No more Dennis Hasterts for Japan, says Komori

Washington-based Sankei Shimbun veteran Yoshihisa Komori’s blog has gained some attention since its inception for two major incidents:

  1. A column of his lashing out at a government-funded research institute that was producing “anti-Japan” scholarship, which eventually led to its closure. The move was documented and condemned by Washington Japan policy wonk Steve Clemons in a Washington Post Op-ed calling Komori a member of Japan’s emerging right-wing “thought police.”
  2. Komori’s criticism of pro-China left-wing Japanologist Gregory Clark of Akita International University sparked a flame war between Clark and Komori’s readers. In response, Clark complained in the Japan Times of ideological harassment.

It may be true that Komori has used his position to put pressure on the left, but the claims made by Clemons that he is “not unaware that his words frequently animate [violent right-wing extremists],” however, seem to carry little water (at least based on the one example of Komori’s involvement in the aforementioned incident). At any rate, regardless of where you stand on Komori, it cannot be denied that the man is an experienced journalist with deep knowledge and insight, especially on issues of US-Japan relations.

It is with that in mind that I recommend his recent article (an excerpt from an article in December issue of monthly magazine SAPIO) from Jan 16 on the changes the new Congress will have in store in terms of individual members’/party stances toward Japan. Essentially, he rebukes the idea popular among some Japanese watchers of the US-Japan relationship that a Democratic Congress would suddenly turn hostile to Japan. No, he argues, the US Congress’ attitude toward Japan is far more complicated:

First of all, dividing American Congress members as “pro-Japan” or “anti-Japan” invites some misunderstanding. The word “anti-Japan” implies a perception that is somewhat removed from the reality of American politics. To put it bluntly, pro-Japan people do not exist in the US Congress and administration. To be pro-Japan means to have positive feelings for Japan or to like Japan.

The idea of a pro-Japan Congressperson would make one think of a politician who makes political statements and actions based on his affection or positive feelings toward Japan. Unfortunately, however, there are no such Congresspeople in the US Congress. It would disqualify them as US Congresspeople to change their legislative activities just because they like Japan.

[There are also people who are pro-Japan on the surface only because they think that the US-Japan alliance is in the US national interest. At the same time, there are “Japan experts” or those who have either lived, studied abroad in, or studied about Japan. These people have deep knowledge and understanding of Japan, but just because they know about Japan it doesn’t mean they are pro-Japan]

While emphasizing the above points, I have noticed that the biggest reason it seems like the “pro-Japan faction” in the new US Congress has declined is because Dennis Hastert (R, Ohio), former Speaker of the House since 1998, has stepped down. Hastert has experience living and teaching English in Osaka in the 1970s, and ever since he has often shown his closeness with Japan. For example, in 2003 when the “Families Association” including Sakie Yokota whose kin was kidnapped by North Korea visited Washington, it is well-known that Speaker Hastert greeted them in Japanese, saying “Yoku irasshaimashita” (Welcome!)

It is a fact that Hastert placed emphasis on Japan as Speaker in the process of holding deliberations on bills and hearings, and maintained a stance of firmly maintaining the alliance with Japan. For Hastert to go from Speaker to a regular representative perhaps means a loss in the power to place emphasis on Japan.

However, there are quite a few Congresspeople who value the relationship with Japan in both chambers. The reason there are so many in the Republican Party is probably because the Republican Bush Administration has taken the policy of emphasizing Japan. Rep. Senator Sam Brownback, too, has expressed sympathy and understanding of Japan for year, particularly with regard to the abduction issue. He has taken the utmost consideration of Japan’s humanitarian anguish with his efforts in holding hearings and press conferences. Brownback emphasizes all aspects of the US-Japan relationship and always speaks of Japan using positive expressions. He has shown interest in running in the 2008 presidential election.

Conservative Republican politicians such as Hastert and Brownback all place great importance on the US-Japan alliance. Similarly, another man who has made clear his stance to value Japan due to the importance of maintaining the US-Japan alliance is Rep. Sen. John McCain. He is the front-runner candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential election.

The Democracts also have a near consensus in terms of maintaining the US-Japan alliance. One politician who knows Japan well and often talks about Japan is Dem. Sen Jay Rockefeller (WV, [who studied abroad at International Christian University in Tokyo for 3 years]). He often criticized Japan over the bilateral trade problems throughout the 1980s, but he has been consistent in espousing the alliance with Japan in terms of security.

Komori notes at the end that it’s not that simple to read the US Congress in simple pro or anti Japan terms. And anyway, it doesn’t matter that much anymore because the relationship has stabilized. There are no more major trade concerns, and anyway there is no way Japan can get a spot on the agenda with China getting everyone’s attention, not to mention the whole host of other foreign policy issues. While Congresspeople from either party might take an anti-Japan stance when jobs in their home districts are threatened, or the Democrats might go anti-Japan to please labor, these are not life or death concerns in the grand scheme of the relationship. Of course, worsened security situation in Asia or the unlikely prospect of a Nixon Shock-style financial crisis could make the US-Japan issue relevant and sexy again, I wouldn’t count on it.

Komori’s point seems to be one that I heard often when I was in Washington: Japan has little to worry about from losing “Japan hands” in high offices (such as when Mike Green stepped down as NSC adviser on Asian affairs in 2005). Perhaps in the rest of the article he makes this explicit. But I have to wonder about these reassurances: Japan has been relying more on the familiar Washington lobbyists recently as opposed to the traditional “Japan lobby,” but didn’t Hastert’s stance toward Japan come in handy when a Japan-backed lobbyist quelched a resolution condemning Japan’s supposed lack of reflection over WW2 atrocities? And isn’t it easier for people like the Washington-based Komori to do their own lobbying (say, brokering meetings between the Families Association and Hastert or helping hold hearings on an issue that has near-zilch to do with the US national interest) when the lobbied have warm feelings toward Japan already? Perhaps the lesson to be learned from the new Congress is that Japan shouldn’t count on seeing many “pro-Japan” Congresspeople from now on since people just aren’t paying that much attention to Japan issues right now. Whether that’s good or bad for Japan is somewhat besides the point.

45 thoughts on “No more Dennis Hasterts for Japan, says Komori”

  1. 29hits and nobody leave a single comment….
    OK,just for a starter,Who believes what Steven Clemons says about Japan and Why?

  2. The Clemons article was reprinted in the Japan Times, last August or September. Aceface, I doubt that you’re implying he made it up; what he’s written is certainly factually true. “The large business federation” that he refers to is Keidanren, which in early 2006 had publicly spoken out against the idea of Koizumi visiting Yasukuni, on the grounds that it was bad for business. If you remember, Mr Watanabe, President of the Yomiuri, had publicly voiced the same opinion in his own editorials (he seems to have had some sort of personal falling out with Koizumi that was never elaborated upon). Those voices died down rather quickly after this Sankei editorial ran and after Mr Kato’s family home was burned down (though that appears to have been the work of a lone nutjob).

  3. Sorry,Ken.But to me the Clemons article is just as reliable as What Dick Cheney says on Iraq in Fox News.
    First of all JIIA is a 100 %MOFA run institute,not a NPO like Brookings or CFA in the States.I don’t know how many people exactly read the commentary section(I know I did)but to me this case fits into the category of just another low-stakes battle between policy wonks at best.But I would simply say komori just made an argument.As he said so in his own article, one government branch should not come against with another.Whether you agree or disagree is matter of the choice.But if I were MOFA official like president Satoh,I would lower my voice for obvious reasons.

    Now about Yomiuri,did their voice died down rather quickly?I don’t think so.
    Especially they are selling two full volumes of books on war responsibility now in every bookstore in the country.Have you noticed that Watanabe said he will pursue the special article for whole year?He meant whole 2006.The incident took place in August,and It took four months to die down?

    “The large business federation”that Clemons was refering was KeizaiDouyukai,not Keidanren as you wrote I think,for that is what Tony Kobayashi is leading for years.Although I admit Keidanren president Hiroshi Okuda of Toyota was critical to Yasukuni visit
    and never turned it down.There were criticism of business leaders are putting their business interest above dignity of the fallen soldiers.A natural objection if you ask me.And business is the top priority for any CEOs and that too is natural thing.

    Now the hard part,Do everyone think the right wing really a threat to establishment like 30’s?My answer is No.

    What I’m saying is this.Yes there is threat come from the right wing,I could immediately recall three people got killed by right wings .One is Chairman Asanuma of SPJ by a seventeen year old in the 50’s.A housekeeper of ChuouKouron president Shimanaka when they printed the short story by Fukasawa Shichiro with vivid description of whole imperial family slaughtered by the revolutionaries.The last case was DPJ congress man Ishii Koukii stubbed by Korean Japanese right wing lone nutjob(complex background) asking for money.So yes.They are definitely the enemy of the free society.But these happened in the time span of half century.Connecting them with dots and picturing the situation like 30’s is just absurd.We Asahi subscribers are used to this liberal scare tactic though. But I’m quite sure being a gynecologist in America or going to mushroom hunting in Iwate is more dangerous.

  4. And Asanuma was 1960 not “the 50’s”.

    Anyway, analysts I spoke to in Tokyo are shit-scared of a possible ’08 Democratic Victory, and in particular a Clinton Victory. Why? Two reasons.

    1) They believe a Clinton victory will spark recriminations similar to those of the 1990s or a deemphasis on China to the detriment of Japan as was the case during Bill’s tenure, and

    2) Hillary has a soft spot for Iris Chang. It seemed that she believed Chang’s view about history not being openly discussed in public in Japan, and the two had an extended private session so that Chang could tell her what was what about the Nanjing Massacre. Hillary for her part was instrumental in plugging Chang’s book.

    One analyst I interviewed said that a second Clinton Administration would be a “disaster” for Japan.

  5. Was Bill Clinton really a “disaster” for Japan? What does “deemphasis on China to the detriment of Japan as was the case during Bill’s tenure” mean? Don’t forget that he actually dispatched the Navy for a staredown with the PRC in 1996.
    Luckily it ended calmly and relations between the US and China improved, while also maintaining Taiwanese independence, but he was certainly willing to stand up to China on something important.

  6. ”And Asanuma was 1960 not “the 50’s”
    .しまった。I knew “The Human Locomotive”organized massive anti security treaty rally aginst Abe’s grandpa.What was I thinking…

    I knew David Gergen had a hard on for Iris and Clemons call her “intellectual soulmate”or something.yikes.

    “Anyway, analysts I spoke to in Tokyo are shit-scared of a possible ‘08 Democratic Victory, and in particular a Clinton Victory.”
    Why not we just unleash those “agents of influence” allmighty Japan lobbyists to stop that happening.if there really are any such.
    Things I hate about Darth Chalmers and his Sith apprentice Clemons are bringing these conspiracy theories endlessly knowing they are not for real from the very beginning.

  7. “Was Bill Clinton really a “disaster” for Japan? ”
    Yes,he was.Only Jimmy Carter went below him.But then again he is a better ex President…..

  8. Komori is a talented journalist and well-informed on American politics and government. He’s at his best when he writes analysis like the above. Unfortunately, he’s just shrill and annoying when he comes back to play in his rightist blog sandbox in Japan.

    An awful lot of people in Japan see the American political landscape in terms of this black and white struggle between the “bad, warmongering party of Bush” and the “good, eco-friendly party of Clinton” (and Gore; look for more of this now that his movie’s playing in Japanese theaters). Or the good, pro-Japan GOP and the untrustworthy, China-leaning Dems. The stark dichotomy that gets chosen depends a lot on the observer’s own bias in the first place. But the stuff posted above is closer to the truth; Japan remains an important partner for America no matter what happens to swing the Congressional balance of power back and forth.

  9. MF

    sorry “deemphasis on China to the detriment of Japan” should have been “emphasis on China to the detriment of Japan”. That Japan-watchers often bang on about “Japan passing” and Clinton’s having travelled to Beijing without stopping in Tokyo, and general focus on the China-America trade relationship over that of the Japan-America relationship, this seems to be an important concern.


    “An awful lot of people in Japan see the American political landscape in terms of this black and white struggle between the “bad, warmongering party of Bush” and the “good, eco-friendly party of Clinton” (and Gore; look for more of this now that his movie’s playing in Japanese theaters).”

    Could it be that the American system of government actually encourages this? When you have so much foreign policy power in the hands of one individual and the general direction of American foreign policy tends to swing back and forth over periods of four or eight years depending on who is the president, can anyone really blame the Japanese for thinking this? Sure, there may be nuances depending on which party controls the house or senate, but as the President is deemed to be the “sole organ of foreign policy” people overseas making passing observations on the relationship of their country to the U.S. will generally start their analysis with a president, who likely feels no pressure from the electorate for the majority of his term. This is not a habit particular to the Japanese, by the way.

  10. Hmmm… just because he understand the complex US-Japan relations dont’ means that he have the same understanding on the complex China-Japan relation. He represent a the old school, Ally of the US and enemy of China. Shoot down other’s opinions in the way he did damage the image of Japan.

    Is Japan going back to the old militarism? At these speed, not’ tomorrow, maybe in 10 or 20 years. But because I am not’ american I can see that is very tipical that some americans defend people that kills open debate (freedom).

  11. “Shoot down other’s opinions in the way he did damage the image of Japan”
    How’s that so?For having a policy debate with another policy wonk damage the image of Japan?And Komori was also a correspondent to Beijing ,You know.

  12. Now the hard part,Do everyone think the right wing really a threat to establishment like 30’s?My answer is No.

    If by ‘right wing’ you mean the 10,000 nutjobs who drive around in the black buses listening to gunkan, then I agree with you. Do I think there’s more conservative pressure to conform to a certain norm? To some degree – the city of Tokyo’s case against its teachers would be a good example of that.

  13. One reason to read Steve Clemons: Along with Komori he is one of the few free, online sources of information available on what’s happening in the Washington Japan policy scene. Reading those two blogs and keeping tabs on CSIS events are the closest I can get to being there while I’m in Thailand. Oh, and the Japan Considered podcast covers it on occasion as well.

    Could one of the fears of a Democratic White House be that people like Clemens will be given a policy role? That I could see giving some people headaches.

  14. Ken:
    “I pledge allegiance to the flag and sung Star-Spangled Banner every morning,knowing all this would create a havoc if practiced back home.”
    That’s what I wrote for another blog.Now I’m wondering.If I can pledge the flag of some other country why can’t my son pledge mine.Sure, he is not a Japanese,but I wasn’t American at the time either.Maybe it might make him more assimilate to the his chosen home.
    These die hard left are quite a tyrant of a kind in the classroom.Back in the States commies are often just a radical liberals,here commies are card carrying communists.If they want practice politics they better do it outside of the classroom.
    That’s what I been thinking from the day of my childhood.
    You just can’t vote with your feet,if you are a minor.You know.

    Reading CSIS is one thing.(Ralph Cossa seems to be a informed man and I like his people’s writing too)But Reading Clemons and komori is something else.(Although I know they perticipate in CSIS related events from time to time)
    I mean what Clemons write….that’s not diplomacy.That is a typical washington speak by washignton political animal.And Komori….I agree with Durf on him.

  15. Aceface: I’m confused about something…has someone actually tried to deny your son the right to pledge to the Japanese flag? Or the American flag?

  16. I was a bit confused too… You can always salute the Japanese flag in your free time right? Or the American one. Who was forcing what now? Anyway, here is my relevant anecdote.

    My mom tells me that in first grade I refused to put my hand on my heart and say the pledge of allegiance because I thought it was stupid (even if I didn’t understand what it actually meant at the time), the teacher called home, and my mom reminded her that it was illegal to force children to say the pledge, the teacher stopped bothering me about it, and I pretty much haven’t done it since.

  17. Ken:
    You should be.I was working for all night,and some of my comment don’t make any sense.

    I used to live in the States in 80’s.

    My step son is a mongolian national living in Japan.

    From my own experience in the states,I come to the conclusion flag raising is harmless.And these national symbols could be the necessary evil for integration of children of different ethnicity.

    But here in Japan some sect of leftwing teachers union are against bringing the national flag and anthem to schools.and it’a all for their decade old dogma.They should spend more time on dealing bully instead.(they did nothing back in my days)

    And as long as you are student,it is the teacher who teach what is right or wrong.and from my own experience,they act like a commissar sometimes.
    I couldn’t stand them.But you just can’t run away from them until you graduate.

    But I thought you were against hinomaru in Schools,or at least saw it a sign of the rising natiionalism and side with them,which is the teachers,Steven Clemons,et al.

    And I thoght “I don’t agree with him on this one.”
    because this is not a matter of right or left to me.simply basic stuff.

    Making myself understood,Ken?

    I don’ t want salute any flag in my free time.I just want to see the end on this flag business and move on.

  18. But frankly speaking I can always turn down this flag business.
    The point I wanted make in the discussion with Ken was Yes,Japan maybe shifting toward right,but we’ve been tilt to left for quite sometime.If you want put house in stable position you’ve gotta push from the rightward.and that is what Japan is doing right now.

    I’ve got a feeling I’m igniting more arguments here.

  19. I only see it listed as 23 responses… No hate mail either. Maybe people really aren’t very emotional about the flag. I know I’m not.

  20. A BBC article about the death of floppy discs says this:

    Interestingly, software giant Microsoft seems to be keeping the flame alight for the floppy.

    Its newly-released operating system Vista still pays homage to it by continuing to use a floppy disk as the icon for saving a document in Microsoft Word 2007.

    The thought of that floppy disc icon surviving gives me more of a feeling of patriotism than the flag. What does this say about me?

  21. Just found out.Lewis”Scooter”Libby ,the ex-Dick Cheney aide and currently on trial,had taught English in Kanazawa.船橋洋一「ペニンシュラ・クエスチョン第二次朝鮮半島核危機」朝日新聞社刊was the book.One lose for Japan and one gain for Democrats?

  22. Scooter Libby also wrote a novel set in Japan. It sounded kind of strange, there was some kind of a sex scene involving a woman in a cage, and possibly a bear. Do you think it was based on his experience as an English teacher?

  23. Here is the passage from the Libby novel:

    The young samurai’s mother had the child sold to a brothel, where she swept the floors and oiled the men and watched the secret ways. At age ten the madam put the child in a cage with a bear trained to couple with young girls so the girls would be frigid and not fall in love with their patrons. They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest. Groups of men paid to watch. Like other girls who have been trained this way, she learned to handle many men in a single night and her skin turned a milky-white.

  24. “They fed her through the bars and aroused the bear with a stick when it seemed to lose interest. ”
    So much for “the compassionate conservative”!

  25. Bryce:
    Could it be that the American system of government actually encourages this? When you have so much foreign policy power in the hands of one individual and the general direction of American foreign policy tends to swing back and forth over periods of four or eight years depending on who is the president, can anyone really blame the Japanese for thinking this?

    Certainly not. In fact it’s a close mirror to the simplistic dual view most Americans seem to have of the whole situation. My party is the good one, and the other guys are evil. It leads to a disconnect when you get Bush supporters whining about Democrats’ excessive spending, even though their guy is the one who’s been writing checks nonstop for six years now; or when Kerry gets painted as the antigun Democrat despite his own fine record of gun craziness. 😉

    In the end, though, that’s mostly a question of image. You have two parties who will do what’s right for only one thing: continued political power. And that means working for interests with money and other forms of sway, and Japan has long had that. You can say that “Carter and Clinton were bad news for Japan,” but look back at what took place during those administrations and it’s hard to point to any lasting harm to the Japanese, or to US-Japan ties. Unless you’re Robyn Lim. Then you can probably come up with plenty of examples.

    I only wish this blog were worthy of more hate mail.

    Advertising, man! You gotta get some stories linked on 2ch and on loopy extremist Japanese blogs. There are a few out there that hate my company; I’d be happy to put in a word for you. 😀

  26. Question: If the “apologize for comfort women” resolution passes as it’s apparently likely to do, will this actually be a nightmare for Japan? There’s been a gradual decline in the effectiveness of “Japan bashing” over the years, and no one even batted an eyelash when Abe picked China over the US for his first foreign visit. If Japan’s lobbying interests cannot actually stop this from passing, can’t Japan just let these lawmakers that this issue has nothing to do with them?

  27. I don’t see it as having much effect on Japan at all, with the exception of a few apoplectic revisionists. So long as the J. government forces most likely to get upset about such a resolution are the same forces that want to keep military ties strong with Washington, there’s little chance of a split between the allies. (Unless this thing is supposed to have any more teeth than any of the ones passed censuring China . . . We’ve seen how effectove those are in getting Beijing to change its ways.)

  28. FDR, The World War 2
    Harry S.Truman,the Korean war
    JFK and LBJ ,the War in Vietnam and Indochina.

    You’re right Durf、Carter and Clinton did no any lasting harm to the Japanese, or to US-Japan ties.

  29. ”don’t see it as having much effect on Japan at all, with the exception of a few apoplectic revisionists. ”

    That’s the problem Durf!Think about what just 1% of the schools that adopted the right wing history textbook had done to Japan’s reputation.It’s not about numbers nor how deep the real influence is.With the Korean presidential race gets heat up and the-first-time-in-five-years Wen’s state visit , possible Abe become lameduck(and Aso for PM), and all.Nobody knows what the chain reaction is going to be.Maybe DJ DOC will come out and confess it was him who actually wrote the song.and starts singing Fuck Zapan redux.

    That’s why democrat worries me…..

  30. Hey Ace, I saw 0.4% for the Tsukurukai book acceptance rate. I’m not sure if that was schools or percentage of students, however. Were you just “rounding off”, or did you see different information? I don’t want to nitpick, I’m just curious because I’m talking about this in an article that I’m writing and there was surprisingly little coverage of the book’s failure (zip in the international press).

  31. I’ve also seen 0.4%, but that was the use rate of the first edition of the book. I haven’t seen any numbers yet for the second edition, probably because there hasn’t yet been enough time for schools to be replacing their books, which after all is only done every several years. I do think I’ve seen that 0.4% number in international newspapers though, but I have no idea when or where so I could be imagining it.

  32. It is 0.4%.My mistake.Previously I typed “less than 1%” somewhere in the comment and I meant the same way.I”round off”(although 0.4 will never be 1 anyway)Sorry.M-Bone and MF.

    About democrats resolution.What do they say about;

    a)The system was built with the intention to stop sexual assault in the front by the Japanese soldier and many in Japan thinks most of the comfort women were Japanese and all were under free contracts.Therefore not to be coinsidered as “sex slaves”nor “rape camp”.

    b)Miyazawa’s official apology at his visit to South Korea to comfort women

    c)Obuchi’s continued apology(this time in paper)at the summit with Kim Dae Jung in Tokyo.

    d)Treaty on basic relation between Japan and Korea which had recently decalssified in Seoul despite countless Tokyo’s oppositions and proved that it was Seoul who denounce the compensation to the individuals but to the whole country

    e)Asia Women Fund established to help comfort women.(a fiasco ,thanks to Korean NPO and media)

    f)The system (although changed its name)continued after the war for allied personal to avoid the same in Japan.

    g)and what does American congress wants to achieve by sticking their nose into this dispute.

    Seems to my eyes Senator Evans just took everything what the Korean lobby had told him without checking the facts with Tokyo( although I admit
    what Korean and Chinese says about the event dominate the international media,including that of Tokyo correspondents).

    I’m seriously pissed about NHK lost a law suit on ETV SPECIAL case.Court had decleared that NHK had betrayed the “expectation” of VAWNET-JAPAN.Everybody in my office freaked out hearing that.Every media coverage on these issues has to be give up the freedom of editing and writing and destined to become a propaganda vehicle of the focus group?It is a death sentence to not just NHK but to the whole Japanese journalism.
    What I know from hearing my friend working for NHK ETV about this case is completely against the Asahi coverage.and as I watched the very program I didn’t get any impression that NHK tried to whitewash the past.Hata’s appearance was necessary to show there are counterargument in Japan for the “People’s courrt”.(I’m still wondering why NHK chose this topic in the form of covering “people’s court” in the first place.)

  33. This page has some numbers for the Heisei 13 textbook cycle (they do these things every three years, or maybe six, depending on the subject):

    I poked around briefly on the MEXT site but didn’t find the source for these numbers. There’s a list at the bottom of this page showing which schools chose the Fusosha book for their junior highs.

  34. Mutantfrog – It was 0.03% for the first edition of the book (gloatingly reported by the left in a number of contexts). 0.4% for the second (the figure is listed on the Tsukurukai web page, the books have already been picked). They increased their share by a factor of 10 (from squat to squat x 10) but last I heard they decided to call it a day (decade) on the textbooks and focus on other media.

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