Saturday, October 20, 2007

A note on right wing Japan

Some of the more thick-skinned of my readership may recall a post I did some time ago about the Yushukan, that museum of twisted and warped right wing war history in Tokyo. You may recall my surprise at finding a statue at the front that had been made by a Japanese sculptor who travelled to Europe to study for years in order to do his commission justice. At the time it struck me as strange that a sculptor would spend years learning foreign art in order to adequately idolize a local hero. I thought it might be one of the many convenient hypocrisies which fascists the world over find so easy to overlook.

As I gain more experience of Japan, I think that my willingness to ascribe this contradiction to idiotic hypocrisy may have been seriously misplaced. I think it may in fact be an enduring (as in 150 year long) trait of Japanese Nationalism and fascism - and of the right generally in this country - that they have a love of foreign ideas. This isn't to say that in other ways these people don't make many stupid mistakes - they're conservative, right? But I think it may be a particular trait of right-wing Japanese - amongst all right-wing people in the world, I would guess - that they are fascinated with foreign ideas.

The more I meet Japanese people, the more I realise that the people most interested in and engaging with foreigners seem to be, in general, the more conservative elements of Japanese society. This point was brought profoundly into focus by the Delightful Miss E's homestay family, Sir and the Lady T and their million progeny. The other day Sir T, who is a 61 year old business man, took the Delightful Miss E and myself out to eat at a sushi restaurant. Sir T has had many, many homestay guests before, but was eager to have the Delightful Miss E to stay while I was away in Kobe, and has taken quite a shine to the both of us. During the course of a thoroughly delightful evening of excellent sushi, he revealed to us with expansive pride that he is right wing. We had no reason to doubt this, given the general drift of his politics. But how can we understand it? This is the man of multiple homestays, who has friends all over the world, constantly reads up on news and current affairs in other countries, is eager to learn about other countries, and has been overseas myriad times. He enjoys the company of foreigners even though he generally cannot communicate with them on a level beyond basic food and lifestyle conversation (his English is not very good).

This is not an isolated incident either. It seems that many of the men, particularly, who are motivated to engage with foreigners in this country are also quite conservative and/or nationalist in their outlook. I suspect that this creeps across to other aspects of Nationalist politics too. Now that I think about it, even the layout and style of the Yushukan was based on foreign museum ideas, and much more modern and accessible than many of the musty and pointless museums I have visited in this country. Trust the right-wing in this country to go find the latest in Museum technology. The presence of that statue outside the Yushukan (it is an old statue) suggests that this is not a new phenomenon either, not even a post-war phenomenon. This makes me think it is an enduring aspect of Japanese nationalism. How can this be?

The only explanation I can think of is that in this regard, like all others, Japan must in some way be the exact opposite of the West. But it truly is a strange way to be consistent with the Japanese rule of opposites... I shall be keeping my eye on this, and see what I can ferret out...


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