Tokyo Damage Report

Introduction to 劇的なロック (geki-teki rock)

Gekiteki (劇的) means dramatic, or theatrical. 


Since coming to Japan I done seen a lot of "genre" shows: punk shows, metal shows, even shows with punk and metal on the same bill!   But every once in a while,  some wacky bands will sneak on the bill, bands that defy categorization. bands that are RAD.  But all these bands have some things in common:

They use some combination of props, costumes, choreography, physical performance (anything from "acting" and pantomime to breaking things which have been set on fire), audience-participation, and narration.
They are more about concepts (the "characters" they play and the back-story of those characters) than actual music. 
Who were all these people?
Where did they come from?
Why did they seem to not know each other,but have similar outlooks on performance?
What intrigues me about this gekiteki/theatrical rock business is, it's not a scene.
it's not a subculture.
Almost none of the bands sound the same as any other band.  
Some dress like shrimp. Others like dolls.
Some look like normal rockers  but have really deep lyrics about Japanese surreal horror novels.
Others dress up like characters from those same  novels, but their lyrics are about some other shit entirely! 
It seems like there are a thousand kids, in a dozen different cities,  playing all different types of music in all different decades, who just ALL HAPPENED TO HAVE THE SAME IDEA:  "LET'S EXPRESS OURSELVES IN THE FORM OF A ROCK OPERA."
In America, by contrast,  we have  GWAR and.  . .. well, that's it. For the last 30 years, all we have had is GWAR .
WTF America???
For years these questions buzzed in the back of my mind, and finally I got fed up and decided to  do a GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT
"The gekiteki rock project?" you say. "What on earth is that?"
THE GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT is an attempt to catalog all the bands, in order to answer these questions:




Gekiteki rock is a phrase I made up to describe these many diverse bands that have different themes, different images, different sounds, but all share something in common, something not found in other countries. Since Japanese people themselves don't realize that this is A Thing, they never came up with a name or category for it.
When I say gekiteki rock, I don’t just mean some fake KISS band with makeup and a wacky costume. While I’m sure those bands are (*sigh*) just fine, there are too many of those to even count. 
Gekiteki rock is a combination of  three elements;
First element: THEATRE
Not just costumes but also:
  • The band members portray characters who have a backstory and are ‘in character’ on stage
  • songs that are part of a larger plot
  • stage decoration or props
  • narration or acting between songs
second element : WAYOUMIX
Wayou (和洋, pronounced wah-yo!) is a word made from the characters for Japan (= wa) and the West (= You), and it means mixing eastern and western styles together. In this case, mixing western rock music with . .
  • Japanese costume (for example, kimono, samurai garb, Buddhist monk clothes, modern working-man’s clothing)
  • Japanese melody ( for example, melodies from minyoukyoku or enka),
  • Japanese scales (called onkei)
  • Japanese singing style (kobushi, a mixture of vibrato and kind of scratchy voice)
  • Japanese instruments (usually shamisen or shakuhachi)
  • Japanese deep culture lyrics (for example, old folk-tales, religious themes, historical or literary references, or old ghost stories (kaidan, noroi, or yuurei))
Third element  : ANGURA influence
(angura is a contraction of the word ‘Underground’  . . . but it does not refer to punk or hardcore bands. Instead it refers to a ‘canon’ of ‘classical’ dark, literary Japanese avant-garde artists from the ‘30s to the ‘70s).  Gekiteki bands usually have band-names, lyrics or costumes or cover-art inspired by ANGURA.
  • Artists : tadanori yokou,  hirano kouga.
  • Playwrights : (Terayama Shuuji, and his theatre group Joukyou Gekijo, butoh dance)
  • authors (Edogawa Ranpo, Dazai Osamu, Yumeno Kyuusaku, and Yokomizo Seishi,)
  • manga (hino hideshi, Maruo Suehiro,  古屋兎丸)
  • movie directors (Wakamatsu Kouji, Suzuki Seijun, Keiichi Tanaami, Kanai Katsu, Kazoo Hara)

usually NOT an element: actual music
These bands' music is usually (but not always) just a pretext for people to do performance art or theatre under the name of "rock". 
Heavy metal bands excepted, of course.
(you could reply that pop music in ANY country the music is just kind of an afterthought . ..  but the main point of pop is to get a Pepsi endorsement and a line of designer pants. In gekiteki rock, the music is sidelined to make room for actual CONCEPTS: the back-story, the characters' individual personalities, audience interaction, and so forth).


Not every band has those 3 influences in equal amounts, of course. Some bands are more theatrical , others are more wayou, and still others are more angura. So I started grouping them by sub-categories. However, bands in the same category aren't  necessarily  copying each other or even friends. More often than not they came up with the same idea totally independently.


But, with so many bands (over 60 as of right now!), it's easier to start by comparing bands that have similar themes, so I broke the 'geki-teki world' down  into 9 sub-categories:


GENERAL THEATRICAL ROCK –  the catch-all category for rock operas or character-based bands

SHIRONURIKEI –  (literally 'painted-white face') the more art-studenty, retro-'20s,  Japanese-traditional-melody-having older sister of Visual Kei. Shironurikei combines wayou and theatrical rock in almost equal amounts.

LITERARY - combining western music (usually heavy metal) with lyrics inspired by Japanese surrealist and horror novels

PAGAN – combining rock with Shinto, Buddhist, or even older shamanistic Japanese traditions.

MILITARIST – doing Nazi or  Imperial Japanese Army drag. Just for shock or  . . . .?

NOISE/PERFORMANCE ART – because terrorizing the audience is a form of theater.

RETRO SHOWA/TAISHO POP – combines rock with retro-1910's / 1920`s nostalgia and old-timey pop music.

CABARET / BURLESQUE  – because burlesque has always been theatrical, based on teasing and interacting with the audience

AKIHABARA STYLE –   based as it is on anime, the performers are always "characters" and have a backstory, lines, etc. Also the audience gets so into the ritualized gestures and call-and-response that they do more work than the "performers."


Just in case that is not complicated enough, here is  a sort of "family tree" of Japanese gekiteki rock styles:


SO,  TO RETURN TO THE MAIN QUESTION : Exactly what is it about japan that makes “rock opera” popular?
To find the answer is a three-step process; a process  that I'm begging you guys to help out with.
ONE :  I'll make a list of all the bands that have something GEKI-TEKI  going on. I'll post this in a fuckin' minute.
TWO: now that the bands are lined up side-by-side for comparison, let’s  look at their music, imagery, lyrics, and  try to find common themes : symbols, clothing, lyrical phrases, etc. Are 2 or more bands imitating the same artist, playwright, movie, or something? 
THREE:  Each time we  find a common theme, symbol, or fashion, we can start asking our Japanese friends, “What is the historical origin of this particular theme? Is it a custom from  Edo times or is is based on a particular artist or pop culture thing?”
In other words, it's about connecting the invisible lines of influence  that link these bands, and figuring out what it is that makes up the "invisible something" that makes them seem similar.
So I need your help . . .
  • if you know bands that should be on here, please let me know!
  • If you have pictures of the band, cover art, or lyrics from them, please send it.
  • If you think you found a common point or repeating pattern among bands, let me know! And let me know what you think is the source or roots of the pattern.



This is to help me (and you? if you're still reading) understand the cultural background and influences from which gekiteki bands sprang.
Let's start with traditional music: (or at least, those parts of traditional music that  lot of these bands seem to wind up using)
太鼓 : taiko drums
民謡曲 : Minyoukyokufolk music. Shrill!
童謡douyou – traditional childrens’ songs
声明 Shomyo – Buddhist sutras
雅楽 : gagaku – Shinto music
歌舞伎 – kabuki theater
音階 :Onkai – Japanese scale
こぶし  : kobushi – Japanese style vibrato
呪い noroi – trad. Ghost stories (lit. curses)
神話 - Shinwa – myths or mythology
怪談 - kaidan – ghost stories
下ネタ: shimoneta (crude material) : junior high kids’ or elementary kids’ immature playground songs.
And now, from the samurai times,  let’s skip right to the ‘60s, when TERAYAMA SHUJI dropped the bomb. This guy singlehandedly started the avant-garde (by which I mean, weird semi-illegal shit that wasn’t just a copy of Euro avant-garde) . He cultivated a crew around him that did shit in all formats: music, theatre, literature, whatever.
Also in the ‘60s there were a bunch of hippy/psyche bands that some people consider “avant garde” but fuck them. There’s a website that lets you download all the albums in the famous "japrock sampler" of Japanese psyche. I DLed most of them and they were just wretched. I deleted them. You heard me? I wouldn’t listen to that shit for free. 
In the ‘70s, the avant-garde shifted to prog rock! Most of this was just copies of foreign prog bands like Yes or ELP. . . there’s even a Japanese knockoff of BOSTON (they even got the same cover artist!).
But some bands like PEOPLE, AFTER DINNER, GEINOU YAMASHIROGUMI and EAST BIONIC SYMPHONY Infused the prog trend with traditional Japanese influences: mostly gagaku (a Shinto holy musical drone), and shoumyou (Buddhist sutra chanting). The results were not usually that good, but at least they were trying and they had moogs.
Around the same time as the prog guys were underground folk singers. Where prog was big and complex, folk went the opposite way: intimate and quiet.
I am frankly not sure why my Japanese friends insist that these folk singers are avant-garde or influential on gekiteki rock, but they insisted. I guess the folk-ers mixed up bob Dylan style with minyoukyoku (traditional Japanese folk) and had dark spooky or deep spiritual lyrical themes? I mean who cares, it’s just a douche with a guitar and no distortion. But anyway: the main people were
Inoue Yousi – his fans liked  the band kinnikushoujotai
Morita douji – her fans liked the bands kinnikushoujotai and uchouten
Asakawa maki
友川カズキ -
Tomokawa kazuki – his fans liked uchouten
Mikami Kan – his fans like uchouten.
Both Asakawa, Tomokawa, and Mikami came out of Terayama Shuuji's crew.
あがた森魚 (agata morio)
Fairly major folk singer. But conceptual (and therefore theatrical?)
Had elaborate stage sets. His catchphrase was “Taisho Roman” (taisho meaning the pre-war period of Japan, and roman meaning romance, meaning nostalgia Got all that???) . His lyrics and stage sets invoked the pre-war days of modernism, optimism and freedom of thought. But also kind of making his own world a la Tori Amos or whoever. Like he was invoking  nostalgia for a parallel universe Taisho.

Then late 70s: new wave! Rebelling against both prog and folk with sounds that were simple yet futuristic and new. And sideways haircuts for everyone!
 the big 3 wavers were P-MODEL, PLASTICS, AND HIKASHUU
Leader of Hikashuu was Makigami Koichi, originally a theatre guy, also a writer/ critic : he brought an avant garde, theatrical, kabuki influence to new wave.
But still they all –together with the avant- prog- and folk bands carried a lot of traditional Edo or Taisho imagery with them, and a sense of theatrical fun. Of which I am startlingly short of specifics. Any wavers want to give me a hand here?
Also can’t forget Togawa Jun and her band YAPOOS. Somehow they got a major label contract to make a rock opera about a sex android that fucks and kills its maker before going on a reverse-rape-and-hatchet spree. Unfortunately the music is just awful. YAPOOS were pals with p-model. And Togawa Jun remains to this day the template for every “wacky” female vocalist.
Then the ‘80s came and mainstream culture got taken over by anti-arty-farty machismo:  visual kei, bosozoku,  guitar solos and big hair,  etc.
The shironurikei trend was also started in the ‘80s, although it didn’t have the nerdy, gothy, anti-jock connotations it was later to aquire. It hadn’t really “jumped ship” from the regular rock and roll of the time.
Then the big 2 shironurikei bands of the ‘80s: UCHOUTEN and  KINNIKU JOSEITAI.
Kinniku Joseitai's fans were people that had grown up with  folk singers like Inoue Yousu and Morita douko
Uchouten's fans tended to more like  the folk singers Tomokawa kazuki and Mikami Kan. 
SO there's some "lines of influence" for ya.
Like the leader of Hikashuu, Uchoten’s vocalist also ran a theatre company on the side. I have no fucking idea what they did. Any theater goons want to help me out on this one?
Around, oh, let's say 1989 or so,  there was an influential TV program called : いかす バンド天国. (SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN ) 
This program was in large part responsible for the so-called “band boom” of the late ‘80s. Bubble economy didn’t hurt either. SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN was a battle of the bands, where the winner would get a major label contract.. but in the process it gave a lot of exposure to indie bands who also tried out, even if they didn't win. Of course indie (underground) bands had fans since the ‘60s, but now regular kids were getting into them and starting their own indie bands.
Also in the mid- ’90s was the bunkei boom. 文系 ブーム. This was a sort of nerdy, literary rock trend, led by  metallers Ningen Isu. It was a counter-reaction to the more jock-ish, yankii-ish metal and visual bands that had dominated the ‘80s. 
In the  late ‘90s, the shironurikei scene was big enough to split in twain: techno bands and rock bands. The techno bands were led by SHINJUKU GEWALT and the rock bands by KARIGARI. Neither of them were particularly good, but they influenced a lot of smaller bands that were, so please make a note of them in your ipad or whatever the fuck you kids use nowadays.
And after that, nothing happened.
OK. Now  I explained what the fuck this GEKITEKI BAND PROJECT is about,  this introduction is over.  I'm gonna give you a few days to let this sink into your heads and then start posting about  specific bands.
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Japan book review 9 : AMAKUDARI by Colignon and Usui



They sit on the boards of directors of almost 30 percent of big companies. . .. and 58 percent of the one hundred largest private firms, so they make all the money. They occupy 40-50 percent of the board positions in large and powerful tokushu hojin (government-run corporations),which don’t have to reveal anything about their finances and no-bid contracts to the public (although they’re funded by tax money!). They account for 20 percent of Liberal Democratic Party seats in the lower house of congress, and 33 percent of cabinet positions, so the government can’t outlaw them. They sit on the board of directors of all the media companies, so you won’t be seeing any exposes about them.


They’re not aliens or communist spies. They’re not even Jews  (shame on you)!


They’re . . . amakudari! Japan’s hidden ruling class.


Amakudari – literally “descended from heaven” –  are ex-bureaucrats that retire at around 50 and then spend the next 20 years working for the companies that they used to regulate.


If you want to build houses for a million dollars each , LIKE A SUCKER, go ahead. But if you want to build houses FOR THE GOVERNMENT at THREE million each, you got to hire one or two retired bureaucrats. Ditto government subsidies: If your company makes a product no one wants, will you go bankrupt? Not if you hire one or two retired bureaucrats.  Tired of your $15 shoes winding up costing over $30 because it’s so expensive to “comply with all the regulations?” No problem – just hire one or two retired bureaucrats to “explain to you” the regulations. Sure they cost money, and you’re not allowed to ever fire them, and they don’t even necessarily know what the fuck they are talking about , but who cares? They get you that free money. 


This kind of systematic yet informal corruption excites me! And that’s why I decided to read AMAKUDARI, by Colignon and Usui.


Colignon and Usui make a good point : Amakudari is not just the individual ex-bureaucrats running all the elite institutions. Amakudari is the network itself, which keeps voters/women/minorities/foreigners out of power. Amakudari is  their shared outlook on life which allows them to work together, despite the fact that business, bureaucrats, and politicians usually fight each other. And most importantly, it’s the complex set of unwritten rules and procedures that dictate HOW and WHEN and WHERE and WHO amakudari takes place, which all the guys in the network agree on through a sort of telepathy.


Colignon and Usui go so far as to suggest that the amakudari are the real government, and the stuff that the public sees: the flags, the big patriotic ceremonies, the kabuki debates in the Diet on TV, the scandals with disgraced CEOs hiding their head under their coat. . . all that is just window dressing designed to make the whole process look legitimate, while distracting people from the real government.


Even the idea that the bureaucracy, business, tokushu hojin (government-run corporations), academia, and elected officials are all “separate things” is part of the ruse.


Of course, all of those things have competing interests and kind of fight among each other over little things. And the various ministries also compete a little to gain more territory and regulate more things. But basically they all work together: the real government is a web of individual pod-people who have common goals and whose only loyalty is to the web itself.


This gives it the major power in Japan. But it’s Not loud power like winning debates or fighting the other side to win the election with lots of attack ads. Amakudari have Quiet Power : like stopping debates from happening in the first place, from making sure “inside guys” are the only guys running for election in the first place.


In other words, instead of being run by one charismatic dictator, with medals and eaptulets and shiny boots, Japan is run by 10,000 very drab, non-charismatic civil servants, who sort of Voltron together to form a web of power which is more , uh. . . .powerful, than any single leader.


As Colignon and Usui say,


The repeated movement of ex-officials to specific positions in private and public corporations through the different paths, represents one feature of amakudari.


Repeated movement? Paths? Sounds a lot like pachinko!


Picture the vice-minister of Human Resources twiddling the knob of the pachinko machine, and the retiring bureaucrats as the little balls (which, like casino chips = $$$) that are launched from the top and “descend” along “paths” determined by the little pins (the various corporations, tokushu hojin, think tanks, political offices, etc.) until they either hit a prize (board of directors of Bank of Japan! Kaching!) or sink to the bottom (unpaid directorship of some non-profit “raising awareness of bonsai trees.”) Plus, just like amakudari, releasing one ball to descend sets in motion the next ball – they descend in a chain, until fate or strategy shunts them into different slots.




This book is really frustrating.


Colignon and Usui explain well about a lot of the secret processes and rules that govern the retirement process. Who decides when Mr. X retires, who decides where he goes to afterwards, who decides how much he makes at the new company, and how do these unwritten rules change over time.


But instead of mentioning even one word about corruption, they waste a huge amount of time with mind-numbing charts and graphs that “prove” really obscure useless points like “Between 1982 and 1994, Ministry A’s amakudari declined 23% compared to Ministry B!” . . . as if it was some sort of baseball trivia contest:


“Barry Bonds’ Bunting ratio went up 19% after he was transferred to the Phillies, but his APB went down by 4%. Now Darryl Strawberry on the other hand. . .” Tedious.


“Why did I have to sit next to this guy at the party? Fuck! Should I get up and say I have to go to the bathroom? Or is that too obvious?”



And then there is no shortage of this kind of sentence:


And although amakudari has cultural mechanisms that motivate individual effort to reproduce the institution, it also manifests structural patterns among a matrix of organizations and formal institutions.


Oh really? You don’t say!


But most of the book is spent dealing with one single issue: which ministries place the most amakudari and how the ratio changes over the years. A tangent of a tangent of a tangent.


It’s crazy that this is the ONLY English-language book on the subject.


It’s as if there was only one book on heavy metal EVER, and that book ONLY dealt with the distinction between German death-thrash and wigger slam. And used statistics to prove mathematically that these were two distinct categories. No mention of black Sabbath, motorhead, slayer, or judas priest. But . . .just check out table 2b. WHO CAN ARGUE WITH TABLE 2B? NO ONE! EDUCATION WINS AGAIN! WE’RE HELPING PEOPLE!! 


It’s like . . .huh? Hey, book publisher: is this the best starting point you could think of? Why not just pay some grad student fifty bucks to translate all the good scandals from Japanese newspapers into English?  You wouldn’t even have to hire a writer! Wouldn’t that be a better place to start?!? Fucking gaijin, man.


I understand the authors of AMAKUDARI base their career on working with and interviewing beuracrats, and they don’t want to burn their sources by printing anything unflattering, but talking about amakudari only as “a way of developing networks” is like talking about tornadoes only as “a way air moves.”


Grow some stones, dude and lady. At least mention some scandals that were in newspapers and thus common knowledge in Japan.


Compare this to DOGS AND DEMONS, the classic book by Alex Kerr. It’s not even ABOUT amakudari, but in one random paragraph Kerr dishes more dirt than Colignon and Usui do in THEIR WHOLE BOOK.


I like Dogs and Demons so much, let’s see if I can recite Kerr’s example of amakudari corruption from memory:


Take the case of freeways. Instead of Ministry of Transportation directly hiring a construction company to make a new freeway, and paying for that with a bond (that voters would have to vote to authorize the passing of), the Ministry of Transportation will make a tokushu hojin called the “New Freeway Company,” which has no workers and no equipment. Just a few amakudari. Then The Ministry of Transportation will borrow a billion dollars from the ministry of finance (without asking/telling the voters OR the legislators), and give it all to New Freeway Company. And New Freeway Company will then use most of that money to hire an actual construction firm to do the actual work. A lot of that money will go missing. Thus, New Freeway Company serves two functions: to allow Ministry of Transportation to siphon money from the zaito (instead of a bond), to provide a safe “nest” for amakudari to “descend” into, and to facilitate the bribes and kickbacks so the Ministry doesn’t get its hands dirty. 


Anyone at home with a copy of DOGS AND DEMONS, tell me: how’d I do?


Instead of juicy conflict-of-interest scandals, corporate kickbacks, bribery, rigged bidding, no-bid contracts, government waste, backroom deals made in brothels, what do Colignon and Usui give me?


Page after page of one-sentence summaries of other academics’ papers. Some of the papers sound interesting, scandalous even, but we never get more than one sentence to sum up the whole paper – just enough to tease, never enough to inform. It’s like Colignon and Usui just want to cover their ass by saying, “Yes, Professor, we are familiar with the literature on the subject, we have done our homework.” But they don’t care about actually informing US, THE READERS. Well, fuck you too, buddy! Haven’t you heard of footnotes? If you’re going to mention something, explain what the fuck you’re talking about.


Not only do they not mention any cool scandals, but they don’t even mention any specific GOOD incidents where the government and the corporations worked together to solve an economic emergency. The book INSIDE THE KAISHA gives way more examples, despite that not really being the main point of INSIDE THE KAISHA.


A final word of warning:

 The nomenclature is annoying as fuck. Amakudari is a noun AND a verb. And to make matters worse, the authors identify 4 different types of amakudari – and one of those 4 types is ALSO called “amakudari”, so you’re never sure if they’re talking about that one specific type or amakudari in general, WTF man.


Because I actually care that you understand what I write, I’m going to refer to amakudari-in-general as “amakudari” and the amakudari-the-category as “amakudari classic.”




Here’s the difference between the gaijin style corruption and Japanese style:


All countries have their “back-room fixers” – the “men behind the curtain” who make the real decisions in politics. Basically if you’re on earth and you’re allowed to vote, you’re choosing between options that the back-room fixers have laid down.




Each country has its own system of backroom fixers. And in japan the fixers are NOT a  few Putin / Marcos / Mr.Burns-like overlords; instead there’s a wide network of thousands of unremarkable middle-aged drones, who gain power by collectively belonging to a big group which spans the upper echelons of politics, business, academia, media, and the federal bureaucracy.


And in japan the backroom fixer system has lots of (unwritten) rules.


Why? Since they have waaaay more guys doing the fixing,  they need waaay more rules to keep the various fixers from forming mini-cliques which would war among each other and derail the whole process.  Whereas if you just have one banana-republic dictator calling the shots, he can decide whatever.

Like,  of course, the dictator of Kalmykia, who built a whole small city to play chess in, while his people starved. This would not happen in Japan.


In America, some of our fixers are like George Soros and the Koch brothers. They were never politicians, never spent time in the federal bureaucracy. Although rich business men, They don’t even try to get power by joining the existing “business associations” of their industries.


Even those guys aren’t connected in the usual sense, they just woke up one day and said, “Hey, I’m rich, bitch! What is stopping me from starting a bunch of think tanks, PACs, and fake grass-roots pressure groups, and buying and selling politicians? Nothing, that’s what!” . This would never happen in japan.


Or even within “the system” of America, . . . say there’s five democratic mayors that all want to run for governor of the same state. The DNC (Democratic National Council)  will gather in some smoke-filled back-room and decide who gets to run, and the other four will be told, “You can sit down, or you can LAY down.” But even these decisions from within the system are usually arbitrary, case-by-case, and not following a protocol. “I like this guy.” “You like this guy, Harry?” “Yeah, he seems ok.” “OK then. Bill?” “I like that lady more, but whatever, it’s only Nebraska. Let’s nominate that first guy and then get martinis.”


And the example that Colignon and Usui give:  Dick Motherfucking Cheney! My man started as Secretary of Defense, then moved to a private oil company, and then went back to government work as the President, uh, I mean Vice President. This is what we call the “revolving door:” From public to private to public service and back again.


And, since in America, we DO have a powerful legislature, corporations have to persuade the legislature (rather than the buracrats and ministries).


Also, our retired corrupt guys become lobbyists, (who can represent a dozen clients at the same time), rather than salaried employees of one particular industry.





Unlike Dick Cheney and friends, makudari only goes one way: from the beuracracy outwards, and typically downwards. And they don’t try to influence legislators; they influence their former beuracratic colleagues. Also, they function as spies, passing inside knowledge of that company to the ministry.

 In this regard, amakudari maybe more like Russian ex-KGB than American lobbyists:  In Russia, former KGB (now FSB) agents laid off after the collapse of communism got high-ranking corporate jobs providing their spy services to their new capitalist overlords (and in return, spying on the capitalists, and reporting back to FSB central!)


It’s only in Japan that back-room deals are done by elaborate rules. Precedents are set, and then followed as if a binding legal decision had been made. People who have never met, in radically different industries, make the same exact choices, for reasons that are unclear even to them. Because That’s the Way of Amakudari. Things are not decided in the whimsical manner of the bannnna republic, or the contentious, chaotic, case-by-case basis of the United States. It’s not some American lobbyist who last week was working for a middle eastern tyrant and is now working on deregulating asbestos.

The Japanese rules for doing back-room deals get complicated and they get very firm/unchangeable. Why? Because there are so many players in the game, and it only works if all players feel that it’s fair.


Rules ensure fairness (for everybody who matters). In other words, amakudari is not JUST mutual benefit for the corporations and ministries. It’s taking people with opposing vested interests and knitting it into a single vested-interest. (what some call “reciprocal patronage”). Even notorious rivals like the Finance ministry and the MITI ministry can agree to get together to shut out everyone else: foreign businesses, special interest groups, uppity women, minorities, and especially the fucking voters.


Jesus, we’re barely getting the big corporations, the bureaucrats, the politicians, and the academics to agree on things. . . now you want to get voters involved? Do you think we can please everybody? We’d never get any work done! Grow up, son.


 Another fun difference: a lot of companies are forced to take amakudari they don’t particularly want. (but the ministries need cushy landing spots for their retirees, so oopsy daisy). Can you picture the US government – for all its corruption – forcing lobbyists on big business?







And, although Macarthur saddled it with a USA-style constitution, in practice, Japan doesn’t have separation of powers: usually the bureacrats write the laws and the politicians just vote on them.


Also Japan does not have a strong judiciary who will reign in the federal agencies. “Japan’s judiciary is not independent and dares not rule against the government, and 95 percent of suits against the government end in rulings against the plaintiffs. Unlike US judges, who begin their careers as lawyers representing varying interests, Japanese judges enter the judiciary at the outset of their careers, are trined together, and remain within thei institution until retirement. Thus the quality of the Japanese judiciary is even and its out look is unform.”


“Japan lacks the basic legal mechanisms for non-elite influence: class-action lawsuits, non-profit advocacy groups. . .. . .a  lack of laws to protect citizens’ rights. There are no environmental assessment regulations, no product liability laws, no lender liability law, few rules on insider trading or other forms of market manipulation, few testing protocols for new medicines, and no cost-benefit analysis of gigantic building schemes”


As you can guess by now, local (state) government is also too weak to put the central bureaucracy in check. (See my report on STRAITJACKET SOCIETY for details). In Japan, bureaucracy is very centralized. Not only do the “provinces” have almost no authority, but even the bureaucrats mostly come from one single department (law) of one single central university (tokyo university, or Todai).


Then, after retirement, they filter out and down, taking positions of power at smaller regional companies and city governments out in the boondocks. Less powerful companies are more likely going to ask for an amakudari to join them. Larger companies consult with the ministry as equals and plan the economic policy of that industry jointly, so they don’t need amakudari as much.


The amakudari process is also repeated elsewhere in society :


“high ranking employees of large corporations retire to important positions in their smaller counterparts, and local governments, in turn, move their high-ranking officials to lucrative jobs in affiliated companies. High-ranking public university professors retire to senior positions at less prestigious private universities, and Tokyo government has more than seventy affiliated organizations where it places its own city-level bureaucrats after retirement.”


So! Keeping all this in mind, Colignon and Usui constantly remind us:  it’s not fair to think of amakudari as “ FEDERAL BEURACRATS TRYING TO CONTROL THE COUNTRY.” It’s more like amakudari is a way for ALL elites to keep power concentrated between them, and help them work together to solve national economic problems. Or not, as the case may be.


And amakudari is the main part of nationwide elite network, but not the only one. There are also keibatsu (marriage alliances) and school ties (gakubatsu), and industry pressure groups (keiretsu).

 Speaking of gakubatsu . . .





Tokyo University (Todai) is the hardest to get into in the whole country, but it’s your ticket to the best jobs: In 1994, 25 percent of todai grads passed the bureaucrat exam, and yet 70 percent of Ministry of Finance hires came from Todai. This “I’d rather hire someone I went to school with than a more qualified guy who might not believe 100% of the same stuff I believe” mentality illustrates the importance of gakubatsu.


The Todai connection makes it easier for Japanese guys to get along and achieve consensus in decisions: even if one guy is working for a private company and the other is a bureaucrat, politician, or think-tank nerd, they share a common set of values. They implicitly trust the other guy. Even if the other guy is, of course, struggling to get the best deal for his own group, they know he’s not going to say some crazy stuff like, “Let the common voters decide! Hey! What if we made all this public just for fun!” or “You know who is rad? Stalin!” That might sound obvious, but in most countries, the private-sector businessmen seriously hate the government guys, and vice versa.



The Todai link gives the bureaucrats a common culture.  Students were raised to believe that saving Japan was their job, and all their teachers told them that bureaucracy and status quo was the only way to do that. And that the “common citiczens were too lazy or ignorant to take that responsibility.”


In the ‘30s, the school song of University of Tokyo was:


Common people lead the lazy life, but we despise such attitude

The people are drowning in a sea of international struggles, but we have to save them and steer the ship

Draw the sword at the top of the ship, thedevils now hide, seas are calm.


Which should give you some idea.


Also :

“ High levels of competition to enber top universities and then the ministries contribue to the public perception of them as a legitimate elite based on merit.”





The translation “descend from heaven” dates back to the Meiji period, when bureaucrats (mostly ex-samurai) worked directly for the  holy emperor. Bureaucrats were seen as being in heaven because they worked for God and the nation, so their work was sacred. . ., but they “descended” in status upon retirement and reemployment into the profane world of material self-interest.


Before WWII, it was considered very bad form for a retired bureaucrat to retire into anything but the legislature – in the House of Peers, of course. No pesky “getting elected” for them. Working for a company was not spiritual enough. But if they did decide to go that route, they would have to look for a post-retirement job on their own.






After WWII, the ministries had to work to rebuild a devastated Japan, but they didn’t have a lot of resources (because of the devastation), so they started using amakudari in order to reach out to businesses (and also local governments). There is a saying: businesses and local governments are the arms and legs of the central ministries. To this day Japan has far fewer federal bureaucrats than other rich countries. Thus, amakudari became routine and institutionalized: each ministry designated a person, known as a secretariat, specifically to find employment for retiring personnel – employment in the most powerful positions possible.


Other reasons amakudari flourished post-war:


The American occupiers, to save money, ordered 30% of all bureacrats fired. This required the Japanese to come up with a system in a hurry to place the laid-off guys in good jobs.


And later, when Japan got back on its feet, the opposite problem: a lot of new guys came INTO the newly revitalized ministries. This put the ministries in a tough spot: they had to keep the old guys employed (lifetime employment, remember?) and at the same time, get rid of the old guys to give the new guys room to move up the ladder. The solution was already there! I hope you can guess what it is.


Mostly the ‘40s and ‘50s guys would go directly into business and finance, but from the ‘60s, they used a new technique: They learned how to create these tokushu hojin (government owned corporations that are unregulated by the legislature AND invisible to the public) and put most of their amakudari in THERE. This helped them to a) deal with the increasing pace of retirement, and b) get around legal restrictions on guys retiring into jobs in the industries they used to regulate.





Besides giving the ministries “arms and legs,” and managing the whole promotion-vs.-lifetime employment issue, amakudari has other benefits:


Amakudari take self-interest (“I want to get paid! I want to be a big man!”) and turns it into decades of 80-hour weeks of kiss-assing, as the guys wait for their eventual payoff. Not only that , but it stops them from doing dirt by pursuing self-interest on their own (embezzlement, crooked stuff), which would reflect badly on the ministry when they get caught. By institutionalizing the corruption it keeps guys from wilding out in unpredictable ways. The same “organized crime is better than dis-organized crime” rationale is used to justify the prominent position of tne Yakuza in society.


Here’s the rub: if you work 80 hours a week, you’ll get a amakudari gig as a vice president of a big company. If you work 60 hours a week, you can count on receiving a consulting gig for a low-level cookie factory. And if you left at 5 PM every day, forget it. Your retirement package consists of a gandam with one arm missing, and a foot in the ass. So the pattern of deferred compensation which started in elementary school is kept up all the way to a dude’s fifties. A lifetime of crippling uncertainty of “What do the teachers/professors/bosses think of me? How can I make sure they help me out when it’s time to go to the next stage?”


Other functions of amakudari: lets the ministry spy on the company.


Lets the company spy on the ministry – insider information, plans or quotas, regulations the ministry is planning for next year, etc.

One problem: you can’t ever fire an amakudari even if he a) turns out to have zero juice at the ministry or b) makes a series of disasterous business decisions for your company.





From the beginning of their careers, bureaucrats are rotated to different positions within the ministry, giving them a wider perspective and also letting them meet the companies the ministry regulates (the companies where they will work after they retire). After that, they will often be “loaned” to other ministries for 2 years at a time. So the eventual move to private industry just seems like a natural extension of that. In fact, the legal time limit before you can work for an industry you used to regulate is . . . exactly 2 years!

In Japan, as part of the lifetime-employment system, all guys (and they’re all guys!) who are hired on a given year get promotions at the same time, regardless of merit. As long as you don’t stand out in any way, you’re guaranteed to move forward. For about 10 or 15 years. After that, there are only like 7 senior “section chief” type positions open for 15 guys.

And only 4 of those section chiefs will become a bureau chief. That’s why Japanese guys work these insane hours – they’re trying to out-compete the other same-year guys for that vice-president slot. 

To make matters worse, there’s a thing called kata-tataki (the tap on the shoulder ) or mabiki (thinning out): when one bureau chief is chosen to become vice-president, ALL THE OTHER CHIEFS get fired, to make sure the new VP has total control. WTF.

So then, how do you keep guys motivated to try their best when 90% guaranteed they will get kata-tataki-ed? Making sure EVERYONE gets cushy post-retirement gigs.


About 3,000 guys retire every year from all the ministries combined.


And each guy has to be amakudari-ed by the HR department of his ministry. That’s right: the HR department places them in OTHER companies. Each retirement placement is as conscious, calculated, strategic and rule-bound as a move in a chess game. And yet it’s all unofficial, informal, and off-the-books. There are no rules, but everyone knows exactly what the rules are.


Japanese bureaucrats don’t decide where they will work after they retire. Their boss or HR department decides that for them. Thus, unlike foreign lobbyists, Amakudari remain loyal to the ministry from which they came, and aren’t just out for themselves.


For some reason, the retirement “season” is in April. Guys move from the ministries to various boards of directors. This sets off a chain reaction, as the ex-ministry guys who are ALREADY on those boards have to be-reshuffled to other boards to make room for the new guys coming in. And, although this shuffling might involve 100 different corporations, tokushu hojin, research facilities, think tanks, universities, and so on . . . this is all coordinated through the HR department of the ministry.


The vice-minister or the HR guy in charge of placing amakudari usually arranges it so that as soon as one guy retires for good, or is rotated to a new company, another retiree from the same ministry get his old job. This way the ministries defend their turf.


Another unwritten rule: the more times you “bounce” from job to job, the worse the pay gets. And of course not only do higher-ranking guys better gigs, they also get bounced less: they might stick with the same gig for 15, 20 years.


Here’s a point that Colignon and Usui make over and over: Ministries do work together to control the politicians, the regional beuracracies, and the corporations, but that doesn’t mean that they like working with EACH OTHER. Turf battles are common.


Ministry of Finance, MITI, Transportation, and Construction  are the biggest ones, both in power and in sheer numbers. They have correspondingly more guys retiring, and place those guys in correspondingly higher-ranked positions. In a way, the locations of all the amakudari of a given ministry can be thought of as a map of the influence of that ministry. The other ministries struggle frantically to expand their “territory” by placing amakudari in new or more powerful companies.One ministry guy likened the amakudari to stocks, to a stock portfolio that the ministry had in certain companies.


For example, let’s look at the most powerful ministry: Ministry of Finance! Every July, the Ministry of Finance holds a secret meeting called the tanabatakai, at the finance minister’s residence.


They invite career bureaucrats of the most powerful bureaus in the MOF , plus the most successful amakudari (who now work for big business). The MOF’s HR office has a list of companies and positions, in which they can place amakudari. This list constitutes the “territory” of the ministry. And they look at the list and decide where to place each of  the 20 or so retiring guys. Of course the HR weenie has to handle the details later. The details being, placing a phone call to a given company and “suggesting” they hire mr. So-and-so. Since the ministry regulates, liscences, gives subsidies and loans to that company, there is an implied threat.


And if this wasn’t yakuza enough: check out what happens to companies in financial trouble!


The ministry offers to “help out” by sending guys in to “restructure” the company. They usually save the company, but the guys stay on as top-level employees after the crisis passes. And the company is now under the thumb of the ministry.


Anyway, this job-placement thing doesn’t happen once: the ministry is responsible for finding these guys job after job until they turn 70ish! (see WATARIDORI, below)


It’s illegal to place a guy directly into the board of directors of a company he used to regulate- so the ministry places them in a tokushu hojin related to that industry until the legal time limit is up, and then, a couple Julys later, it secretly pops them into the corporate boards. This way, it’s all “off the books:” the guys that took the scenic route don’t show up on official government statistics of amakudari.


For their part, the “ex-civil servants who inherited these positions from their predecessors felt obliged to do good work (for the private firms) so their positions could be handed over in good shape to their successors. The ex-bureaucrats take the role of the stewards of such positions.” Not so different from how the emperor is thought of by Shinto priests – his current physical body is just a temporary stand-in or place-holder for the goddess Amaterasu. I think the religious term for this is 中今 (nakaima), which is to say the eternal now. But that’s a different story. The point is, these guys try to do a good job.




ONE: amakudari classic: going directly from government to a for-profit corporation. This is the most powerful type, but also the most regulated, so comparatively few guys do this anymore.


TWO: the yokosuberi (side-slip): going from government to a corporation which is owned by the government. . .Examples: railways, national universities, national hospitals, Japan Tobacco (?!?), telephone companies, and airports. Universities and policy-making research institutions. The yokosuberi is now the main type, since it is much less regulated than “classic.”


THREE: wataridori (migratory bird): the ex-bureaucrat moves between corporations and semi-public institutions over and over again. This seems to be the booby prize of the bunch, since every move pops you into a lower-paid position (like a ball, that bounces less high every time it bounces).


FOUR: seikai tenshin (movement to political office). This is for the elite of the elite: beuracrats that had jobs where they’d been getting newspaper exposure for years, and can leverage that exposure into winning public elections. However, since the ‘70s the ruling LDP party prefers to keep most of the good jobs for itself, rather than letting some ministry guy that just retired last July “take cuts” in front of career pols that have been waiting 20 years for a good job. Thus, nowadays seikai tenshin can’t be prime minister, but they can still work in the Lower House of parliament.


Not tedious enough for you? Well, how about if we look at them in more detail?!?






The ministries with the most straight-up amakudari classic guys are:


Ministry of Finance, International Trade (MITI), Construction, Transport, and Telecommunications. These are what is called the “economic ministries.” And of course, they place those guys in more different companies than the other, weaker ministries, since they have bigger turf.


So what industries do the ministries try to place their amakudari in?


NOT agriculture, forestry, or fishery.


Almost never utilities, trade, retail and wholesale.


Mostly: transportation, communications, services, and (top dog) banking and insurance.


The authors say that the motivations for a private company to aquire their very own amakudari are different by industry:


Banking, insurance and transport industries want amakudari to “interpret regulations and provide insurance against uncertainties.”


On the other hand, conscrtuction, agriculture, telecom industries want THEIR amakudari to “help gain strategic information and government grants.”








Tokushu hojin (literally, ‘special legal entities’) . . . there is no equivalent English term. We just don’t have these things in the West. It’s another manifestation of Japan’s particular communist-capitalism, I suppose!


I’ve heard them called “government owned corporations,” “semi-public entities,” “quasi-private corporations,” “government-y little guys,”, “pseudo-quasi-whachamacallits,” and so on, until it becomes clear that it’s simpler to just use the Japanese words. So: tokushu hojin!


Even the damn book doesn’t say what they are or what they do, despite page after page of eye-glazing charts and corporate reports.


Here’s what I could glean: they’re somewhat analogous to America’s “subcontractors” : doing the jobs that government should do, but at a much greater cost, so the bureaucracy can claim “small government.”


For example, in 1995, there were only 1,160,000 people working for the federal government of the whole country. Waaaay smaller than any other industrialized nation. And yet there were 750,000 people working for tokushu hojin – almost 40% more people than the “official” workforce.


Tokushu hojin don’t make money, they provide services (mostly to industry, not average people) and so they COST money. The money that they cost is not from official tax revenues, but from the ‘zaito’, (Japan’s  ‘second budget’ – bureaucrats secretly borrowing from the national bank (where average citizens deposit their money)). Since they’re off the “official” budget,  these tokushu hojin don’t require any approval from the legislature . . .but since they’re government-owned they’re totally unaccountable and opaque to the public. Winnerz!


But wait, you say! Didn’t Koizumi and the gang reform the zaito laws way back in 2001? Didn’t he make it way harder for these shady tokushu hojin to raid the zaito funds? Yes this is true. And didn’t his reforms force tokushu hojin who were in financial trouble to borrow money from the private sector at the same interest rates as everyone else? Yes.




Loophole! If your tokushu hojin is in trouble, you can still buy “zaito bonds” at near-zero interest rates. And guess what? By late 2001, 90% of loans to jerkface tokushu hojin were “zaito bonds”, not real bonds.


Did I say 90%? I meant 97%!


Then there’s the tokushu kaisha (‘special companies’), like the railways, the phone company, and the tobacco company. These DO make money, and are run like corporations, it’s just that the government owns majority of stocks in them.


And then there’s the government-owned Bank of Japan, which is a tokushu kaisha that is so huge, that it is basically its own category..


As semi-corporation / semi ministry thingamabobs, Tokushu hojin function as the ministries’ “arms and legs” for manipulating the private companies. It seems the ministry is like the brain, making new policies, and the tokushu hojin enforce them. How? Contracts, loans, subsidies, and regulatory protection. If your company plays ball, you get those four things from your local tokushu hojin. If not, then not!


Another benefit of tokushu hojin: as I said above, they allow the ministries to avoid the publicity and accountability of placing their amakudari directly into the private sector. Often they’ll place them in a tokushu hojin for 2 years (the legal waiting period) and THEN slip them quietly into the private sector. Sadly, this means that guys who have worked 30 years of coming in Saturdays AND Sundays, in the hope that they will get a cushy post-retirement job, have their lifelong dreams deferred AGAIN. Maybe in a few more years, we’ll get you a gig at a real private corporation. Maybe when you’re 67. Jesus.


In 1999, around half of all bureaucrat retirees went into these tokushu hojin.


Tokushu hojin are structured more like a corporation than a government – meaning, not as much bureaucracy, more adaptable, and able to take initiative. They date back to the ‘30s : “Initially they were established to control and coordinate the economy in the war effort.”  But they really took off in the ‘60s for two reasons: 1) the bureaucracy came under pressure for doing too much “classic amakudari,” AND at the same time, 2) the government had a lot more new guys coming in, and needed more retirement spots for old guys to land in.


What do they actually do, though? This is not covered in the book. Amazingly. From a few hints, I am able to guess that regular corporations make stuff for citizens to buy: cars, spatulas, porn, etc. But tokushu hojin tend to specialize in making things that the whole country uses (that’s why the central government does it). That means: Infrastructure!  Telegraph, telephone, railways, airports, housing, highways. Promotion of small and medium size businesses,  promoting imports, exports, and energy development.  In other words, making things that are strategic, things that affect the whole nation.


Coligon and Usui explain nicely how tokushu hojin work with the iron triangle:


Ministries give money to tokushu hojin, to distribute to private companies that play ball (i.e. that try to meet the ministry’s economic or policy goals for that year). That’s how the ministries control the companies.


And the companies take that fat government profit and use it to fund politician’s campaigns. That’s how the private companies control politicians.


The politicians band together and form tribes (called ‘zoku’) to prevent anyone from passing laws which would restrict the bureaucracy, defund programs which have long outlived their missions, or make the ministries more accountable / transparent. If the ministries play ball, all efforts at reform are guaranteed to fail: That’s how politicians can control the ministries.


Note that, in classic Japan fashion, “control” is inseparable from “help.” There’s this idea that everyone has the same vested interests.


But look who DOESN’T have the same vested interests: EVERYONE OUTSIDE OF THAT LOOP. The taxpayers who are paying more taxes to fund government waste, and then paying more AGAIN at the store for high-priced commodities (since lower-priced competitors are shut down by bureaucratic regulations). All the companies that could do the job cheaper but don’t get the contracts because they’re “outsiders.” All the industries that DON’T fat subsidies, but are expected to compete against industries that got subsidies they didn’t deserve. All the companies that DON’T get zero-interest loans. All the foreign companies that could offer Japanese a wider range of merchandise at cheaper prices but can’t because the bureaucracy says, “You didn’t follow regulation 203403-b.”


Anyway! Moving along . . .


Then there are zaidan hojin and shadan hojin. These are also semi-private companies, but they’re smaller, there is less money involved, and they tend to focus on more touchy-feely things.

Zaidan hojin focus on  education, religion, culture…and shadan hojin “tend to carry out promotional activities for industry, and regional associations.”


I guess you could think of them as non-profit foundations. Except that their policies, personnel, and budgets were totally secret until the fucking ‘90s.


There are over 26,000 of them.


Because zaidan/shadan hojin are smaller and less profitable than tokushu hojin, that’s where you go if you yokosuberi from one of the loser ministries (AKA the ‘social ministries’ : education, health, labor, construction, or foreign affairs). Or if you’re kind of a loser from a more powerful ministry, you might have to slum it in a zaidan/hadan hojin, and sit next to some clown from the education ministry.


In contrast, the top ministries (Finance, Transportation, MITI) put their yokosuberi guys in the tokushu kaisha, because that’s where the money is: for-profit government-run companies.


Several different ministries may be present on the borad of directors of one tokushu hojin. But the ratio is generally agreed upon in some back-room when the tokushu hojin is first founded, and then thereafter never changes.


Colignon and Usui give us exactly one actual, down-to-earth example of how this works. In the whole book. And seem very proud of themselves for going that far.


Oil exploration is a risky and costly business. The probability of finding oil is three in one thousand. JNPC (Japan Deveopment of Petroleum Corporation) was made to conduct oil exploration by giving money to nearly 120 private Japanese companies that have cooperative oil-exploration projects in thirty countries.


JNPC and a private company typically  team up to start a MINI, TEMPORARY oil-exploration company and go halvsies on the   initial capital. This company explores for oil, and when oil is found, the company imports it to Japan. If they don’t find oil, the company is disbanded and the government eats the loan.


The logic is straightfoward. JPNC is a tokushu hojin controlled by MITI. It funds risky drilling thingies that private companies don’t have the ovaries to undertake. JNPC itself and the private corporations it funds become locations for yokosuberi and amakudari from MITI. In 2001 alone, JNPC had 138 private companies that were affiliated.


That’s 138 places that now have to accept amakudari!  But like I just said, the mini companies are temporary, and when the well runs dry, the mini-corp is disbanded. So where do the amakudari go then?  They migrate to other temporary mini-companies. And this brings us to . . .







This is kind of an extension of what some bureaucrats spend their whole career doing. It’s normal for new guys to be rotated to different departments in their ministry, to gain experience. Then they might get “loaned” to other ministries for years at a time, to share inside information, expertise, and to keep the ministries’ rivalries from spinning out of control. Then even after they retire, they might continue to play musical chairs on the boards of directors of tokushu hojin and private companies.


If tokushu hojin blur the lines between private and public corporations, wataridori blur the lines even further, as they “migrate” between the two regularly.


Will you get a good job after you retire? Or get screwed and wind up a wataridori? Depends on how high-ranking you were in your ministry, and how powerful your ministry is. But then again, the more powerful a ministry is, the more post-retirement jobs they have to scrounge up for their huge staff . .  so even if you work for MOF or MITI, you might still wind up being wataridori for a decade if you’re not a hard worker. Better come in Sundays from now on!


Problem is, sometimes, the people who actually worked for that company all along want to get promoted to their own board of directors. The nerve of them! Not only that, but when wataridori leave one job to go to the next, they get huge sums of “severance pay” , much larger than what regular company guys get when THEY retire. And of course wataridori leave their jobs every couple of years. From the perspective of the wataridori, the “severance pay” is only fair because their next job is most likely much lower-paying than the current one. But from the point of view of the company’s regular executives, it’s fucked and unfair.


Not only do the amakudari  jump over long-working employees straight to the top, not only do they get better severance, not only do they frequently not even know much about what that company even does. . . but they INTERFERE. They make policy decisions that put their former ministry's priorities over that company's priorities, which causes no end of headaches to the rank-and-file workers.


Also,when one wataridori moves on (retires) , another guy from the same ministry will take his place immediately. It’s like an assembly line. This is another example of how arrangements can be informal and unspoken, but also very regular and institutionalized and strategic. As opposed to informal back-room decisions in other countries which are often made on a case-by-case, what-the-hell basis.







This chapter is the worst, most irrelevant chapter of the whole book . . Basically the whole thing is devoted to settling a dispute between two groups of American teachers – does the rise of zoku politicians equal the demise of seikai tenshin or not? (total number of people who care about this: the 6 teachers involved)


There isn’t even one word of discussion about,say, seikai tenshin guys voting in ways that put their former ministry ahead of their constituents. (total number of people who care about THIS: all the voters in japan, plus everyone who bought this book).


It’s like you had a book about the porn industry with a whole chapter that demonstrated THROUGH MATH AND STATISTICS who was the most popular silicone-implant doctor in the industry, and not a word about fucking. And then the authors were like, “Our job is done here. Another victory for KNOWLEDGE! HIGH FIVE!”


Anyway, here’s the little dribbles of useful information left over:


In the good old days, Seikai Tenshin (politicians who are ex-bureaucrats) used to run the legislature. Remember, in Japan, bureaucrats usually write the laws, and politicians just vote on ‘em. Unlike “regular” pols, the seikai tenshin actually knew how to write laws (from their decades at the ministries), and they had their friends/connections back at the ministry to pressure the other pols into playing ball. Powerful guys! About half the prime ministers were Seikai Tenshin, to say nothing of half the regular cabinet guys. But! Starting in the ‘70s, seikai tenshin went down in power. They still control the lower house of the Diet, but that’s about it. 


Here’s how that went down: some financial reforms were, uh, enacted: prominent politicians couldn’t use their warchests to shower unlimited money on the smaller pols in their clique. So the pols had to seek money their little-ass home-towns. From constituents, even! The horror!  The Ministries are as central as central can get: the seikai tenshin couldn’t compete with politicians FROM the hick-towns when it comes to raising that hick money.


Also, consider this: after WWII, the LDP ran Japan for 40 years. Like a one-party state. In the beginning of the LDP, anyone who was a big guy in WWII could become prime minister. But over time, their hierarchy solidified, and a sort of seniority system was put into place: you have to spend a good 20-30 years as a rank-and-file pol before you get “promoted” to being a minister or a prime minister. That pretty much rules out amakudari, who – as you’ll remember – are retirement age when they BEGIN their political careers.


Also there’s the issue of Zoku politicians (tribal politicians). These are guys that have the power to make laws that regulate ministries. (usual politicians just pass laws which  ministries write themselves!)


People have been saying, “Rise of Zoku politicians = the fall of seikai tenshin.” But that is not the case. Many zoku politicians get their special powers from serving as ministers of the bureaucracy – sort of seikai tenshin in reverse. And of course the pols owe the bureaucrats who taught them everything they know. So instead of zoku guys replacing seikai tenshin guys, it’s more like the zoku guys give the ministries yet ANOTHER tool to control the legislature.


Anyway! Point is, your average seikai tenshin can’t be minister or prime minister anymore , but – if he went to Todai AND his dad was a politician, he has a good shot at winning the election to the lower house of the Diet. The Diet seikai tenshin numbers have not decreased in like 100000 years.





First of all, like I mentioned : politicians don’t write the laws here. The bureaucracy writes the laws and politicians vote on it. So picture a politician asking a bureaucrat, “Say buddy, mind writing a law to restrict your own power? No loopholes! Have that on my desk by Monday, will ya? One love!”


Over the years, legislators tried to reduce the size of the bureaucracy. In response, the bureaucrats created tokushu hojin companies, who they would sub-contract their work to.


Legislators tried to limit the amount of time an amakudari could run a tokushu hojin. In response the bureaucrats invented wataridori – switching them back and forth between different companies.


Then legislators limited the number of ex-bureaucrats who could be on the board of directors of a given companies. And the bureaucrats started placing more of their guys in local government posts instead.


Finally, in the ‘60s, reformers privatized the biggest government-run companies: NTT and Japan Rail. But the bureaucrats somehow managed to buy all the stocks of the new privatized companies, turning them into tokushu kaisha, instead of all-the-way-private companies. This actually had the result of INCREASING ministry control over the new companies – since the original “state-owned” NTT had its own bosses, and new, tokushu kaisha NTT had to answer directly to ministry officials.


After the bubble economy burst there was a lot of Japanese criticism of how the ministries helped fuck up the economy, and how a lot of bureaucrats were corrupt. To deal with this, the ministries cut down on “amakudari classic” drastically. They released a graph of it, even! From over 300 retirees a year doing “amakudari classic” in 1984 to under 50 a year in ’99. Yay, problem solved!


But hold on – Colignon and Usui uncovered a less publicized, some may say, hidden graph: showing that, as a percent of people on boards of directors of private companies, former bureaucrats actually INCREASED. WTF?


The secret: first they yokosuberi their guys to non-profit foundations (which jobs pay not very well) , and THEN they pop ‘em into the lucrative private-sector jobs. All perfectly legitimate. Like laundering money.


Here’s another good shenanigan: in the ‘80s, the legislature was sick of tokushu kaisha that kept going on, taking tax money, long after their “project” (i.e. the freeway in the example above) had been completed. So they passed a law requiring the ministries to shut down X amount of tokushu hojin. X amount were duly shut down, but lo and behold, the total number of amakudari employed by tokushu hojin actually went up! The secret: the boards of directors went from 10 dudes to 20 dudes per company! Talk about slipping sideways.


Another fun bureaucratic trick: take 3 companies and merge them, resulting in zero savings to the budget, but take credit for “eliminating” 2 companies anyway.


Winz! Also, a lot of the jobs on the boards of directors of zaidan/shadan are . . . “special”, meaning “unpaid.” So when the ministries want a big headline saying they “reduced the number of amakudari,” guess whose jobs get cut?” the “special” guys’s jobs. Net profit to the taxpayer? exactly zero yen.


This kind of fake-reform is known as Koromogae (literally, ‘changing clothes’)


Also blocks to reform: Ministry of Telecommunications owns NHK, the public tv station, and places a lot of amakudari on the boards of other, private TV stations. You’re not going to see Mike Wallace going all 60 minutes on an amakudari anytime soon.


The futile game of cat-and-mouse resembles nothing so much as the decades-long battle between the vice squad and the prostitution business: the cops ban “no-underpants” coffe-houses, so the pimps open up “turkish baths” . The cops ban the baths, so the pimps set up “image clubs.” The cops ban “image clubs”, so the pimps set up “gal bars.” And so on.


Here is the lesson: you can’t regulate amakudari with written laws, because amakudari is not an official legal procedure – it’s an unwritten, informal protocol and a set of networks. So it’s un-regulatable as long as all these guys are still friends.


The Achilles heel of Japanese institutions is the erosion of public trust. A career as a bureaucrat with its power and prestige is preferred to that of a businessman, even though businessmen make much more money. But that depends on bureaucrats having a good reputation. Change may occure when career incentives (such as amakudari) disappear, where letitimacy of the bureaucratic career is withdrawn, or when the alternative career paths offer more power, prestige, and economic returns than the ministries.


Did you understand that? I don’t.  It sounds like the authors needed to put some kind of hopeful happy-ending on their book (Western kata!) but this is all they could come up with. Near as I can tell,  what they mean is, if there keep being articles about corruption in the ministries, then parents will tell their kids, “Look, no one will respect you if you work for the government. Get a job at Sony instead.” And the ministries will wind up with the dumbest graduates.


And then what? Doesn’t even say.



Me personally, the only way I can think to  deal with the amakudari network is how the FBI dealt with civil rights and black power groups in the ‘60s: turn them against each other. Fight informal networks with informal means. Make them stop being friends.


For example, the FBI would call the Chicago black panther boss and tell him, “Hey your wife is fucking around with the NYC panther boss.” And then call the NYC guy and tell him the same thing. This program of hideous and unconstitutional pranking was called COINTELPRO.

I’m not saying that’s an OK thing to do, even to amakudari. I’m just saying that’s the only way I can see to break up the network.


3 comments Tags: ,

small shrines of sadness

When most people – foreigners OR Japanese –  think of shrines, they think of Google Image Search  images like this:

or this. . .


But in my neighborhood, shrines all look like this:

and this . . .!

Small forlorn things, sandwiched between concrete, Western-style buildings.  The spirit world colliding with the mundane suburbs like a patchwork quilt.

Not only is that kind of weird, but even trying to TALK to Japanese people about it is weird.


ME: What do you call those tiny shrines in between houses?

JAPANESE FRIENDS: Those are shrines.

ME: Yeah, but specifically the run-down, meter-wide ones that look jarrlingly out of place?


ME: Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about!  Those things are everywhere.

JAPANESE FRIENDS: Yeah, shrines.

ME: Don't act like they're the exact same thing as the famous shrines in Kyoto!!!!!!


ME: So what's the super-secret Japanese word for that particular phenomenon – the meter-wise shrine?

JAPANESE FRIENDS: There's a word for that???


JAPANESE FRIENDS: Foreigners sure are weird.



As near as I can tell, these tiny shrines used to be full on regular-sized temples, but when Japan industrialized and land in Tokyo became very valuable, the big shrines got sold to homeowners or businesses. Unwilling to totally pave over the shrines, the new land-owners "compromised" by keeping around a square meter of land for the god to live in.  I'm sure to the owners, this showed their commitment to "preserving" Japanese culture, and to the neighborhood people it was more like "destroying" Japanese culture. In any case, it's another example of this Japanese "layering" or "montage" approach to problem-solving.


I tend to root for the underdog. I like these tiny, run-down shrines better than the fancy, sell-out shrines. I like how the spirit world and the mundane world are mixed-up. I like the thought that these very sterile concrete-and-delivery-truck-and-vending-machine encrusted suburbs have something special or other-worldly about them, something that can't be totally paved over and standardized.


So I went online looking for the word for "that type of shrine."

I image-searched, figuring that of all the Japanese with weird, very specific hobbies, there had to be someone whose life work was documenting all these types of shrines. But oddly – no! Not that I could find. Most of the search results were people's blogs about their everyday life that had one single photo of a small-shrine. This shows that clearly the phenomenon is weird EVEN TO JAPANESE. And yet not so weird that there is a word for it. Most of the time, the text accompanying the photo said  露 天神社(つゆのてんじんしゃと読む)tsuyunoten jinja. But this just means "outdoor, roofless shrine." And plenty of big, "normal" shrines also qualify.

The other big phrase that Japanese used in the text accompanying their pictures was ビルの間に神社 (biru no aida ni jinja) : "the shrine between western buildings."


Putting that into Google Image Search is where I got most of the hits. But this still isn't a "real" religious word. The absence of an official word, or an official category of shrines,  suggests to me (and my paranoid mind) that Japanese are not supposed to be thinking about how their shrines got destroyed by their own elites during the period of industrialization.



And yeah, the following images are from google image. I didn't take any of these.

Links to the few blogs that had  more than one of these kinds of images are at the bottom of this article, so please visit them.




























A sub-category of "small shrine" is this:


and this!

These are not old shrines that got shrunk to make room for fancy new buildings.

These are new shrines that got built by wealthy developers, to bring good luck to their fancy new buildings.


Getting back to the first kind of shrines:




















Seriously. Are you seeing how many of these there are? This is TOO a real phenomenon!!!
It deserves a name! And a full-color photo book!
















A third kind of "small shrine" is the  屋上にある神社 (okujou ni aru jinja) : the rooftop shrine.

This happens when the land developer doesn't even want to spare a single meter of land after he tears down the old shrine.

So as a "compromise," he re-builds a small replica of the shrine on THE ROOF!

In this case, the 'layering' is literal!








below:  a serious thing!

They didn't want to tear down the shrine, so they built the new, Western style building OVER it!

Anyone know where that thing is?!?

















A fourth category is this, the REALLY TINY SHRINE, which I also found on google image search.


This kind of 3 inch high shrine is put on corners of buildings, in the hopes that drunks will think twice before urinating on the buildings.  That's so fucking amazing. And I stole the photo from some sucker. Wait- that was my own blog. I just stole from myself. WHAT A DICK!!!!


But for real though,  all these blogs have tons of great images like this. Please visit them.


Excellent blog of all the small hidden shrines in this one city!


 Another  "hidden shrine" blog.



great blog of urban small strange things: architecture, absurd details etc.


  another rad architecture / shrine blog


Shout out to


 A blog of rad urban absurdity,  (lots of unintentionally humorous street or store signs . . .in Japanese)



19 comments Tags: ,

Japan book review 8 : STRAITJACKET SOCIETY by Masao Miyamoto, M.D.


 I was told that this is a famous book from the ‘90s about a government whistle-blower who dares to stand up to his crooked colleagues in the bureaucracy. He dares to argue and have his own opinions.

Naturally, I was expecting that he would blow the whistle about policy issues, like so:

“Sir, these statistics show an alarming rate of increase in tuberculosis among Yokohama children. I have developed a detailed 15 point plan to prevent the epidemic.”


“No way, Miyamoto! Mr. Tanaka is in charge of that area, and implementing your plan would make him lose face!”


“But sir, Mr. Tanaka is notorious for taking bribes from the placebo industry!”


And so on.


But in fact, Mr. Miyamoto’s complaints are entirely 100% about the Japan Inc. lifestyle, not policy. You know, the whole, “The salaryman has to spend 12 hours a day at work even if he’s got nothing to do, he has to go drinking with colleagues, and he never can spend time with his family” thing.There's almost no mention of or concern for the actual sick Japanese people whose fate is affected by these bureaucrats.


Since all foreigners agree with this  "WTF salaryman?" complaint anyway, why should you bother to read it?


Well, let me put it like this: haven’t you ever wondered what would happen if a single Japanese guy stood up and said, “You know what? Fuck this. I’m going home at 5PM. Smell you jerks later”?


Miyamoto is that man, in real life.


And his lengthy transcripts of arguments he had with his bosses are priceless! Listening to these bitter old men try to justify the traditions.


Also, even better: Miyamoto works for the Health Ministry . . . because he’s a psychologist! So he spends the book psycho-analyzing his colleagues. (spoiler alert: they’re not well).




Dude is rad. He sneaks out of “voluntary overtime” meetings to meet his girlfriend. He insists on vacation time that is garuanteed in theory, but no one ever takes. He straight-up refuses to go on “voluntary” drinking parties unless he’s paid. He burns old documents which contain outmoded protocols, forcing his colleagues to make up new protocols. He dares to travel overseas for work-related conferences with foreigners. He ‘punches in’ to the ‘voluntary’ Sunday workdays, but spends the day running errands and having coffee at restaruants, returning in the evening to punch out. He refuses to ‘voluntarily’ help his seniors move when they change apartments. And, worst of all, he writes newspaper articles detailing his fellow bureaucrats’ drunken antics on the taxpayers’ dollar: the naked salaryman dancing and air-guitaring, the porno video parties, the kind of prejudiced talk that never makes it into official statements: “Hah? You’re getting married to a gaijin? That’s not good – your kids will be mixed blood. They’ll never be bureaucrats. . . they’ll have to settle for going into show-buisness!”


Also he describes the hazing and bullying that even adults do on the job in Japan. Not just of him- the office freak, but of all new recruits.



Good points :


Miyamoto doesn’t like abstract arguments, instead he gives lots of  down-to-earth examples!


Bad points:


The welfare of the sick people of Japan doesn’t ever enter into it. Weird.


Assumes readers understand intricacies of the parliament and budget-appropriations processes.


He’s got this idea that “Japan is so successful that pretty soon other countries will have to adopt the Japanese 14-hour-workday model, which is unfair to other countries.” That didn’t happen.


Related: at several points he insists that the long workdays, are the reason for Japan’s success – EVEN THOUGH HE ACKNOWLEDGES THAT PEOPLE AREN’T ACCOMPLISHING STUFF for most of their 12 /14 hour days. Huh? If you were talking about China’s 12 hour sweatshop days, I could understand, but. . .

Maybe Miyamoto is trying to hint that the long hours BY THEMSELVES, regardless of how you spend them, build group solidarity and teamwork, and it’s that teamwork which makes Japan successful. But he never articulates that properly, and besides, the question then becomes, exactly how does “teamwork” increase productivity if people aren’t working?!?


Let me start by quoting from the foreword by Juzo Itami, the movie director who was later killed by the mob. Turns out that for a film director, Juzo is a really smart person. He tells the history of Japan’s bureaucracy:



(after the Meiji Restoration), Japan’s ultimate goal was economic and military equality with the great powers. To achieve this national goal in the shortest amount of time, an elite group of proto-bureaucrats – mostly former samurai who came to dominate the government – gook it upon themselves to force a then relatively ignorant citizenry in the desired direction. All human, natural, and other resources were mobilized to realize the grand national design envisioned by these bureaucrats.



In this rush for parity with the great powers, the bureaucrats accumulated tremendous power. Their control was accepted by the people, who, having just emerged from feudalism, had no experience with anything other than hierarchical rule. In short, the new bureaucrats replaced the daimyo fief-holders and samurai retainers, who, as their role of warrior declined, had come to exercise most local administrative duties at the apex of political power.


From the start, the Japanese bureaucracy was based on the premise that the citizenry was ignorant and needed leaders, and since parlimentarians were chosen by an ignorant electorate they too were ignorant. Under this assumption, the bureaucrats felt it was natural and proper that they become the de facto leaders. Today, in 1994, these assumptions remain unchanged.


Under this arrangement, Japan almost became a great power itself before losing everything in the disaster of World War II. During those cataclysmic times, the bureaucrats invaded every convceivable area of people’s lives, justifying their actions as wartime necessities. The powers nominally vested in the Diet and in political parties evaporated, as the “Emperor’s bureaucrats” assumed virtually dictatorial control.


From the ashes of defeat, Japan was remodeled, more or less, into an American-style democracy at the fiat of the United States. A new constitution was written by the Americans, providing for a separation of power among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The constitution also granted far more autonomy to local jurisdictions.


In the American-written constitution, the popularly elected Diet was to be the sole repository of legislative power. Naturally, this blueprint of power presented the ultimate crisis for the bureaucrats; the new constitution was about to effectively deprive them of their control of the reins of the Japanese legislative process.


To circumvent the intent, if not the letter, of the constitution – which explicitly forbids bureaucrats from taking part in the legislaive process- the bureaucrats sneaked through a clause in the Cabinet Act that allowed them to propose bills. They then added a similar clause to the Diet Act , permitting them to join Diet deliberations of their own proposals as formal members of the various committees.


Almost by default, elected representatives – few of whom had any specialized expertise in the legislative process itself – left the actual drafting of bills to the bureaucrats. Diet debate became a mere formality. Cabinet ministers and Diet members literally read to each other from scripts authored by the same bureaucrats. In the end, the bureaucracy reemerged as the dominant force behind Japan’s legislative process.


Local autonomy suffered as similar fate. The bureaucrats needed powerful centralized control to realize their aims. And american-style division of states, each with its own independent legislative, executive, and other institutions like a local militia, police, and courts, was their worst nightmare.



Acting counter to American occupation policy, the bureaucrats first manipulated to bring governors under the central government’s control. Officially, governors were still elected locally, as spelled out by the Americans, but since their jobs had both local and naitonal implications, the bureaucrats made a case that “uncooperative governors” could hinder national efforts. Once this claim was accepted, the central government gained the power to issue directives to locally elected governors and press for their implimentation. Power was also given, in extremis, to dismiss local governors. As a result, local governors became the minions of the national bureaucrats.


According to the original American design, local governments were to be granted the power to enact their own laws and ordinances. To jump this troublesome hurdle, the bureaucrats added a convenient provision; by appending the words “… unless otherwise stipulated by national law or government directives based thereupon,” they effectively gutted the clause. It was left to the national government to decide what might be “otherwise stipulated.”


Under occupation guidelines, local governments were to take the first share of all tax revenues, leaving the surplus fo the central government. The bureaucrats cunningly negated this policy by saying that such critical national undertakings as foreign affairs, defense, and nationwide infrastructure projects should receive priority funding. The Americans accepted this argument, and the bureaucrats emerged triumphant once again.. It was left to them to decide what tax-funded undertakings would be “national” in scope. Under the  subsequent interpretations, even the development of local rail facilities and their evnvirons became a national project since they could be considered part of the nationwide urban development scheme.


By assuming virtually total control over (local) tax revenues, the central government began allocating funds for local undertakings, a power they have wielded condescendingly over the years. Today prefectural governors and city mayors spend most of their time in various bureaucratic offices begging for subsidies. In effect, local governments became nothing more than branch offices of the central bureaucracy.


The democratic separation of powers and decentralization of authority guaranteed in Japan’s constitution exist today in name only. . . .Japanese bureaucrats were able to retain their traditional and primary role, first established in the Meiji era: to protect and foster industrial growth. The bureaucracy has always believed that state capitalism (that is, bureaucratically guided economic policies) was the most effective way for a developing country to catch up. Japan’s postwar economic miracle seems to have proven them right.


Japan is no longer “catching up.” It no longer models itself on what it once perceived as more advanced nations. Today, Japan must develop new. Globally competitive technologies, products, and services. Bureaucrats, however, are only good at harnessing the national vitality under a system of state capitalism or socialism. It is becoming more and more apparent that they are not capable of inspiring human or social creativity. In fact, they are most often counterproductive when dealing with matters of the spirit.


As preservers instead of creators, bureaucrats tend to provide assistance to lagging industries. This hampers natural competition and perpetuates uncompetitive, obsolete industries and business practices, and obstructs spontaneous a natural urge toward ever higher creativity and efficiency.


For the average Japanese person such as myself, the creates problem concerning the bureaucracy is that it has usurped so much legislative power. Unlike politicians, bureaucrats cannot be voted out of office. We may be unhappy, but we have no way of registering our dissatisfaction. And it is also unrealistic to expect elected politicians to take the lead: they would have to depend on the bureaucracy itself to write the reform legislation!


All of this notwithstanding, we cannot abandon hope. Fortunately there are a handful of conscientious Japanese bureaucrats who are truly concerned about the current circumstances clouding Japan’s future. They are seriously trying to find ways to reform the system.




According to Miyamoto, the famous “no personal life” salaryman/bureaucrat lifestyle is based on the traditional saying Messhi hoko – or ‘self-sacrifice for the sake of the group.’ Not only that, but since bureaucrats (specifically the Ministry of Education) run the educational system, this philosophy is indoctrinated in Japan’s children, as well.


Further, “messhi hoko prevents people from becoming independent. What this means in terms of personality structure is that a person’s pride is fragile, and he can be easily injured (and is prone to envy, of which more later).


However, a greater problem with the inability to develop independence is the concomitant lack of impulse control. This is the main reason why Japanese cannot say no. What messhi hoko does is to arrest development at the stage of adolescence. One could say that the bureaucrats, in addition to controlling the economy and politics, also control the maturation of human development.


Another example of masochism at work: the hazing of new recruits. The “transformation of pain into pleasure” which is necessary to convince one’s superiors that one is truly dedicated to the organization. Guys with PhDs fetching tea and mopping floors. A great use of taxpayer money! Miyamoto points out that bullying in most societies is thought of as teenager-y, and adults who do it in an obvious manner are thought of as having some kind of arrested development. Only in Japan is it normal.




Another theme of the book is how central envy is to Japan. Not envy of material goods or giant ripped abs, but envy of people who have talent, because they stand out from the group. This creates inefficiency, as fast workers slow down and people with ideas for how to speed up procedures keep silent. The true meaning of DERU KUI WA UTAERU (‘the nail which sticks out gets hammered down’) turns out to be EVEN MORE SINISTER than we gaijin thought: the ‘sticky nail’ doesn’t usually mean a foreigner or a Japanese punk-rocker. The ‘sticky nail’ traditionally means a regular-looking Japanese, pursuing the same normal goals as his co-workers, but DOING IT BETTER. Jesus!


In a Socratic-method dialogue with an apocryphal foreigner, Miyamoto makes this point: “It’s extremely common for people with authority to have less ability than those working under them. Working for an incompetent boss is just something you have to put up with; people praise you quite openly for doing so. Besides, the personnel bureau arranges things so you can be reassigned to another post in two years, so that it’s bearable.”


“Why two years?” (the imaginary foreigner) asked.


“For one thing, the authority of the bureaucratic structure is awesome; to prevent individuals from abusing the power it confers, strict time limits are imposed on the posts they serve. Also, because the system offers no rewards for special ability, little attention is paid to the training of specialists. Jacks-of-all-trades who can handle a variety of assignments are valued more highly. For that purpose, a maximum of two years at any one post is about right.”


“So the generalist is preferred over the specialist.”


“By definition, a specialist is someone who knows more about his field than others!” (sticky nail foul).


What distinguishes Japan’s ‘totalitarianism’ is that there is no observable Big Brother figure (what Skya said in Japan’s Holy War). It is the structure itself that functions like Big Brother. This kind of (big brother in your head) structure makes it impossible to change the system.




The ‘demerit system’ : you’re not really praised if you take risks and succeed. You’re not praised if you try something new and solve problems. But your career suffers if you try something new and fail. Miyamoto calls this the ‘demerit system’ and likens it to a ratchet that only turns one way, 

“The ability of Japanese to produce high-quality goods derives in large part from this. There is a downside, however: fear of mistakes leads to a heavy emphasis on precedent,” which makes Japanese institutions unadaptable. Also, says Miyamoto, and frankly I don’t really understand the connection, this system promotes unaccountability.


Near as I can figure out, the idea is, “as long as everyone is doing it according to protocol, who cares about results.” And if those results cause a scandal in the public, who can we hold responsible? The bureaucrats were just following the orders of the boss, and the boss was just ensuring that the protocols were applied correctly. This is me guessing. Honestly I hear about this “institutionalized irresponsibility” and “Japan’s leaderless society” a lot but have yet to find a good explanation of what is up with that.


Anyway, Miyamoto goes on, for those at the top, punishment and accountability just means being promoted sideways: if Mr. X does something scandalous, the government will make a big show of firing Mr. X, only to quietly assign him a just-as-good job in another section after the furor has died down. No one thinks that Mr. X will continue to make poor decisions in his new post. The only issue is saving face.




Abstraction and ambiguity: NOT a case of “you foreigners just don’t understand” . . . while it’s certainly true foreigners don’t get it, it’s also true that abstraction and ambiguity are primarily used by Japanese to BULLSHIT OTHER JAPANESE BLIND.


“someone else had this to say: “You’re young so you write in a clear, concise, simple style. You’d better to learn to write like an adult.” When I asked him what he meant, he explained, “For example, choosing more abstract expressions; phrasing things so it’s impossible to say whether you’re writing what you yourself think , or general opinion.”


This echoes the theme of "Shutting out the sun", p.117

Ambiguity is considered a virtue: one editor at NHK, the government-owned network recounted how a superior chastised her: he handed back a script and instructed he, “Could you make the story less clear?”


Back to STRAITJACKET SOCIETY, another example:

He handed me a guideline – not an official ministry publication, of course, but an unofficial pony that circulated among bureaucrats. At the risk of earning the approbation of my colleagues for divulging its contents – like a magician giving away tricks of the trade- let me illustrate just some of it.


The word maemuki ni, which means “positively” or “constructively” is calculated to give listeners faint hope that something may possibly transpire in the distant future, although there are no immediate prospects. Eii, the word for “assiduous” or “energetic,” is used when prospects are poor, but you want to impress listeners with your efforts. The word jubun (fully, thoroughly) is useful when you want to stall for time, and tsutomeru, to endeavor, means that you take no responsibility. The expression hairyo suru, literally to give something your “careful consideration” actually means letting it stay indefinitely on your desk without ever taking any action. Similarly, kento suru (investigate, look into) means to kick something around but do nothing. Mimamoru (follow closely) means you will assign it to others and do nothing yourself. The expression okiki suru, or “respectfully listen”, likewise means you will only listen and do nothing. Finally, shincho ni, or “cautiously,” is used when things are virtually hopeless but you can’t come right out and say so.





Japan’s politicians don’t write laws. Bureaucrats write laws. The job of the politician is to get as many subsidies and grants for his home prefecture as possible, and thereby get elected. This sounds fucked but remember: the bureaucrats themselves gobbled up all the local taxes.


The process for making laws goes like this: a ministry writes a draft of a law. The politicians make a big show of sitting in front of cameras and asking the bureaucrats questions about the proposed law: (see, guys? I am SO working hard, even though I didn’t write the law!) and the bur bureaucrats answer them. This whole thing is a PR charade, however: the pols give the bureaucrats copies of their questions the night before, and the bureaucrats stay up all night working on answers. Sometimes, if the pol is lazy, he’ll actually ask the bureaucrat, “What’s a good question for me to ask you?”

This kabuki-like ritual is known as okyo-yomi, or “sutra chanting.”


Also: resolutions in the Diet are expected to pass unanimously. Picture the public outcry in YOUR country if that started happening in YOUR Congress.


The other main link between the ministries and the Diet (parliament) is the yearly passing of the BUDGET : which ministry will get more money? Which department’s budget will go up, and which down? This all depends on who can take the “social problems of the month” that the newspapers are up-in-arms about and say “that program I wanted anyway will solve this social problem.” This capitalizing on scandals is short-sighted, says Miyamoto, and prevents the government from having a coherent policy on anything. But the bureaucracy is dead-set against de-funding programs (even old ones that no longer serve any purpose). So the only way to get funding for new programs without losing face, is to blame it on outside pressure: “Dreadfully sorry, old chap, but the media pressure / foreign country pressure is forcing us to defund the “free 8-track players to baseball coaches” program.”


A more common-sensical stance towards government projects should include the disbandment of project teams after the project winds up. Plans for a new project would then begin. But that would imply criticism of the person who initiated that program. In a hierarchical society, drastically altering a policy initiated by your senior, even one that has been outmoded in the natural course of events, is considered unfitting behavior.



Anyway, the budget is passed at the end of the year – as a result the bureaucrats spend an entire week sleeping at the office. The whole office floor is covered with futons, and everyone eats onabe together, while working round-the-clock to put together proposals for funding of various projects, as their ministers meet in front of TV cameras, hammering out the details of who will get what money. And of course, these budget negotiations are another PR farce. The real deals have already been sealed in private way before that: “in reality budget revisions are based on the rank of the officials doing the applying, with the necessary funds set aside all along.”


The existence of this ritual is known to every bureaucrat in Tokyo, to the press, and of course to the politicians involved. The only ones who know nothing about it are the citizens.


11 comments Tags: ,

japan book review 7a: offensive shinto vocabulary corner

This is a companion to my review of Skya's book JAPAN'S HOLY WAR. Here I'm collecting all the most offensive Shinto propaganda phrases that he used. But I'm also adding the kanji for them!

A lot of these phrases are straight up terrible. But others were kind of "nice" Shinto words that got interpreted in really violent ways during the days of the Japanese Empire (like how jihadis interpret certain bits of the Koran).  Other phrases sound hella innocent, but are euphemisms for ill stuff. I'll try to include example sentences for those, to show how, in context, these "nice sounding, spiritual" words are actually fucked.

Unfortunately, Mr. Skya didn't really explain in any systematic way which phrases are traditional Shinto, and which phrases were simply invented in the  '10s and '20s by these imperialist book-writing guys.

If you like this, please check out my other "dictionaries":




国体:kokutai – the "national body" 

Can be thought of as two points. 1) Who has sovereign powers – king? emperor? legislature? El Generalissimo? And 2)  what is the relation of the sovereign to the public. (are the public individuals? or interchangeable parts?)


政体:seitai: the apparatus by which the sovereign's will is carried out.

(seitai plus kokutai equals political system of a given country)


 統治 :Touchi – imperial sovereignty :

benevolent and impartial, treating all subjects equally. Compare to shihai:


支配: Shihai – the bad, autocratic sovereignty that foreign kings have.

Kings imposing their own power by force on peasants who don’t want to be ruled that way.

君主国体:Kunshu kokutai – monarchal form of government


民主国体:Minshu kokutai – the democratic form of government

鎖国: Sakoku teki – ‘isolated country’ (What Japan was until the Meiji Restoration).

 民本主義:Minponshugi – “people-ism”

 the idea that the government (or the Emperor) should work for the benefit of the common people.

???主義 kunpon shugi – the older, pre-minponshugi  belief that the people existed only for the benefit of the emperor.

Anyone know what the fucking kanji is for this one?

天皇主権説: Tennou shukensetsu – emperor as sovereign theory

天皇機関説:Tennou kikansetsu – the emperor-as-organ theory (opposite of tennnou shukensetsu)


社会民主主義:shakai minshushugi – socialist democracy

体制意思:Taisei ishi – organizational will.

The organization (society, government) has a will of its own, which every citizen has the same vested interest in obeying, since by helping society you help yourself move closer to enlightenment. The emperor is important because only he represents the will or articulates the will. But it’s your will too.


機械的組織:Kikaiteki soshiki – mechanistic organization of society.

Composed of individuals who each pursue their own self-interest. Opposite of you-know-where.

 国権 ??? :Kokken – the will of the state


民族精神:Minzoku seishin –ethnic consciousness

“the KKK is not racist, we are just promoting ethnic consciousness!”


大和魂:Yamato damashii – Yamato spirit

(Yamato being the main Japanese ethnic group)


国民精神:Kokumin seishin – national spirit (see Yamato damashii)


日本精神:Nihon seishin – Japanese spirit.(see Yamato damashii).

Not just loving one’s country but respecting the unbroken chain of tradition and kokutai that goes back to the birth of Japan, unchanging.


指導精神:Shidou seishin – guiding spirit of Japan.

The voice in your head telling you to do what’s right for the country.


民族団体:Minzoku dantai – blood relatives from the same womb.


民族の大生命: Minzoku no daiseimei – the great life of the ethnic-nation

血族国家論:Ketsuzoku kokka ron – blood family state theory


劣等民族: Rettou minzoku  – inferior ethnic group


優等民族:Yuutou minzoku - superior ethnic group


万世一系の天皇:Bansei ikkei no tennnou – the unbroken line of hereditary emperors.


世襲継承:Seshuu keishou – unbroken hereditary succession.

系統主義:keitoushugi – the doctrine of worship of family lineage

一大家族国家:Ichidai kazoku kokka – one large family state.

Not only are all Japanese bonded by blood, and thus have same vested interests, but also you should revere emperor as if he were your own parents.


皇道:Koudou – the Imperial Way

doing what you think the emperor wants!


 天皇御親政 : Tennou goshinsei – direct imperial rule

祭政一 : Saisei itchi – unity of Shinto and the state

AKA the way Japan was run after the army took over and basically abolished democracy. see also: kamunagara

随神 :Kamunagara ( also, 'kamunagara no daidou') : literally, done in the way of the gods, but in practice: a theocratic government.

惟神の道:Kannagara no michi – “a complex term that refers to the relationship between the Japanese people, their ancestors, and their gods”.

 Doing thing the way of the gods, or doing things for the gods.


天皇様の??? :tennousama no iyasaku  – increasing prosperity of the emperor.

What the conquered people were supposed to be contributing to.


建国:Kenkoku – nation-building

Refers not only to the actual beginning of Japan, but (since in Shinto, the  past and future are always with us) to the fulfillment of Japan’s ultimate destiny.


肇国: Choukoku – the founding of the nation.

Of course all nations are founded, but Japan was founded by god to bring peace and harmony to the whole world!  This is often used in conjunction with the next phrase:

天上 無窮の皇運 : Tenjou mukyuu no koun – “the imperial throne coeval with heaven and earth.”

This phrase was popularized in the Imperial Rescript on Education, which all kids had to read in school.  Tenjou mukyuu no koun has its roots in the Shinto “doctrine of benevolent destiny” (Japanese translation not provided). Coeval is a fancy word for “controlling”.

 建国法: Kenkokuhou – the state founding law. (as handed by the gods to the first emperor. Can you guess what kind of country they wanted?)


八紘一宇 : Hakkou ichiu “the whole world under one roof” . . . basically the same as tenjou mukyuu no koun.

 Taken from one of Japan's creation legends, this means Japan's destiny is to spread the harmony and peace of Emperor-worship to the whole planet.

一大普遍生活:Ichidai fuhen seikatsu – under the rule of the emperor, the world was to be “one great universal life.”



 神懸った精神主義:Kamigakatta seishinshuugi – Shinto spiritualism

唯物的個人主義 Yuuibutsu teki kojinsnhugi – materialistic individualism

神主:  kaminushi – Shinto priest

but it’s funny because the kanji look like “god owner.”  (compare to the word for pet owner: 飼い主)

神格: Shinkaku – divine character.

What every Japanese has , since they are direct descendants of god.


生命精神:Seimei seishin – life spirit.

 Taken together, shinkaku and seimei seishin were used to explain Japan beating Russia and china in wars in 1905 and 1895. And therefore, shinkaku and seimei seishin meant that Japanese were invincible in battle – god would not allow them to fail!

敬神の精神:Keishin no seishin – reverence towards gods

(one of the things that makes Japan special). Of course, other countries revere their own (dumb) gods, but only Japan is ruled by a god in person.


 順化:Junka – Shinto rite of purification

 "After he assassinated the pro-democracy activist, the right-wing militia member turned himself in to police, in an act of junka. This proved he was sincere and selfless, which made the public very sympathetic to his cause."



中今: Nakaima: the eternal now .

the future and past are with us forever, as real as now. Japan’s future destiny of ruling the world has, like, already happened, man! And all we have to do is make it, like visible! Or did I just blow your mind?!?!?


没が帰一:Botsuga kiitsu –Dying to the self and returning to the one.

one of the most important concepts in radical Shinto thought. Mr. Hisamatsu, who came up with the term, explained that it meant, “to abandon one’s selfish or individualistic attitude, to absorb ones self into the larger state, and to live as one element of the state.” The state, of course being you-know-who.


合同生存:goudou seizon

(literally, fusion or amalgamated existence” (merging of the individual into society).


合同心???:goudoushin : the desire for two or more independent elements to become one.


 教義:Kyougi – religious doctrine


大儀名文:Taigi meibun – the great duty. 

The duty to help you-know-who conquer you-know-what. 


国民道徳: national morality – things to do to be a good citizen

恋闕: Renketsu – love of country and love of emperor

忠君愛国:Chuukun aikoku – loyalty and patriotism

 戦陣訓:Senjinkun – the field service code, written by Tojo, sort of his version of the imperial rescript to soldiers and sailors.


国学:Kokugaku thought – Tokugawa-era  philosophy on how to be a “correct Japanese citizen” which emphasized emperor over shogun.


市民の道:shimin no michi – The “way of the subject”

 忠孝 :Chuukou – loyalty to your emperor / government as if he/it were your own flesh-and-blood father

 殉死:junshi – willingness of a vassal to follow his lord in death.

仁: Jin – the love of a higher person for the workers in their charge. Benevolence. Chivalry. Charity.


忠:Chuu – the love of a lower person for a higher person, fealty.

神への責任:Kami e no sekinin – responsibility to the gods

本来の分:Honrai no bun – one’s proper place in the social hierarchy



高天原 :Taka maga hara – plain of high heaven.

If we conquer the world, and everyone gives up their individual identities, we can make takamagahara on Earth!


天照大神 :Amateraseu omikami - the god who gave birth to the emperor.

But he’s her reincarnation in human form. So he’s kind of like his own mom, which is pretty fucked up.


宇宙の法則:Ushuu no housoku- the laws of the universe

"You have to go to China and die in a war – it's the ushuu no housoku!"

 神の意思:Kami no ishi – the will of the gods

伊勢:The ISE myth

the creation myth that defines the Japanese conception of kingship??? Anyone know about this???




真心??? :Magokoro – the spirit of kouhei-mushi, which only the Emperor possesses.


公平無私:  kouhei-mushi

total imparitality and disinterestedness. Treating all subjects fairly and seeking no benefits for one’s self. What makes the Emperor the best king ever.

 現御神:akitsumikami – divinity in human form

Guess who?


現人神 :Arahitogami – a deity who is a human being


皇位 : KOUI :  the chrysanthemum throne

Sovereignty resides not just in the current emperor but more importantly and specifically in the imperial throne, the koui.

The emperors come and go, are born and die, but the throne is eternal.


外夷 : Gai-I : foreigan barbarians

???   hoyokusha -assistants (what foreigners in conquered lands were supposed to be, since they could never be Japanese)

can someone please find the kanji for this? Internet is not helping me at all.

 賓客:Hinkyaku – guests

In their own country, no less.

客体: Kyakutai - objects. Also what foreigners could be.


葉隠 :Hagakure - 18th century on bushido and the importance of being ready to die.

 死生観:Shi seikan – traditional Shinto/samurai outlook on death

(hint: it rules!)


結び:Musubi – the harmonious spirit which binds people together in goodwill


順化:Junka – sublimation. What happens to foreign concepts, where they get stripped of meaning (especially universal values or morals, individualism, etc.) so as to fit with Japan’s kokutai.


特攻隊:tokkoutai – special attack force.

What westerners call kamikaze.

 維新: ishin – restoration

As in, Meiji restoration, and the planned "Showa restoration" which the various coups d'etat were supposed to bring about.

戦陣訓:Senjinkun – the field service code, written by Tojo, sort of his version of the imperial rescript to soldiers and sailors.

???  Kyoka – influencing the public

知りきれトンボ:Shirikire-tonbo : one who leaves everything unfinished.

聖戦:Seisen - holy war

 狂信的絶対主義:kyoushinteki zettaishugi – fanatical absolutism

非論理的な独断:Hironriteki na dokudan – illogical dogmatism



. . . and if you know any other words / slogans like this, please leave 'em in the comments! thanks!

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Japan book review 7: JAPAN’S HOLY WAR by Walter Skya

JAPAN’S HOLY WAR by Walter Skya


Buy it here

Skya explains that, in WW2, the Italian enemy was Il Duce, the German enemy was Hitler, but the Japanese enemy was simply called “the Japs.” And this wasn’t all just racism: Japan didn’t have any obvious evil leader or evil system that the Americans could insult. Their whole fascist, warlike discourse was carried on at such a high level of abstraction that you would have needed a PhD. in religion to even begin to guess who was responsible for making the Japanese go crazy. Skya’s central point is that Shinto ultra nationalism is the equivalent of Nazism or Fascism.


His book examines how the Shinto religion went from being a sort of mellow religion in the late 1800’s to a super-patriotic, theocratic religion after the Meiji Restoration, and then morphed into a totally apocalyptic cult in the ‘20s.


Originally Shinto was an animist forest religion (The tree had a god, the river had a god, that rock over there had a god, the crayfish in the river had a god) made by stone-age village people. It was something that the average peasant or hunter-gatherer knew about and used in their daily life. So how did this very down-to-earth common-people’s religion get turned into this super-esoteric, mystical, secret-rites-in-back-rooms, tons and tons of procedures and pomp-and-circumstance religion whose purpose was to separate the people from the Emperor? I would have liked to have read a chapter on that.


My – totally guessing – answer to that question is, Shinto was done in by its own syncretism (syncretism is a fancy word meaning, you already have a ton of gods, so it is no problem to add more gods and more layers of belief): since the emperor gets his power from Shinto religion, and we need to get the public to respect his authority, we’ll just keep adding more layers of pomp and mysticism, deliberately, to impress and bamboozle the masses.


But still, I can’t explain how a forest-and-animals religion came to require an emperor in the first place. Were the original emperors like the toughest warlords? And if so, how did they go from being tough to being ceremonial pawns of the shoguns for 1,000 years???


Anyway, Skya explains he got the idea for writing this book when he read about the “May 15 incident” when Shinto radicals assassinated the prime minister, and attempted to overthrow the democratic government.


“I wondered whether political assassination had become an acceptable form of behavior in the minds of the Japanese people (by the 30s). The fact that the lawyer for the terrorists presented over one hundred thousand letters appealing for clemency, and that thirty thousand holders of the golden kite, the highest military decoration, signed a petition, says something about the mood of the Japanese masses at the time. Where was the outrage over the killing of a prime minister? These kinds of things could neither be explained or condoned by the “regular” kind of Shinto of the early Meiji period (late 1800s).”


Foreigners have never really studied wartime Shinto before because they assumed it was meaningless propaganda. And Japanese never studied it because wartime stuff is still taboo. But according to Skya, wartime Shinto was not just propaganda, it was a major force that motivated the decision to invade Asia and go to war with America, so it must be studied.


Skya also says his book is relevant to today’s problems re: Islamic terrorism. The militant Shinto solution is different,  but their complaint is the same as jihadists: westerners, materialism, modernism and decadent rich must be smashed! A cosmic, global clash of civilizations is inevitable.And so on!


Good points of the book: explains why the Meiji Restoration oligarchs bothered to have the window-dressing of a constitutional democracy, and how the super-anti-communist right-wing emperor guys could ALSO assassinate major capitalists and want a state-planned economy . . . while stabbing any legislator that was not in favor of an immediate land war with Russia!



Bad points: Although this book is about super exciting extreme violence, it’s also super tedious at the same time: a full ten pages are devoted to explaining the differences between CONSERVATIVE Shinto ultra nationalism, REACTIONARY Shinto ultra nationalism, and    RADICAL Shinto ultra nationalism .That should give you some idea. (short answer: the first two don’t approve of assassination).



Also the book is too much about ideas, not enough about how those ideas affected the average people. Skya’s interpretation of history is like:


 STEP ONE: certain very esoteric, philosophical  books are written

STEP TWO: ??!???

STEP THREE: Japanese people are ready to conquer the world and commit suicide


This leaves me with four  questions:

ONE – Do these obscure intellectuals’  ideas really drive the behavior, or just justify it after the fact? Did important people just decide to go to war and dismantle democracy, and then get some pencil-neck geeks to make some justification for it?


TWO – Skya says a dozen times that Shinto ultra nationalism was a very public movement dedicated to propagandizing the public, but how did that process actually work? And, were people really convinced by the rhetoric, or merely scared shitless to respond to it?


THREE – Other books on that time say that at that time, there was unemployment, high taxes, high rents, and families so poor that they sold their own daughters into prostitution (!?!). Skya includes none of this. Considering that these extreme economic- and daily-life circumstances would make people more receptive to extreme ideas (either for or against the emperor), he should have spent more time putting the Shinto propaganda campaign in the context of the people’s daily lives.


FOUR –  He makes no mention of the distinction between regular Shinto and state Shinto (see above). And he doesn’t explain why none of the guys who influence national policy to be more Shinto, to be more theocratic and less democratic . . .why are none of these guys actual Shinto priests? In fact, all the guys Skya profiles are lawyers. Weird. Other books, such as Bix’s and Seagrave’s biographies of Hirohito, stress that the emperors are constantly surrounded by a retinue of Shinto priests, viziers, courtiers, and household managers that basically run their entire life all bird-in-a-gilded-cage style. I was surprised that none of those guys made a run for the money.



A recurring theme of the book: guys saying “If we do such-and-such, democracy will result” or “If you believe such-and-such, then by implication you believe the Emperor is mortal”. . . AS A WAY OF DISSING SUCH-AND-SUCH.


“(my opponents think) that our national state the Emperor and the people are not different in kind: the emperor is a man , the people too are men”


“If one says that we have a right to participate in the enactment of the constitution, this is to assert that sovereignty resides in us.”


It’s like OOOH , SHINTO BURRRN!!!! Seriously, there are parts where I have to re-read the quotation half-a-dozen times to comprehend that it’s actually an ANTI statement.


Another, related, theme: ultranationalist guys taking the most negative stereotypes of Japanese (obedient, illogical, putting the group before the individual, xenophobic, and deliberately stripping foreign concepts of their values to make them more Japanese) , and saying, “Yeah, we are like that! We’re all totally just like that, and that’s what makes us so rad!”


It’s like a bunch of Jews who decided “Hey, why don’t we write our own protocols of the elders of Zion?”




Skya’s Characteristics of militant Shinto:


Organicism :  You're not an individual, you're a cell in the body of the state. All Japanese are part of one family. What is good for your emperor or elites must therefore be good for you as well. Unlike other totalitarian states, we are not imposing rules top-down by force. In our state, everyone has the same vested interests. Everyone who is not a dirty commie traitor, anyway.


Irrationalism :  Ok, the economy is fucked and everyone is corrupt. And we have no plans for reform, what to do with interest rates, taxes, or land reform. Our only plan is killing motherfuckers. But if we restore the emperor to absolute power he’ll fix it with maaaaaaagic!


Unlimited expansionism, and A tendency to pursue total destruction or global rule :

God created Japan specifically to take over the world! Or die trying! Anything less is turning our back on the Imperial will, and is thus blasphemy.


Total absorption of the individual into the collectivity: Self-interest and individualism are decadent, Western notions. A famous slogan of that time was:  True Shinto enlightenment means dying to yourself, and being reborn in the emperor!


Or, as another example, let’s look at the 6-point program of the fascist group Keirin Gakumei (Society for the Study of Statesmanship):


1 – realization of the ideal of the whole nation beating as one heart through ideology

2 – enhancement of national glory through the mobilization of the entire nation

3 – the resolute enforcement of national militarization based on the premise that each and every individual in the nation is a soldier

4 – the creation of a national economy through the control of capital and labor

5 – the establishment of a nation of one people through the administration of a public welfare system and the preservation of the national characteristics of the nation,

6 – the adoption of a nationwide system of elections.



All this talk of “society-is-more-important-than-the-individual”, “democracy sucks”, “bow to authority” and “everyone should be the same” make me wonder, exactly how is Shinto theocracy different from communism??? I mean, aside from the religion thing.


Well, communists emphasize that everyone had different vested interests, and were obsessed with rooting out the impure: for instance they weren’t just purging the rich and the spies, they were purging fucking “middle peasants” and “upper middle peasants” . . . basically anyone who had more than one cow was marked as a class traitor!


In contrast, radical Shinto was designed specifically to make people believe they all HAD the exact same vested interests, rich and poor alike. The commie paranoia was absent. People with radically opposing vested interests were portrayed as on the same side, provided they had a) pure blood , and b) correct attitude. This way society would be finally free of the class and political animosity that had divided it. No longer would the rich landlord exploit, no longer would the poor commies try to revolt. Everyone would be one happy family under the Emperor.


Why is right-wing fascism is anti-rich?


Skya quotes Breuilly, a scholar of fascist movements:


 "Fascism is a radical, anti-bourgeois, anti-liberal, anti-Marxist movement.”

 Huh??? That sounds crazy! Anti bourgeois, AND anti Marxist? Well who DO they like? The Easter Bunny??? It sounds crazy, but I keep hearing that same definition over and over in different books. How can commie-hating right-wingers also hate the rich and capitalism?


Traditional right-wing authoritarian governments are like, the king or dictator and his oligarch buddies decide everything in smoke-filled back rooms. But fascism (Italy, Germany, Spain, Italy, wherever) was a new style : a PUBLIC movement, where populist leaders appealed directly to the masses:

 Breuilly again:

“Fascism comes into its own at times of intense popular involvement in politics and the breakdown of established political parties. In place of traditional conservatism, parliamentary politics, or working-class victory, fascists offer the vision of a strong and united nation whose heroic leaders pursue a glorious and expansive foreign policy. The rejection of class, party, and elite politics leads to the idea of the nation as a classless, party-less, permanently mobilized organism bound together by blood or language or “folk values”, which are made known to and expressed through extraordinary leaders, who are “just doing the will of the people.”


OK. So that’s why. They weren’t against the rich or capitalism per se, they just hated anyone who put their own interests or agenda ahead of those of the country – which included commies AND corporations.







The guys who overthrew the shogun (and the old system of feudal rule) did it in the name of the emperor (and therefore of Shinto, because the emperor was a Shinto god). But why did they choose Emperor as their symbol?


Breuilly to the rescue once again:


Very diverse elites ranging from reactionary samurai in the domains to enthusiastic westernizers in the imperial court co-operated, at least for a time, in a common opposition to the Shogunate. The “rule-by-emperor” system provided a ready-made alternative to feudal rule. Continuity, the confinement of politics to elites, the diversity of elites involved, and existing institutional alternatives – all were reflected in the artificial, syncretic ideology of emperor loyalty and the restoration of Shinto religion which were used to justify the Meiji restoration.



OK, so they needed an Emperor. So why then did they make a democracy also? Even if it was just for show, didn’t they realize that it totally contradicted the whole “restoring the emperor to ultimate power” narrative they worked so hard to establish?


The answer (is this book rad or what?): Most of the key members of the collective leadership long before the coup were aware that almost all of the powerful western states had constitutions and were convinced that this was a key element contributing to their state power. The oligarchs for the most part had resigned themselves to granting limited popular participation in the affairs of government in the hope of obtaining broad public support from the educated subjects for government policies and the long-range goals of the state. In other words, the oligarchs sought to use liberal institutions for conservative ends. And equally important factor: the oligarchs were aware that constitutional government was a minimal requirement to gain acceptance by the western powers and rectify the unequal treaties imposed by them.




. . . is important because the ambiguity of constitution allowed radical Shinto ultra nationalism to flourish.


In the West, a constitution would have to spell out clearly who was to be in charge: the democratically-elected legislature or the emperor (not to mention the prime minister and the military!). And that would mean the four factions would have to fight a total civil war, to get their preferred constitution approved.


But in Japan, to preserve the peace, the oligarchs who wrote the constitution resorted to two classic Japanese tactics: ambiguity and montage. The constitution didn’t say anything about checks, balances, or who was responsible for what! I mean it did, but you could interpret what it said any which way.


The ambiguity means that each conflict between factions would have to be solved in some backroom deal, on a case-by-case basis. From the point of view of the oligarchs, this was fine, because THEY were the ones who had the power to pick all the cases!


And the “montage” part was: keep the existing emperor system and lay an entire, fully-formed constitutional democracy right on top of it.


This is traditional behavior: for example, Japanese kept their whole Japanese language and added 10,000 Chinese Kanji to it, and then added Engrish on top of that. Another example: religion! Everyone simultaneously believes in Christianity (for weddings) Buddhism (for funerals) and Shinto ( for seasonal festivals). So why not systems of government too? It didn't seem contradictory at the time, I guess.


However, after the oligarchs got old and retired or died, the natural conflicts between the military, emperor, ministers, and legislature spiraled out of control. And that caused the government to grind to a standstill. The government needed a definite non-ambiguous leader who could say CUT THE SPEECHES, YOU DO THIS! YOU OVER THERE, FIX THAT!


A lot of citizens wanted to make it a real democracy, and a lot of other people wanted the emperor to run everything directly. Both solutions would solve the ambiguity problem, and get government working again . . . but either way, half the population would be totally pissed. The frustration caused both sides to embrace more-and-more radical solutions, dividing the nation even further.


Nakae Choumin, chief Liberal Party ideologue, characterized the Meiji Constitution as a “strange creature with one body and many heads.”


You got this “institutionalized irresponsibility” where – even when very strict rules and extreme militarization is being handed down to the masses, at the top it’s like no one has their hands on the wheel. It’s authoritarian but strangely passive. All the different parts can act with total autonomy as long as they don’t contradict each other in public.


Anyway, let’s look at the structure of the Meiji government, with emphasis on why no one was ultimately responsible for bad decisions, and why no one had the power to shoot down truly terrible ideas:





Privy Council (枢密院 Sūmitsu-in) – made of secret oligarchs.

Not responsible because: they really run things – they answer to no one.

Can’t ever contradict Emperor because : he’s their legitimacy.


Emperor (天皇陛下 Tennnouheika) –

not responsible because: descended from God, and therefore never wrong.

Can never contradict Privy Council because: they installed him in power.


Ministers –

Not responsible because: merely implementing Emperor’s orders.

Can’t ever contradict Emperor because : outranked.


However, once they have been given a law or program to enforce, they can run wild with it and take it in crazy directions. Or, as Skya puts it, “Given the tacit understanding that the emperor could not constantly be directly involved in the nitty-gritty politics in ruling the state, the ministers’ formal accountability to the emperor and not to the parliament meant in fact that they were accountable to no one but themselves.”


Cabinet (内閣 Naikaku)

same as ministers???? Or what?? Someone please help me out here. . .




Not responsible because: it is not allowed to propose laws or budgets on its own. 

Can never contradict Emperor because: outranked.


Intentionally given the exact minimum of power for Japan to qualify as a “constitutional Monarchy.” Namely, parliament only has the responsibility to APPROVE laws and APPROVE the budget  that the executive branch comes up with. It can’t propose laws on its own. However, parliament can waste everyone’s time debating, and bring the government to a total standstill, thus forcing the executive branch to make some concessions.



Although nominally “elected”, only 1% of the population could vote. And even then only for the lower house (upper house: nobility only!). So that could explain why no one really cared when politicians got assassinated all over the place in `20s and `30s.



PRIME MINISTER – (elected official ??? is he even legislative or executive??) in charge of the Cabinet. Has no authority to fire Cabinet members who go off the rails, knock off his hat, etc. Basically he is just there in case someone needs to be assassinated.





Not responsible because independent of legislative AND ministers, basically a country into itself. Can in fact overthrow the legislature any time, and they know it.


Can never contradict Emperor because he is the “supreme commander of armed forces”. 


But they can act on their own and then tell the Emperor afterwards, “Just FYI, we totally invaded Manchuria. So um was that OK? We figured you’d be cool with it.”


Complicating matters further, the elected politicians weren’t saints, either (despite representing Western-style democracy). They were corrupt, and they tended to reject anything proposed by the other parties just out of spite, even if the proposed bill would be good for the country. Sound familiar?


 So, who to blame? Mr. Itou Hirobumi, one of the most powerful oligarchs, and the main force behind writing the Meiji Constitution, made sure article one of the constitution was:

"The empire of Japan shall be reigned over and governed by a line of emperors unbroken for ages eternal."

And Article three was: "The emperor is sacred and inviolable."

However, it's clear he didn't believe that. He just found the emperor a useful tool to "unite the people." Let's check his speech to the other oligarchs, given while they were still in the process of writing the constitution:

""In Europe, religion is the foundation of the state. The feeling of the people is deeply penetrated by and rooted in religion. In our country, however, the religions represent no important force. In our country what alone can be the foundation is the Imperial House."





The most influential anti-democracy, pro-theocracy, Shinto writer of the late Meiji and early Taisho period.

Here is Hozumi in a nutshell:


(traditional Shinto doctrines) +

(family concept of the state) +

(organic theory of society) =

(monarchal absolutism)


Put in real-world, non-abstract terms:


(fundamentalist Shinto says emperor is god, therefore perfect, and all Japanese are his biological children)


(therefore all Japanese are special, and should obey him as they would their own father)


(therefore the individual should, like a catholic or Buddhist monk, erase their own identity in humility before god, and exist to serve society)


(the Emperor should control the Cabinet and we don’t need to vote or have a parliament)


There! Simple enough?


Amazing Hozumi quotes:


Democracy was “an invention of humans” and therefore “unnatural” and against God. God created nature, and god created the first Emperor, therefore theocracy was natural and pro-God.


On constitutional democracy:

“If the constitution is determined by the sovereign , then we as subjects cannot use the constitution to restrict the sovereign.”


“If one says that we have a right to participate in the enactment of the constitution, this is to assert that sovereignty resides in us.” ( mind-blowing: he said that to DIS democracy, not to advocate it!)


This is what I like about Skya’s book: not only does he explain the mind-numbing, angels-on-a-head-of-a-pin religious philosophizin’ in a way that ties it to real-world politics, he also describes it SO WELL I find myself thinking, “Hey, that’s pretty logical! ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR! ALL HAIL THE EMPEROR!”


Even more retarded: all this anti-democracy, “No one but the emperor should shape how the country is run” stuff is written by a guy without a speck of noble blood, who is not the emperor, trying to influence how the country should be run. 




Kind of like how ‘70s USA anti-feminist women like Anita Bryant would get paid large sums to travel the country without a husband, running their own PR firms, in order to tell their audiences how feminism is bad and women should not be free.


Skya even answers my down-to-earth question: WHY did anyone care what the fuck Hozumi thought?


Well, he went to a prestigious university, and then got a job as a Professor of Constitutional Law at an even MORE prestigious university. Also the Ministry of Education got him a gig revising the national textbooks to be more pro-emperor, which gave him a captive audience of all the kids in the country!





Any book you read about Taisho or Showa era Japan is going to blather on about “the kokutai” debate, and chances are the book will leave you more confused than you were before you read it. This is because most Japanese history books define “kokutai” as “national polity”, WHICH , ALTHOUGH THOSE ARE BOTH ENGLISH WORDS, IS NOT A PHRASE WHICH HAS ANY MEANING, NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES THEY REPEAT IT.


I’ll save you the trouble of reading about any of these very tedious debates: Basically what it all comes down to is: the cabinet! The cabinet advises the emperor, who proposes laws.


Is Japan’s kokutai going to be a democracy (in which case, the legislature controls the cabinet) or a totalitarian religious state (the Emperor appoints the cabinet himself, and they order the legislature to rubber-stamp his decisions).


Skya’s book is the first book I ever read to actually define the word KOKUTAI in a meaningful way: kokutai means “the place where real power is located in any given country.” Not just Imperial Japan has a kokutai. Communist countries, democracies, and monarchies all have kokutai! 


The shape of the kokutai is different depending on who the fuck really pulls the strings. In a monarchy: the KING is at the top of the kokutai. In a communist country, the Party Central Committee is at the top of the kokutai. In a democracy, the common people, represented by the elected President, are on top. And in Japan’s unique kokutai, the Emperor is rocking it.


OK. So, what defines Japan’s unique kokutai, Mr. Hozumi?


One: Emperor at the top!



Japanese citizenship is limited to natives – people who are descended from the emperor and therefore from God. (to give you some idea of how fucking off-the-hook Japan was in the ‘20s, this racist, fascist notion was enough to get Hozumi labeled as a PANTY WAIST, LATTE-SIPPING LIBERAL because it seemed to say ‘don’t conquer all of Asia, since they don’t have that Japanese DNA’). WTF ‘20s Japan!!!!


three : the UNBROKEN CHAIN of emperors.

Hozumi said the creation myth (the Emperor was born by the goddess Amaterasu… And he gave birth to all the Japanese people) was a historical fact. Not only did this make all of Japan one big family chosen by God (thus the whole ‘blood’ thing), but also it made Japan the ONLY country on earth whose kings were ALL sons of the previous kings. Unlike Russian Tsars and dumb-ass French or English Kings, or those wacky Chinese kings.

Most nations started out run by Kings descended from God, with divine right of rule. Hozumi acknowledged this. But he said, “According to the rules, if your king gets overthrown by some other guy who declares himself king, you’re out. Unbroken chain foul!

Or if your king doesn’t have a boy child, and so they get some royal person from another country to be your new king, you’re out.” (I imagine Hozumi wearing a umpire uniform and making dramatic gestures with a whistle to emphasize this point).  

“Not only is your country out of the rule-by-a-living-god-destined-to-one-day-rule-the-planet business, but you are doomed- DOOOOMED to democracy and liberal humanism. LIBERALLLL HUMANNNISMMMM, OOOOOOHHHH!!!!!!!”



Since all Japanese are children of the emperor: they shared his special, unique-in-the-world blood-tie to God. Not only that, but (unlike other racial-purity fascist regimes like Nazi Germany) the Japanese people had a personal debt to the emperor. They OWED HIM bigtime.

This is different than Rule #1 because it means that people are in a hierarchy. Mom is superior to the daughter. Older daughter is superior to younger daughter. Dad is superior to everyone else. This is as god and nature intended. But don’t worry – mom wants the best for her daughter. Dad wants his family to grow up big and strong. Everyone has the same vested interests. And you owe dad. He brought you into this world. 

Quoting dude: “The family is a small state. The state is a large family.” This “family-state” philosophy would get increasingly pernicious in the ‘30s and ‘40s: people would be asked to kill and die for the emperor in a way they would normally do only for their own close relatives.




Two other things, however, are  curiously ABSENT from Hozumi’s discourse:


ONE: He seems totally unconcerned with specifically WHAT the emperor would do with his unlimited god-given authority. Even more: he was unconcerned with what the emperors HAD done throughout their 2,600 year reign. IF they had divine superpowers and unlimited political clout, what the fuck had they ever done during the last 2600 years? “Who cares, it’s the principle of the thing.” Seems to be his answer. Who the fuck even thinks like that? Seriously????


TWO: For all his talk of “blood ties” and “the volkisch, ethnic traditions that make Japan unique and superior”, he seems to be utterly unconcerned with actual ordinary Japanese folk culture or people, except as replaceable interchangeable parts used for glorifying an emperor who never does anything aside from exist. He never talks about folk customs, superstitions, festivals, nicknames, fairy-tales, or anything. Suspicious, if you ask me!


No academics have ever pointed this out. Once again, I scooped them! In your face.


Also wild: the emperor himself (his flesh and blood) was not important. The flesh-and-blood body was just the current earthly incarnation of the Amaterasu goddess. The THRONE was the important, unbroken, thing.


Quoth Hozumi: “The throne is Amaterasu of this world. Thus to worship the throne is to worship Amaterasu. The throne is the source of state law and state religion.” Not so important to everyday politics, but important if YOU LIKE HAVING YOUR MIND BLOWN. Also it explains why the fact that emperor Taisho being clinically retarded did nothing to diminish the growing fundamentalist Shinto frenzy.


1910 – Hozumi publishes his main book, KEMPOU TEIYOU (Handbook on the Constitution of Japan)


In this new book, he talks about the seitai.


If kokutai is the place where power is situated (i.e. emperor), SEITAI is the apparatus by which the ruler’s will is carried out. Ten states with the same exact kokutai (democracy, imperial rule, communism, secular fascism, etc.) can still have ten different SEITAI; different ways of implementing their policies. (for example, elected legislatures, bureaucracies, religious councils, regional fiefdoms, etc.)


Why is this important? Because – to radical Shinto guys – the Emperor gets his power from the “emperor-on-top”-shaped Kokutai of Japan. So if he stops being the supreme leader EVEN FOR A SECOND, it’s game over: he loses his god-powers, AND Japan is doomed to democracy FOREVERRRRRR. Therefore, Hozumi has to explain why the current Meiji system (power shared by Emperor, army, legislature, and ministries, power of Emperor limited by constitution) is NOT a change in the kokutai.



And his answer  (wait for it) : the kokutai didn’t change, just the seitai. And that’s why seitai is important.


Which brings me to another weird thing about Shinto ultra nationalism: despite their obsession with the total all-powerful god-king, they also think he’s really weak. Like how Superman can beat up the Hulk, but a 3-year-old girl with a fistful of kryptonite can stomp a mudhole in his ass.


As far as I can tell, it all comes down to this: merely being the earthly incarnation of a sho-nuff Goddess by itself doesn’t mean SHIT. For him to really be powerful, the kokutai has to retain the same form that it’s always had (the ‘unbroken chain’ rule). And, as we’ve seen above, Japan’s kokutai consists of 4 things: 1) a theocracy, 2) a pure-blood nation, 3) the unbroken chain, and 4) a nation where everyone is the same family with the same traditions


Besides the whole “If he stops being supreme leader for even a few seconds. . . ” thing (rule #3 foul), here are some other kryptonites his Highness has to beware of:

If too many foreigners are let in, the kokutai changes: Japan is no longer an ethnic nation (rule #2 foul =Kryptonite)!

Or if too many Japanese lose their traditions, that’s a rule #4 foul = also kryptonite! 


That’s why right-wingers tend to get so rabid about culture-war issues that – to regular folks – seem really symbolic and superficial: too much foreign culture will alter the kokutai. And if the kokutai changes, the Emperor loses his god-powers. You’d think that – being a divine being, he’d just perform a few miracles until the average Joe believes in him again. But no.


Which leads me to this:


If people stop believing in him, he loses power. I guess that’s true of all religions and fairy-tales, but Shinto openly acknowledges this, which is amazing. ANOTHER SUPER BASIC FACT THAT ALL THE ACADEMIC HISTORIANS NEVER REALIZED UNTIL I TOLD THEM IN ALL CAPS.


Hozumi’s “organic theory of society” is particularly gnarly. The individual is reduced to an interchangeable, no-identity-having, replaceable part who should be sacrificed for the good of Society. In Shinto thought this is called “goudou seizon” (literally, fusion or amalgamated existence” (merging of the individual into society)).


And this explains the lenient treatment that communists and anti-emperor guys were given in fascist Japan. In other fascist countries, such people would be instantly executed or sent to slave-labor camps. In Japan, it was inconcievable that they could not be "rehabilitated", inconcievable that they could not be re-absorbed into society. They were just kept in jail until they "realized" the errors of their ways. This process of "conversion" was called tenkou.





Hozumi’s arch-rival!

The most famous, influential proponent of democracy at that time. Unfortunately Minobe’s rational, common-sense approach makes this chapter the most boring one in the whole book.


Like Hozumi, Minobe also went to elite Tokyo Imperial University and also traveled to Germany to study more about modern government. Like Hozumi, Minobe went on to teach government and law at a university, and also work for the government (Hozumi in the Education ministry, Minobe in the Home ministry). 




Minobe is usually presented as the good guy because he wanted to limit the Emperor’s power and give more power to the legislature. But in his own way, he’s nuts. Mostly because he listened to Germans.


Hozumi thought the emperor WAS the state, period.


In contrast, Minobe followed the German philosopher Hegel, and Hegel had this crazy idea that “the state” was a “real, organic, independent personality, and sovereignty rested not in the monarch or in the people but in the state itself. As an individual organism the state consisted of different organs with separate functions.”


And – Minobe decided – in Japan's case, the Emperor was one of those organs.


It doesn’t matter that Hegel was barking mad. What matters is that Minobe’s theory of a powerless, figure-head emperor was saddled with the totally awkward name of “EMPEROR AS ORGAN THEORY”.


And not just in the English translation, either!


As a Professor of Constitutional Law, Minobe had to use every ounce of his legal training, German logical philosophy skills, and  professorial gravitas to justify his ORGAN interpretation of the constitution.

His solution? Ignore the parts that were “written wrong.” 


Or, as Skya more charitably puts it, “For him, the constitution did not accurately reflect the essential law of the Japanese state and the historical conditions of the times. It contained laws that needed to be corrected. Minobe asserted that “the constitution had flaws because the men who established the constitutional system were ignorant or careless of the principles of constitutionalism.” In other words, although the founders of the constitution sought to establish constitutional government, they did not fully comprehend the idea of constitutional government.”


Other weird things about Minobe:


Despite being the most pro-democracy guy, he refused to say that the people were the source of all political power – preferring instead to use an elaborate legal gymnastics to justify the emperor as sole sovereign of Japan, who just happened to be a figurehead.


Also, the “emperor as organ” theory came from Germany. And the Germans actually invented that theory to PREVENT democracy from breaking out in Der Vaterland: limiting the power of their king, so as to prevent a violent revolution which would, if successful, have made Germania fully democratic.


However, his basic point was pretty sweet:


The Emperor is infallible, so he should not be held accountable for any dumb political decisions. And the only way to prevent this is to make politicians – specifically ministers and cabinet members – responsible, so as to spare the emperor. This meant two things:

 This had two implications:

One : the parliament (who is accountable to the voters) should control the ministers, and fire them if they give the emperor bad advice. This because the ministers aren’t infallible, so they had to be put in check somehow.


Two: Instead of the ministers just rubber-stamping the emperor’s decisions, they draw up the plans and the emperor rubber-stamps it.


Anyway, shystey tactics aside, Minobe’s “emperor-as-organ” theory gradually overpowered Hozumi’s “emperor-as-the-dick-I’m-riding” theory to become the dominant theory of the elites. Politicians, pundits, and professors all pretty much agreed Minobe was right. And, Skye hints that in the ‘20s the legislature even got the power to control the cabinet.








What the fuck happened?


Basically, he got Fox Newsed!


See, his theory was the consensus among the ELITES. And his (Shinto) enemies finally had the bright idea of taking his theory to the MASSES, via the newspapers.


Minobe’s theories, which had been dominant for years, were suddenly re-cast as “The Minobe affair” – a scandal!


And, proving that Fox didn’t invent a damn thing, the media didn’t go after Minobe’s idea, but a really shitty, straw-man VERSION of it. See, at that point in time, the masses were really beaten down by high taxes, rapacious landlords, widespread unemployment, a huge gap between rich and poor, and some scary-ass commies threatening to unleash a bloody revolution at any moment. 


The average workin’ Tanaka was pissed as hell, and looking for someone to blame. And here came the newspapers with:


“The Emperor has been made powerless! He has been stripped of his power by MINOBE, an elite, latte-sipping, brie-eating professor who thinks he knows what’s better for Japan than you! The emperor has been surrounded by a bunch of corrupt ‘advisors’ who treat him as a puppet, and that’s why the country is fucked up. Because of this MINOBE, pencil-neck, intellectual, emperor-castrating, Son of a bitch!”


Diet member Kikuchi Takeo denounced Minobe in the legislature in 1935 in one of the most preposterous speeches ever given by a politician: “(Minobe’s books) emphasize the influence of actual circumstances and vigorously expound logic and the law of reason”


Kikuchi said this to DISRESPECT Minobe.




Way to go , 1935 Japan. Imagine a parliament demanding “ALL POWER TO THE EMPEROR! WE DEMAND LESS POWER! TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS! TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS!”


What could account for such a spectacle?


ONE: regulatory capture a la USA : the House of Peers was all nobility, and even the Lower House was elected by the richest 1% of the population (no one else could vote) – so they tended naturally to side with the monarchy.

TWO:  politicians not wanting to be held responsible for the shitty state of the country : if they are nothing but a rubber-stamp committee, so much the better!

THREE: Raw fear of right-wing assassins (the Minobe Affair was just 3 years after the prime minister got stabbed to death).

Suddenly Minobe became Van Jones, Jerimiah Wright, Acorn, and every other bogey-man.


The more astute right-wing politicians made use of this anti-Minobe media blitz to take pot-shots at democracy and the constitution in general: restore the emperor to absolute rule, or else Minobe wins! That’s the only solution!


After narrowly dodging several ninja attacks, Minobe was forced into early retirement and fled.







This chapter of  JAPAN'S HOLY WAR  is tricky because it’s pretty clear that Skya thinks Ikki is a little bitch. Which he totally is, but if you’re a professor, you should be able to clearly explain the ideas of people even if you don’t agree with them.


Bloggers, on the other hand. . .


Skya manages to dis Ikki in the introduction, before the book even starts: “Western historians think Ikki is all that, but only because he’s the only pundit to have his stuff translated into English.” Oh schnapz!


Then, in the Ikki chapter, Skya doesn’t give even a brief bio, birth/death date, or any reasons why people paid attention to him (which he does for the other thinkers).


Third, although Skya spends a whole chapter summarizing Ikki’s socialist views, he doesn’t mention class, capitalism, money, or anything else socialists yap on about. Here’s Skya attempting to explain Ikki’s politics without mentioning, er, politics:


“Ikki thought Japan was a socialist country, because it had more than one person, so there was a society of people in it.”  


I mean, huh?


I was like, “Is Ikki just that batshit insane, or is Skya deliberately making him sound dumb?” (answer: both. But according to the main book on Ikki, homeboy DID talk about politics and capitalism ALL THE TIME in his works, so shame on you, Skya).


Skya only talks about Ikki’s 1906 book, Kokutairon (On the Kokutai and Pure Socialism). So I’m basically writing a review of Skya reviewing Ikki reviewing the Meiji Constitution and Hozumi’s book. What a circle jerk.


Also, kokutairon wasn’t even Ikki’s main book. The main book had totally different politics, so WTF.


Here’s Ikki’s main thing: he’s not a traditionalist like Hozumi or a Democracy guy like Minobe. He’s a dirty commie!


“He expressed profound disappointment in the fact that the Japanese people had been unable to reap the full benefits of political and social equality opened for them by the Meiji Revolution because of their ignorance regarding the true essence of the modern Japanese state.”


In other words, Japan in 1906 was already a Socialist paradise, but only Ikki knew it yet. WTF. 


It takes balls to thank the semi-feudal, semi-capitalist oligarchs, “Thanks for making Japan into a commie country,” but it takes even bigger balls to then tell them, “But fuck you for not doing it right! This is the worst socialist paradise ever!”


Occam’s razor foul.


“Interestingly, Kita maintained that the responsibility for this state of affairs was not the fault of the emperor himself. Rather, he accused the collective Meiji leadership of treachery in sabotaging the cause of the revolution. To obscure the real nature of the state, Kita argued, the oligarchs, in their construction of the modern Japanese state, had transformed the emperor into an object of blind devotion and worship, a “clay figure” as he put it.”


Kita took aim at Minobe AND Hozumi: Kita said both democracy and theocracy were bullshit, because democracy was based on INDIVIDUAL rights, and the emperor was a single INDIVIDUAL. And – according to his wacky theory of history – the Stage of Individuals was over, and the Stage of Societies had begun, therefore only Socialism was valid.


“The state, in other words, was a gigantic organism that existed and evolved according to its own biological purposes.”


Although again, I’m quoting Skya’s version of Ikki, and I already showed you Skya likes making Ikki look batshit. Near as I can make out, Ikki believed that government bureaucrats should control everything, since “the State” (i.e. government) was to him the same thing as “society.”


Which again cracks me up.


Here’s Ikki, a guy with radical opinions, a crackpot if you will – he’s nothing BUT a unique individual. And here he is saying, “The age of the individual is over, now it’s time for us to become interchangeable parts in the collective.”


Here’s a guy trying to single-handedly remake government (at the age of 23, no less!), and saying “Democracy? Fuck that! Individuals shouldn’t have that kind of power to change government, only the collective.”




At least the government banned his book! Take that, you puny individual!


One can only assume he was overjoyed.


OK, enough picking on the poor bastard. Here’s a paragraph where Skya allows Ikki to make sense:


“The Meiji revolution of 1868 was a momentous event in Japanese history. In Kita’s evolutionary theory of the Japanese state, it. . . represented a fundamental change in the kokutai as well as the seitai. It gave birth to the (democratic, non-feudal) nation-state. Thus, the kokutai had changed from a patriarchal kokutai to a nation-state kokutai, and the old, aristocratic seitai became a new democratic seitai. Kita was convinced that the Meiji revolution was successful in overthrowing the Tokugawa feudal system due to the collaboration of the emperor and the people.


By “the people,” Kita meant those who had participated in the countless peasant uprisings at the end of the Tokugawa period, as well as members of the lower-ranking military aristocracy. The fact that the emperor was involved on the side of the revolutionaries to overthrow the military class may have made it appear as if the new state were a monarchial state, but this was not the case. Kita maintained that the emperor and the people had acted together as constituent elements of the state on the basis of absolute equality to overthrow the old regime and establish a social democracy.”


To which I say, if “the peasants” were involved in “countless” uprisings in the name of socialism , why wouldn’t they remember that Japan was supposed to be a social democracy? Why did they need Ikki to tell them? Did they forget? Were they on some Sideshow-Bob-becomes-mayor-of-Springfield shit: “Oh, all that. . . stuff I did”?


Like many shit-disturbers, Kita is at his best, his most sensible and dangerous, when he is ripping apart the beliefs of others:


He took Hozumi’s Shinto beliefs, identified the core principles, and one-by-one poked holes in them. SMACKDOWN!!!


Unbroken lineage:

Cave-men lived in small egalitarian tribes, they didn’t have emperors. Your “unbroken lineage” was broken FROM THE BEGINNING.



Until the Fujiwara period, the title “emperor” essentially referred to whoever was the strongest authority, whoever possessed the land and the people of Japan. And in the Kamakura period, the emperors struggled with the shoguns for power, not ruling absolutely.


Filial piety and ancestor worship:

 In Japan’s feudal times, ancestor worship and unbroken lineage – the 2 pillars of Hozumi’s theory – actually worked AGAINST the power of the emperor. Here’s how: the warring clans , each vying for domination of all Japan, were more loyal to their own chieftains because of the respective chieftains’ lineage and because they shared ancestors with their chieftains. Nobody gave a fuck about the emperor at that point.


The constitution:

 Article 27, bitch: “Japanese subjects shall, within the limits of peace and order, and not antagonistic to their duties as subjects, enjoy freedom of religious belief.” So Shinto is not superior to any other religion, so the Emperor, as leader of Shinto, is just a regular guy under the law.


The importance of Pure Japanese blood:

It means Japan can’t conquer other countries, since their populations could never be part of Japan. Also, Japan had never been a 100% ethnically homogenous state. In ancient times, several emperors had brought Asians into Japan and naturalized them, thus not only blowing up Hozumi’s myth, but also using his own “because the emperor said so!” logic against him. Good show, sir. Well played!


Ikki’s conclusion:  his interpretation of the constitution was, the emperor and the parliament together constitute the highest organs of the state. But, he believed that the State itself was the ultimate power, ruling over both. I have no idea what that means. But I can tell you THIS: despite being a radical, Ikki not only believed in the constitution, he wanted the emperor in the top tier of a socialist government.








In the early Taisho period, the common people start demanding a political voice. In Japan, this was a totally new thing. Maybe Ikki was right about the Meiji Restoration changing things more than the Restorers realized!




ONE: there is now mass media in Japan, allowing opinions to be broadcast and bringing news of many foreign ideologies

TWO: they are nominally living in a democracy, but since only 1% of the people get to vote, the politicians don’t even bother to pander to them. Thus, they’re a bit irked.

THREE: they have better education than in feudal times (necessary so they can learn these fancy new industrial machines) and,

FOUR: they are pissed about the outrageously high taxes which were levied on them to pay for the rapid industrialization


This mass democracy movement did two things: it took the “kokutai debate” out of the colleges and bureaucratic meetings, and put it on the front page of the newspapers. And this media-ization made both Hozumi and Minobe’s theories kind of irrelevant:


Hozumi’s “The commoners are just tools or objects of the emperor to do with as he pleases, democracy is against god!” was not going to play in the mass media.


And Minobe’s “We need a strong legislature, but only if they work alongside a divine emperor” was not a big hit with the new secular, pro-democracy crowd : the masses had outraced the once-radical intellectual scholars.


So how did the new generation of constitutional scholars deal with this new mass-movement?


Well, first of all, it required a new, more radical Shingo thinkers who were good at getting word out to the masses (particularly the armed forces!). These new-school guys all had different attitudes but they excelled at one thing: taking public anger at feeling powerless, and channeling that anger against the one thing in the country that could empower them: the democratically elected government!


Somehow they were able to convince folks, “You want power? You want to vote?  You want to change the country? Well, I’ll give you the ULTIMATE power: to become one with the emperor! It’s easy: just abandon your ego and desires!”

 In other words, this new philosophy of self-dis-empowerment and total war was phrased as a very positive, uplifting message: You're important! You matter! The fate of the world rests on your shoulders! Without the help of each and every Japanese, the emperor can’t carry out the will of the gods! In other words, every average Joe can feel part of a giant historical, cosmic mission that they play an essential role in. This helped persuade a lot of people.


Explaining how they were able to do these mental gymnastics will take a long time, but it begins with a single word:


MINPONSHUGI! (people-ism) The idea that the government was supposed to work for the benefit of the common person (or at least make noises to that effect!)


This buzzword was so popular, it was used by BOTH SIDES of the democracy debate.


Here’s how the pandering went down:


Uesugi (the most radical of the pro-Shinto guys) saw his task as to prove that Shinto ultra nationalism was capable of adapting itself to modern society and convince the politically awakened masses that Shinto ultra nationalism, just like liberal democracy and socialism, had a program relevant for them. This meant repudiating his teacher, Hozumi. Like a true politician, Uesugi kept Hozumi’s anti-democracy, fuck-the-people goals, but concocted a whole new media-friendly rationale for it:


“Only through Shinto, emperor-based democracy can we have true power for the people, because the emperor (unlike elite politicians and oligarchs) is bound to help his family.” 


To Mr. Yoshino (the most important new-generation pro-democracy guy) minponshugi meant that

“Although sovereignty resides in the emperor,  that doesn’t mean that he is the only person who engages in politics. He has to consult others. It is therefore not wrong to consult the opinions of the public instead of a small select group of people. If sovereignty should stay strictly only with the emperor and no one else, the oligarchy also has to be looked as being unconstitutional.” 

He went on to say that even though the common people aren’t super smart and don’t know a lot about politics, they can still tell if a politician they elected kept his promises or not, and on that basis alone they are qualified to have the right to vote.


In Kita Ikki’s case: nothing!


Kita Ikki doesn’t give a flying fuck about pandering to anyone, he’s keeping it real. Oh but he switched from far left wing to far right wing fascism without a word of explanation to anyone. Huh? He wrote a new book, called An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan, which spooges out, in great wonkish detail, how a new, improved Japan would be run, after the revolution. 


He was still anti-Shinto, although he believed the emperor should be retained as a figurehead : the emperor belongs to the state, which is the people.

Which reminds me, here’s another difference between “old-generation” thinkers and “new generation” thinkers:


Although the old-generation guys (Minobe, Hozumi, and Kita) were on opposite sides of the kokutai debate, they still had one thing in common: they were policy wonks.


Each in their own way was trying to answer the same question: how can we get this fucking country running again with a single, non-ambiguous authority?


The new-school Shinto guys, however, had no interest in how their proposed new government would solve down-to-earth problems like inflation or taxation: “Once we restore the Emperor, he will use his god powers to solve everything . . . . despite not having ever done that in the last 3,000 years of strife and warfare.”

Also, the new-school Shinto guys had an explanation of the Emperor’s god powers!


The Emperor is not just a living god – he’s THE ONLY HUMAN WHO IS DEVOID OF SELF-INTEREST OR SELFISHNESS, TOTALLY UNBIASED. That’s why everything the country of Japan does is inherently moral!

  Not exactly raising the dead or water-to-wine, but maybe a little more interesting.


Unlike the bad politicians, capitalists, communists, and westernized individualists, the Emperor loves each of his children equally. And that’s why, if we all become more like the Emperor, we don’t need government or rules. If you need food, I’ll give you mine. If you need a job, I’ll give you one. If you need someone to get stabbed several times in the head, I’ll handle that shit. And you’d do the same for me. That’s why I have the moral authority to start a violent revolution and take over the country: because I’m the only guy who isn’t perusing an agenda! (insert do-do-deedleedle-doop-de-do circus music here)


This  idea was an extreme version of what the old-school Shinto guys had been saying all along: we’re not trying to take over or impose an authoritarian government.   Fascism means one powerful person imposing HIS vested interests on weaker people. But, according to the radical Shinto-ists, everyone in Japan has the same exact vested interests. That is part of our kokutai, that is what separates us from other, dumber countries. And that’s what makes OUR fascism fair and not authoritarian at all. 


All these guys thought that. Where the new generation (Uesugi and Kakehi) differed from the old generation (Hozumi and those before him) is this:


Old generation: The Emperor is mysterious remote figure, so far above you that you can’t even look right at him. He gets his authority from being the patriarch, the father of Japan. And your dad is your family’s patriarch, so obey your dad.


New generation: you know what? Fuck your family. Fuck patriarchy! (ironic but true, they consciously decided that!) Nothing must stand between you and the emperor. The emperor is not a remote guy up in heaven, the emperor is INSIDE YOU. You can never get away from him. You are part of his Japan-sized soul, and your mission in life is to submerge yourself into the emperor till there is no distinction between him and you. When you finally cease to exist altogether, then you will be enlightened.


Of course! What’s a jihadist, religious revolution without a theory of martyrdom?


Sacrifice for the good of the country was a holy act, proving your dedication to the emperor. Your only reason to live is to “improve” your spiritual life, and improving meant moving closer to the emperor – eliminating your individual consciousness. And dying in battle is sort of a short-cut to enlightenment : nothing eliminates consciousness like the grim reaper!


Side note: in Christian belief, you are supposed to get rid of your ego too, but in order to accept Jesus in your heart. He comes to you. In Shinto, when you get rid of your ego, your soul sort of drifts into the emperor. He’s like a cosmic egg with all the souls of Japanese people sort of swimming to him at all angles like sperm. Let that visual sort of sink in.

Finally, since the New Generation thought that everyone has a personal, unmediated link to the emperor, everyone had a moral responsibility to work to improve Japan, and take initiative. It’s the “take initiative” part that led to all the assassinations. Did I mention there is going to be LOTS of assassinations?


This was a big break from the traditional, patriarchal, “all you people just wait for instructions from above” brand of Shinto; a new idea of Shinto which was relevant in the age of democracy: “Everyone in Japan has a moral responsibility to act proactively to improve the country. Put another way, the only way to improve yourself (achieve enlightenment, etc) is to improve the nation.”


Also, this “take initiative” concept, plus the fact that the emperor at the time was a no-fooling retard who was kept locked away and thus couldn’t be a charismatic Il Duce / Hitler figure . . .these 2 added together account for the fact that there were 100 different overlapping here-today-gone-tomorrow rightwing groups, instead of one unified force (like the Duce’s blackshirts or Adolph’s brownshirts).




Anyway, how did new-school Shinto guys think of foreign countries?

In western, democratic countries, on the other hand, everyone was an “individual,” pursuing their own self interest. If one wins, the other loses. Remember, this was just after the unbelievable horror WWI, so this kind of argument made a lot of sense at that time. Even though it conflated European royalty’s imperialist ambitions with democracy and free speech. But still.


Uesugi said, other countries (including Asia) were ultimately ruled by “mechanistic” governments – devoid of spirituality, without any real love and altruism to unite the people, and that’s why those other countries never had stability, never had an unbroken line of emperors stretching back to the beginning of time, like one country we could mention. Individualism and zero-sum, mechanistic thought was why the rest of the world was doomed to eternal war and dis-harmony.


Thus it was up to Japan to save the world. (not just the usual "we have the right to, since we're the best," but the rather more looney, "We have a moral imperative to take over the world! Anything less is a betrayal of our gods!")


And this was TOTALLY ABSENT from shinto thought as late as 1910.  Hozumi was anti-imperialism. Think about that – between '10 and '35 or so, the main point of the main religion of the country TOTALLY CHANGES.









Of course, like you can guess by now, Uesugi graduated with a law degree from Tokyo Imperial University, and taught there from 1912 on. He also had the requisite government gig, instructing the navy cadets on the meaning of patriotism. Which is exactly what you want the most radical cleric the country has ever seen doing.


Like other Imperial University law teachers, he wrote books saying that direct imperial rule was going to eliminate social conflict and help the regular people, by making things equal.


Unlike other Imperial University law teachers, he also had a side job: founding right-wing militia after militia! (spoiler alert: He was the brains, they were the muscle). Unlike Uesugi's books, the militias were ALL ABOUT increasing social conflict. And instead of making people equal under the emperor, the mobs were anti-democratic, clandestine organizations that tried to change history radically without the consent of anyone outside their dozen followers. Including the Emperor.


Busy guy, Uesugi.


This guy is supposed to be the most radical of them all, so I expected some real foaming at the mouth ranting. Instead, I got METAPHYSICS. So dry and well-reasoned.


Here is “Shorter Uesugi:”


STEP ONE – “One’s individual being, as a constituent element of “being as a totality,” had movement. This moment of being related in a cause-and-effect relationship to the movement of other beings in a spatial environment , which is called man’s sokan. And, the interrelationship with other beings in a spatial totality in time, which is called man’s renzoku.


STEP TWO – 100 more pages of same

STEP THREE – stabbing.




You gotta admit, that’s a pretty persuasive argument you got there.


“Good lord, man! Stab someone? I’d go to jail! My wife would leave me. What the – seriously, you want me to end a human life because of a spatial totality of time, which you call my renzoku?”


“No, my son, no. A spatial totality IN time. I said, IN time.”


“Oh for reals? My bad – hey where’s that sword? Somebody tell me where that motherfucker lives.” *walking off, waving sword and muttering* “IN time, not OF time, you idiot . . . !”


Fortunately, Skya was nice enough to summarize Uesugi’s main points, for those of us whose sokan exists in an interrelationship with not giving a fuck.


Uesugi’s philosophy seems to be an extreme version of the usual Japanese “the individual gets his or identity from the context of the group which he or she is in.”


But where Uesugi differs from other fascist “group/government is all ! individual is nothing!” thinkers is that, in HIS conception of the group is everyone is equal (except for you-know-who!). 


So, all kidding aside, how was this egghead able to motivate and organize dozens of hard-knock assassins and terrorists? Because, he had a “street version” of his doctrine. (remember how Minobe refused to simplify his theories for mass consumption, so in the end he got Fox Newsed? His opponents made up the “street version” of his doctrine, and they simplified and distorted it to make him look like a jerkwad in the media? Well, it seems the Uesugi was way ahead of Minobe in terms of controlling your message).  The street version was, THE PEOPLE SHOULD BECOME ONE WITH THE EMPEROR. Easy, small words, a positive message, but vague enough that it could be interpreted to justify almost anything. Perfect!


Hozumi thought that regular people are just the Emperor’s children so they should just wait for orders. Hozumi really liked hierarchies because the family is a hierarchy.


Kita Ikki was on some commie, “the individual is just a little cell in the body of the government”


Kakehi Katsuhiko (who we’ll get to later) agreed with Uesugi that everyone – high and low – had a responsibility to act on their own to improve Japan. However, Kakehi ultimately thought that social hierarchies (your boss / your commanding officer / etc.) were good, because the upper people achieved their high status by being closer to the very top (closer to you-know-who!)


Uesugi was more like, every person or institution which stands between individuals and the Emperor must be destroyed. They’re profiteers, middle-men, parasites! Not only that, but they're bending our kokutai out of shape, giving it an obese spare-tire of beuracratic flab. We have a moral duty to eliminate them, and then we will rebuild Japan from scratch as a utopia. I believe the catch-phrase of the time was : “Eliminate the wicked advisers, corrupt politicians, capitalists, and weak-kneed bureaucrats!” Keep in mind, the widespread unemployment, starvation, poverty, and total inability of government to cure same.

Is the problem that the pro-Shinto Powers that Be won’t let government do its job? No, clearly the problem is TOO MUCH democracy!

And since the Emperor is infallible, loves us all and wants us to prosper, if the country is in bad shape, SOMEONE MUST BE GIVING HIM BAD ADVICE.


Well now you ask, if everyone is equal, then why should they destroy their individual identities and submit to the emperor? Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction? That’s where Shinto and the kokutai (*sigh* again with the kokutai!) comes in. Because what sets Japan apart from all other countries is they all share one spirit, one blood, one family.


If you took away the laws and government in, say, Russia or Germany, people would soon fall into a state of savagery, a Hobbsean war of all against all. But in Japan, everyone would help their brothers and sisters, anarchist-style, just out of the goodness of their hearts – BUT ONLY IF THEY FIRST RECOGNIZED THAT THEY WERE NOT INDIVIDUALS but part of the single nationwide soul that was Japan. By putting the group first, total peace and harmony can be achieved. After the bloodshed and massacres, of course.


And once Japan has been made into a heaven on earth, we have a Shinto duty to share this earthly paradise with Asia. And after that, everyone! Yaaaay! You know what? let’s not even wait for earthly paradise to come to Japan. Let’s just start a bunch of wars now and then work on that peace-and-love shit later.




The big guy! The single most influential radical Shinto guy. What’s his secret? All of Uesugi’s “let’s take over the world!” holy-war enthusiasm, with none of Uesugi’s “destroy the corporations and government!” 


Kakehi believed in using worldly, flawed, secular institutions to further his radical fundamentalist program, and this proved wildly popular with – wait for it – the powerful people. He was a close confidant of the empress, lectured to crown prince Hirohito in 1926 (while he was regent).

 Interestingly, he became a radical FIRST, and THEN got his big government connections. Which makes me think maybe the government was just using him to rationalize decisions they’d already made, contrary to Skya’s thesis.

Also, Kakehi backed the winning fundamentalist army faction (the control faction), and Uesugi backed the losing faction (cherry blossom society), which got shut the fuck down after their failed coup attempt. Did I mention there’s going to be lots of coup attempts?


But anyway! How did Kakehi get so influential in the first place? Tokyo Imperial University, maybe? Law degree? Studied in Germany, perhaps? Government job lecturing the elites?


Everything but the “studied in Germany” bit. Instead, Kakehi had something even better on his resume: actual knowledge of Shinto! While Hozumi focused on the kokutai, and Uesugi obsessed with “being as totality” and “renzoku” and “stabbing”, Kakehi actually read thousand-year-old texts about Shinto rituals and fundamentals.


Kakehi wasn’t just concerned about Japan becoming too democratic, he was concerned that modern kids these days were out of touch with their roots.

Most of his writing was the same-old “Japan is swell” stuff. . . but Kakehi’s twist was a phrase he invented:

Isshin doutai, which means “being of one heart and the same body.” It meant not just blood and family ties, but: rich and poor together, high and lower class together, with the same vested interests. (this is how he could tolerate the government and corporations, unlike Uesugi). Moreover, isshin doutai meant a unity throughout time. This is a difficult concept for me. I think it ties in to the whole “unbroken chain of ancestors” thing, but applies it to everyone, not just the Emperor. It’s almost like all your ancestors exist with you in the here-and-now.

Imagine the guilt!

Furthermore, the Emperor is a “universal person” because he sort of holds the souls of all Japanese. Since he was the first Japanese soul, and everyone else, living and dead, is his direct descendant, it’s like Japan only has one, eternal, giant-sized soul, and you share your soul with your ancestors. Deeyamn.


Also, unlike other “Shinto ultranationalists,” Kakehi actually referred to Shinto mythology.


Heaven is called kannagara-no-michi, earth is Utsushi-you, and hell is Yomo-tsu-kuni (or yomi-no-kuni).


And Kakehi’s take on this is that, if everyone worked together and “became one with the emperor”, we could achieve kannagara-no-michi right here on earth.


Furthermore, and here it gets kind of migraine-inducing, Kakehi interprets the individual kanji of Kannagara-no-michi and “discovers” another meaning to it: “to praise and realize the inherent state of being of one heart and one body, while preserving from ancient times the proper relationship between superiors and inferiors.”


In other words, the kokutai. How convenient!

However, don’t think of Kakehi as some egghead who just talks theory. In fact, he was better at pandering to the soldiers and farmers than anyone else, another secret of his huge influence.


“All the Taros and Jiros (like saying, all the joes and jacks) were created by the grace of the emperor”. He continued: “Lower ranking people must respect their superior officers if they feel obliged to the emperor. Your superiors , you should regard as a substitute for the emperor. Furthermore this applies not only to soldiers but civilians.”


So he supported hierarchies, but Kakehi’s hierarchies were not like Hozumi’s traditional “because I’m the daddy and I say so” hierarchies.


Kakehi’s hierarchies were motivated by “Isshin doutai,” meaning one heart, one body: the leaders would not coerce the masses, they’d all work together of their own free will, because same soul and all that. This was supposed to make it more palatable to the now-politicized masses.


He also talked about how farmers had the traditional mutually-supporting one-heart, one-body lifestyle. This might seem like the bare minimum of pandering in Tea Party America, but Skya doesn’t report any of these other elite scholars even bothering to do basic pandering besides the occasional cry of “Minponshugi.”


Kakehi’s justification for conquering the world:


The gods themselves created Japan to save the world by conquering it, so as to bring everyone the eternal peace and harmony of  "one body, one soul."


So how does Kakehi solve the ole’ “What do you do with foreigners after you conquer them – they’re part of your empire but they can’t ever be part of your kokutai” contradiction?


You’re going to love this!

We Japanese are unique because we rule without force and coercion. We all have the same vested interests. But since foreigners lack the Shinto spiritual one-body, one-soul nature, and they don’t understand that we Japanese are acting selflessly . . . therefore, we will have to rule them with force and coercion. They can’t ever be citizens, just guests or objects. But by using enough force, we can keep them peaceful forever.


Amaterasu is not only the ancestor of Japan but of everyone on earth. But even though these fallen, foreign humans can never ever be part of our family again, even though I personally forbid them from even going into Shinto temples. . . we Japanese still have a duty to re-absorb them and restore the world as it once was.


Keep in mind, unlike Ikki or Uesugi, this guy was considered mainstream.







The aftermath of WWI showed the western countries going democratic and or communist, and all abandoning their own monarchs. Domestically the masses demanded the right to vote. And the elected officials were demanding a right to be more than a rubber-stamp. Where will it end? Since the public was pretty cool with all these changes across the board, the only solution left was assassinations.

Beginning around 1930, all hell breaks loose. The average lifespan of a sitting prime minister was like two weeks and change. Typical reasons given were: he believes the emperor-as-organ theory, he voted against going to war with china/Russia, he signed a naval treaty with the evil British empire, or the ole’ Uesugi favorite: just by existing he is keeping the emperor from being one with the people.


Plus the president of Mitsui Bank and the president of Yasuda corporation got killed. Show me another “fascist” country where THAT happens. (and don’t you wish that Skya would have said why specifically those two were targeted?)


Fuck that! I’m going internet on this one.


According to an online Time Magazine article from ’33, the president of Mitsui was Takuma Dan, and he was killed because he sold the yen short when Japan went off the gold standard. According to this other report, the yen “depreciated 30%” as a result, meaning that average people lost a third of their measly wealth, but Mitsui made millions. The article then goes on to say that the following year, the yen depreciated ANOTHER 30%, this time “mainly due to Japan's aggression in China and resulting diplomatic isolation.” So the very military that the assassins backed was equally to blame.

 As far as the Yasuda assassination, here’s all I could find:


In this tense atmosphere, Zenjiro Yasuda was not a respected man. He had been accused of profiteering after the Russo-Japanese War. In 1921, the same year Prime Minister Hara Kei was assassinated by a nationalist fanatic, Zenjiro Yasuda was killed by a disgruntled visionary incensed by the financier's refusal to fund a workers' hotel.


Also, according to Wikipedia, the “workers’ hotel” was a right-wing extortion scam, to which he refused to “donate” money. And, he was Yoko Ono’s grandfather?!?


It’s kind of irritating because, after saying 100 times, “These radical Shinto thinkers created a climate of terrorism,” Skya doesn’t explain anything about the terrorists or what their demands were, why they targeted certain presidents of large corporations (like commies!) and so on. So frustrating! Nor does Skya explain the average lives of people and the stresses they were under (from corrupt government and exploitative corporations and a bad economy), which led those average people to support the terrorists. He neglects to mention that there was a HUGE bout of unemployment and nationwide depression in 1930, the same exact year the assassination craze starts.


He’s just like, “Gosh, those must have been some persuasive arguments!”


Skya keeps saying that the root of the “radical change” in Shinto, from Hozumi’s day to Kakehi and Uesugi’s day was getting the masses involved. Getting them to support terrorism, as well as getting them to sublimate their “we just got the right to vote, we’re political!” attitude and change it into, “Yeah, we’re political . . .to help Japan and our leaders take over the world!” Getting them to see the emperor as their REAL parents, and die to protect him as they would die to protect their REAL parents. Well ok.




How did the radical Shintoists accomplish this propaganda campaign? Skya says that some of these guys lectured to elites or army guys and etc. . . . and that small terror cells killed politicians. But both of those are the OPPOSITE of public. As far as influencing regular people, wtf? Were they holding big Nazi-like rallies? Or what? Did they send postcards? It’s like Skya doesn’t even care about his own central thesis.

The terrorists – despite claiming they wanted to return to a traditional, emperor-centered Japan where everything was like it used to be – were frustrated that Japanese people (both in government and in general) refused to accept radical change. In this, they were just like westerners! Except instead of trying to sell cheaper products in a more efficient manner, they were trying to overthrow the government.


The coup plotters went from being right-wingers, to religious nuts, and finally to religious nuts who were in the army and had hundreds of guns.


They wanted to have what was called a “Showa restoration” (like the Meiji restoration of 1868, that toppled the corrupt feudal system and restored the Emperor to power). . . the Showa restoration would topple the corrupt democratic system and restore emperor Showa to absolute power. Coups kept getting snitched on before they were carried out, though. But the plotters would get ridiculously light sentences, like 5 days community service or getting licked by a poodle.


By ’35, right-wing coup plotters were killing each other over whose coup would ultimately be carried out!


The whole terrorism thing culminated in the February 26, 1936 incident, when a whole division of army dudes took over government buildings in Tokyo and killed a lot of the emperor’s advisors.


This coup was only stopped when the emperor himself said, “Actually guys, I kind of like being a figurehead . . . .psyche!”

The Feb 26 coup was carried out by the imperial way faction, and they lost, leaving the so-called Control Faction in charge of the military. But the control faction believed the exact same holy-war Shinto fundamentalism as the imperial way faction . . .they just had a bit more patience, and they were more down with working together with big business:

“the control faction opted for cooperation with capitalists and with the parliament, so long as it was amenable to army wishes. The control faction also took practical measures to alleviate some of the worst economic problems, which was a source of much social discontent, to ensure that the terrorist-driven insurgency would lose its base of support and not resurface again.”  


In contrast to the Control Faction, here’s a quote from the manifesto of the Imperial Way Faction. It’s noteworthy because it’s the only thing in the whole book that even hints at the social/economic hardships faced by regular Japanese:


“in recent years many persons have made their chief purpose in life the amassment of wealth regardless of the general welfare and prosperity of the people, with the result that the majesty of the empire has been impaired. The people of Japan have suffered in consequence. Many troublesome issues now confronting our country are due to this situation . the elder statesmen, financial magnates, government officials, and the political parties are responsible.”


In a final dis to Kita Ikki, whose main claim to fame was that “He was the brains behind the coup”, Skya insists that the Imperial Way coup guys didn’t even like Ikki. Skya says that Ikki’s wonkish , “How shall we structure society after the revolution” policy detail was what appealed to the 1936 coup plotters, not Ikki’s anti-Shinto attitude. In fact, Skya says, the plotters had a lot more respect for Uesugi than Ikki and they were fervent Shinto-ists.


I should also point out that Ikki, not Uesugi, was executed for the plot.


So, ok. But how did these terrorists know what the emperor wanted? They never talked to dude. On one hand, it’s obvious: no one in Japanese history has ever given two shits what the emperor wanted. If they did, they would have let him have friends. They would have let him have a childhood. They would let him have five minutes of alone-time not structured by elaborate rituals. They would buy him a little noodle shop for him to run and chill when the day was done. Since the beginning of time, the un-official policy has been: do whatever the fuck helps you, and then claim you’re doing it in the emperor’s name.


So, yeah. We all know this. But. It’s amusing to see the mental gymnastics that these religious nuts have to perform in order to justify that their behavior is NOT just what I said above. So let’s check it out.


“I haven’t talked to him, but it’s clear that as a god, he must be against democracy and in favor of theocracy, so politicians got to go!”


And why stop there? Let’s go all the way down the crazy drain:


“Since I have broken free of the bonds of ego, vested interests, and western individualism, I have achieved unity with the emperor, and the emperor is without selfish goals. So that means that I am also without selfish goals, and also that my (sincere, selfless) goals must be His. And his goals are that I take over the government. QED.”


That’s more like it!


So what kind of society did these coup-plotter guys want, “after the revolution?”


“a political community consisting of the emperor on top of a highly centralized and industrialized state.”


To me that sounds like they were combining Kakehi’s highly hierarchical beliefs with Uesugi’s call to violence. As one would expect from army guys who were planning a coup!


What distinguished radical Shinto terrorism from “regular “ terrorism?


One – they only target specific guys. They don’t blow up civilians. This was, as you can expect, part of what made them such a hit!


Two – after committing their acts, they’d either commit seppuku or turn themselves in to the authorities. This was important, since in their religion, breaking laws or doing bad was only allowed if one is acting selflessly and for the greater good. (Actually, according to INSIDE THE KAISHA, this is a belief held by most Japanese to some extent). And remember, the emperor is the most un-selfish, benevolent, impartial and fair man ever. And so by killing myself, I show that I did my deeds with no thought for my own benefit, which must therefore mean I had “become one with the emperor” and thus I was carrying out His wishes.

Most of the officer corps had become indoctrinated with radical Shinto ideology (remember, Kakehi and Uesugi were paid to lecture to them!) , but they were not members of the control faction. So even after control faction took over, the unaffiliated officers kept planning coups, kept trying to overthrow the government! The solution: permanent war! War abroad to keep the peace at home!


Keep those crazy Uesugi-lovin’ motherfuckers busy killing Chinese.





In 1937, the government’s radical Shinto ideas were finally put into a propaganda book called KOKUTAI NO HONGI (Fundamentals of the National Polity). It was designed to win over the hearts and minds of the population, and therefore everyone was required to read it or go to jail. Ha!  


The book was what Skya called a “bloodless coup” :Where assassinations and terror had failed (very anti-harmony!) this book was able to make a national consensus (very pro-harmony!) and thus end the constitution debate once and for all.


And it solved the debate quite ingeniously: it said the constitution was meaningless, because no piece of paper was going to limit you-know-who! 


So basically all the 5,000 words I typed about the constitution debates are now moot. Forget you read all that.


And guess what? KOKUTAI NO HONGI had no mention of Shinto rituals, chants, or everyday customs. What a weird theocracy Japan was!


Kokutai no Hongi started by denouncing the emperor-as-organ theory.


The book went on to say, OK, yeah, we DID get a lot of ideas from Asia. And we’re fine with that. Because we had thousands of years to “absorb and digest” those ideas, stripping them of all meaning which conflicted with our kokutai: individualism, universal values, and so on. But we’ve been influenced by western culture only for 80 years and haven’t had time to digest it yet, so it threatens our kokutai. So stop being western, you’re fucking up the whole country. And naturally, that “stop!” includes the western concept of considering your own best interests. Terrible, terrible stuff.


The book DID quote two Shinto creation myths briefly, the Kokiji and the Nihonshoki, but only to emphasize the emperor’s divine origins.


But the vast majority of the book seems to be bizarre, run-on sentences like this:


Our contributions to the world lie only in giving full play more than ever to our Way which is of the Japanese people. The people must more than ever create and develop a new Japan by virtue of their immutable National Polity which is the basis of the State and by virtue of the Way of the Empire which stands firm throughout the ages at Home and abroad, and thereby more than ever guard and maintain the prosperity of the Imperial Throne which is coeval with heaven and earth.


Which boggles my mind : this sounds like it was written by a schizophrenic scientologist. And this was supposed to simplify Shinto for the common man! How did average Japanese react to it? Did they roll their eyes? Of the gung-ho people that said “Fuck yeah this book!” how many of them even understood it?


Now, you may say, maybe it’s just translating it into English that makes it sound crazy. That’s a good point, imaginary reader who is still paying attention! But check this out : there was a whole bunch of “commentaries” written to “explain” this book. Any intellectual worth his diploma rushed his own commentary into print. So you tell me, smart guy: how effective was KOKUTAI NO HONGI as propaganda???


Consider this segment:


In our country there is no filial piety apart from loyalty, and filial piety has loyalty as its basis. When filial piety is elevated to loyalty, then for the first time it becomes filial piety. In China, too, importance is laid on filial duty, and they say that it is the source of a hundred deeds. In India too, gratitude towards parents is taught. But their filial piety is not of the kind related to or based on the nation. Filial piety is a characteristic of Oriental morals: and it is in its convergence with loyalty that we find a characteristic of our national morals, and this is a factor without parallel in the world.


The Japanese way of speaking is thought of as being very indirect, very ambiguous, and very polite. But here is some new shit: this book’s sentences are very strong, very unambiguous, declarative, like a textbook: we’re the best! This is the way it is! You have to know X,Y, and Z!


And yet! It’s very didactic and declarative, ABOUT ABSTRACT CONCEPTS, intentionally not spelling out the real-world implications of these concepts.


The word ‘loyalty’ implies ‘loyalty to the emperor’ . . .and by constantly comparing ‘loyalty’ to ‘filial piety’, they are saying you should be more loyal to the emperor than your own parents. It’s the worst of both worlds: an overbearing, brow-beating oratorical style that is STILL hiding the true meaning through abstraction and deliberate ambiguity.

Fuck you guys.


The other money quote:


In foreign countries, the life cords of the nation have been cut off through revolutions and downfalls, so that the spirit of the founding of the nation is disrupted and dies off, giving birth to another national history.

 Therefore, when seeking to find the spirit of their nation, they have looked to general rules based on “abstract reason.”


Oh noes.


Going further down the crazy-hole,Skya summarizes part of the book as follows:

The purpose of the Japanese nation was to promote harmony around the world. But at what price was this harmony to be achieved? Ultimately, (Japanese radical Shinto guys) reasoned that individualism was the main source of disharmony in the world of the 20th century. Accordingly, it had to be eradicated from within and from without.


So, even if foreigners can never be part of our Shinto “family,” we still have to conquer them so as to stamp out their “abstract reason”, logic, and individualism . .. that’s the only way to permanently stop these “undigested” foreign ideas from oozing over our own borders and disturbing our own harmony.


As far as rationales for world-domination goes, this has to be one of the most wacky. Not just war-for-peace (an old American favorite!) but conquering YOUR country, in order to restore OUR country to a state of isolation. We don’t want your money, your historical treasures, your slave labor. . . we just want you to stop harboring ideas of abstract reason and individualism.


Skya then talks about the commentaries.


One was written by Mr. Yamada Yoshio, who was quite a character! He wasn’t a Tokyo Imperial University guy, he worked as president of Kougakkan University, a theological seminary where they trained Shinto priests. In his own commentary,  Yamada acknowledged that around a fourth of the Japanese population had foreign blood, but that was ok, because they had been assimilated both physically and spiritually : the same argument used about foreign concepts from Asia.


Yamada’s big breakthrough was taking the crazy, we-all-have-one-soul deal and making it more crazy: there’s a Shinto god called Ame no mi naka nushi no kami. 


And this god is . . . hmmm, I’m not sure, exactly.


The god is like the personification of “the imperial throne.” And the “naka” part of the god’s name is the same character for “inside.” 


But in a spiritual metaphysical, high-on-LSD sense, “naka” meant an eternal now, which we are all “inside”, forever.


In other words, in Shinto, the past and future are always with us. That’s why the whole “unbroken chain of emperors” and “forever pure bloodline” and “unchanging kokutai” are such a big deal: they seem to prove the concept of “eternal now” exists and is unique to Japan. And that means that the Imperial Throne exists not just all over the world, but all over time, and is constantly expanding like the universe, man!!!! Far out!


Yamada’s China-bashing had serious consequences. He started out with a reasonable claim: China did NOT have an unbroken chain of emperors. Right.


Then: at different times in history, any given Chinese state or city has been owned by many different kings or warlords. OK, sure.


And: unlike Japanese, Chinese don’t really identify with whoever is running their city at the current time. Well, maybe, if the rulers are dicks. But your point, Yamada? 


Well, therefore China isn’t really a country. They don’t have a national identity. China is just some random cities that are owned by him, her, whoever.


So therefore: why would the Chinese mind if they got owned by US? I mean, fuck it. Why NOT us?


This helps explain why Japan sent an army of 350,000 people to conquer a country of a billion people. They seriously thought Chinese would be like, “Whelp, whatever. Here we go again. Here’s the keys.”


That decision alone might have cost Japan the war. Maybe they could have used some “logic” and “critical thinking.”


Furthermore: since it’s our destiny to run the world, anyone who says Japan can be defeated (for instance, an Army guy trying to concoct a sound battle strategy based on, say, minimizing the possibility of defeat or casualties) is a blasphemer! Japan has the blessings of the gods, it has never been defeated in war in its 2,600 year history!


Also, at the time, there was a popular propaganda slogan: hakkou ichiu. It meant “the whole world under one roof.” And whose roof might that be, I wonder?


Yamada explains the roots of the “whole world under one roof” expression:


What should be the work of the divine nation of Japan? As every person nowadays knows, it was clearly indicated in the imperial proclamation of emperor Jimmu (first ever emperor), eight strings make a house (hakkou o motte ie to nasu). What is a house? We can understand this when we look at our individual life. Even if ewe go out engage in various activities, encounter difficulties, and feel uneasy, once we go home, we can enjoy our own  living there. Thus a house is a base where people feel at ease and carry on their lives. The “eight strings” means, “in all directions” I believe that “eight strings make a house” signifies Emperor Jimmu’s desire to let everyone and everything have peace of mind and enjoy living. . . it is conceivable that the thought of “the whole world makes a house” is the purpose of the Greater East Asian War at the present time. However we can clearly see that this desire of Emperor Jimmu did not start only with him, this is the desire of Amaterasu Oomikami.


See? We just want to feel at home!



 “We must engage in fixing, solidifying, and stabilizing other countries in the world who are wandering aimlessly. This is the original mission of the divine country of Japan. This greater east Asian war was started to force England and America to relinquish their position of world leadership and ultimately establish a new order to secure a just and lasting peace.”









Hozumi was a conservative guy, who sought to push back the clock and recreate a Shinto theocracy.


Both Uesugi and Kakehi were radicals who wanted to change society from the ground up. But they differed in some ways. They agreed that The ultimate purpose of the individual was to die for the emperor, the act through which one’s own being would merge into the mystical body of the emperor, thus closing the unbearable gap.


But for Uesugi, this meant seeking death by eliminating individuals who refused to follow what they considered the true will of the emperor, or by destroying corrupt institutions that stood in the way between the emperor and the masses: (if these institutions are preventing me from merging with him through peaceful meditation, I’ll merge with him through violent suicide, and get revenge on those institutions at the same time! What could be more appealing!). Accordingly, Uesugi-influenced terrorist activity was directed primarily against Japanese.


For Kakehi, however, the best way to die for the emperor, was by carrying out the emperor’s task of destroying the western controlled secular world order. This was very suited to his primary political backers, the control faction of the military (which included General Tojo). And, in contrast to Uesugi, Kakehi-inspired violence was more directed toward outsiders by waging war and dying on the battle field!


Speaking of battle-fields, how was that war going?


We’ve seen how radical Shinto thinkers use impeccable reasoning to prove a) we have to conquer the world, and b) foreigners can never be a part of our country because it would fuck up our kokutai. Now, you may wonder, how did they reconcile those two points?


Answer? They couldn’t! Not even with the arsenal of illogic and their wacky “anything-goes” attitude towards reasoning. Instead, both the philosophers and the military adopted the attitude of, “conquer first, spread world harmony later.”


And this had profound real-world consequences : if you’re liberating a country that WANTS to be liberated and given peace and harmony, you don’t need a lot of soldiers. You just overthrow the leadership, station a few troops, and move 90% of your forces on to the next country. But if you’re liberating a country, while telling them, “We’re conquering you for god, but uh, our god hates you, AND we are determined to perform cultural genocide on you by totally erasing your dumb culture and replacing it with ours, even though you’ll never be truly Japanese, so what is the point, just do it, asshole!” Then you’ll probably need to keep your whole army there for decades, you can’t move on to conquer other countries, PLUS you have to send in millions of civilians TOO, to show each individual conquer-ee how to act Japanese. And that’s why we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wait, I meant to say, that’s why Shinto fucked up the Japanese war, at the same time as it encouraged it.



The Japanese colonial overlords resorted to a bunch of wacky strategies: bringing back Hozumi’s “patriarchal society” theory of Shinto (for the other lands, not the motherland!) even though it contradicted what they believed, building shrines everywhere but not letting gaijin in them, letting them in but not letting them pray, and eventually concocting an amazing plan to ship all Koreans to New Guinea.


Here is a famous story which Skya relates, which sort of sums up the whole 20s-30s period:


It was the time of the war of 1894-95. one day on our ship, a sailor was weeping as he read a letter written in a woman’s handwriting. A passing lieutenant saw him and, thinking his behavior unmanly, said, “Hey, what have we here? Has life become so valuable? Are you afraid to die? Are you lonely for your wife and children? Don’t you think it’s an honor to become a solider and go to war – What kind of attitude is that?”

“Sir, don’t think that of me,” replied the sailor, handing the officer the note.

(The officer reads the letter)

“Dear Son,

You said you did not fight in the battle of Feng-tao, and you did not accomplish much in the August 10th attack at Weihaiwei either. I am very disappointed in you. Why did you go into battle? Wasn’t it to sacrifice your life to repay the emperor? The people in the village are good to me and offer help all the time, saying kindly: ‘It must be hard for you having your only son off fighting for the country. Please don’t hesitate to tell us if there is anything we can do.’ Whenever I see their faces, I am reminded of your cowardice and I feel as if my heart will break. So every day I go to the shrine and pray that you will distinguish yourself in battle. Of course I am human, too, and cannot at all bring myself to hate my own child. Please try to understand my feelings as I write this letter.”

The officer said, “I’m sorry. I can only admire your mother’s spirit.”

The sailor, who had been listening with lowered head, saluted, and smiling, left.


This was required reading for elementary school kids.


The end.





1868 – Shogun Overthrown. Feudalism and Buddhism replaced with the Meiji Restoration, headed by the emperor and Shinto.

1870-84 : the Great Promulgation Campaign (Taikyō senpu undō 大教宣布運動)  I guess this was a nationwide PR campaign to raise awareness of Shinto, which legitimized the emperor, which in turn legitimized the new system of government.

Also : terrible sufferings imposed on the peasantry by the ruthless taxes required to pay for a munitions-based program of industrialization.


1881 – Genyousha started. The grand-daddy of all right-wing terror groups.


1873 – The oligarchs (leaders of the clans that overthrew the Shogun) get in a fight over what kind of government to make. Everyone agrees they need a constitutional democracy (meaning, limited power for the emperor), but they disagree over WHAT KIND.


One side, led by Itou Hirobumi, wanted Prussian style: no separation of powers, a Cabinet that would openly serve the Emperor (rather than make their own proposals) and an elected Parliament that had no power


The other side, led by Itagaki Taisuke, wanted a English/French style: A powerful Parliament – accountable to the people – who advised the Emperor. And an ornamental cabinet just for fun.


1889 – Prussian-lovers win. Emperor announces a Prussian-style Constitution written in secret with no popular approval.


However, this does not even come close to solving the democracy-or-theocracy debate, since no one in history ever has been able to make a “partially democratic divine-god-king” government work. For some reason.



1895 – Japan conquers Taiwan.


The military, working with Genyousha assassinate Korean Empress Myongsong in the Korean royal palace.



1897 : Hozumi Yatsuka  publishes a book called  KOKUMIN KYOUIKU AIKOSHIN (National Education: Patriotism), which advocates a ‘return’ to absolute monarchy, couching it in terms of the ‘family-state’.


1901 – Kokuryuukai (black dragon society) is formed – another right wing terror group.



1905 – Japan Kicks Russia’s ass, sinking most of their whole navy and shit.


Unprecedented rioting in Hibiya, as the people protest Japan’s signing a pussy-ass not-conquering-shit treaty with the defeated and abject Russia.


1906 – Kita Ikki published his KOKUTAIRON OYOBI JUNSEI SHAKAISHUGI (On the Kokutai and pure Socialism), saying fuck you to Hozumi. His shtick: emperor-backed socialism!



1910s+20s: the masses get more politicized –they demand to have a say in government. Open to western ideology (democracy, communism, feminism, anarchism) but also ANYTHING extreme. Including radical Shinto.



1910 – Hozumi publishes his main book, KEMPOU TEIYOU (Handbook on the Constitution of Japan).


Japan conquers Korea.


1911 – Minobe, the foremost pro-democracy scholar, publishes a book called Kempo Kowa (lectures on the constitution). Straight dissing  the right-wing Minobe’s #1 disciple, Uesugi!


1912 – Meiji emperor dies, Taisho emperor takes over. Also Minobe dies, and Uesugi Shinkishi takes over as the main Shinto pundit.


Mass popular protests in favor of democracy.


1913- mass protests against Prime Minister Katsura (for what???) topple him and his whole cabinet.



Uesugi responds to Minobe’s book dis by forming a S1W-style paramilitary reading group called Tokagakkai (palwnia flower society) to take out Minobe’s theories and push for the disbanding of the parliament.


Kakehi Katsuhiko published Kokka no Kenkyuu (a study of the state), taking Shinto in a more radical direction.




Protests against corruption in the navy (?!?!?)



1918 – the rice riots topple the Terauchi government (Terauchi being the prime minister). Leadership is scared of general revolution!


World War One over (pretty much the end of monarchies in Europe), plus : Russia goes commie. All this is very worrisome for right-wing, monarchist Shinto folks.



1919 : Kita Ikki goes from commie to fascist and publishes An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan.



1920 – a right-wing organization called  Kokoku Doshikai (Association of those Devoted to the Advancement of the State) is established to fight democracy and socialism. Unlike older right-wing groups (black dragon, great ocean), Kokoku Doshikai is very public and openly appeals to the masses.


1921 – Uesugi publishes Kokka Shinron (A New Thesis on the State), one of the most influential, pro-emperor, pro-assassination screeds.


Right-wing kid assassinates Yasuda Zenjiro, president of the Yasuda corporation.

Prime minister Hara Takashi also assassinated.


1922- Minoda Muneki, too radical for Kokoku Doshikai, starts his own magazine, GENRI INON (true Japan) to bully any other kids on campus who disagreed with his radical Shinto deal.


1923 – Uesugi and some clown named Takabatake found Keirin Gakumei (Society for the Study of Statesmanship): to fight western individualism western materialism and get western thought and ideals out of the government (as opposed to simply assassinate all government members).



1925 – universal male suffrage.


Uesugi formed yet another militia group: the Seven Lives Society (shichishou sha). More of a hard-rock crew, street-fighting against leftist youth crews, and agitating to expand Japan’s empire from Asia to the whole world (once we finish this kung fu fight). Some of the Seven Lives guys went on to form Ketsumeidan (League of Blood) who would kill a lot of people.


1926 – Akao Bin (even most of the other right wing militias said he was way the fuck out there!) forms the Kenkokukkai (National Foundation Association), which dominated far-right street shit in the 20s. the Kenkokukkai was about bombing shit. Akao himself bombed the Russian embassy.


Kakehi Katsuhiko publishes Kannagara no Michi (the way of the gods as such)


1928 – a secret clique of army guys assassinates Zhang, the puppet governor of Manchuria, because Zhang is more loyal to the Japanese Prime Minister than the Japanese Army.


1929 – Yamamoto Senji, a left-wing politician, assassinated by the Seven Lives Righteousness Association


1930 – Prime minister Hamaguchi killed by Aikokusha (The Patriotic Society).


The Sakura Kai (Cherry Blossom Society) founded: right-wing group dedicated to overthrow of civilian government and expansion of imperialism and, of course, Shinto. What makes Sakura Kai special is, it was all army guys!


1931 – A different group of Army terrorists start the Manchurian Incident, as a pretext for a full military takeover of Manchuria.


The October Incident: an attempted coup, which included senior military officers, and intended the assassination of almost the entire cabinet. But someone squealed and so they never pulled it off. However, the perpetrators got put on trial and let off with a warning (?!?!?!?)


1932 – Inoue Junosuke, finance minister, shot by a member of the Ketsumeidan (Blood Pledge Corps). A month later, another Blood Pledge member kills Dan Takuma, leader of Mitsui Bank.


Then, the May 15 incident – Prime Minister Inukai killed, “effectively ending party rule” (meaning, the cabinet was handed back to the emperor, instead of being chosen by elected officials, and plus from this point elected officials didn’t say peep without getting an OK from an emperor-lover).


1933 – another coup foiled before it started. This was called the Shinpeitai Incident (Divine Soldiers incident, after the group which planned it), and led by a personal student of Uesugi, one Amano Tatsuo, in conjunction with army dudes. Again (just like the October Incident), the whole thing was hushed up, and ringleaders were given a $25 dollar fine and required to attend 8 hours of traffic school.


1935 – . The first major assassination between radical right conspiracy groups! Colonel Aizawa murders Major Nagata , who was the director of the Bureau of Military Affairs: Aizawa was Imperial Way Faction, and Nagata was the just-as-fundamentalist-Shinto, but not as radical Control Faction


Kakehi Katsuhiko publishes his epic Koukoku Kenpou (the Constitution of the Imperial State)


1936 – a coup-d’etat kills a lot of cabinet members and Kita Ikki takes the blame. 1,400 soldiers – a whole division, took over some government buildings and ninja-attacked the 3 admirals, the grand chamberlain, lord keeper of the imperial seal, a general, and a finance minister were brutally killed. The imperial palace was taken over, but then the emperor himself said, “Thanks anyways guys but guess what? I like being a figurehead!” and the army guys were like “WTF man” And the Emperor was like, “Yeah, so death penalty for you guys! Psyche!”


One of the victims was General Watanabe. . . apparently Watanabe hinted, in a speech, that he believed Minobe’s pro-democracy emperor-as-organ theory.



1937 – Kokutai no Hongi (Fundamentals of the National Polity)  is published and everyone in the country has to read it. This is an official government document which explains the new, non-democratic Shinto government’s goals and the people’s responsibilities.


1938 – Kono Seizo publishes “Our Kokutai and Shinto”, the most important commentary on Kokutai no Hongi.


1939 – Yamada Yoshio publishes “the spirit of the founding of the nation”, another commentary on Kokutai no Hongi, but much more far-out than Kono’s book.


1941 – pearl harbor.






9 comments Tags:

influential enka in youtube form

These are the songs that Christine Yano picked out as influential in her book TEARS OF LONGING.

I can't say that a Japanese would agree. But most of these are heavy as hell.


Let's start with a cover version of the 1906 hit  RAPPA BUSHI, originally written by soeda azembo



next, Sasurai no uta (song of wandering) (1917),  which cashed in on a social phenomenon: the lonliness of leaving hometown to find work in the city. a very topical theme in the rapidly industrializing country.


Sendou kouta (boatman’s song) by noguchi ujou and Nakayama Shinpei (1921) – first enka hit influenced by western music.


This one is a'ight, but the version by 森繁久彌  (Moreshige Hiyasa)   just kills it.

Moreshige Hiyasa makes ian curtis look like milli fucking vanilli.

Unfortunately embedding is disabled on that video. so you'll have to click here to see the difference.


Just don't click if you're tired of living. Seriously you'll jump out the window before the bridge.


Fuck! this  guy is fucking crazy. Here's Moreshige Hiyasa doing a LOVE SONG.  (the youtube poster captioned 'overflowing with love'), so you know this is dude at his maximum happiness level.




 Tottori Shunyou's hit  "kago no tori" (bird in a cage)  (1924). It was such a huge hit, became a film! Japanese corporations even then were really savvy about cross-merchandising. This 60 years before manga-became-videogames-became-anime-became movies and all that!




moving to the '30s, meet sendou kouta : the man who gave enka the distinct sound and arrangements (aka KATA) that it has today.

Kouta was a song-writer. I'm not sure who is singing on this one.

Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka (is sake a teardrop or a sigh?) -



another version of the same song:



 kage wo shitaite – following after your image. another kago hit.



akagi no komoriuta (Lullaby of Akagi)

A classic example of a big enka theme: nostalgia for the furusato (hometown), in this case, Akagi.

Moving to the post-war era,

yu no machi elegy (bath town elegy) (1948) – also by Mr. Kago. this song  captures the gloom of post-war Japan.

(sad music was banned during the war!)



this song got sampled by rap group non-fixion.


Ringo oiwake  (1952 )– super sad even by enka standards: the girl's mom died. big hit by Misora hibari – the postwar "queen of enka"


this was a huge hit for misora hibara. the queen of enka.




namida no renrakusen (ferryboat of tears) (1965) – reviving the classic enka style in hippy times.


Kanashi sake,  (sad booze) (1966) – another hit by MIsora Hibari.


Here's a much iller version, but embedding is disabled: 

it just goes to show you the huge difference that soul makes.

Just for kicks, here is a few more tunes that Yano mentions:

haguresou (not sure the meaning of this joint)


abare daiko (raging drums)


sasoriza no onna (scorpion woman) – the "theme song" of Mikawa Kenichi. King of the cross-dressing enka singers. There was more than one? Apparently that was a thing back in the '70s.



and again, here,  same dude, a few years later. . . you can see how society got a little more liberal:


below, a super-creepy "virtual idol" version of kachuusha no uta . This isn't such an influential song in Enka history, but WTF man? dig the uncomfortableness.



4 comments Tags:

japan book review 6 – TEARS OF LONGING by Christine Yano

TEARS OF LONGING by Christine Yano


Enka has been called “Japanese blues”, “Japanese country and western,” and “dasai grandma music.” Enka are sad, melodramatic ballads that you karaoke the fuck out of in run-down snack-bars at 3am. If you ever bike home drunk at 3am and pass bars with terrible out of key singing gurgling out of them, you’re hearing enka.


I like some enka passionately, and hate most of it.  So when I found out there was an English book about it, I jumped at the chance to read it. Maybe it could tell me how to avoid the crappy stuff. That didn’t happen, but nonetheless, this book is pretty good!

Like this: the BOMBASTIC style:


And this – the exact same melodies and verse-chorus structure but done super-minimal. . . .what i call the SUICIDAL STYLE.

Compare to this next one: the PLASTIC BULLSHIT NO-SOUL CORPORATE SELL OUT  style.

Note how it's still basically the same melodies and arrangements but all the soul has been sucked out by The Man.

I'll yell at  The Man more later, but  let's get back to the book review:

The good parts of TEARS OF LONGING are the history of enka, the breakdown of enka clichés, and the explanation of the Japanese word ‘kata.” (型)

The bad parts are the tedious chapters behind-the-scenes-at-the-record-company-meetings, which I get the feeling that Yano had to include just to prove she was a real anthropologist. Anthropologists have to go to places that no one has gone before.

Her constant harping on “the social construction of gender” and “the social construction of patriotism and the Japanese spirit,” I can take or leave.



Enka  is complicated to  define. The actual term “enka” was not widely used until the ‘60s. And  then it was immediately applied retro-actively  to the previous 70 years of pop-tunes-that-sounded-Japanese (as opposed to pop-tunes-that-sounded-western). Although, at the times those tunes were written, they were not thought of as enka.

Got all that?

Enka is a sort of release valve for Japanese emotions. People who would never share their true feelings with you can go to the karaoke with you and belt out songs with ridiculous, over-the-top emo lyrics like “I would drown myself in an ocean of sake for youuuuuuuuuu, I exist only to tell lies, I’ll never forgive you for what you did to me, I’d rather die than love another, waaahhhh.” It’s no coincidence that most enka songs have “sake” in the title – Japan’s other release valve.

Enka is made up of other, earlier styles of Japanese music, such as:


minyou (folk song),


Roukyoku (in Osaka, called naniwa-bushi) Roukyoku are narrative jams, story-telling ballads. This genre flourished among street performers, and recounted traditional tales, as well as newsworthy stories of the present, often with a preachy moral. Samurai, thieves, dutiful sons, and devoted wives. Duty and honor! Just vocal and shamisen.


kouta (‘little songs’), which were more humorous or ironic, and had more of a retro-Edo feel. Also shamisen-based.


These styles were synthesized in the 1930s by famous song-writer Koga Masao, who established the kata (form or pattern) of enka.




 A standout point of Yano’s book is her definition of kata. Here it is:


“There are good reasons for my using “kata” instead of translating it as the English words "pattern", "style", or "formula".

First, kata emphasizes an embeddedness in daily life. 

Second, kata emphasizes surface form and beauty: the emphasis on form and effects gives a highly theatrical sense to performance, and a performative sense to daily life.

Third, kata emphasizes detail.

Fourth, as a system of theatrical display , kata places emphasis on technique, on the process of doing: a performance becomes a presentation of presentation.

Fifth, kata separates the whole into discrete, patterned units, which create a recognizable code of the performance, a code whose goal is beauty.

Sixth, kata is important as a way for art forms to be taught and handed down from one generation. Kata becomes a means by which one may enter an art form, it is a manner of doing, a way of being. Kata at once establishes, constructs, and verifies a relationship with the past.

Seventh: At the same time as it formalizes, aestheticizes, and historicizes, kata also spiritualizes, which might be the most important characteristic of all. Working on the external through kata transforms and defines the internal. Unlike western thought that gives primacy to what is below the surface and behind the mask, kata gives the surface its due. Self presentations are not merely outward expressions of some inner substance, but a constant process of creating that identity, while simultaneously signifying and demonstrating it.

The western dichotomy of form (false) vs. content (true) becomes reconfigured as continuous and interpenetrating parts. Displays of emotion are at once raw and cultivated, and the ability to balance both is what makes fans appreciate you more than the other singers. When one becomes a jedi-master of a certain art form, you perfect the kata until the line between you and kata vanishes. The creative goal of kata-training is to fuse the individual to the form so that the individual becomes the form and the form becomes the individual.”


That said, the main kata of enka is excess. Melodrama heaped on top of melodrama! Whether manly bombast, sentimental schmaltz, or broken-hearted emo whinging, do it in excess! There is no such thing as “too obvious” or “too much”.


This being Japan, the idea of “that’s too fake” doesn’t apply – the idea is to be authentic by sticking to the formula and perfecting it. However, this being Japan, nobody bothers to explicitly state what the kata of enka exactly ARE – you’re just supposed to automatically know them from sheer repetition and knowing the context. To find out what the kata are, Yano took 115 popular enka songs (mostly from the shitty era of the 70s and 80s 90s, which is a bummer) and got statistical on the ass of the enka canon.


The most common words (based on how many songs they show up in) are:

 Dream, heart,you, sake, tears, crying, woman, person, love, flower, persona lone, chest, I, rain, couple, life, bloom,wind, man, snow, drink, boat, sorrowful, and right at the bottom: happy.


The single most commonly used word  : sake.

Like easily 3 times as much as any other word. You don’t even need a list.



Yano then takes the most common lyrical themes and examines how they’re used :



Yano says, In enka, dreams dwell on past loves, on mother, and on old hometown. They do not goad the dreamer into action but encapsulate the dreamer in a sate of inaction and resignation.

 Waiting is a related theme. Again the passivity which contrasts with the burning flames of emotion.



Crying is not weak or shameful, the way we think of emo music. In Japan, crying – through the magic of music, is turned into a thing of beauty, a performance of tears, a mark of exquisite tragedy. You don’t wipe away your tears, you show them off. Tears are like a safety valve for honne (private self). Enka songs often speak of secret tears.


Oh! In my barren heart

My tears freeze and my passion burns

Oh! Please embrace me

Please embrace my barren heart



Tears, tears, tears!

Even if my ears run dry, it won’t mean that my love has withered



I burn with desire and fall – the compassion of a woman

I am drenched with sadness- the tears of a woman

I cannot be with the one I love – the heart of a woman.


Also, it’s almost an iron law that drops of tears and drops of sake are made into metaphors of each other in every song.

And given Japan’s cultural propensity towards anthromorphization (see my yokai interview!), Yano says, “Enka’s emphasis on tears endows even nonhuman inanimate objects with the ability to cry: crying shamisen, crying nights, howling north winds, crying train whistlse. This projection of emotion onto objects and elements of nature makes for a kind of environmental empahy: the jilted lover does not cry alone but in concert with everything around her."




 sample lyrics:

I want this love to burn until death,

this one night love to which I surrender


A man’s love is the tenderness of a single night

But a woman’s love lasts until the day of death


I don’t care if I throw my life away,

just please let me be here by your side


There’s this definite wabi-sabi vibe to the enka view of romance – like the cherry blossoms that fall too soon, this morbid sentimental reverence for anything that is brief , and all the more precious or touching because of the transience.




Men are bummed because they have to do a duty that they really don’t want to do, or because they miss their home town, women are bummed because they fall in love with terrible men. Women have sex once and then spend the rest of their lives condemned to love and hate that man.


Women characters drink alone as they sing, which is shocking!


Men are also alone, but it is not a sign of weakness for them, it is a sign of standing on your own two feet, sticking to your guns – a good thing. Instead of having a one-night-stand and then pining for it the rest of your life, men commit to a certain course of action or a certain dream (otoko no michi – the men’s road) and then spend the rest of their lives following it to the bitter end, never wavering or giving up.





Enka is retro: like country music in the USA, which is sold to people as representing the “real America the way it used to be”, but in fact it’s kind of phoney.


Modern enka started in the ‘60s, duh, and represents a Disney version of ‘30s Japan that never was.  Enka cultivates this reputation as “nihon no uta” (song of Japan), an expression of nihonjin no kokoro (the hearts/soul of Japanese).


Notwithstanding, some of the most famous enka singers since the ‘80s are Korean and Taiwanese imports. Also, most enka singers are women but the lyric-writers and managers are all men.


Although thought of as music from grandpa/grandma’s generation,  most enka fans were into pop or rock music and then switched to enka when they got older.


Whereas Japan sells tea ceremony, flower arranging, koto music and sumo (not to mention that wacky anime!) to foreigners as “exotic tourist stuff from a foreign country”, enka is only sold to Japanese.


But it’s still seen as exotic – wahat Yano calls  “internal exotic.”


In regular words: it’s more Japanese than Japanese. It functions to bind people together and cement what it means to be Japanese, and creates a single idealized past without all that fascism and war. For example, they use a lot of “Japanese” instruments , flutes, shamisen, koto, taiko, but only in the intro, as decoration. To be “exotic.”



More on that nostalgia:


Ryuukouka (Japanese-style pop) became the dominant style of the Taisho era (1912-1926). And today’s enka draws mostly from ryuukouka. In other words, the nostalgia of contemporary enka is nostalgia for the Taisho era: not only was Taisho the era of ryuukoka, but Japanese society was advancing, modernizing quickly, and people were full of hope. Then came the fascism and the nuclear bombs.


As part of the nostalgia, new songs are made to sound exactly like songs from 40 years ago. This is kata (型) at work.  Now, don’t get me wrong: Yano’s rant about kata is the best explanation of what it is and why it is important to understanding Japanese culture that I’ve read so far.

But enka from the 80s and 90s is just crap.


Kata was invented for artisans, Buddhist monks, and martial artists. In other words, before mass production, mass media, and modern times.


And it makde sense BACK THEN to do every single damn thing with kata: if someone is a master artisan, they’re a tool-maker, and you ask him for a tool (say, a katana), you need it for a job. To stab suckas with. You don’t want him to get arty or original with it. Same thing with martial arts. And as for Buddhist monks, god isn’t going anywhere – god is unchanging and eternal, so kata is not supposed to change. 


But when modern times come along, applying kata to mass-production can result in huge cockups.


I mean sure, with  identical, assembly line transformer toys or hello kitty t-shirts, go ahead, use kata. They’re supposed to be the same! But with art or music? Fuck no, don’t use kata.


Kata worked fine when there was only like 40 songs written per year, because jedi-masters of enka took a whole year to make one song the old-fashioned way.


But by combining old-school kata with new-school mass-production and mass-marketing, you get the worst of both worlds: the un-creativity of kata, combined with modern techniques that allow companies to spew out hundreds of sound-alike songs every month. If you want the same songs, just use your modern factories to burn millions of cds of classic songs from the ‘60s. But of course the fans already have those songs, so you have to make them buy new ones by cranking out songs THAT SOUND JUST LIKE THEM. Worst of both worlds!




8,000,000 bc – minyou (folk songs) come into being

1860s – roukyoku becomes a big working-man’s type of music in the early Meiji period, as do kouta ('little songs')

1880s – enka starts as “enzetsu no uta” a form of acapella protest song.

“The word enka is an abbreviated form of enzetsu no uta (oratorical song). It originated in the 1880s to describe the anti-government protest songs sung in the streets in support of the jiyuu minken undou (‘The Freedom And People’s Rights Movement) which sought to establish a democratic constitution and a nationally elected assembly. The Meiji government imposed restrictions on public expression. The movement’s leaders, meanwhile, hopedto gain popular support, but were hindered by the low level of literacy among the population”

. . . so they , decided to use a kind of speech-song and take it directly to the streets, solving all three problems (publicity, avoiding censorship, illiteracy) at once.


In its original form, enka was half-sung and half-spoken by an enkashi (enka singer/caller) otherwise known as a soushi (singer/caller), acapella. In its rhythmic exaggeration of certain syllables, it was musically similar to the cries of street vendors, but its goal was political. Enkashi were described as “singing street guerrillas.” Because it was acapella (and preachy!), enka was less about melody and more about really exaggerated vocals – sad words sound REALLY sad, happy ones sound really happy, long notes are really long ,etc. And this can be heard in today's enka as well.


1890 – enka turns into more of a entertainment genre, because a constitutional democracy was established in 1890, the need for protest songs went way down. the enkashi began to write actual songs, form organizations, and print lyrics.

1890s – Soeda Azembo becomes the first “king of enka!", and incorporates a lot of the new western styles into his music, defining the enka sound of the Meiji Era. He sings “kae-uta” (parodies of popular songs), changing the lyrics to be about current events in newspapers, functioning as sort of a cross between a pop star and a town crier. I guess this is a way Enka was different from roukyoku.

1907 – intellectuals introduce the first instrument to the a-capella genre of enka: the violin. This “high class, Western” instrument was not a hit with the masses, but the concept of “having a band” really took off, and thereafter, enka used instruments!

1912 – more Pop culture: shin minyou (modern ballads): they mimic traditional folk songs but with lyrics about modern problems, like lonliness and missing one’s hometown. As Japan industrialized, there was a huge number of folks moving from the countryside to the city. This was accompanied by a huge boom of sad, emo ’78 records about guys and women in the big city who miss their hometowns.

1920s –There’s enough foreign music coming in that it gets its own genre: kayoukyoku. It seems that kayoukyoku originally referred to western music but then came to refer to Japanese pop which had an exotic, western ‘flavor’ to it as well. Maybe? It's not clear.

All the Japanese-sounding pop styles are now put under the umbrella of “ryuukouka” (pop tunes), to distinguish them from  kayoukyoku.   As a result of this "together-grouping" , a lot of ryuukouka hits would later be thought of as enka (remember, enka was defined retroactively). Jesus! Is that pedantic enough for you?

Meanwhile, enka is now popular enough that singers can make a living doing requests in bars. Pop tunes are a sort of exciting new thing, like radio and movies, that never existed before.


20s and 30s : advances in recording technology allow pop tunes to be sold in the exciting new 78RPM format! Record companies, sensing immense profits, demand that full bands (not just a shamisen) be used to back the singers.

1930s – ryoukouka eclipses shinminyou to become the dominant trend for Japanese style pop (although lots of people were by then really into swing jazz, so decadent and exotic!)

Koga Masao – the “father of modern enka” finds the perfect formula for enka: a foundation of kouta and add a bit of naniwa-bushi, keep the tempo slow, lay off the harmony singers,and rock the minor scale, and change the shamisen into a guitar (mandolin in a pinch). This helped solidify enka into a kata, or cliche.


1938 – government bans all foreign "enemy" music, as well as Japanese songs with sentimental or romantic themes. The government also banned all overt expressions of sadness such as the word for tears!


1944 – government, realizing it's losing the war on all fronts, resorts to more drastic measures: it also bans western instruments : guitars, banjos, ukuleles, as well as western melodies. Jesus fucking christ, you people.


1950 – misora hibari, former child star, becomes “queen of enka”. She can make anyone cry.


Japan’s shitty post-war times practically called out for a rebirth of enka with specially gloomy tunes like “bath town elegy” – also by Mr. Koga. This postwar-gloom enka focused less on people pining for their lost hometown, to alienated city-dwellers with no home to go home to.

Preachy songs about how "the real Japan"  gave way to more sophisticated, if immoral songs about “Here I am at a bar , just got dumped by a no-good man AGAIN, let’s get shitfaced.”


50s – record companies get more sophisticated, hiring professionals to write and arrange songs behind the scenes, reducing artists to just hired voices.


60s – mood kayou (mood songs) are blues-influenced enka ballads about failed romance, that featured saxophones. They are the worst kind of enka ever. Anything with a saxophone, switch that shit off.


Late 60s/early 70s: the word Enka makes a comeback, meaning not “anti-meiji-government protest songs” but “all pop music of the last 70 years which ‘sounds Japanese’”. A firm kata soon emerges to regulate new songs produced in this style



Do-enka (real enka): more influenced by naniwa –bushi: west-coast flavor, honor, machismo, all that shit. Plus serifu (narrative in a spoken-word voice) between voices. Contemporary do-enka singers: kitajima saburou, toba ichirou, miyako harumi, nakamura mitsuko, sakamoto fuyumi.

Mood enka : descended from the mood kayou of the ‘60s, without so many saxophones. more weepy and ballady, less honor-y and macho-y. where do-enka singers might ornament their singing with grunt or growl, mood enka people are more inclined to use yuri and kobushi, the vibrato that sounds like weeping.

Pops enka: crossover. Major key. Lyrics less suicidal.




rappa bushi (bugle call song) –  by Soeda azembo –first King of Enka celebrates kicking Russia’s ass in '05. Just a singer and a shamisen.

Sasurai no uta (song of wandering) (1917), lonliness of leaving hometown to find work in the city. a very topical theme in the rapidly industrializing country.

Sendou kouta (boatman’s song) by noguchi ujou and Nakayama SHinpei (1921) – first enka hit influenced by western music.

tottori shunyou releases "kago no tori" (bird in a cage)  (1924). It was a huge hit, became a film! Japanese corporations even then were really savvy about cross-merchandising. This 60 years before manga-became-videogames-became-anime-became movies and all that!

Sake wa namida ka tameiki ka (is sake a teardrop or a sigh?) - first big hit of Mr. Koga, inventor of the "classic" enka style.

Kage o shitaite (following after your image) - another Koga hit.

yu no machi erejii (bath town elegy)  (1948), by koga maso – classic postwar gloom.

namida no renrakusen (ferryboat of tears)(1965) reviving the traditional style in hippy times.

Ringo oiwake  (1952 )– super sad even by enka standards: the girl's mom died. big hit by Misora hibari – the postwar "queen of enka"

Kanashi sake, (1966) – another hit by MIsora Hibari.

sasori-za no onna (scorpion woman) – the "theme song" of Mikawa Kenichi. King of the cross-dressing enka singers. Apparently that was a thing back in the '70s?




Nakibushi – crying song (whose merit is measured by its ability to elicit tears)

Naniwa – bushi : Osaka song

Roukyoku (narrative song)

kae-uta (substitution song): a parody, where lyrics are substituted.

Shouka- school songs composed to introduce japanese children to western music

Rokyoku is a narrative art accompanied by the shamisen, and was perfected at the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912).

Onkai – scale
yonanuki onkai ( asian sounding pentatonic scale)

ryuukouka! This just means “ japanese-sounding pop music on 78 rpm records.”

Serifu – lines (in a play) narrative spoken word interludes (in songs)

Kayoukyoku – western or western-sounding music (as opposed to ryuukouka)

enkashi (enka singer/caller)

soushi (singer/caller),

yuri – a vocal ornamentation influenced by American blues – a vibrato-like swinging of the voice.

Kobushi – a crying-waah-sounding vibrato more traditional ornamentation.

Jigoe – chest voice, natural voice

Uragoe : head voice, falsetto

Hanagoe – nasal voice

Damigoe – gravelly, blues- or metal-ly voice

Kosei – originality, individuality of a performance.

Miren – lingering affection, and its evil twin

Urami – lifelong, smouldering resentment

Hinkaku – dignity

Furusato – my old home town (sometimes it means “Japan the way it used to be in the good old days”)

Taishuu bunka – working class culture

Ki wo terawazu ni – without showing off anything new.

Tejaku-sake : pouring yourself a drink of booze (kind of brutal because traditionally people are supposed to pour drinks for their friends)

joruri, sekkyo-bushi (chants of Buddhist tales)

saimon-gatari (chants of traditional literature and worldly episodes).

fushi (chants)

tanka (narration). Fushi is the chanting part where the performer sings about the situation or feelings of characters, while tanka is the dialogue part where the performer plays the role of each character.

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Japanese book 5: THE JAPANESE MIND, Edited by Davies and Ikeno

amazon here, of course!

Like the last book report – "INSIDE THE KAISHA", THE JAPANESE MIND attempts to explain Japanese behavior so as to avoid "culture shock" and misunderstandings. Unlike INSIDE THE KAISHA, THE JAPANESE MIND is a huge mess.




THE JAPANESE MIND is a book that succeeds by failing! If you read it, at first you’re struck by how confusing and poorly written it is, how it tries to do 6 things and does none of them well. Half the information is redundant, and the other half so esoteric it’s not useful.

But if you read the introduction, the introduction explains HOW the book was made – the context and the decisions that shaped the form of the book.

And once you understand that, you realize that the book has a LOT to teach you: all the failures of the book are the results of classic Japanese decision making. By looking at the failures you can learn a lot about Japanese way-of-thought.



"Inside the Kaisha" TELLs you, but "The Japanese Mind"  straight-up  SHOWS you.

See,THE JAPANESE MIND had a lot of goals:

Originally, each chapter was a senior thesis about "Japanese Culture" by a Japanese student of International Studies. So one goal was to be a thesis for the students..

Then the teachers decided to make the theses into a textbook to teach foreign students about Japanese culture .Despite the somewhat confusing and improper English – and despite the fact that students shouldn’t be teaching classes.

 The "book about Japanese culture” idea then expanded to be a sort of “how-to” manual which would try to teach foreigners common cultural misunderstandings and how to avoid them . . . based on learning about flower arranging and "the Japanese spiritual connection to seasons"??? Well, yes! Because the first two ideas were still in effect, they didn't get tossed when the book changed direction. Why would they? Silly gaijin!

 Finally, the thesis/ textbook / how-to manual was expanded in scope once again: it’s not only for foreigners who wanted to larn bout Japan, but for OTHER JAPANESE STUDENTS OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES who wanted to learn “what foreigners think of Japan” while practicing their English reading skills. Thus you wind up with “study questions” that make no sense to foreign students, since they are directed at Japanese students of international studies who happen to be reading in English.


Amazed yet?


 So now let's see how the failure of this book can teach us about Japan. Note how I'm applying  the concepts from INSIDE THE KAISHA to explain the failures of  INSIDE THE JAPANESE MIND.

ONE: the importance of kata and process over logic!


Almost every chapter begins by saying “Japan used to be a society based on rice farming which required all the villagers to work together, thus prioritizing the society over the individual.” No evidence is used for this, let alone comparing Japan to other countries where they cultivate rice. So as an explanation for the various unique Japanese customs in the book, it’s a failure! But as an illustration of KATA (every chapter has to have the same format even if it’s redundant) and the Japanese idea of EXPLANATIONS DON’T NEED TO BE GROUNDED IN LOGIC AS LONG AS THEY FOLLOW THE CORRECT FORMAT, it’s great!


TWO:  the  MONTAGE: 


Instead of deciding to discard certain goals or kata, they just pile more and more goals on top of each other, producing a MONTAGE. And I know I discussed montage in the previous article, but there's so much to say, and this book provides such a rad example of montage-gone wrong.


Here’s some examples of montage (or layering, for those of you who are not pretentious) from Japanese history:


1 – language (hiragana, kanji, katakana, and now engrish . . . .ok sure  American english is a mutt language, but we just take individual words, nighongo layers entire SYSTEMS which have to be individually learned)

2 – religions (buddhist funerals, Christian weddings, Shinto seasonal rituals)

3- fashions (not just the many-layered kimono, but the the famous ‘I’M wearing stuff from 4 countries I don’t even know the names of at once” montage of harajuku girls etc.)

4- Japanese science being historically shitty at inventing new technology but a world leader at synthesizing existing technologies into rad new combo-products: watches with calculators! Microwaves with electric stoves built in!

5- keitais with too many features, all poorly planned, because if one company introduces a new feature, all the other companies have to save face by "keeping up" (even if their version of the feature is just a sad little eraserhead baby of a feature)

7 –world war two : the army wanted to invade Russia, the navy wanted a sea war in southeast asia. The emperor (most powerful man EVER) couldn’t decide between them, and let them go their separate ways, even though this lack of a coordinated strategy cost japan the war.

8 – meiji constitution : layering an absolute monarchy/theocracy over a constitutional democracy, which was a totally futile idea, since they mix like oil and coups d'etat.

9 – wrapping candy in four layers of packaging?!?


So as a textbook THE JAPANESE MIND  sucks, but as an example of MONTAGE, it’s ideal!

 It’s a senior thesis essay , oh plus a textbook for foreigners studying Japanese, oh and plus a guidebook for how to avoid cultural shock, oh plus a textbook for Japanese students studying foreigners studying Japanese! Plus it has a built-in microwave and over 14 different screen-savers.

 And where does the uniquely Japanese montage come from?


 I'll tell you where it DOESN'T come from : " shinto syncretism” – everyone started out animist, after all!

SO where, then? 


 This is a concept that I don't have a clear handle on. I keep finding examples of it, but have yet to come across a book or a theory that explains why it is such a feature of Japanese decision making.  I'm just going to try my best to explain it, but if anyone else has any thoughts or recommended books, please let me know.

 The best example of "lack of responsibility at the top" is that world-war-II anecdote above! Even the most powerful man in the world couldn’t decide between his army and navy! This isn’t just because of the usual “Japanese are too polite to say ‘No’” thing.And it's different from the way powerful people all over the world are unaccountable.


Powerful people can rule with an  iron fist, but Hitler and Mussolini (not to mention Goldman and the Pope) tend to be responsible, in the sense that the top guy says, "DO AS I SAY, DO IT THIS WAY, I MADE THIS DECISION, ME ALONE, AND THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE TO OBEY." so, being un-accountable is different from being un-responsible.


Japanese groups have a hard time abandoning outdated protocols. The juniors can’t ask the leaders "Do we still need this procedure anymore?"  or "Isn't that a terrible idea?" because it’s insubordinate, and the leaders can’t trim unwanted procedures, because what if it turns out later that they cut the wrong one? It would be embarrassing! So the goals / features / procedures keep growing and accreting. Even leaders are powerless against processes once set in motion. The leaders ARE held responsible, but their responsibility only extends to making sure the process is done correctly. It doesn’t extend to the final result of the project – whether it’s an epic war in Asia or a simple textbook.

 Actually, I don't have a good reason why the leaders can't single-handedly change or cut layers.

But anyway in the case of this book, nobody ever said, “Let’s just pick one or two goals and do them well.”




This is kind of a cliché about Japanese so I won’t bother to explain it.

 How the cliché manifests itself in the book, though, is pretty amusing. A lot of student/authors didn’t want to tackle anything controversial, anything that would make Japan look bad. So there’s a lot of chapters on “the Japanese sense of the seasons” or “haragei : the implicit communication” , “arranged marriages”, and “buddhist funerals”, not to mention “wabi sabi”, which it turns out is some esoteric aesthetic concept of ancient clay-pot makers. Useful?


As a book of traditional culture, that would have been fine. But as a book about common misunderstandings between foreigners and Japanese, forget it! Even the students that DID try to tackle important topics, like ambiguity or honne vs. tatemae, do so in a very shy way.


However, on the good side: they do systematically present both the good points and bad points of each Japanese concept, and they do systematically compare their own country to other countries as a way of illustrating uniqueness.

If there’s a profusion of “safe, but irrelevant” topics, there’s a lack of “outside the box” topics. Lots of interesting, unique, relevant topics are ignored simply because Japanese education stifles creativity.


For example: how Japanese education stifles creativity!  That would have made a great chapter! The inability to handle lateral thinking or open-ended questions, the difficulty of thinking without a model to guide you. That’s really characteristic of Japan but since it doesn’t have a name or a famous book about it, it’s not included.

Or, “being rude by being excessively polite” : that’s another CLASSIC Japanese tactic. Or “Being in your own little world doing your makeup on the subway.” There should have been three chapters on that.


Once again, the COLORING INSIDE THE LINES approach makes for a sub-standard textbook, but as an EXAMPLE of how Japanese people think, it’s pretty great!



This should self-explanatory. Only by understanding the context in which the book is written can you learn anything from it.

Schultz out!


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go to Japan Subculture

If you're interested in the behind-the-scenes dirt on TEPCO and Fukushima power plant, go to japan subculture right now. Author Jake Adelstein is killing it with article after article.


Also: I'm working on a couple of things.

Does anyone know any really depressing "the nail that sticks up will get hammered down" type Japanese kotowaza (proverbs)?


And, for those of you who read Japanese, does anybody have a recommendation for books about ijime or the treatment of ethnic miniorities (burakumin / zainichi nihonjin / etc) ?

Those are the two big tabboo topics that I haven't tackled yet in 9 years of doing this site.

I really need to translate books on both those subjects, but of course since I suck at reading Japanese, i can't read 10 books and pick the best one to translate. I have to somehow find the best book FIRST.


Any help from you or your Japanese pals would be greatly appreciated.



Yamamoto and artisan vs. hustle

Reading the book INSIDE THE KAISHA, and its explanation of kata (the formalized but often unspoken "one correct way" to do things at a particular company) , reminded me of another book:   A while back I translated ACTOR, the autobiography of Ryuuji Yamamoto, Japan's most famous scat-o-phile.
Section One of Mr. Yamamoto’s book deals largely with the state of the Japanese film business in the ‘60s . . . and when it comes to Japanese attitudes towards business, what the book DOESN’T say is almost more interesting than what it DOES say.

Specifically, he talks at length about the business troubles of the big three Kyoto studios who specialized in samurai films, and the increasingly desperate steps they took to stay in business.

“Oh no our studio is losing money! We have to rent our equipment and actors to other studios to make ends meet! We have to sell our property!” 

But not one mention of, “Maybe we should stop making the same exact samurai film over and over. Maybe we could ask people what they want to see, on the assumption that more people might pay us for such a movie.”

Apparently, actually making films that people wanted to see was not an option.

To me, this is a great example of how Japanese peoples’ thinking is influenced by their artisinal roots. An artisan is a medival term for someone with a skill at creating necessary objects –shoes, cloth, barrels, pottery, and so on. No matter which countries, artisans have to go through long and humiliating periods of apprentice-ship, so there’s a big resistance to change what you spent so long learning. An artisan might think like this:

 “I trained for 10 years on how to make clay pots. I know every detail of clay pots to perfection. If people want clay pots I will make clay pots. If people do not want clay pots, I will make fucking clay pots.  I will make them the best way I know how – the important thing is strict adherence to the kata (form). A pot-maker is who I am, and that’s all that I am. Profit is like, if it happens, it happens.”

When you take this medieval menatality and put it into the modern world, things get wonky.

Sometimes it works great:  foreign companies from all over come to Japan for raw materials like iron girders, specialty fabrics, and stuff, because the detail and the workmanship is second to none. Likewise, most of those factories in China are using Japanese precision-made machinery to make their final products. 

But when you apply this ‘artisinal mentality’ to EVERYTHING, sometimes it doesn’t fit: you get that classic Japanese inflexibility, un-adaptability. You get movie studios that are unable to break out of samurai dramas even as they are going bankrupt. You get small-business owners with empty bars that still insist on a 500 yen cover charge.  You get domestic rice, grown ‘traditionally’, that costs like 4 times as much as the exact same variety of rice grown in Thailand. . . .And eventually you get this kind of (here he goes again!) sort of commie-style planned economy that has to use huge tariffs and subsidies to keep local businesses in business, because “This is the way things are supposed to be done, dammit. Someone somewhere decided it!”

And here it might be instructive to compare Japan to China. I’m aware that this is a minefield – Japan and China don’t like each other, and plus I’m white, and have never lived in China. OK. But still, if I only ever compare Japan to America, ignoring other countries that are more similar to Japan, then THAT’S ALSO a sort of racism (only America is important! Other countries don’t count!).

So keeping that in mind, I’ll proceed: Japan and China both are very hard-working, and both have thousands of years of traditions. Both are influenced by Confucius, and both are crazy for education. So why is Japan struggling with its artisinal legacy while China can go from commie to the world’s #2 economy in a few decades?

My answer: Japanese are more into technique, and Chinese are more into hustle.

In contrast to our hypothetical Japanese pot-maker. . . .if a Chinese lady is making pots and pot sales fall by like 25%, that lady sells her potting wheel and next day she’s out selling shoes. If people don’t want shoes, she’s gonna be on the sidewalk next week with a fuckin’ ironing board and an iron. Chinese people know how to hustle: living by wits, seizing opportunities, changing fast, improvising solutions instead of obsessing about kata.

But the bad part of hustle is: a lack of artisan-ship. Like the infamous lead-paint toys. Or the  merkin crabs. You ain’t heard of merkin crabs? Seems there is a species of famous and expensive delicious crabs from this one lake that have a certain seaweed growing on their shell. Well, who wants to drive all the way to that lake? Just take some crappy bullshit crab and pay a serf to glue a little seaweed merkin to his back and THEN sell him to some sucker-ass restaraunt. I’m serious. That is a whole  industry over there. That’s hustle!  

So it’s not a question of, is China better or Japan? Of course both systems have good points and bad. I’m just saying the notion of “technique vs. hustle” is a handy way of looking at the differences.
7 comments Tags:

MP3 post : going Psycho Killer on a Talking Head

new rap tune. listen or download.

The supply of pundits is way too abundant
We got to thin the herd yo
Chase it and hunt it
Because you fuckers is getting redundant
They call you talking heads, but you’re just trifling filler
If you’re a talking head, then I’m a fuckin’ psycho killer!
Pull the nine out my loin cloth
And blow your whole groin off
Fake ass wrestling you pretending to fight
Let me in the ring and I’m ending the fight
Your problems aren’t our problems, man, quit your games
Shove that camera up your ass to see if you got shit for brains
Rich and lame, million dollar paycheck bastards
MacDonald’s workers held to higher standards
Fry cooks get fired if they fuck up ten orders
Most of your predictions don’t even come true but nobody notice
They’re all awaiting tomorrow’s whatever gate sideshow
Thank god for the 24 hour news cycle
If you were a bookie you already would have been whacked by the mob
But since they didn’t it looks like I’ll have to tackle the job.
I got gats and sawed-offs for all you fake-ass
Statler and Waldorfs
XXXX mad about
A fit that XXXX had about
What XXXX read about
What XXXX   said about
Some vital issue we . . . .uh, already forget about.
Because of this circle jerk chorus
but you ain’t Kieth Morris
I’ll “operation, snip and tie” your fuckin’ vocal chords.
All this he said she said he said she said
You’re going to be dead when the m-16 spread sixteen lead
throughout your fuckin’ meat head
And then I run over your corpse twice, call that a re-tread
I’m telling you
Media roaches get stamped out
Take that jack-offery to the boy scout camp out
I snuff your lamp out
Whether you’re young or old I’m going to retire you
Press conference head-shots, that’s right, I Bud Dwyer you
Cnn ms nbc f-u-c-k your initials
I’d say fuck fox too but Nas already dissed you
Sometimes you touch on things that’s important
But only if a real journalist already report it
All you got is Opinions,
and those are like internet raps, everybody possess one
So answer one question:
why should you have a show more than the next bum?
You got fancy graphs and flashy animations
I got a rusty axe that’ll bash your fuckin’ face in
You got the screen split six ways
I got six grenades
It takes six seeks to match up the mixed remains
That’s right!           Subliminal Satanism, I just Zeppelined your ass
Pundits leave me alone, aw, I just Hepburned your ass
Admit it!         Your own contribution is below nil
Manufacturing mountains out of a molehill.
Even if the issue is a trivial nuisance
Everyone else piles on with their own ephemeral two cents
Like ten broke-ass Mormons all fucking the same wife.
You know it’s bullshit, but It’s all in the game right?
President used a teleprompter?
Shut the fuck up Donny
Common at the white house?
Shut the fuck up Donny
nyghhhhh birthers?!?
Shut the fuck up Donny
Palin has an opinion again?
Shut the fuck up
You must be kidding again?
I swear you must be tired of living  man!
I’ma turn TV studios into hot 97 man!
First I’m sneaking in there
Next you’re leaking on air
You ain’t  even get to play B.I.G. in the movie
That’s pretty freakin’ unfair!
U2 taught me a fun way
To turn Sunday roundup into bloody Sunday
Straight Seinn Feinnin’ your ass
comin’ in heinously fast with a
Broken Irish Gin bottle and I’m Maimin’ your ass,
This ain’t left or right, this ain’t political
Even people I agree with is pitiful
distraction, carnival attraction, parasites
Like those things crawling between Mariah Carey’s thighs
But what I find the most pernicious is I can’t even dis this
without being dismissed
As just another part of the vicious
 Circle, but I’m still going to murk you
(Ain’t that something?)
99 percent of all the opinions you’re emittin’
Is a suit-and-tie version of “Oh no he di’int!”
Making people side-trip for scrilla earnin’
While the country’s burning
You’re like Suge Knight the vanilla version
Just give the facts , leave ad hominem attacks
For rappers to use, that’s our forte:
I stuck 2 double-headers in your sister and called it foreplay
Supreme court just ruled that bribery is fair
You don’t care, you’re busy covering Donald Trump’s hair
You ain’t talk to the business that went bankrupt
You ain’t talk to the people unemployed as fuck
You ain’t talk to people that got their ass foreclosed on
But those same people always turn your fuckin’ show on
Like a moron!
Maybe because you say outrageous shit you don’t even believe
Like an over the hill rapper with a new CD starting beef.
Instead you talk to experts,
Whose only qualification for explaining the situation
Is they in debt to the same corporations
 you said you was investigatin’
that’s why I been ruminatin’ on
Fumigatin’ this infestation on mass communication
I’m the biggest Satan you ever seen, you’re a worm I’m a sadist
Pick up the kerosene and Byrne you like David.
Put a tube in that ass, without no lube in that ass,
Pour some gas in and I’m straight Freddy Krugin’ that ass.
So if you see a stompin’ weirdo
With a composite bow
Dropping bodies with a Gibson hollow-body
It should be obvious, ho
That I finally snapped
Deadin’ beheadin’
scream dream Uncle Teddin’ you
Sayonara, Toodle-oo!
Ox-throwin’ cross-bowin’ point and shoot at you
Straight up old-school Nugein’ you
Point a Mac and a Luger two
Gats, a ruger and a tool
And a switch at you
How the fuck did I get this many arms?
I must be Vish-i-nu
Look it up, chump
This ain’t no educational rap.
The way you babble on will get you Mesopotamian clapped.
That means I shoot you with PLO arms.
How you going to point at that white-board with no fore-arms?
You heard me:
If you keep on lecturin’ , I’ma keep on Lechterin’
I got a hankerin’ for  dismantlin’ this anchor-man
“piece by piece”
(Solo: King, solo: Hanneman)
Twist you up like an ampersand,
Somebody please call and ambulance
Ice-T’s the style, I shove my Black-n-Decker in
Blow your mind with the cordless kind
And then feed you an Excedrin
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