In the war of words — particularly with South Korea and China — over World War II-era issues that has intensified over the past 18 months, foreigners — both Westerners and Asians — have also waded into the fray. And some have even sided with revisionist positions, raising questions over the Japanese military’s alleged recruitment of sex slaves (“comfort women”) and other contentious wartime topics.
For these individuals, preaching to the Japanese choir does appear to have its rewards. At a gathering in Tokyo last autumn, veteran British journalist Henry Scott Stokes commemorated the 70th anniversary of the showpiece meeting of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, Japan’s short-lived effort to align Asians against European colonial powers.
“Japan is a country of rising sun,” he told his audience. “Joining hands together with the fellow Asian people who desire truly Free Asia, I sincerely hope that Japan will play a vital role for realizing democratic Asian unity.”
Soon thereafter, Shodensha published Stokes’ book “Eikokujin Kisha ga Mita Rengokoku Sensho Shikan no Kyomo” (“Falsehoods of the Allied Nations’ Victorious View of History, as Seen by a British Journalist”). The book, whose third chapter echoes the speech in its description of Japan as “Asia’s light of hope,” has gone through 11 printings and sales have shot past 80,000. Last week it was rated Amazon Japan’s 32nd best-selling title.
Stokes, born in the U.K. in 1938, is one of the longest-standing members of Tokyo’s foreign press corps and the author of the 1974 biography “The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima.” His new book also contains references to his personal relationship with the author and political activist (who died in a bizarre incident of ritual disembowelment in 1970), but many of the other chapters are tinged with the language and ideology that was standard political doctrine in Japan in the 1930s and ’40s.
It could be argued that some sections of the book provide a distorted mirror on past history. In the first six pages of Chapter 9, titled “Japan and the Jews,” Stokes touches on Japan’s benevolent treatment of refugees from the Nazi Holocaust. It attempts to provide a counterweight to Japan’s wartime wrongdoings by adopting the same post-hoc rationalization logic that’s become the standby of historical revisionists: treating possibly good intentions as facts.
An authority on this topic who examined the passages at my request remarked that the contents were “very familiar,” suggesting the book might have been “written by a ghostwriter (or writers).” He noted errors on several points, such as the number of Jewish refugees cited (“several hundred and not 20,000 as stated in the book”) and their countries of origin (“not from Germany but from Poland and Lithuania”). Such discrepancies have apparently not discouraged large numbers of readers from snatching up the book at ¥840 a copy.
Meanwhile, a flamboyantly pro-Japanese gentleman named Tony Marano, aka “Texas Oyaji,” has been appearing with regular frequency in the Yukan Fuji tabloid newspaper. Interviews with the 65-year-old Marano, who boasts no academic or professional credentials to speak of, appear in the April edition of Voice, a monthly opinion magazine published by the PHP Institute, and in Flash magazine’s April 1 issue.
Marano’s main claim to fame (or notoriety) is his circulation of a petition demanding removal of the comfort-woman statue erected by Korean Americans in a park in Glendale, California. The petition has reportedly reached 100,000 signatures, the requisite number to warrant an official response from the White House.
For those who might have difficulty comprehending an accent resembling character actors in “Law and Order” (“Thea wuz a woah goin’ on, see?”), Marano’s animated video rants are supplemented with Japanese subtitles. The most popular, in which he claims the comfort women were professional prostitutes guided solely by the profit motive (www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggQaYD37Jm4), has registered over 600,000 views.
At the end of the video, a Japanese woman’s voice solicits contributions through the Kumagaya branch of the Gunma Bank. A website produced by Marano’s Japanese supporters (texas-daddy.com) includes a “Texas Daddy Official Goods Store” hawking coffee mugs, cellphone ornaments and T-shirts (“Free shipping on orders over ¥5,250!”).
Interestingly, Texas Daddy’s website includes photographs of him on a visit to Japan together with Hiroyuki Fujita — the man also credited with translating Stokes’ latest book into Japanese. Unless you believe in startling coincidences, you might be moved to wonder if a nucleus of like-minded Japanese have taken it upon themselves to network with the few foreigners willing to publicly endorse their political assertions.
The revisionists and their fellow travelers can also count on support from a small number of Asians residing in Japan. Perhaps the most outspoken of these is Takushoku University professor Oh Seon-Hwa (age 58), who was born on Korea’s Cheju Island but is now a naturalized Japanese.
Oh has authored dozens of books, many openly critical of her former compatriots, and recently she collaborated with two other critics for publisher Tokuma Shoten on a series of dialogues in defense of Japan. The other two are Taiwan-born Ko Bunyu (aka Huang Wen- hsiung, age 76), author of numerous books including “Minikui Chugokujin” (“The Ugly Chinaman”), and China-born Seki Hei (aka Shi Ping, believed to be about 52). The third work in the series is titled “Nihonjin wa Chu-Kan to no ‘Zekko no Kakugo’ wo Mochinasai” (“Japanese, Please Resign Yourselves to Severing Relations with China and Korea”).
The historical issues they espouse aside, the small number of foreigners appeals to an almost exclusively domestic Japanese audience, one so eager to receive support from outsiders that they’re disinclined to question the quality, or motives, of those providing it.