Did Japan test an atomic bomb in Korea in 1945?

Robert Kneff of the Marmot’s Hole blog has a neat article in the Korea Times re-telling the little known allegation that Japan tested a nuclear bomb in what is now North Korea shortly before the end of WW2. To be fair, I’ll excerpt the same portion as the Marmot’s Hole did.

It is common knowledge that on October 9, 2006 North Korea tested a small nuclear bomb. But there is debate as to whether or not this was the first atomic bomb test done in Korea. Ever since the end of World War II there have been rumors that Japan, just days before its surrender, tested a small atomic bomb off the coast of modern Hamheung.

I came across this story while doing research on one of my Western gold miners in northern Korea.  This gold miner used to take his gold to the smelter at Konan – in the Hamheung area – and the story eventually encompassed other Westerners working at the this Japanese industrial center including one who, after he returned to the United States, was arrested by the FBI following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This scientist was deemed so valuable that he was allowed to continue to work in a top secret plant and was eventually one of the scientists sent to Korea to investigate the possibility of Japan building and testing an atomic bomb in Korea.

This story always starts the same way – regardless of who publishes it – so why should I be any different?

Allegedly, on the evening of August 11, 1945, a number of ancient ships, junks and fishing boats were anchored near a small inlet by the Japanese. Just before dawn on August 12, a remote controlled launch carrying the atomic bomb known as “genzai bakudan” (greatest fighter), slowly made its way through the assembled fleet and beached itself.

Nearly twenty miles away, observers wearing welders’ glasses were blinded by the bomb’s terrific blast. “The ball of fire was estimated to be 1,000 yards in diameter. A multicolored cloud of vapors boiled towards the heavens then mushroomed in the stratosphere. The churn of water and vapor obscured the vessels directly under the burst. Ships and junks on the fringe burned fiercely at anchor. When the atmosphere cleared slightly the observers could detect several vessels had vanished.”

While this is a good story, there isn’t really any reason to believe it, and no serious evidence aside from this single interview with an anonymous source, which itself may very well have been fabricated in the first place. One detail that jumps out to me as peculiar is the alleged name of the bomb, genzai bakudan, which according to the article means “greatest fighter.” Except of course that translation is total nonsense. In no possible way that I can think of does either genzai or bakudan mean either “greatest” or “fighter.” Bakudan in fact means bomb, which while reasonable as part of a name for a-well- bomb, is completely different from what was claimed. And genzai means either “present time” or “original sin”, neither of which really makes much sense at all.

On another note, this has reminded me that I need to finish the post I started writing on the book “Let’s drop an atomic bomb on Kyoto”, about why Kyoto was not nuked in the war, that I picked up at a used bookshop near Waseda several months ago.

Reconsidering the Reconsideration of Futenma

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The Futenma US Marine Airbase is inconveniently situated in the center of Ginowan City in southern Okinawa. The location is awful, a relic of Japan’s imperial military infrastructure that has military aircraft constantly landing and taking off in a dense urban environment, and the locals want it gone. In the mid-1990s the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the US started to hammer out a relocation plan, and fifteen years later, they finally agreed to move the base to an offshore facility in northern Okinawa.

futenmaJapan’s new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wants to uphold an election pledge to “move away from U.S. dependency to a more equal alliance” — which means reconsidering the Futenma relocation. Hatayama wants to act boldly on this matter, and has decided that instead the base should be moved to… um… somewhere else. Well, maybe — he hasn’t decided yet. Hatoyama’s inability to envision an alternative plan, or even how to approach an alternative plan, combined with the DPJ’s replacement of bureaucrats with elected politicians in the public policy debate, has given the more ambitious members of the cabinet the opportunity to engage in public policy freestyling. Transportation Minister Maehara wants to scrap the plan and go back to square one, Defense Minister Kitazawa wants to keep the plan as it is, and Foreign Minister Okada wants to relocate the base -elsewhere in Japan- -to Guam- elsewhere inside Okinawa. The DPJ vision changes almost daily, and US officials, long numb to Japan’s tedious foot-dragging, are now getting pissed — most noticeably US Defense Secretary Gates, who visited Japan last month and called the reconsideration of the plan “immensely complicated and counterproductive.” But what else should we have expected from these guys? As I warned earlier this year, the DPJ are amateurs suffering cognitive dissonance when it comes to foreign policy, and the longer this abstract debate drags out, US officials will only become more frustrated. And this threatens the stability of the US-Japan relationship.

Most of the “Japan hands” in the blogosphere sympathize with the DPJ. Tobias Harris of Observing Japan says the US needs to wake up to the reality of this new alliance. Michael Cucek at Shisaku has a comprehensive and pessimistic analysis of Obama’s upcoming visit to Tokyo in the broader context of US-Japan relations, which concisely dissects the unique challenge that now face this critical bilateral relationship. To abridge Michael’s key section:

In international law there is the concept of “odious debt” — of national debts incurred by an oppressive regime that a successor regime has the right to refuse to pay. Given the decades the LDP clung to power, many in the present coalition government consider a whole host of Japan’s obligations to be “odious” that they should review and possibly repudiate.

The agreement to transfer Marine Corps elements from the Futenma Airbase to Henoko is the ultimate expression of an odious obligation. It was an LDP solution to an LDP problem: keep American bases off the main islands (even though the amphibious ready unit, the ships the Marines are supposed to ride on, are homeported in Sasebo [in Nagasaki] and the Marine fighter jets in housed at Iwakuni [in Yamaguchi]); keep the Okinawans down and quiet; and keep visiting Americans alternately enchanted and frustrated by disingenuous reports of progress toward the goal, which somehow had to along the way destroy vital dugong habitat. As the Prime Minister and others in the DPJ point out, not even 12 years of LDP governments could bring the Futenma transfer to fruition. That he and his party should be condemned for not imposing an arrangement they oppose on a population that does not want it baffles them. That the United States government continues to insist that they do so exasperates them.

Readers won’t be surprised that I find myself defending the LDP decisions and take issue with the description above, a position that matches that of most of Okinawa’s elected leaders. Let’s look at some key arguments for the Futenma relocation plan:

* The residents of Nago, where the base is to be relocated, support the plan. Mayor Shimabukuro recently came out to agree with Gates, saying the US Defense Secretary is right for being frustrated with the central government’s indecision. Shimabukuro was elected on a platform built on the status quo set by his predecessor, which emphasizes economic growth over everything else, and he won more votes than both of his anti-base opponents combined.

* It’s not just Nago — all twelve mayors of northern Okinawa have publicly accepted the new relocation plan. The DPJ’s waffling has been so unsettling to the locals that the mayor of Kadena is teaming up with the US forces to oppose relocating the relocation to Kadena, promoted by some members of the Hatoyama cabinet as the best alternative, and where one US facility complex already exists.

* Okinawa Governor Nakaima accepts that US bases must stay in Okinawa. Nakaima has a particular knack for balancing the concerns about US bases with the need for the economic benefits that come with it, and has become relatively popular in Okinawa by refusing to side with either faction and instead saves his ire for the national government — all while saying that, in an ideal world, he would prefer bases be relocated outside Okinawa. He criticized the Defense Minsitry under the LDP for “lacking delicacy,” and most recently, didn’t mince words regarding the DPJ’s scattershot public debate on the topic, saying “Okinawa is not the central government’s rock garden.”

* The biggest opponent of the relocation is Mayor Iha of Ginowan, and Ginowan is the center of all the protests — yet this is the municipality that would benefit from the relocation. It really doesn’t make sense — if the mayor and the residents don’t want the base in the city, why are they opposed to moving (most of it) out of the city? As it happens, Mayor Iha is the only elected mayor in Okinawa who vocally wants US forces not just out of Okinawa, but all of Japan. Of course he’s welcome to that opinion, but this is a view far removed from the mainstream public debate in Japan, making him unusual person to be quoted and referenced, unless the Hatoyama administration wants US forces out of Japan altogether (which it doesn’t).

* Construction on the project has already commenced. To a certain extent this follows a similar point I made when reviewing the Yamba Dam. Some dismiss it as the “sunk cost fallacy.” But I disagree, and the DPJ Defense Minsiter Kitazawa has spoken on this point in expressing doubts on changing the relocation plan.

Those are the practical and domestic political reasons for wanting the relocation. But beyond this, let’s review the relocation from the perspective of Japan’s national interest.

For more than half a century, the LDP management of the Japan-US relationship was, frankly, brilliant. Japan recieved dirt cheap defense services by letting the US base on Japan’s soil, yet managed to keep most American servicemen out of major urban areas (unlike Korea, where US bases are inside Seoul’s urban boundaries). Having defense outsourced to America and situated within the American economic sphere, Japan was able to concentrate on economic development and quickly grew to be the world’s second largest economy.

What has Japan done for the United States and the world in exchange for this discounted security? It makes minimum, token contributions to global security, bankrolls a few international development projects, and keeps proactive and material contributions at the bare minimum — or as Shisaku described Futenma, Japan kept “visiting Americans alternately enchanted and frustrated by disingenuous reports of progress.” That sentiment could be applied to much of Washington’s attitudes towards Japan when it comes to becoming more involved in world affairs.

Yet Washington has long tolerated Japan’s indifference to the world because under the LDP, it regularly granted the US unconditional support. Whether it be at the UN, or in supporting the US on tough foreign policy decisions, or in keeping bases available, Japan has long been a solid ally. That means a lot more than you might think. US bases have been kicked out of France, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, and elsewhere, and suffered various woes with regard to fierce public opposition in places such as South Korea and much of Europe. Save for the student protests of the 1960s, Japan has been remarkably reliable — if just in spirit. Or to quote a recent article in the Washington Post, “A senior State Department official said the United States had ‘grown comfortable’ thinking about Japan as a constant in U.S. relations in Asia.”

The DPJ is doing more than trying to break the Futenma deal — it’s breaking the unspoken understanding behind the entire alliance. By pushing for a more “equal” Japan-US relationship (whatever that means), and frustrating the Pentagon on its key issues (such as Futenma), the DPJ risks alienating it’s allies in Washington. And therein lies the danger for Japan’s national interest. America has been calling on Japan to “pull its weight” in contributing to global security for years, and we may be approaching the last straw. The Futenma controversy is compounded by the DPJ pushing to cancel it’s only proactive involvement in the war on terror by ending the refueling mission for US ships in the Indian Ocean.

But Hatoyama has got to accept the fact that neither he nor the Japanese people want an equal relationship with the United States — at least not if they actually saw what it would look like. Japan does not want to have to pay for US bases by sending Japanese SDF forces to Iraq and Afghanistan. They do not want to be diplomatically fending for themselves while repeating complaints about the North Korean abductions and Russia arresting its fisherman. They do not want to push themselves out of the US defensive perimeter, or even in the away direction from the US defensive perimeter. Of course, this may ultimately be good for US national interest, because this is a better time than any to demand Japan to step up to the plate and take a lead in the world. But Japan doesn’t really want that, yet that is where we are going if Hatoyama pursues the “equal alliance” mantra and continues to piss off the US just because it feels good.

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When aliens attacked Kawasaki

Continuing the alien theme started by Curzon:

Close to midnight on August 5, 1952, four American air traffic controllers walking across the tarmac at Haneda Airport (then a US military base) spotted a round, bright object in the sky over Tokyo Bay. They went up to the tower and took a look through their binoculars, and noticed a larger dark ellipse surrounding the light.

Over the next few minutes, the controllers tried to get visual confirmation from an airborne observer plane, which couldn’t see anything. They were able to get a radar fix on the UFO, though, and so they had a scrambled fighter jet intercept it. The pilots didn’t spot the UFO, though, and shortly after the radar intercept the UFO disappeared.

The original US Air Force report is available in scanned format here. Nobody was ever able to explain what happened; my personal theory is that the aliens were coming for Kenzo Tange so they would have someone to do their design bidding on Earth.

CSIS scholar: An aging Japan will lose any hope of controlling its effective sovereignty

Brad Glosserman, a former member of the Japan Times editorial board now with CSIS*,  has a WSJ op-ed (link here just in case) on Japan’s national security situation as its society ages and population declines, taken from a US strategic perspective. It’s pretty grim stuff:

The strategic implications of this shift are equally important. Japan’s demographic transition will act as a guillotine, cutting off the country’s policy options. Most simply, budget priorities will shift. Health care, currently underfunded, will become a considerable drain on the government purse. Defense spending — always a tough sell in Japan — will feel a tighter pinch. Recruitment for the Self Defense Forces, already difficult, will get harder. The reluctance of some Japanese to see their country assume a higher security role will be intensified as the population gets older and more risk averse. Japan will be reluctant to send its most precious asset — its youth — into combat.

Other forces will reinforce Japan’s increasingly inward-orientation. Foreign aid and investment have laid the foundation for Japanese engagement with Asia (and the world). But as the domestic economy dwindles, official development assistance and the investment capital that lubricated foreign relations will shrink. This will diminish Japan’s status in the region as other countries replace Japanese funds.

All won’t be negative: The demographic transition will make it difficult, if not impossible, for other regional powers to demonize Japan as in the past. The bogeyman of remilitarization could be laid to rest for good. This will help eliminate one of the most important obstacles to regional cooperation and provide a real impetus for Asian solutions to Asian problems.

Then he wraps up with some recommendations for how the US can respond to Japan’s demographic changes:

The U.S. needs to be prepared for these contradictory impulses and adjust how it engages Japan accordingly. First, it must abandon the quid pro quo mindset that often characterizes alliance discussions. Japan will have considerably less to contribute to the alliance, but that should not mean the alliance is less important. Discussion should focus on how Japanese contributions serve larger public and regional interests. Japan must do its part and come up with creative ways to share burdens and responsibilities.

Second, the U.S. should shift the alliance’s center of gravity away from military issues. Japanese engagement in this area will become more problematic. If Washington pushes Tokyo harder to make military contributions, it risks politicizing the alliance and undermining its support in Japan.

Third, the U.S. should create and strengthen regional institutions. Regional security mechanisms can pick up the slack as the U.S.-Japan alliance evolves. Other economic and political organizations can minimize tensions in the region. This process should begin soon, while Japan has more influence to maximize its leverage during the creation process. Washington and Tokyo should stop seeing their bilateral alliance and multilateral institutions as zero-sum alternatives. The U.S. should not see this process as a threat to its interests; instead, it should trust Tokyo to see that its interests are respected in these discussions. That would constitute a new form of burden sharing.

Finally, the U.S. has to get its own economic house in order. Washington has relied on Japanese savings — along with those of China and other Asian nations — to finance its profligacy. As Japan ages, it will no longer have those funds to lend to the U.S. This is a potentially wrenching adjustment for America — one that might produce some premature aging of its own.

Typically for op-eds by think-tank people, Glosserman is less interested in making his thoughts clear to the general public than he is in reaching a more sophisticated audience of policymakers. This strategy makes for just this sort of opaque, “wonkish” writing style.

So as the title of this post suggests, I’ll offer the clarity that Glosserman won’t. At the risk of mischaracterizing his argument, here are the points I think he is trying to make:

  • The demographic situation means Japan will get weaker and weaker to the point that it’s too old and financially crippled to credibly defend itself or economically engage with countries in the region.
  • This means the US cannot stop providing a strong defense presence in Japan or else “other countries” will replace Japan as a power in Asia.
  • To get this done, the US needs to pursue a strategy of (1) Pretending the US-Japan alliance is reciprocal by making reasonable demands for Japanese contributions and by not making military issues an explicit focus of the alliance, i.e. stop making loud public demands, (2) Building up regional institutions on terms the US can accept, and do it now before Japan really starts to look bad, (3) Keeping China (and to a lesser extent South Korea) on board as friendly powers so Japan and China can work together on the second piece of the strategy (though he doesn’t outline how to do this); and (4) End the US “reliance on Japanese savings” (that part is light on details as well; I suspect it’s a hastily added reference to the economics topic du jour).
  • If this can be accomplished, a “Beijing-Tokyo axis” can lead efforts to build EU-style integration of the region which will lead to a lasting peace. And they all lived happily ever after.

Got that, Japan? You’re doomed to live out the 21st century as a paralyzed dementia victim, and CSIS is ready to have the US start manipulating you like a ventriloquist’s dummy in America’s efforts to reshape the region.

My brief reaction is that Japan shouldn’t be counted out quite so easily, but America would be foolish not to think realistically in this direction. Funnily enough, he seems to more or less describe America’s existing policy toward Japan (maintain the alliance no matter what), except for a reminder to US leadership that they shouldn’t expect too much of Japan considering where its demographics are headed.

* Glosserman is affiliated with the “Pacific Forum CSIS” located in Honolulu of all places. Sounds like a much more comfortable post than the real CSIS on K Street in Washington.

Years of Mutantfrog Lobbying Finally Successful!

U.S.-Japan dance on F-22 continues

U.S. defense officials are preparing a version of the stealth F-22 Raptor that Japan has expressed strong interest in buying. While the Department of Defense is working to design an export version of the Raptor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, this week sent a letter to Japanese Ambassador the United States Ichiro Fujisaki saying that the F-22 would likely carry a price tag of $290 million. Japan has made it known it would like to buy 40 F-22s, made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, so the potential value of the deal is more than $11 billion…

It has taken some time for U.S. and Japanese negotiators to get a deal together for the F-22. And it will take several years of development to get an export version off the ground since there is a large amount of sensitive technology that U.S. officials believe needs protection. Aviation Week estimated it would be 2017 before delivery of the first aircraft to the Japanese air self-defense force.

Japanese defense officials are reportedly looking at other aircraft, including Lockheed’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is manufactured by a consortium of Alenia Aeronautica, BAE Systems and EADS. Neither have all the stealth capabilities of the Raptor, making them substantially less expensive. The Typhoon is estimated to be about $105 million per plane.

Krauthammer on Japan nukes

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When I checked the news sites this morning I noticed that Andrew Sullivan had linked to this clip of Krauthammer calling for Japan to “declare itself a nuclear state” in response to North Korea’s becoming a “nuclear power,” with the comment “yeah, China will go for that.” For me, the bigger question is whether Japan would go for that. Although the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan is less taboo than it used to be thanks to repeated broaching of the topic by a loose coalition of right-wing political figures, the public at large is still strongly opposed. For example, a public opinion survey conducted in November 2006 shows 14% in favor, 78% against. Those numbers will likely be shown to have changed slightly in the inevitable followup surveys to come within the next week or two, but I would not expect a radical shift.

Incidentally, take note of Krauthammer’s phrasing: “negotiations with the Japanese to encourage them to declare themselves a nuclear power.” He seems to be working under the widely held assumption that Japan already holds all of the technology necessary to build a nuclear bomb (almost certainly true), and had secretly laid all of the necessary groundwork short of the final stops (possibly, but less certain) in such a way that they could have weapons ready within weeks should they suddenly become permissible.

But even if the technology is ready, I just don’t see it happening. Constitutional revision allowing a more conventional military is slowly becoming more and more possible, but decades of anti-nuclear education will not be overturned as easily, whatever the fantasies of American neo-cons.

For once, North Korea has a point – what IS Tamogami doing teaming up with the abductee families?

(UPDATE: In case you didn’t notice, Japan got totally SLAMMED by NK in these articles)

The AFP:

NKorea slams Japan over kidnap issue
Tue Mar 10, 9:56 am ET
SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea accused Japan Tuesday of raising an outcry over the abduction of its civilians in an attempt to find a pretext for recolonising the peninsula.


The North said its military would launch a “merciless” strike on Japan if the former colonial power “dare pre-empt an attack” on the communist country.

The warning came as relatives of a Japanese woman kidnapped by North Korea arrived in South Korea in an attempt to clarify her fate.

Japan, which colonised the Korean peninsula 1910-1945, is trying to find an “absurd” excuse to realise its ambitions for re-invasion, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary, without referring to the case of Yaeko Taguchi.

“Japan’s noisy and disturbing trumpeting about ‘the abduction issue’ is nothing but a prelude to its operation to stage a comeback to Korea,” the agency said.

Taguchi‘s family will meet Kim Hyun-Hee, a pardoned former spy for the North, in the southern city of Busan on Wednesday.

Taguchi’s elder brother Shigeo Iizuka, 70, and her son, Koichi Iizuka, 32, arrived in Busan along with Japanese officials, Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has admitted kidnapping Taguchi in 1978 when she was 22 to train its spies, but said she died in a car crash in July 1986.

But the ex-spy Kim, who had taken Japanese lessons from Taguchi, has said in interviews with local media that Taguchi was alive until at least 1987.

The article makes it sound like the North is plainly spitting in the face of the abduction victim families. But not even North Korea is that tone-deaf. No, their style is much more Norimitsu Onishi than Cruella DeVille. The actual KCNA story says nothing about the PR efforts of the abduction victims and concentrates only the recent statement of someone we’ve covered here before:

KCNA Slams Japanese Militarists’ Agitation of War

Tamogami, former chief of staff of the Air “Self-Defense Force”, in a recent lecture given on the subject of “the abduction issue”, let loose a spate of reckless remarks calling on Japan to “take the posture of attacking north Korea by mobilizing the SDF.”

These are unpardonable outbursts which can be heard only from a man who is hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation with the DPRK and start a war against it.

As well known to the world, Tamogami is a wicked Right-wing reactionary cursed and censured at home and abroad for having spoken for the Japanese militarist forces of late.

What he uttered is peppered with a spate of sophism intended to turn Japan into a military power and realize overseas expansion let loose by the successive Japanese reactionaries ranging from reckless remarks shamelessly whitewashing their past war of aggression to outbursts claiming access to nuclear weapons and the exercise of the “right to collective self-defense.”

Tomogami’s utterances indicate that the Japanese reactionaries’ wild ambition to conquer the Korean Peninsula and other countries in Asia and the rest of the world has reached an extreme phase. This is not only a blatant challenge to the DPRK’s sovereignty but a serious threat to the peace and security of Asia.

The provocative jargon let loose by Tamogami suffices to prove that he is an offspring of those who advocated the militarization of the Japanese society and the process to turn it reactionary and an icon of militarist Japan bereft of the normal way of thinking and off the track of normal development.

The AFP sees a timing decision in this KCNA story, but I am sure the KCNA editors would argue that Tamogami’s timing is too perfect as he is raising his voice at a time of heightened tensions and on a day when the morning news shows all feature the tearful meeting between the plane bomber and the abduction victims. Here is what he said during the February 28 speech specifically on the abduction issue to 250 people at an event sponsored by a “citizens’ group” in Nagoya:

“The abduction issue will not be resolved unless we show (North Korea) a posture that we will beat you to a pulp, even if we have to mobilize the Self Defense Forces.”… When asked specifically what he meant by “beat you to a pulp,” he stated, “North Korea will not budge unless we show the posture that we will use the Self Defense Forces to attack.”

Masumoto and Tamogami
Masumoto and Tamogami

Interestingly, Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the abductee families association and younger brother of an abductee, seemed to agree with Tamogami: “If we could mobilize our Self Defense Force in the same manner as other countries, we could have sunk the spy ships and considerably lessened the number of abductees.”

That North Korea is the detested rogue state that actually perpetrated the kidnappings (and likely murdered/forced suicide on many of them, all under state sponsorship) goes without saying. Nothing can be more absurd than the KCNA’s fantasy of having credibility on this issue, or on just about any issue for that matter.  But while it is always perilous to see North Korea’s side of any debate, I want to emphasize two things:

  1. This insistence on characterizing the most radical right wing elements in Japan as the voice of an influential group who could incite warlike rage in the Japanese populace at a moment’s notice is typical of many “liberal” Japan observers, and it’s no less wrong when they do it. If anything, the far right engages in guerrilla PR tactics to wedge the Japanese government toward one policy or another. That is hardly the image of a group that’s in control. It’s one of the ultimate arguments to keep Japan a weakened client state and it’s a powerful one at that.
  2. To that end, the abduction victims’ movement doesn’t seem to be helping assuage such concerns. Have the victims’ groups ever met a right-wing demagogue they didn’t like? You have to wonder how far they are willing to take their campaign to prioritize this issue over a possible nuclear showdown.   Far from denouncing Tamogami’s comment, the groups appear to be welcoming him into the fold (perhaps a smart move for someone with right-wing political ambitions). On March 6, a week after the controversial comment, leaders of two such groups joined Tamogami for a rally to save the abduction victims. His speech title: “Correct Historical Recognition and the Abduction Issue.”

What the hell is happening in NK?

Reading this FT article makes it sound as if NK is acting seriously belligerent:

North Korea on Monday cut its military hotline to Seoul and put its million-man army at battle stations, ratcheting up tensions as South Korean and US troops began war games that Pyongyang warned could spark open conflict.

UN forces last week tried to counter North Korean claims that the exercises were a smokescreen for an invasion by promising to keep the hotline open, giving Pyongyang advance warning of anything that could cause a misunderstanding.

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency quoted an army spokesman as saying: “It is nonsensical to maintain the normal channels of communication when the South Korean puppets are in a frenzy about these military exercises, levelling their guns at fellow countrymen in league with foreign forces.” 

Severing military communications had an immediate effect on workers trying to reach South Korea’s investment zone at Kaesong in North Korea. Some 726 South Koreans could not reach their factories in Kaesong on Monday because all crossings require clearance on the military hotline.

The communist state also warned that any attempt to shoot down a rocket it plans to launch soon would be an act of war. Pyongyang argues it is simply planning to blast a satellite into space whereas spies insist this is a ruse for testing the Taepodong-2 long-range missile, which could hit Alaska.

South Korea said it deeply regretted North Korea’s moves and sought the immediate resumption of traffic to and from Kaesong.

“As we have mentioned several times, the US-South Korean exercises are defensive in nature and are part of annual training,” said Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the unification ministry.

Even by its own standards, Pyongyang’s rhetoric has been exceptionally bellicose during recent months.

The reclusive state has torn up its non-aggression pacts with the South, vowed not to recognise a tense maritime border and last week said it could not guarantee the safety of South Korean passenger aircraft in its airspace. Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s dictator, is furious that Lee Myung-bak, South Korea’s conservative president, has not courted him in the manner of previous leftwing administrations and has made vital aid to the North contingent on progress in talks about dismantling Pyongyang’s atomic work. Although it tested its first nuclear device in 2006, most military experts do not believe Pyongyang has mastered the technology required to fit a warhead on a missile.

On the home front, Kim Jong-il was, as expected, returned to his country’s most powerful body, the Supreme People’s Assembly, with a vote of 100 per cent in Sunday’s elections. Although that result was a foregone conclusion, analysts are eager to see whether one of his sons has also gained a seat. That would be the clearest sign yet that Mr Kim is grooming a successor, following intelligence reports he suffered a stroke last year.

All very troubling!

Who owns these bodies?

Interesting mini article from the Taipei Times a few days back.

WWII graves located

Taiwan’s representative office in Papua New Guinea has located graves that it believes to be those of Republic of China (ROC) soldiers who died in World War II while they were enslaved by the Japanese army on the Pacific island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Lee Tsung-fen (李宗芬), deputy-head of the ministry’s Department of East Asia and Pacific Affairs, said that local Chinese compatriots said the graves at Rabaul were first discovered by an Australian pilot. It is thought that more than 1,600 ROC soldiers were captured by the Japanese and sent to Papua New Guinea camp during the war. Many of the soldiers reportedly either died in the camp or on the way to it. Lee yesterday said the Ministry of National Defense would send officials to the island to ascertain the identities of those in the graves, adding that the ministry would decide whether to transport the remains back to Taiwan after consulting with the relatives of the men.

The ROC is of course the official name of the government which now runs Taiwan and its accompanying islands, but during WW2 it was one of the two governments competing for mainland China, along with the CCP, while Taiwan was a Japanese colony. Presumably these soldiers were in fact soldiers from the ROC of that time, i.e. NOT Taiwan, were were fighting against Japan and then captured as POWs. Of course, this brings up the question of who should claim these bodies. Is it today’s ROC, i.e. “Taiwan”, or the PRC, i.e. “China”? While similar questions have come up in the past regarding property disputes between the two governments, this case is complicated by the fact that much of the surviving ROC military moved to Taiwan, along with many of their relatives. Should these remains be brought to:

A: Their place of origin (China, NOT Taiwan)

B: The place held by the successor to the military and government that they fought for (Taiwan, NOT China)

C: The location of their closest living relative (could very well be either Taiwan OR China)

Still more on Tamogami

Following up on my initial report on November 4 and an update on November 21, here is yet more information on the Tamogami Toshio affair.

Most important is today’s Asahi front-page article, which is the best media confirmation so far of my initial hypothesis on the entire Tamogami/APA link, which readers may remember was as follows:

Combining his attraction to both power and military, [APA CEO Motoya Toshio] invited ASDF General Tamogami Toshio into his circle, bringing him to the Wine no Kai and to address the launch party for his latest right-wing tract. Motoya then had APA sponsor an essay contest promoting his book-possibly an illicit use of corporate funds-with the grand prize awarded to Tamogami , in a decision I suspect was actually arranged by Motoya personally, with the “selection committee” only choosing the lesser prizes.

Adam spotted the Asahi article and forwarded it to me, and provided a summary in the comments of my previous Tamogami post.

Apparently, several of the contest judges were really miffed at how Motoya ran things… Of over 400 entries, the company only sent the four-member panel 25 for the first round of anonymous scoring. Motoya himself was apparently on the panel (though APA did not list him as a judge), and he gave the top score to Tamogami’s (anonymous) essay while giving low scores to all the others. In the second round of judging, the names and profiles of the contestants were revealed and the judges met to discuss the winner. Three essays, including Tamogami’s, had the same number of points. Motoya apparently proposed that they just give the prize to Tamogami and award a kind of tied-for-second prize to the others. None objected.

Apart from Motoya, the judges named in the report:

Shuichi Yamamoto, a former Diet member’s secretary and current legal scrivener and guest lecturer in Okayama Prefecture.
Nobuaki Hanaoka, conservative commentator
Kazuo Komatsuzaki, President of (Yomiuri affiliated) Hochi Shimbun

Apparently the fourth judge was Motoya, but I can’t tell for sure by the way the report is written.

The article also includes direct quotes from two of the judges. Yamamoto said that he “felt there was something unnatural about how Motoya gave low scores to pretty much all of the essays that the other judges gave high scores to.” Yamamoto went on to accuse Motoya directly, saying that “one has to believe that the top essay was chosen to award the prize money to Tamogami.” Komatsu gave similar statement, saying that “Thinking about it now, Motoya must have known all along that it was Tamogami’s essay, and deliberately put it on top.” Oddly, the article makes no mention of conservative commentator and Sophia University English Professor Watanabe Shoichi, who is described on the APA web site as head of the judging committee.

The article certainly does make it sound as if Motoya was one of the judges, although I do not believe any previous source has acknowledged his direct involvement. Naturally there was no comment from APA for this article. Considering that even the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance of the JSDF is investigating the possibility that Tamogami encouraged his subordinate officers to enter the contest, and the fact that Tamogami and Motoya had a relationship stretching back a decade when Tamogami was commander of the very same Komatsu air force base that Motoya runs a civilian support committee for, it seems very likely that the entire essay contest was in fact staged.

There is even speculation that the conspiracy goes even deeper than I suggested in my initial post. According to the Japan Times on November 20, in an article which also presents many of the connections I had pointed out previously:

Hirofumi Hayashi, a professor at Kanto Gakuin University and an expert on modern Japanese history, pointed out that Tamogami may have landed the top post because of his close ties with Toshio Motoya, head of hotel and condo developer Apa Group, who had connections with then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a staunch nationalist.

Is it really possible that the Motoya connection could be that strong? Could Abe have actually been persuaded to promote a known militarist to the head of the JASDF based on the recommendation of an ultra-rightwing activist?

Another professor, Kotetsu Atsuhi (whose published books include one on relations between the civil government and military in modern Japan), was quoted by the Japan Times as saying “Mr. Tamogami went out of control and his act was close to a coup.” In a Mainichi debate column he gives a more detailed statement, which reads in part:

In the final paragraph of the essay it is written that the SDF needs to return to a position of independence, away from the eternal dependence on America. This adds up to the “Asian Monroe Doctrine” that Japan had before the War. For Japan to have singular hegemony in Asia, they thought that they had to secure their own sources of raw materials and military equipment, without depending on America or Britain, and the fact that this spread to the financial and political spheres as well is one of the factors that opened the road to war. I am horrified  to think that there may be a desire for this in today’s uniformed officers.

The article also contains an opposing quote from right-wing historian Hata Ikuhiko, in which he says:

Compared with the pre-war system, things are effectively controlled in Japan now. Today, you do not hear the uneasy discussion of a coup de’etat that you did 20 or 30 years ago. If the defense minister and prime minister, who is the Commander in Chief, do their jobs properly then the SDF should not be able to run wild and take hold of political power.

The two problems with this statement are that A: following the Tamogami affair there actually ARE people (Koketsu for a start) mentioning the danger of a coup, and B: Prime Minister Abo Shinzo was the one who appointed Tamogami to his job in the first place. On the other hand, Tamogami’s prompt dismissal following the uproar over the APA essay demonstrates the current effectiveness of civilian control. And although current PM Aso Taro did promptly dismiss Tamogami, he is well known for having a similar view of history.

(Incidentally, Hata’s essay calling for the restraction of the Kono Statement acknowledging Japanese responsibility for comfort women is among those offered as a free download by the so-called “Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact”, which publicizes the Japanese right-wing historical revisionist agenda in English, and includes such people as Watanabe Shoichi and Japafilic Taiwanese Ko Bunyu on its board.)

Whan now-PM Aso was CEO of his family firm, Aso Cement Company in 1975 (he was CEO from 73-79, see here), they published an official corporate history which closely matches the views of Tamogami and Motoya. As described in a FEER article by Mindy Kotler (head of DC’s Asia Policy Point, known for her testimony on behalf of the US House resolution calling on Japan to apologize for comfort women, and William Underwood, a specialist in the history of Japanese WW2 era forced labor):

The “Aso Fights” section of the book states that top U.S. leaders had detailed knowledge of Japanese military plans prior to Dec. 7, 1941. Japan was purposely allowed to strike the first blow, in this telling, so that “Remember Pearl Harbor” could become a rallying cry for Americans. Like Gen. Tamogami, the Aso historians conclude that “this cleverly united American opinion for war against Japan.”

Aso Mining then became a “kamikaze special attack production unit,” according to the book. “People like Korean laborers and Chinese prisoners of war filled the void” in Kyushu’s coalfields as Japanese miners left for military service.

Despite having fired Tamogami, he and Aso are still ultimately on the same side in the history wars, along with former Prime Ministers Mori and Abe, at the very least. (Tamogami has been quoted as saying that “former PM Abe and former PM Mori also support my philosophy.)

While Prof. Koketsu’s coup reference may be a bit exaggerated, there have been a number of comparisons made with the February 26 incident of 1936, a failed coup in which “a group of young radical Army officers led some 1,400 troops under their command on a attack on the Prime Minister’s residence and other buildings in Tokyo, killing Home Minister SAITO Makoto, Finance Minister TAKAHASHI Korekiyo, and Army Inspector General of Military Training WATANABE Jotaro.” As has often been the case in Japanese military coups (such as the Meiji restoration), the young officers claimed to be fighting in the name of the Emperor, but when it was clear they lacked his support the rest of the military put down the revolt. This 2.26 Incident was famously orchestrated by “young officers” of the Imperial Way Faction, which was an unofficial grouping of hardcore rightist officers within the military, who called for a “Showa Restoration“-evoking the Meiji Restoration – in which the military would purge government and society of degenerate left-wing elements and re-institute traditional values based around militaristic Bushido.

The Imperial Way Faction was largely based around the philosophy of Araki Sadao, a rightist officer who ascended to the position of War Minister in 1931, after having served as Inspector General of Military Training, and began publically promoting the  “Imperial Way” in a September 1932 news conference. Although he was forced to retire from the military following the failed 1936 coup, he was apparently not accused of any direct involvment and was allowed to become Minister of Education the following year, a job which allowed him to promote his militaristic agenda in the civil sphere.

Although the names “Tamogami” and “Araki” have as yet only appeared appeared together in a handful of obscure Japanese blogs, I do sense some concern that Tamogami could be (or at least could have been) an Araki-like figure. I strongly doubt anyone is particularly worried that Tamogami himself was plotting a coup, but rather a lot of people are worried about the influence he may have had on subordinates, as represented by the dozens of JASDF members under his command who submitted essays to the contest. Then, does this mean that people should be worried that the 94 who served under Tamogami and submitted essays will be a “young officer” vanguard of the Heisei Restoration armed uprising circa 2012?

This is another pretty farfetched scenario. Japan today is a very different country from the one it was in the 1930s, with a decades-long popular antiwar attitude that few could have predicted in the 1930s. Shifting back towards that level of militarism would likely require both a generation of re-education and a massive shift in the international balance. But the militaristic right wing is thinking long-term. They have been pushing their version of history increasingly hard recently, but despite much of the media coverage has actually not been very successful in altering public school education. And yet, the general attitude towards the revision of the Japanese constitution’s famous war-renouncing “Article 9” seems to have gone from being an absolute impossibilty to being undesirable but perhaps only a matter of time.

Some time in the next several months Japan will hold a general election, in which it is very possibly that the opposition Democratic Party of Japan will take power for the first time. This would be a stunning defeat for Tamogami’s supporters, however many of them really exist. Despite political apathy, most of Japan still firmly believes in national pacifism, and if the LDP falls from power it will likely be in part due to Tamogami.