Tokyo Damage Report

Interview: expert on Uyoku!

 

 

 

TDR: so how did you get from straight-edge hardcore punk to researching uyoku?

 

PROF: as a punk rock kid growing up (in Redlands), there was a group of ex-skinheads turned hardcore Christians, (or is that “hardcore hardcore Christians?”) who took the new york city beat-down aesthetic to southern California, but in the name of Jesus. And they would attempt to prosteletyze to the wayward youth. I would go down there and wait for them to talk to me, and argue with them! “What about the dinosaurs?” But at the same time, I was interested in how they could maintain their faith and commitment in spite of evidence to the contrary. It was also a process of learning what was dogmatic about my own thoughts!

 

And then when I came to Japan, I was in the hardcore scene here. I would see bands that claimed straight-edge but they weren’t straight edge at all. I became attuned with how people would play with images, skateboarding, bandanna thrash, pc, and so on. It wasn’t until 2002 that my band played a show with skinhead bands, and I was shocked to see their use of SS insignia, as well as Imperial Japanese Army imagery. I went to the websites of (patriotic skinhead bands) RAISE A FLAG and HAWKS, and posted questions about these symbols. One of the interesting exchanges that resulted was that, a fan of the Hawks, he told me, “The Japanese right-wing guys, a lot of the rank-and-file are actually ethnic Koreans, who are just doing it for as a part-time job. They don’t feel it’s contradictory.” So that made me interested in the Japanese right wing. And also when I first moved here, I lived in Yotsuya, which is right by the Imperial Palace, so I could open my window on any given day and hear the uyoku trucks driving and playing music.

 

I had finished my studies at Waseda University, where I wrote a masters’ thesis on cross-cultural exchange in the hardcore punk scene. I was applying for PhD. Programs back in Anthropology the United States, and I was thinking of continuing of music-related research, but I thought that wouldn’t be so cool to still be doing when I was 45! I thought that the right-wing groups would have a longer shelf-life as an academic project for me. Also, music was “lower-case-i” important, and changing politics in Japan was “upper-case-I important.” And so that’s the reason . . .

 

TDR: . . . . . and he finishes his first sentence!!

TDR: So is it true that there’s lots of ethnic Koreans in the uyoku?

 

PROF: I don’t know. But they say that the Yakuza is 70% ethnic Koreans. And given the amount of Yakuza groups sponsoring uyoku activities, it would make sense that some of them are. I’ve seen the daisensha, the big trucks, with crossed Japanese and South Korean flags. Stuff like that.

 

TDR: When you first started your research, how did you win the trust of people who might be distrustful of foreigners?

 

PROF: (after I started) . . . If I had just walked up to someone (in a uyoku group) and started talking, I wouldn’t have any idea of what their answer would mean! I needed to get grounded in the kinds of discussions people were having and the kind of words that they would use. So I was buying a lot of monthly magazines and books by the right, and trying to get a sense of what issues they were interested in, who says what when, what kind of rhetorical space they occupy. I also started searching out websites and message boards. And often those boards would list rallies and things like that, and I started to go to those. But I’d just shadow them ? walk on the other side of the street from the march, and linger around after it was over. I’d also go to the oratory sessions in front of the train stations.

 

And in the course of that summer, I became a regular face to them, and of course the lone gaijin stands out! So on a couple of occasions people would ask me what I was doing, but once they found out that I could speak Japanese and was interested in studying these issues, they took me around and introduced me to their friends. Telling me I should come back on such-and-such a day for a rally, or read a book by so-and-so.

 

TDR: so they were flattered by the attention, moreso than, uh, suspicious that you are a spy?

 

PROF: Well, there were plenty of people glaring at me, too, but naturally it was the more outgoing and gregarious people that approached me.

 

Incidentally, Can you classify the uyoku groups nowadays?

 

PROF: The traditional right ? they trace their lineage back to the pre-war groups. They are concerned with traditional culture, and so they do self-cultivation: things like writing poetry, martial arts, that they consider like being a strong Japanese citizen.

 

Some groups are religious groups that are uyoku by default. Shinto usually. In wartime, Nichiden was a big Bhuddist force on the conservative side, but that’s about it. But groups that are associated with certain shrines, like Yasukuni, will be engaged in uyoku activism.

 

Then there are ninkyo agroups that are Yakuza affiliated. Whether they’re full-time Yakuza who just do uyoku activies on the weekends, or uyoku that are just good friends with yakuza, it’s a blurry line!

 

Then there are the minzokuha, who are the ethnic nationalists. They can come from all the different factions of uyoku but they tend to be a little less Establishment, and criticize the U.S. more, and be more explicitly Japanese. They tend to be active on a day-to-day basis, unlike the ninkyo who only show up for anniversaries of important events.

 

Then there’s the shinuyoku, or New Right. There’s only a few shinuyoku groups but they are very popular, very prominent. They write a lot of books and sponsor a lot of events.

 

TDR: Do any of the groups have real beef with the current political system? Like, wanting to tear down the current government for being too soft, kind of thing?

 

PROF: The current (Liberal Democratic Party) government is really conservative, so when the uyoku has had beef, it has been with politicians from minor parties, or minor figures within the LDP who say something that goes against the party line.

 

TDR: are there any major factional disputes between the different kinds of uyoku?

 

PROF: I haven’t got access to that yet! Everybody likes to talk about the fact that the left-wing student movement of the ‘60s and 70s was so plagued with factionalism and infighting, and uchigeba (lynchings), whereas in contrast the uyoku is a lot more open and can fold in people who have different views for the sake of a larger cause. It helps them to have these symbolic beliefs like the divinity of the Emperor and so on ? if you believe in that, they’ll forgive you for disagreeing on such-and-such other issue and everyone can work together. But there are still all sorts of disagreements on what kinds of ways to approach the issues, what kinds of activism. Tactics, presentation, which issues to make a big deal of and so on.

 

TDR: Foreigners want to know about the noisy trucks! Are the uyoku aware that this confrontational behavior is very un-Japanese? And do they really think that by yelling and being scary that some random Japanese dude on the sidewalk is gonna say, “Hey, that makes sense to me! I did not believe this before but I do now! Wait up, guys, I want to join this yelling group of yours!”

 

PROF: They don’t think it’s un-Japanese to yell and be scary-looking. If anything, the demure, complacent, non-screaming Japanese people, (are un-japanese). They would say that that’s the brainwashing that’s happened since the occupation, which has stripped Japanese people of their true spirit, their martial character.

 

Anyway, each venue for activism – the trucks, the oratory sessions in front of the station, the private study groups – has a very specific set of rules for performance. Some groups specialize in the driving-down-the-street-yelling, and other groups specialize in speeches. So when you’re driving down the street, you’re not expecting to engage in dialogue. It’s public protest, like civil disobedience.

 

TDR: Like hippies who want to stop the war so they lie down in the middle of a busy street?

 

PROF: Yeah. The trucks drive really slow, and play martial music at the maximum level allowed. Police follow them with db meters! On august 9 th every year, there’s protests near the Russian Embassy. Of course there are barricades, but the trucks always feign to ram the barricades, and pull back.

 

TDR: OK, so the yelling trucks are supposed to be disruptive and not to convince people, but the train station lecturers. . .

 

PROF: Yeah, the lectures at the train stations are one of the primary tools for recruitment. In the group I’m close to, all but one of the people who have come into the group in the last 6 months ? they came in from listening to these in-front-of-the-station things.

 

TDR: To foreigners, a lot of the uyoku issues seem really symbolic: the divinity of the emperor, the tiny-ass islands in the middle of nowhere they’re arguing with Russia about, the Yasukuni shrine. Do they have any concrete plans at all? Like if they were to get in power tomorrow, would they be like, “Lower the intrest rate on that! Raise taxes on this! Quotas for the other!”

 

PROF: The islands in dispute, both with Russia and China, the issue is not entirely symbolic! Russia can take fish from those waters (around the disputed islands) and Japan can’t! The other islands, they’re in between Okinawa and Taiwan. Japan is calling them an Islands, and China has started calling them rocks. If it’s a rock, it doesn’t get Special economic Zone status, and then China can mine for resources underwater, as well as fish, within a 2oo km radius. I’m trying to think of other issues that have real importance. Most of them want Article 9 to be scrapped. The whole constitution should be scrapped.

 

TDR: whoa! That is some real shit!! What’s article 9?

 

PROF: The ninth article of the constitution that renounces war-making potential for japan.

 

TDR: The constitution was made by MacArthur, so it’s no good. I can see the reasoning there. But what kind of new constitution do they ? I mean, specifically which laws would they change besides the no-army one?

 

PROF: Some people say that the current constitution is invalid because it was forced on them during the occupation, so it is technically illegal under international law. So by that token the true constitution is the last legally ratified constitution, which is the Meiji Constitution. So first it should go back to the Meiji constitution and then have changes made to it to fit the modern age. Other people say that going all the way back is stupid, so we should draft a whole new constitution now, without reverting.

 

TDR: So they are really angry about American occupation, but they are puppets of the Americans. How weird is that? What I mean is, at the same time as MacArthur and the OSS were messing with the constitution, they recovered some of the Emperor’s war gold and set up the umpteen-billion-dollar “M-fund” to secretly fund uyoku and gangsters, to smash communism in Japan. So are the modern uyoku aware of their pro-American origins?

 

PROF: No. They’d trace their lineage to pre-war groups like kokuryuukai and genyousha. Most of the people’s disdain for the U.S. is the atomic bombing, and even more than that, the constitution! This is just my personal take on it, but it seems like a lot of them have the idea of, “Ok, fine we got beat in the war! But then you foisted this constitution on us!”

 

TDR: But isn’t that just a symbolic issue again?

 

PROF: Women were given equality under the U.S. imposed Constitution. Land was redistributed under the U.S. imposed Constitution. The military was disbanded and disallowed, and the emperor was removed as head of state and put into a symbolic cultural role. There’s all sorts of things they don’t like about it.

 

TDR: You said something last time that shocked me a bit ? that some of the uyoku were criticizing the Emperor?

 

PROF: Most groups don’t do that. Even the ones that do have to do it very carefully. They’ll say that the mistakes that happened in the war were because the emperor was not obeyed by the military. The emperor, as a cultural symbol of the unity of the Japanese state and its people, should not be perverted for political purpose. In order to prevent this, he should move back to the cultural heart of Japan, the Kyoto / Nara area. (a long time ago ) the Emperor originally moved to Tokyo from Kyoto for political reasons, so we should go back to the earlier era.

 

TDR: But doesn’t this contradict the idea that the U.S. ?drafted Constitution is bad because it removed the Emperor as head of state?

 

PROF: They would say that ? it’s like, should the pope be a religious figure or do you want him to be the President? As the cornerstone of the Japanese people, the emperor should not be taken advantage of by the political whims of the time, and should be kept sacred.

 

TDR: You really know how to break it down! If you can’t get the professor gig, you could be a lobbyist for uyoku!

 

PROF: Sheee. . . .That’s a problem! I get that a lot. As an anthropologist, you’re not usually forced to defend the group you’re studying. If you’re working with salarimen at a company, nobody asks you, “So are you supporting the salarimen?” And if you’re working with left-wing groups, that doesn’t come up either. But people always ask me, “So are you an apologist for them?” That’s not my intention. I want to put their ideas out there in a nonbiased way, so everyone can have the freedom to listen to it and decide that’s wrong or that’s right. It’s a little bit troubling to me that I am asked to put my own political affiliations at the forefront! If a newspaper goes after uyoku for the things they say, that’s great! But given the amount of trust that they’ve placed in me, for me to turn around and criticize them is way too cheap of a shot, and not as interesting as what I am doing now!

 

TDR: double standards are bad!

 

TDR: The organization you are close to, what are their top five issues? What do they get red in the face about on an everyday basis?

 

PROF: On a given day, the main issues are, American imperialism and a corollary to that, American economic imperialism which is attempting to forcibly liberalize and deregulate the Japanese economy.

 

TDR: What does liberalize mean?

 

PROF: If you liberalize an economy, you make it so it is open-access to any investors (from foreign countries), instead of protected (Japanese investors control all the Japanese companies).

 

TDR: still no clue !

 

PROF: Well for instance, they will talk about the Postal reforms that Koizumi did. (the postal service, which is also somehow the largest bank in Japan, was privatized)They will say that those reforms were basically done at the behest of the Americans. They’ll talk about the deregulation of the insurance industry. Up until that point, they had barriers so that foreign companies could not come into the Japanese (insurance) market.

 

TDR: You mean corporations like Allstate or whatever, or individual investors?

 

PROF: Both! There were limits as to what percentage of a publicly traded company could come from foreign sources. What both the government and the guys on the right are concerned about is, small Japanese companies being bought out by massive foreign multinationals. Sometimes that’s a knee-jerk “We don’t want the foreigners!” thing, but sometimes foreign investment is not a good thing for the Japanese shareholders or the Japanese users of those companies if those companies were to ultimately go bankrupt.

 

 

TDR: Deeyamn! That’s a mouthful. OK, besides American imperialism, what else is a big issue for uyoku?

 

PROF: The other thing is conspiracy theory stuff! Against soka gakkai ( Japan’s sinister version of Scientology), against ethnic Koreans in Japan and, against North Korea. And of course battles with China and the U.S. over how to teach WWI history. What are some other big ones? Oh, gender-free education.

 

TDR: Huh?

 

PROF: Teaching boys and girls that they have the same opportunities and can do the same things. They are very against that because they think they won’t know who’s who and it will erode the differences between boys and girls and blah blah blah kind of thing.

 

TDR: Is there a difference between things they say at the train station speeches to get people on their side, vs. what they really want to accomplish?

 

PROF: Most groups have a certain set of issues which they are symbolically committed to, that they don’t think are really going to happen. Things like Japan’s independence from the U.S. security sphere ; the Self Defense Forces returning to an imperial army, and the restoration of the Emperor as the head of state. They mostly realize that it’s not going to happen, although they would consider that as a cornerstone of their belief system. But when they talk in front of the train stations, mostly it is to put their spin on current events, to give passers-by perspective they would not ordinarily get.

 

TDR: So it’s like involuntary talk radio!!!!

 

PROF: Most people seem good at ignoring it.

 

TDR: Are they concerned about corrupting foreign influences, like Disney or rap music or whatever?

 

PROF: Not so much. The guys that are riding on the trucks screaming, those guys are for the most part fairly pro-American, to the extent that they’re a hold-over from the cold war days. They consider America to be a bulwark against the Chinese. There are guys who don’t drink coca-cola, and are anti-American, but they’re a small minority.

 

TDR: Do they have any concern for, or programs to help, Japanese citizens who are in trouble: the homeless, the unemployed, the NEETS and freeters (under- or part-time employed)? Does that count as patriotism to the uyoku?

 

PROF: I haven’t really heard much about that. Although I have had discussions with guys who say, “I want to know why so many Japanese go abroad. I want to know why so many women aren’t having babies.” Not like “We want to dominate them!” but from the perspective of, if we want to keep the nation going, we want happy people who are having babies. It’s a little weird. But there does seem to be an honest concern, with some right-wingers, about what young people are thinking. Other ones, no.

 

TDR: Do they feel like Japanese women should be more politically active or more pissed off at the current political climate?

 

PROF: They like that. Some of those guys make like these lame, 50s style sexist jokes, like the kind of harassment you would assume a airline stewardess would get back in the 50s. You do hear that kind of thing, but there are women who participate fully in some of the groups and despite those comments the women are not held to a lower standard than the rest of the people. They don’t seem to be conflicted about it. Some of the larger rallies they try to put women and children in the front of the marches, and they’ll ask specifically for the members to bring their women and children. There’s an attempt to conservative issues seem not just the realm of scary, surly-looking guys. But that depends on what the issue is!

 

TDR: Anthropology question! Do those guys have some kind of common childhood experiences or “Aha!” moments that predispose them to grow up and become uyoku?

 

PROF: I don’t know at this point. A lot of people went to rather conservative colleges, which makes me think they came from conservative households to begin with. The majority of founders of one particular group, all came from the same religious sect, a sect noted for being very austere and conservative. Other people, when they were in college, traveled through China and the middle-east, and from that, they would come to see Japan as a beacon for the under-developed world, rather than the West. Like the greater east asia co-prosperity sphere kind of idea. So then they’d hook up with the right-wing guys.

 

Are they pissed-off at everyday Japanese people for being too complacent?

 

PROF: Yeah, a lot of them. But some of them have a very populist slant ? like, they think most people would agree with them, but the people are being suppressed by the media or taken advantage of by the politicians. Especially in front of the train stations, a lot of them are like, “You’re the Everyman, you know what’s right and wrong, and you can see what the media and the politicians are up to!” They play that card, but that’s like right-wingers everywhere.

 

TDR: In the eighties when communism fell apart, did that change the uyoku’s long-term goals, or their funding or recruitment at all?

 

PROF: One thing that changed was, the Left in Japan also fell apart, and that was their big enemy. So the right-wing groups had to struggle to make themselves relevant in post-bubble Japan. For some groups this meant moving over to this anti- U.S., anti-imperialism thing. As far as money, there were several legal changes made in the early ‘90s, which cracked down on organized crime and the uyoku affiliated with organized crime. I think the law was called Bouryokudan taishou houritsu. Before that law, a lot of crime groups were using political activism as a front for racketeering and extortion.

 

TDR: AHA! This is what everyone wants to know. How did that extortion go down? How was right-wing extortion different than the famous sokaiya-style extortion? Seems like they’d have to try harder to make a pretext! You have to have something good to yell while you’re circling your black vans around a corporate headquarters 24 hours a day. . .

 

PROF: I’ve never heard it myself, but I heard that the uyoku would often claim the company’s employee came to them! Saying, “Can you save me? You chivalrous guys? The company is not treating me fairly!” Now this may or may not have happened, but that’s what the uyoku would say: “You’re not treating your people right!” or, “You’re selling out to China!” Most companies have a particular Yakuza group they are close to. So the company would ask the Yakuza to come in and get the uyoku to stop. The Yakuza would ask the uyoku, “How much money do you need to shut up?” The uyoku would reply, maybe, “100 man.” ($11,000 about) Then the Yakuza would tell the company, “They want 200 man,” and then the Yakuza pockets the difference. Sometimes the Yakuza and Uyoku were working together, but sometimes they were independent.

 

TDR: So after the law cracked down, what did the uyoku groups do for money?

 

PROF: Well, a lot of them disappeared! It got really small. The fall of communism, the stricter laws, plus the recession, all hit at the same time. A lot of people that had lots and lots of trucks, had to sell them. And then in 2003, (governor) Ishihara changed the Tokyo laws to ban diesel trucks. And the regional uyoku groups in the countryside had these huge tricked-out vans and trucks, Giant and incredibly loud and just fearsome. And they’d drive to Tokyo and sleep in the vans because they couldn’t afford to sleep anywhere else. But when the law changed, they had no way to get to the city and nowhere to stay if they did! So they were forced out of activism for a while.

 

TDR: OK, thanks for the interview. This has been awesome! You have no idea how many people have been waiting for someone like you to come along and explain the nationalists like this. Good luck in your research!

 

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