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David McNeill’s Jan. 27 article, “Justice minister talks in death-penalty riddles,” cites a clunky and faulty translation of an interview with Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama. However one may disagree with Hatoyama’s civilization theories, his arguments are clear. According to the interview, as published in the Oct. 26 issue of the weekly magazine Shukan Asahi, Hatoyama stated that the Japanese value life, whereas “Oushuu” (“Europe” — not “Western nations”) is a civilization of “chikara to tousou” (“force/might and conflict/strife”).

Hatoyama implies that, precisely because Japanese value life, they put a high price on the cold and remorseless taking of life by executing those convicted of murder with unrepentant malice. Whereas “so-called civilizations of force and conflict” are moving away from capital punishment because death penalty abolitionists believe that no victim’s life is worth the life of even the most hardened, unregenerate killer.

On Oct. 24, Hatoyama lectured the Judicial Affairs Committee of the Lower Houses on a civilization like Japan, which aspires toward harmony, beauty and compassion, vis-a-vis those that thrive on creating enemies. He specifically attributed his thinking to the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, and affiliated scholars like Jomon spiritualist Takeshi Umehara Takeshi, environmental archaeologist Yoshinori Yasuda and comparative economics historian Heita Kawakatsu.

Yasuda is the most prolific proponent of the environmental determinist school of thought, according to which Japan is a “civilization of beauty and compassion,” in contrast with Judeo-Christian and Islamic states, and even China. His books are standard reading for romantic nationalists.

william wetherall