Wartime slogan should stay buried

During her question in the Diet last week, Junko Mihara, a member of the Upper House who belongs to the Liberal Democratic Party, employed a phrase closely associated with Japan’s militarism and nationalism in the 1930s and ’40s — “Hakko Ichiu,” which literally means putting all the eight corners of the world under one roof — in a positive tone and proposed using the idea behind it as a means of overcoming the “law of the jungle” in today’s globalization. She later wrote on her website that she was indeed aware how the phrase was utilized during the wartime years. If so, Mihara’s use of the term was utterly inappropriate and demonstrates her insensitivity not only to the implications of her actions but to the feelings of other people in Asia who suffered greatly from Japanese militarism.

The phrase was coined by Chigaku Tanaka, an activist of the Nichiren school of Buddhism, in 1913 by taking a cue from a remark attributed to Japan’s legendary first Emperor Jinmu. Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), an official history book completed in 720, quotes him as saying just prior to his enthronement in the legendary palace of Kashihara in what is now Nara Prefecture: “I will cover the eight corners of the world and make them my abode.” Although Tanaka is said to have opposed war and called for total disarmament, the Japanese military adopted the phrase as its slogan in the 1930s — a period marked by the Mukuden Incident staged by Japan’s Kwantung Army, the ensuing military occupation of Manchuria, the establishment of the puppet state of Manchukuo and Japan’s full-scale military aggression against China.

Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe’s second Cabinet employed the slogan Hakko Ichiu in its July 1940 Outline of Basic National Policies, which spelled out the basic ideas of Japan’s war footing and of what came to be called the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. At the outset, it said to the effect that “the kernel of the national policy is to make the establishment of world peace happen on the basis of the great spirit of the founding of the nation — putting all the corners of the world under one roof — and to build the new order in greater East Asia, in which Imperial Japan serves as the core and strong combination of Japan, Manchukuo and China the root and the trunk.” The slogan Hakko Ichiu, embodying the idea of making one world with Japan headed by the emperor leading other countries, came to be used to justify the Japanese invasion of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Allied Powers regarded Hakko Ichiu as inseparable from Japan’s state shintoism, militarism and extreme nationalism, and the office of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers banned its use in public documents in December 1945, along with the phrase “Great East Asia War.”

In the Upper House’s Budget Committee, Mihara quoted from a 1938 book “Kenkoku” (the Founding of the Nation), written by Yoshitaro Shimizu, an ideologue of Japanese nationalism, and said Hakkoi Ichiu means members of the world getting along with each other like members of a family, in which its head, who is the strongest, does not exploit family members but protects them. In the presence of Finance Minister Taro Aso and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, she called for establishing an economic order characterized by mutual help under the idea of Hakko Ichiu, which she characterized as values cherished by Japan since its founding.

The statement by the first-term lawmaker highlights her lack of sensitivity to how the phrase was used to promote Japan’s wartime militarism and what the nation did under the slogan. Perhaps more ominous is that neither Abe nor Aso reprimanded her, nor did Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga or Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Sadakazu Tanigaki when they touched on her statement. Their silence could raise further raise suspicions in other countries about the attitudes of the Abe administration and the LPD toward Japan’s militarist past.

At the very least they should refer to and uphold statements made by Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in the Diet in 1983 — who said that the self-righteousness contained in the phrase Hakko Ichiu was the root cause of Japan’s failed policies that ultimately led to its devastating defeat in the war.