Scholar troubled by Japan’s direction


Few intellectuals in Japan today are as deeply committed to peace and democracy as Rokuro Hidaka is. The 88-year-old sociologist is a witness to Japan’s aggression in China and, during the war, even went as far as proposing that Japan withdraw its troops from China, return its colonies and lay down foundations for democracy at home. In the subsequent 60 years, he has continued to strive for peace, justice and democracy as an academic.

Today, Hidaka, who lives in Paris but recently paid a rare visit to Japan, raises alarm bells about what is happening in Japanese society and politics, and questions where the country is heading. “It reminds me of what it was like before the Manchurian crisis: It’s almost as if we’ve gone back to where we were 60 years ago,” says Hidaka. “Freedom of the individual is in danger.” He speaks energetically and with a clarity of mind that belies his years.

Hidaka expresses concern over the Liberal Democratic Party’s push for constitutional revision. Looking closely at the LDP’s proposal released earlier this month, he warns: “If this is adopted, Japan will enter a dangerous time.” The LDP has deleted from Article 9 a sentence stating that military “forces as well as other war potential will never be maintained” and another sentence stating that “the right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

He is also troubled by proposed restraints on the rights and freedom of the individual guaranteed in Article 12. In its revised form, this article could become a potential tool for suppressing the distribution of leaflets as well as political rallies and demonstrations critical of the government. “The LDP wants a prewar-style political system” that allows minimum participation of electorates in the decision-making process, Hidaka says. “This is what the LDP has always wanted.”

“There is no doubt that the strongest pressure for revising Article 9 is coming from the U.S. administration,” Hidaka says. Since the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, it has been the United States’ wish to see Japan remilitarize. However, undermining civil liberty would fly in the face of what the U.S. stands for and might not win Washington’s support, he says.

Hidaka rejects the notion that the Constitution was imposed on Japanese people by the U.S. Occupation government. “This Constitution had strong support from the Japanese people,” he emphasizes, because it established individuals’ freedom and equality for the first time. The revitalization of Japanese society that followed helped to rebuild industry, he says.

The Occupation government based its draft of the Constitution on a proposal put forward by Iwasaburo Takano, head of a private think tank who subsequently became chairman of NHK Broadcasting Corp. Hidaka explains this at length in John Junkerman’s documentary “Japan’s Peace Constitution,” released earlier this year. The Japanese government might have felt imposed upon because its own proposal, which was only a slight modification of the Meiji Constitution, was rejected, Hidaka says.

The fact that the government that had tried to preserve the Meiji system has continued to rule Japan to this day could be the reason why Japan is slowly back-peddling on the democratic path. “In normal democracies there is a change of government, but there has effectively been none in Japan, only a change of prime minister,” Hidaka says.

He also notes that many aspects of Japanese society and politics have remained unchanged since the war ended, most notably the civil service. “It is just like what it was during the war,” he says, in that the class system in the central bureaucracy allows only a select group to climb up the promotional ladder.

Last month, Hidaka’s latest work, “Senso no nakade kangaeta koto” (“What I Contemplated During the War”), was published. As part one of his memoirs, it covers his childhood in Qingdao, his Tokyo University years and his work at the Naval Technological Institute in the final year of the war.

In the conclusion he writes: “I wrote this book because I cannot forget the war, and because soon there will be no one left who has experienced it.” He acknowledges that “I began to abhor war around 1928, when Japanese troops were mobilized to Shandong.” Referring to the Pacific War as the 15-year war that started with the 1931 Manchurian crisis, he maintains that “Japan lost the war to China before it lost to the United States,” adding that “this should be taught to children at school.” Japan went to war with the U.S. out of desperation, Hidaka says.

Throughout the war, Hidaka kept his political views mostly to himself, revealing them only to his family. His father, who had lived in China for 30 years, was deeply troubled by Japan’s colonial rule there and its insensitivity to the Chinese. His older brother, who died in action in northern China, had predicted in the late ’20s the exact course of events over the next 15 years down to the final outcome. These views were very much in the minority, however. “It was as if I’d become a schizophrenic,” Hidaka says. “I couldn’t give a hint of what was on my mind even to my friends.”

Consequently, when he was presented with an opportunity to write a proposal for Japan’s policy shift at the Naval Technological Institute, he pulled out all stops, prepared that it might become his “farewell note.” The report was submitted in July 1945, almost two weeks before the Potsdam Declaration.

In the report he proposed that Japan seek a peace settlement after withdrawing troops from China, and return all its colonies, making most of them independent. Domestically, Hidaka proposed that foundations for democracy and a welfare state be established, and that freedom of expression and political activity be guaranteed. Looking ahead, Hidaka stressed the importance of Japan’s relations with China. Yet, 60 years later, the two countries’ political relations are marked by tension and mistrust.

History is a combination of continuity and discontinuity, Hidaka says, but in Japan a thread of continuity is inordinately strong because, unlike Germany after World War II, this country has never really tried to break with its past.

It would be too simplistic to say the prewar system will return, Hidaka says, adding that it will re-emerge in a different form in today’s complex world. That’s why “we must make efforts to open Japan once again (to international values and ideas).”

At a time like this, he stresses, “it is important to have venues where people can freely exchange ideas. What is at stake is democracy: The fundamental principle that sovereign power resides with the people is crumbling before our eyes.”