On 25th November 1970, right-wing novelist Yukio Mishima was the last person to commit the ritual samurai suicide known as 'Seppuku'. He drove into the SDF army garrison at Ichigaya, Tokyo with his gang of private bodyguards (known as the Shield Society), took the commanding officer hostage, and called on the troops present to overthrow the government and return Japan to 'traditional discipline and values'.
Mishima's attempted coup failed, but forty-three years later, we have a similar situation - less dramatic, but infinitely more dangerous.
This week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is rushing new State Secrecy legislation through the Lower House with no referendum, no public debate, and hardly any press coverage. It will give the government further powers to arrest and imprison anyone who disagrees with what the Government is trying to do.
Most of the bill's contents are preoccupied with the security of the nuclear power industry, because a) Abe wants to switch the atomic plants back on as quickly as possible and b) he wants the power to eliminate whistle blowers who try to warn the public of existing safety problems.
Why the big hurry to restart the nuclear program, while the Fukushima plant is still in such a fragile condition?
Because Japan has almost no fossil fuels of its own. It has deliberately neglected research into renewable energy sources because it's been in bed with the nuclear lobbyists for decades. Since 3/11. Japan has been importing energy, which has inceased its trade deficit (it has the world's largest national debt at one quadrillion yen - that's USD 10.5 trillion). This is crippling Abe's attempts at economic revival. In a situation like this, any country has two choices; generate the power at home (nuclear power being the only option) or go and get the reserves from elsewhere.
This second choice has caused the current territorial dispute with China concerning the uninhabited Senkaku Islands and the oil and gas reserves said to lie beneath them. On 22nd November, China announced an "air defense identification zone" covering the disputed islands, bringing Japan and China one step closer to armed conflict.
In the current Parliamentary sessions, Abe is overtly attacking three pillars of Japanese democracy: the 1946 Constitution which renounces war, the education law which puts a curb on nationalism, and the security treaty with the United States. Two of his allies are the Shinto Association of Political Leadership, and the Shinto Political Alliance Diet Members’ Association, which are determined to restore “traditional Japanese spiritual values.”
By “traditional Shinto”, of course, they mean the early 20th Century. If we go back a couple of thousand years to the origins of Shinto, we find it was an animist, nature-based faith similar to Celtic Paganism. Shinto taught every material thing, every tree, every stone, every river, held a spark of the divine (a Kamisama) and the lives of human beings were linked to the earth by a system of festivals and ceremonies. The emphasis on the Emperor as religious and military head of state was only added recently, after the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Now fast-forward to 2013, and ‘nature’ is as stunted as a bonsai tree, and rural Japan is covered from coast to coast by concrete roads and dams, overhead power lines, electrical pylons, and decaying farm buildings, creating one of the ugliest-looking countries in the world.
This rapid slide from conservatism to fascism was triggered by 3/11. It didn't start it, but it sure did accelerate it. Nobody can predict how such 3/11-style 'Black Swan' events (as they are called by economists) will affect the world in the future. The Philippines has suffered one of the most tragic and devastating typhoons in global history. The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is a very real problem for many New Yorkers, one year on. Japan’s own coast has been hit by fatal storm surges in the past (which are separate from tsunamis), the last one being at Ise Bay in 1959. There is a very real possibility that you, the person reading this, will be caught up in a natural disaster at some point in the future - and then you'll find out whether the Government can help you or not.
If you're fine with that, or if you think Japan is such an insignificant nation that it doesn't matter what it gets up to, then stop reading now. If what you've read makes you concerned, or worried, then read the next blog post - titled "Official Secrets".