Tamogami Update

Last week on November 4 I wrote a long post detailing the results of my brief investigation into the various political connections surrounding the (now) infamously ultra-right-wing (now) former General Tamogami Toshio. This article was referenced by several English language bloggers such as Jun Okumura, Tobias Harris, and the anonymous Shisaku, (as well as a very nice plug from Curzon) who all add their own instructive commentary. Best of all though, was a prominent citation by Herbert Bix, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, who gave his perspective on the controversy in an essay in the Japan Focus online journal. Bix’s key piece of analysis regarding Tamogami is that “His aim is to forge a body of activist officers who will participate in political combat, promoting the “true” perspective on history, even if it is not factually true for the particular historical period he cares about.” Based on further evidence that has come out since my initial article, some of which Bix cites (even more has come out since), this certainly seems to be the case.

I wish I had time right now to do another in-depth piece, but I don’t, so I’ll just run down the various interesting facts that I’ve noted in more of a summary list form. There’s a lot more than this around, both in ordinary newspaper articles found online, blogs, and in print-only magazine articles, so I will try and do a few more updates soon. I had started to collate everything into one big post, but after letting it sit for a week I thought I should just hit post on this one and continue adding details in future posts.

  • Tamogami had published a similar article in May of last year, in a magazine for “officers to publish their personal research.” In this article, he described the fact that Japan invaded Korea and China and committed brutalities there a lie, and said of the Nanjing Massacre that “some civilians may have gotten mixed-up in the midst of the chaos, However, there was absolutely no systematic massacre of Chinese civilians by the Japanese army.” (After writing the post I found the article at this excellent blog.) In 2004, when he was dean of the JSDF Joint Staff College, he wrote another article for the same magazine, in which he called on JSDF members to submit articles to ordinary magazines. Neither of these articles made any political or media fuss at the time. (Asahi, Nov. 3)
  • I found a review of the book written by Ochiai Michio (落合道夫), second prize winner of the APA Group contest. The book, “Looking at the Japanese and the Great East-Asian War from the Perspective of Stalin’s International Invasion” endorses the same minority theory of Comintern responsibility for the Xian Incident. Based on the review, it seems to be an expanded version of the thesis proposed in “Mao: The Unkown Story”, which was itself heavily cited in Tamogami’s APA essay. In general, the book sounds as if it reflects a version of history identital that of both Tamogami Toshio and Motoya Toshio. The author seems to have no university affiliation, and in fact his name has no online presence aside from a couple of mentions of this book, or his connection with the current contest. The book is not available in ordinary bookstores, and can be ordered from its publisher, “The Tokyo Institute for the Study of Modern History” only by telephone or fax, as they have no website. They may be some sort of right-wing group, or they may simply be Mr. Ochiai’s living room with a fancy sign on the wall.
  • Hatoyama Yukio, who was photographed at the “Wine no Kai’ with APA Group leader Motoya Toshio and Tamogami claims that, “did appear at the meeting with my wife, thinking that it was not a place for political discussions. The overall mood was and conversation was peculiar, and I took a graceful early exit without having spoken much.” (Sankei Nov. 6)
  • As Curzon helpfuly pointed out, APA Group actually is not a publically traded company, which means that my speculation over possible misuse of corporate funds etc. turned out to be likely unfounded. While there are a variety of banks and other creditors/investors, the company is largely controlled by the Motoya family. For example, this page shows four different members of the Motoya family serving on the board of the Apa Community Co.
  • The only company in the APA Group not to have APA in the name is the “Japan Finance Development Finance Corporation”, based in Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Pref. near the Komatsu base, and near to where APA was founded, and the hometown of Motoya Toshio, who is listed as the representative of this sub-company. (Search here, cannot link directly due to CGI script.)
  • Of the 235 essay submissions, a lage proportion were found to be JASDF members. I believe the latest count is 94. As pointed out by Tobias Harris, when there were still only 78 identified ASDF personnel, the Asahi discovered “hat of those seventy-eight, none except General Tamogami were flag officers, ten were field officers, sixty-four were company-level officers, and four were cadets. Asahi also found that sixty-two had served under General Tamogami when he served as commander of Komatsu base.”
  • The Japan Times did a pretty thorough profile of Motoya Fumiko, wife of Toshio, back in 2005. Fumiko is actually CEO not of APA Group, but of APA Hotels, while her husband is head of the overall corporation. Motoya Fumiko became a celebrity CEO after splashing her en-hatted photo all over advertising, and writing a book about her management style, but interestingly her husband does not even have an article on Japanese Wikipedia-despite his many and not very secretive right wing-activist political activities.
  • One detail I had noticed while doing the research, but then forgot to insert into my original post. One of the honorable mentions in the essay contest is the head of the Risk Management Office of APA. While I see no reason to think there is any particular significance to his selection, corporate contests in general ban all employees and immediate families of employees from participating in a contest, to avoid conflict of interest. Having an employee be a contest winner (an honorable mention includes a small cash prize and APA hotel voucher) is simply another piece of evidence to suggest the generally irregular and suspicious nature of the contest.

Gen. Tamogami Toshio, Motoya Toshio, and Abe Shinzo

Note: I have followed up this post on November 21st, and then again on December 1st.

The publication of an essay denying Japanese aggression in the Pacific before and throughout the WW2 by Japan Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Tamogami Toshio (pictured below) could have led to another major international diplomatic incident. This seems to have been curtailed by his immediate firing, and a reaffirmation of the Government of Japan’s official stance of acknowledging Japanese aggression.

General Tamogami Toshio

The essay was published on the website of APA Group, a large construction and real estate conglomerate best known for scandals involving inadequate earthquake proofing and falsification of records, as the grand prize winner of an “essay contest.” (The essay can be found on the award page, in both Japanese and English. Oddly, none of the lesser prize-winning essays are available.)

Almost all of the news coverage I have seen reports simply on the contents of General Tamogami’s essay, the fact that it was a contest, his prompt dismissal, and some half-hearted complaints about the essay from overseas (clearly headed off by the rapidity of his firing), but aside from this article at Mainichi virtually nothing about the contest itself. My first reaction was to wonder what the background story here was.

Naturally I started poking about online. I’ll start with what the Mainichi story had to say about the contest:

Watanabe etc. on the selection committee

According to the APA Group web page, essays were solicited for the purpose of “steering Japan towards a correct understanding of history as an independent nation”, and a prize of ¥3 million (Note: around $30,000 USD) was awarded as the grand prize. The head of the selection committee was Sophia University Distinguished Professor Watanabe Shouichi, a conservative commentator. APA Group CEO, Motoya Toshio, writes essays on historical perceptions under the pen name Fuji Seiji (藤誠志).

Mr. Motoya does not simply write essays under this pen-name, but actually publishes them in the APA corporate newsletter, Apple Town (“Fresh Information For Your Best Life”). He has also published a number of books under his own name, which you can order through the APA website, most notable “Modern History The Media Doesn’t Report on: Postwar History is an Argument over Nuclear Weapons”, for which he has a promo page on the APA site. (There are also a couple of books written by his wife, Motoya Fumiko CEO of APA Hotels.) Incidentally, another of Mr. Motoya’s books, “Business is Romance”, appears on a “Japanese National Bibliography” page on the National Diet Library website.

As you can see from the above screen capture of the contest website, the essay contest actually appears to be a promotion for his book. In fact, the grand prize is self-aggrandizingly named the “Fuji Seiji Prize Award”, after Mr. Motoya’s pen name. Although APA Group is a publicly traded company and not a family business (I believe this is the case, but I am not 100% sure, so I would appreciate someone checking), CEO Motoya is not only using the corporate website and magazine to promote his right-wing political agenda, but may also very well be using corporate funds for the contest prize money. According to this blog post, the book is also being promoted and sold in APA hotels.

At or near the bottom of the sidebar present throughout the entire APA Group website (some pages have other links below), there is also a link to an external political organization run by Motoya, the “Kanazawa Friends of the Komatsu Military Base.” (小松基地金沢友の会) The purpose of the group, according to a statement from Motoya on the front page is “get the entire citizenry of Japan, in which there is yet a shallow understanding of the importance of national defense, to understand that a balance of power involving military deterrent leads to international peace,” and to “support the Komatsu Base, which covers the entire Sea of Japan region, which is close to such countries as Russia, China and North Korea.” Googling a few sample names from the members list produces what would be expected: old men from Ishikawa Prefecture involved mostly in business, and one LDP Diet member who had held a minor position in Koizumi’s cabinet.

The website is located on a domain which appears to be independent of APA Group, at jasdfmate.gr.jp (Japan Air Self Defense Force Mate at the Japanese secondary .gr domain for volunteer groups). They also appear to be hosted at different locations, as the traceroute path is significantly different. However, the WHOIS database indicates that the contact person for both websites is a Nishikawa Harumi (西川 治美), who according to the apa.co.jp WHOIS entry is an employee in the Business Section of APA Co.,LTD. and according to the jasdfmate.gr.jp WHOIS entry is a “Clerk” for “Air Self-Defense Force in Komatsu, Kanazawa Mate.” Ms. Nishikawa has been listed as the contact person for the sites since at least 2001.01.16 and 2000.03.21 respectively, when the contact information was last updated. The shallow attempt at separation of private form corporate breaks down, however, when the JASDFMate site lists the contact email address as office@apa.co.jp. You too can join the group, and go on their various activities-such as tours of the base-for a mere ¥10,000.

“Modern History The Media Doesn’t Report on” was published on April 18 of this year, and a combination publishing celebration party and birthday party was held in early June, which is commemorated at this page on the APA site. This page contains some videos which were screened at the party, the third of which finishes off with a list of the party’s sponsors. The list is long, but contains quite a few names of note. Some of the ones that jumped out at me were (in order of appearance):

  • Asao Keiichiro (DPJ Shadow Defense Minister)
  • Abe Shinzo (former LDP PM)
  • Ikeguchi Ekan (Shingon-shu leader)
  • Koh Se-kai (Former Taiwan representative to Japan, Taiwan independence activist)
  • Ko Bunyu (Japan-resident Taiwanese independence activist and writer, darling of Japan’s far right)
  • Dewi Sukarno (Japan-born former wife of Indonesian dictator Sukarno)
  • Tamogami Toshio (just-fired JASDF chief)
  • Hatoyama Kunio (LDP politician, currently Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications)
  • Bobby Valentine (Former MLB baseball player and manager, current manager of Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines baseball team)
  • Jose de Venecia, Jr. (Speaker of the House of the Philippines)
  • Mori Yoshirou (Former LDP PM)
  • Watanabe Shouichi (Sophia U. Distinguished Professor of English and right-wing commentator, and head of the essay committee)

According to this Sankei article on the party, over 1500 guests were in attendance, of which several dozen were thanked by name in the video.

In this photo of the party (again, from the APA page) you can see General Tamogami was not merely a guest at the event, but actually addressing the crowd. This was just under a month after the contest had been announced, on May 10. According to the above-linked Sankei article, Tamogami jokingly referred to himself as a “controversial figure” and said that:

After the war, speech arguing to defend our country was suppressed, but speech that was anti-Japan or badmouthing Japan was free. As long as the fundamental problems of security are not dealt with, it is impossible to be ready to protect this country in the manner it deserves.

This is a reference to constitutional revision to eliminate or revise Article 9-Japan’s famous pacifism clause. Essentially, the grand prize winner of an “essay contest” was a speaker at an event which was both the launch party for the book the essay contest was promoting, as well as the birthday of the author, expressing essentially the same opinion later given in that essay.

Tamogami and Motoya actually had a political association dating back some time, at least to a “Wine no Kai” (Wine Party for Discussing Japan)documented in Motoya / APA’s own magazine. (Click here for PDF of the article, originally copied from the APA web site.) In this photograph you can see Tamogami , Motoya, Hatoyama Yukio (one of the leading hawks in Japan’s opposition Democratic Party, which differs little from the permanent ruling LDP on substantial matters, his family name ironically means “Dove Mountain”) and his wife, as well as Sankei Journalist Oshima Shinzo.

Wine no Kai 2004
Wine no Kai 2004

I am actually slightly unclear whether the article text is a summary of the discussions had at the party or simply yet another of Motoya’s essays, but it is probable that the participants at least agreed with the ghist of it. The article concludes by stating that “the statement that ‘Japan must absolutely not equip itself with nuclear weapons’ is absurd.” Japanese nuclear armament seems to be one of Motoya’s main issues.

Motoya has apparently hosted a number of annual sessions of the “Wine no Kai,” including a session the following year attended by not-yet Prime Minister Abe Shinzo.

Wine no Kai 2005
Wine no Kai 2005

That’s Abe sitting there in the middle, flanked by Motoya Toshio, with the horrific grimace and weirdly out of place striped shirt, and Mrs. Motoya Fumiko, wearing one of the silly hats she is famous for. PDF of the entire article is here.The article contains nothing nearly as inflammatory as the previous year’s call for nuclear weapons, but I would like to share this brief and bewildering excerpt.

A certain Japan-born Korean said that “The Japanese value respect. Japanese culture is excellent on the inside. But I shed tears when looking at today’s Japan.” The lazy attitude of young people is particularly offensive. Korea still has a military draft system, and although I am not saying that Japan should revive militarism, I will say that the draft system should be introduced. They would not need to serve for two years, but let them live for a year in a group to teach them rules and endurance. If you invite a young person today to say “let’s go drinking” they refuse saying, “that’s OK.” In the old days, they were happy to get an invitation from an elder.

Abe and Motoya are reputed to have far stronger links. Although it seems to have been rarely discussed in the mainstream media (keep in mind that Japanese newspapers keep articles online for a very short time and I am not actually going so far as to check archives), it has been repeatedly claimed on blogs (most notably Kikko’s Diary, but also many smaller ones) that Motoya was vice-chair of Abe’s political support committee known as the Anshinkai, (安晋会, J-Wikipedia article). The name “Anshin” is a pun derived from part of Abe Shinzo’s name, which also sounds like the Japanese word for “safety.” neither the existence of Anshinkai nor Motoya’s membership in it has ever been publically acknowledged, but the above photograph of the “Wine no Kai” is often cited as evidence of both.

One blog wrote in February 2, 2007, that “mentions of Anshinkai have finally started appearing off-line as well,” indicating that this story actually began in the blogs before being taken up by the offline media, in a pattern considered to be generally un-Japanese. Another blog, on the same day, has a roundup of weekly news magazines (traditionally these magazines and not daily papers is the place for news that is more based on investigation or rumor) which had recently mentioned the Anshinkai, including Shukan Post, Shukan Bunshun and Shukan Asahi. The blog says that Shukan Post had been the first to report on Anshinkai, in February 10, 2006, alleging a connection with the Livedoor scandal.

Another blog, from January 31, 2006, has some more information on the Livedoor connection, notably that HS Securities VP Noguchi Hideaki, who committed suicide after falling under suspicion, was director of Anshinkai. The same article contains a dizzying chart of connections between various persons, groups and companies, which does not include Motoya/APA but does include another interesting name – HUSER (Human User Company). Huser had been involved in a construction inspection scandal, seriously enough so that President Ojima Susumu was actually called to testify before the Diet, where he admitted to meeting with Abe Policy Secretary, Iizuka Hiroshi.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this increasingly long post, APA Group is now infamous for their involvement with a similar scandal. I don’t want to spend more time on this, so I recommend you read the good English coverage of at Shin Fukushige’s blog (note that Adam commented on this post.) The CEOs of both Huser and APA are allegedly members of Anshinkai, and there has much much suspicion that Abe and his people deflected as much heat as he could. The connections between Motoya and Abe are strong enough that Kikko titled one January 2007 post “APA Group is Abe Group.”

As I write this, the US 2008 election results are coming in and I want to wrap this up so I can concentrate on that, so let me summarize briefly.

Motoya Toshio is a very successful construction and real estate entrepeneur, with extreme right wing views, an obsession with political leaders and celebrities (he brags about having met a wide variety of famous people, starting oddly with Castro), and an otaku-esque fascination with military things (he also brags about having taken a test flight on a fighter plane). Having built his company into the massive APA Group, he used his company’s publicity apparatus to promote his political ideas, and his significant financial leverage to support Japanese politicians supportive of his militaristic agenda. He appears to have also used those political connections to promote large business projects, and when his company became embroiled in a serious construction inspection scandal, he also turned to his political allies for help.

Combining his attraction to both power and military, he 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. Motoya was probably hoping that Tamogami , who had a history of making controversial public statements and escaping serious censure, would be able to step up and continue the main-streaming of right-wing militaristic views, but his gamble failed. His friend Abe Shinzo was no longer Prime Minister, having perhaps spent too much of his political capital defending Motoya’s APA Group and Huser during the earthquake proofing inspection scandals, and Aso’s government was just not interested in risking blow-back by defending a general who had so egregiously violated the rules on political speech by uniformed officers and the supremacy of civilian leadership. Fukuda Yasuo had worked to improve relations with China and other neighbors following the Abe administration, and perhaps newly appointed Prime Minster Aso Taro, despite his right-wing views and his own well-earned reputation for making gaffes decided to take the pragmatic route and declined to protect Tamogami .

“War and Japan: The Non-Fiction Manga of Mizuki Shigeru”

The web journal Japan Focus just published a translation of one of Mizuki Shigeru’s short manga pieces, entitled “War and Japan“, with a brief introduction to the man and his work written by Matthew Penney. One of the most famous and important manga authors in Japan, Mizuki Shigeru remains surprisingly obscure abroad, even among ardent manga fans. English translations of his most popular work may exist, but I have never even seen any. As Penney’s profile of Mizuki Shigeru (who, incidentally, is still alive at the age of 86-over 60 years since losing his arm to an explosion on a south Pacific island in WW2) makes a point of saying, “Mizuki, who unlike most prominent revisionists actually experienced the horrors of war firsthand, sees no contradiction between a love for Japan and its traditions, and a willingness to look honestly at the nation’s war history.”

Mizuki is in fact best known for his work involving Japanese folk spirits (or faeries or hobgoblins or monsters- the Japanese term youkai is a bit hard to translate directly), which despite having a generally comic tone do also occasionally deal with the horrors of war, and also received much acclaim for his truly excellent 8 volume Showa-shi (History of the Showa Period), in which he uses pages of pure historical explanation (all in manga form, of course) to frame the primary narative of his own life throughout the entire Showa period, which began around the time of his birth and ended as he was approaching pensioner age. Although covering the entire 62 years of the Showa period, Showa-shi focuses most heavily on his childhood, when he developed his lifelong fascination with youkai and folktales, and on the WW2 period, when he was the sole survivor of a bombing attack in the South Pacific island of Rabaul, lost his arm, and after the war’s end very nearly stayed behind in the native village that had nursed him back to health.

Showa-shi may be considered the capstone of Mizuki’s career. It is not his last work, but does form a synthesis of themes from throughout his entire career. Although it is his youkai manga that he is mainly known for, he had actually spent a chunk of his early career writing WW2 comics for the rental manga market, which at that time was a market publishing original material.

As it so happens, just last week I picked up one volume of a newly published series which reprints Mizuki Shigeru’s war stories for, I believe, the first time. Japanese books can have maddeningly scant publication history, however, so in fact the copyright page says only that this volume was first published in 2008, without specifying in detail the publication history, or even clearly labelling the original year of publication! Despite this annoying flaw, the book is great stuff. Labelled “comics for thinking about war and peace”, this particular volume is his stories of the air war. Much of the art bears little resemblance to Mizuki’s trademark style, instead opting for a sketchy grim style, particularly for the chaotic air combat scenes.

I haven’t yet had a chance to do more then flip through, although i did just read the first story -“Cockroach”, in which a Zero pilot named Yamamoto is shot down, captured by the Allies, kills a guard almost accidentally and then escapes only to discover upon his return that Japan had surrendered. He is arrested as a war criminal, without really understanding why, escapes from the jail in Japan, and then is finally executed-the last to be executed as a war criminal by the Allied military. In the final panel, as his weeping mother is handed a wooden box containing his ashes, she cries “my son’s entire life was just like that of a cockroach running about and hopelessly trying to escape.” Although the story is clearly anti-war, the ambivalence towards the war crime trials and criticism of winner’s justice presents a viewpoint difficult to sum up in the simplistic left/right paradigm that is all too often employed when discussing Japanese views of World War II.

Wushe, then and now

The Taipei Times reported today that Taiwanese film director Wei Te-sheng (魏德勝) is currently attempting to make a film about the famous Wushe Incident of 1930, in which the aboriginal people of Wushe village rose up in armed rebellion against the Japanese occupiers, killing well over 100 Japanese (and injuring many more) before themselves being slaughtered in retaliation. What I found particularly interesting about the article, aside from the fact that I would very much like to see the film if it is ever made, is that the inhabitants of Wushe are described throughout as “Seediq“.

The Sedeq are an Aboriginal tribe that live mostly in Nantou and Hualien counties.

The film title, Seediq Bale, means “the real person” in their language.

The movie Seediq Bale tells the story of Sedeq warrior Mona Rudao who led a large-scale uprising against the Japanese in present-day Wushe (霧社) in Nantou County.

On the morning of Oct. 27, 1930, Mona led a group of more than 300 Sedeq and launched a surprise attack as the Japanese gathered to participate in a local sports event, killing 125 and wounding 215.

The Sedeq then cut the telephone lines and occupied Wushe for three days, before retreating to their strongholds deep in the mountains.

The Japanese colonial government cracked down on the Sedeq, using more than 2,000 military and police officers, and even used poisonous gas banned by international law.

After being under siege for months, Mona, along with about 300 other Sedeq warriors, killed himself.

The Seediq are one of the smallest, if not the smallest, officially recognized distinct tribe of aboriginal peoples in Taiwan, and before receiving government recognition in April of this year had been considered to be a sub-grouping of the much larger Atayal tribe. During my trip to Taiwan last month, I spent about a week traveling with a classmate at Kyoto University named Yayuc Panay, a member of the Seediq tribe who was back in Taiwan visiting family and doing some field research for a paper she is writing. In between visiting two different aboriginal villages, we actually stopped briefly in Wushe for her to transfer her legal residence (戶口) from her hometown of Puli, where her family no longer lives, to her sister’s house in another part of Nantou County. While she was in the office, I wandered around the tiny area comprising Wushe’s “downtown” and took some photos.

Despite being known almost exclusively for the Seediq uprising of 1930, Wushe is today a small village primarily inhabited by Taiwanese of Han Chinese origin, who settled there due to its convenient location as a trading post for the various agricultural goods produced in the mountains. As you can see in the photos, it looks very much like the main street of other rural Taiwanese communities.

Continue reading Wushe, then and now

Military recruiting efforts

Curzon over at Cominganarchy just posted his impressions of his visit to a new Japanese Self Defense Force recruiting center in hip Shibuya (verdict: fail). Just the other day I happened to run into another rather sad attempt at recruiting in Osaka’s Hankyu Umeda Station.

SDF Recruiters in Umeda Station, Osaka
SDF Recruiters in Umeda Station, Osaka

Instead of the ordinary but silly strategy of letting visitors play dress-up, the attraction here was something a little on the bizarre side – a block of ice from Antarctica.

A block of ice from Antactica
A block of ice from Antactica

Indeed, it was very cold. The message seemed to be something about how joining the Navy lets you travel to faraway and exotic places, but I’m not sure that a block of ice was the best way to convey that, even with the helpful diagrams explaining how striation in Antarctic ice is different from that which you grow in your own freezer.

Smiling SDF recruiter
Smiling SDF recruiter

I’m not actually quite sure who does join the SDF in Japan. Back in the US I had quite a few friends from high school who either joined the military proper or the reserves, or had simply been ROTC members before graduation, and in college I again knew plenty of people who were either paying for school through the reserves or were getting scholarships from previous military service, but I can’t say I actually know a single person in Japan who is either a current or past member of the postwar military.

In fact, practicaly the only Japanese person I’ve ever met who wanted to join the SDF here was a guy I met briefly in a youth hostel in Beijin when I visited back in 2004 with my then-girlfriend. 20 years old, buzzcut dressed entirely in camo, giant thick glasses, scrawny, and big black combat boots, he was the perfect incarnation of the stereotypical military nerd who wants to be Rambo but would be lucky to even pass the basic training and get a desk job. The military was quite literally the only thing he could discuss, and even the briefest attempts at smalltalk were immediately sidelined into military talk.

One real exchange I remember:

Me: I’m from New Jersey.

Him: East coast right?

Me: Yeah, right by New York City.

Him: New York… That’s where West Point is. And it’s only a few hours drive from the big naval bases in Virginia.

Me: Uhh, yeah… that’s right. We’re gonna go check out that famous Beijing duck restaurant now – see you later.

And speaking of military otaku, the government sponsored Taiwan Journal has a rather interesting look at the niche publiching market of military themed magazines in that country, which look to me rather similar to the same type of periodical in Japan. Of course, in a country where all adult males are drafted (until they complete the ongoing transition to an all volunteer force sometime in the future) you would expect that the average level of knowledge and interest in the subject might be a lot higher.

Police statism around the world

After my post the other day, it is worth realizing that, despite worrying trends back home there are no shortage of countries that are far, far worse off. Here are some stories that jumped out at me just in the past few days.

American Filmmaker Arrested in Nigeria

Andrew Berends, a New York-based freelance filmmaker and journalist who was working on a film about the oil-producing Delta region, was arrested on Sunday and held overnight. “They didn’t let me sleep or eat or drink water for the first 36 hours,” he said Tuesday night.

Taiwan Society receives inquiry letter over rally

The Ministry of the Interior (MOI) yesterday rebutted accusations from the Taiwan Society and others that it was breaching freedom of expression by issuing a letter of inquiry to the group that organized a major rally held last Saturday.

The rally drew tens of thousands of participants protesting the government’s cross-strait policies, and called on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to defend Taiwan’s sovereignty, save the economy and help to accelerate the adoption of “sunshine bills.”

Thai Government Cracks Down on Rebellious Websites

The ICT says that 344 of the websites it listed had content it deemed “contemptuous” of Thailand’s royal family, five were considered “obscene,” two featured religious content and one hosted a sex video game.

Thai courts issued orders to shut down about 400 of the websites on the ICT’s list, while the remaining 800 are expected to be blocked by ISPs. The ICT also asked police to help round up sites’ owners, noting that it wants to “bring all violators to trial.”

Chinese Muslims cower under secret police crackdown

Being seen talking to a foreigner is enough to earn a Uighur a minimum of five years in prison and the confiscation of his business. “Please leave here,” said one man in a tea house around the corner from the scene of the attack. “We did hear things, but we cannot talk or we will be taken away.”


Fearful of the growth of an independence movement, and of the motivating effects of religion, the Chinese government has imposed debilitating measures on the local mosques. One popular mosque was even padlocked shut yesterday.

No one under 18 is allowed to visit a mosque, and schools deliberately schedule their classes over the 1pm call to prayer. Nor are imams allowed to broadcast over a tannoy.

Uighur passports are now held by the police, who refuse to let many Uighurs travel abroad. Since May, any Uighur travelling inside of China has been stopped and sent home by the police. They are not welcome at any hotels or guesthouses, under stringent regulations designed to protect Beijing or the other Olympic cities from a possible separatist attack.

And so on. This is just a small sampling of countries besides the US where the government is stepping beyond any reasonable bounds to stifle political dissent. Of these four countries, three are significantly less free than the US today and serve, in various ways, as examples of what governments should not do (the case of Thailand is extra complicated, since with their eternal coups and factions it’s hard to even tell who should be considered the government at any given time.) The fourth country, Taiwan, is particularly complicated case. A military dictatorship and full on police state until fairly recently, Taiwan is a new democracy that was ranked an impressive #32 in last year’s Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. But the current administration is a return to the formerly dictatorial KMT, and there are serious worries over the possibility of recidivism. In the same ranking, the US was given a dismal 48- having slid precipitously from #17 in the 2002 Index.

Protesting in a police state

In July of 2005, when I was living in New Brunswick, NJ, finishing up my studies at Rutgers University, the apartment shared by my friend Ted and his then-wife Janice (they have since divorced for unrelated reasons) in neighboring town Highland Park was raided by a SWAT team of the FBI and New Jersey Joint Terrorism Taskforce, which took a wide variety of their property including any computers or related material, as well as their BBQ. Ted himself was never charged with a crime, and in fact was not even being investigated or targeted, but Janice had been targeted for her animal rights protest activities, which naturally included a lot of relatively harmless shouting at people who did not want to be shouted at, and in places where they did not want outsiders to enter. The actual charges against Janice were, in fact, the real offenses of trespassing and criminal mischief (i.e. spray painting graffiti on the fence of an executive of a company responsible for animal testing), but the police response to these minor offences was grotesquely out of proportion.

Continue reading Protesting in a police state

Another Western family with old ties to Japan

The Asahi English website has a very interesting article entitled “Family planted Japan roots over a century ago“, on the history of the Apcar family, who first came to Yokohama around a century ago.

The family business, A.M. Apcar & Co., was established by Michael Apcar’s grandfather and run by his grandmother, Diana Agabeg Apcar after her husband’s sudden death in 1906. A.M. Apcar was born in what was then Persia and moved to India, then under British rule, and married Diana Agabeg. They were both from well-off Armenian families and decided to settle in Yokohama after spending part of their honeymoon here.

The entire history presented in the article is quite fascinating, but the following section is the one that really jumped out at me.

Life took a terrible turn as Japan moved toward a war footing.

In hindsight, it is curious the Apcars did not join other Westerners who left Japan before fighting broke out with the United States.

Leonard M. Apcar, Michael’s son, recalls a passage from memoirs written by Michael’s mother, Araxe, about an exchange with her husband about leaving Japan. Araxe asked her husband if Japan would ever go to war with the United States.

Michael Apcar Sr.’s reply was: “No, it would be suicide for the Japanese to go to war with the United States. It’s crazy and wouldn’t happen.”

On Dec. 8, 1941, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, military police surrounded the Apcar home and hauled Michael Apcar Sr. off to prison.

Among the reasons for the detainment was the fact that the elder Apcar was the highest-ranking member of his Masonic lodge in Yokohama.

He was imprisoned for 14 months, during which time he was often tortured for information about his fellow Masons, according to his son.

During his father’s imprisonment, Michael’s sister, Dorothy, died. Her tombstone was made in the United States and he had never seen it in the cemetery until Tuesday.

Life did not get any better after his father’s release. The Apcars were given the choice of moving to either Hakone in western Kanagawa Prefecture or Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture. They chose Karuizawa because it was thought there was a better chance of bartering for food with local farmers.

“My father knew the war was on and there was no business to be conducted, so he sold everything in the house,” Apcar said, noting that the family moved to a much smaller cottage in Karuizawa.

“(My father) knew he had to get enough money to live on during the war and he didn’t know how long the war was going to last,” Apcar said.

The Apcars lived in Karuizawa for about two years, raising goats and chickens and growing potatoes after clearing land filled with tree stumps.

“The winters would get terribly cold,” Apcar recalls. “If we spilled water anywhere in the house, it would immediately freeze.”

What turned out to be a lifesaver for the Apcars was a makeshift oven for heating and cooking that was put together from sheet metal saved by Apcar’s father from crates he received as an importer of horse liniment.

As the war situation facing Japan worsened, conditions in Karuizawa grew harsher.

“It got so bad in Karuizawa that my father and I had to keep watch because people were so hungry they would come and dig up the potatoes,” Apcar said.

One of the few advantages to living in Karuizawa was the fact it was not a target for Allied bombing raids.

The same could not be said for Yokohama. After Japan surrendered, Apcar found work as a guide and interpreter for Swiss officials who were seeking permission from the U.S. Army to move the Swiss Embassy from Karuizawa back to Tokyo.

He went to his place of birth.

“Yokohama was flat,” Apcar said. “I couldn’t find my way in Yokohama because the house where I was born was gone. All I saw was a bathtub. Everything was burned up, gone.”

Apcar eventually sailed with one of his sisters in September 1946 to San Francisco, where they had relatives.

This particular episode is in stark contrast to another long term expat family who remained in Yokohama during World War 2, which some readers here may remember. Almost two years ago I made a long post on William R. Gorham, an American engineer who moved to Japan for business, helped to found the predecessor to the Nissan Motor Corporation, and eventually became, along with his wife, a Japanese citizen in May of 1941-about 5 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Gorham children returned to the US around this time, having been raised and educated in Japan but never naturalizing there. William R. Gorham survived the war with no particular hardship, was treated well by the occupation authorities-who he worked for as an advisor-and had a successful consulting firm in the postwar period, which helped such companies as Canon. His son Don Cyril Gorham, who was perhaps the first (or at least among the first) Westerner to receive an undergraduate degree from Tokyo University, served as a translator for the US both during and after the war, and visited Japan as recently as last October, at the age of 90.

The question looms of why one Western family, who as Americans were citizens of the very country Japan was going to war with and had been in Japan only for a couple of decades, was given the royal treatment, while the other, who had lived in Japan far longer and had no ties to the US (although they did move there postwar) were imprisoned like POWs. It seems likely that family connections were key.

While the Apcar family presumably had strong connections to the Yokohama business community, the many overseas contacts needed to run a successful trading company may have alarmed security officials. And as the article points out, membership in the Masons was also a key factor. Foreign-based quasi-mystical secret brotherhoods would not have been well regarded by the militaristic government of 1941 Japan.

By contrast, William R. Gorham’s business interests were pretty much Japan based. He was an inventor and engineer more than a businessman, and seems to have been little involved in any sort of international dealings. The Gorhams moved in high society. His wife studied traditional arts such as ceramics and ikebana with masters of the crafts, and even tutored a princess in English. Mr. Gorham’s close friend and business partner was Yoshisuke Ayukawa, famous for expanding Nissan (which Gorham himself contributed greatly to) into a zaibatsu, and helping develop Japanese industry in Manchuria. In fact, Don Cyril-his son-speculated in an email to me (actually transcribed by his daughter) that Ayukawa used his personal influence to fast-track the Gorham’s unusual eve-of-war application for citizenship.

PLA’s performance in earthquake good sign for Taiwan?

With enough time having passed since the massive earthquake disaster in China to being to look at it analytically, a number of military experts are saying that the People’s Liberation Army response was, for the most part, enthusiastic but not very competent.

Mr. Blasko and other experts said that because the military did not have heavy-lift helicopters, vital equipment like excavators and cranes had to be brought in on roads obstructed by landslides, slowing the pace of the rescue operations.

Shen Dingli, a leading security expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the military’s response did not reflect well on the military’s preparedness for a potential war with, say, Taiwan, the independently governed island that China claims as its sovereign territory. China’s air force deployed 6,500 paratroopers to Sichuan, but only 15 ended up dropping into the disaster zone, military officials said, because of bad weather and forbidding mountain terrain. Mr. Shen called the effort too little and too late.

“The air force should have been able to get troops into Wenchuan in two hours,” he said, referring to a county near the quake’s epicenter. “It took 44 hours. If it took them 10 hours, that’s understandable. But 44 hours is shameful.”


I’m certainly no military expert, but if the Chinese air force achieved a nearly 100% failure rate on air drops in domestic territory with no enemy fire, and took 20 times as long as they should have to actually get their people in, I would think that Taiwan’s chances of fending off an attack might be a lot better than had been assumed over the past few years. I am actually rather surprised to read about how poorly equipped the PLA is, considering how much ink has been spilled recently on China’s rapid military investment. Is all of the money going into Navy, missiles, and attack aircraft or something? While the 1000 or so missiles pointed at Taiwan might cause some damage to the island, I would also imagine that a “lack of heavy-lift helicopters and transport aircraft” would make an actual invasion more than a little impractical.

With the unrealstic promise by the KMT to reinvade China long abandoned, Taiwan can be perfectly secure without the ability to send ground forces into China, as long as they have the ability to fend off air and sea attacks-particulary if their medium/long range missiles that could allegedly blow the Three Gorges Dam are as effective as they claim. But China isn’t worried about attacks from Taiwan-their military planning is largely aimed at preparing for an invasion of the island-and if they can’t even bring a few thousand rescue workers into a domestic disaster area faster than 44 hours, they would have very little hope indeed of delivering the numbers of troops needed to occupy Taiwan before US aircraft carriers arrived.