Some recommended light reading: Burma democracy movement news site The Irrawaddy has published a profile of Ryoichi Sasakawa, the enigmatic right-wing figure who went from war profiteering in Manchukwo to development state profiteering as the yacht racing (kyotei) mogul/ostentatious philanthropist.
A report prepared in June 1947 by US army intelligence described Sasakawa as “a man potentially dangerous to Japan’s political future…He has been squarely behind Japanese military policies of aggression and anti-foreignism for more than 20 years. He is a man of wealth and not too scrupulous about using it. He chafes for continued power. He is not above wearing any new cloak that opportunism may offer.”
Twenty years later, Sasakawa was the head of a multinational foundation, named after himself, which funded health and educational programs mainly in Asia. He claimed to be a man of peace, and one branch of his philanthropical empire was even named “The Sasakawa Peace Foundation.” When he died in 1995, his deepest regret was said to have been that he never got the Nobel Peace Prize.
From the very beginning, Burma was one of the countries where the Sasakawa Foundation and its sister organization, the Nippon Foundation, were especially active. Apart from being an associate of Kodama, Sasakawa was also close to Nobusuke Kishi, the Japanese prime minister from 1957 to 1960—and, in the late 1940s, also a prisoner in Sugamo. Kishi led the once influential Burma Lobby in Japan, and the Japan-Burma Association counted among its members 11 trading companies allowed to operate in various aid projects in Burma prior to 1988.
A native of Osaka, he was born in 1899 into a family of wealthy sake brewers. In the 1930s, he led an ultranationalist group called Kokusui Taishuto, or the “Patriotic People’s Mass Party,” which grew to 15,000 members. Each one of them wore a dark uniform fashioned after Benito Mussolini’s Italian Blackshirts. He also had his own airplanes, which transported supplies for the Japanese army. In 1939, Sasakawa used one of them to fly to Rome, where he met Mussolini. Years later, he expressed regret about not meeting another European leader at that time: “Hitler sent me a cable asking me to wait for him, but unfortunately I didn’t have time.”
The problem after the war was that the American occupiers in Japan badly needed the extreme right to counter the leftist movement, which was growing strong in the late 1940s. So, in 1948, Sasakawa, Kodama and Kishi were all released and allowed to rebuild their former organizations.
Continue reading Profile of Ryoichi Sasakawa in Irrawaddy