationalists continued to gain political and social ground in Japan.
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