REQUIEM FOR SHINTARO ISHIHARA
Shintaro Ishihara, an author turned politician who passed away at age 89 on February 1, was a larger than life figure. When speaking seriously he could be polite and sensitive, but he often hid his true nature behind a sharp tongue.
On the afternoon of October 12, 2007, I called on him at the Governor’s Office in Tokyo accompanied by international affairs expert Tadae Takubo. Our purpose was to entice Ishihara to join the board of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals (JINF), a privately financed conservative think tank committed to “rejuvenating Japan” we were planning to inaugurate later that year. I was to head it as director, with Takubo as deputy director.
Ishihara, born in September1932, and Takubo, born in February 1933. were contemporaries. They respected each other, and their thoughts and beliefs were similar. When we finished explaining our mission, Ishihara said promptly: “I will be pleased to join you.” Without even asking a question, Ishihara quickly added: “This sort of organization requires plenty of funds. You may contact me any time.” Many people cooperated with us in setting up the JINF, but Ishihara was among the few who were thoughtful enough to care about our financial situation.
The three of us shared a common understanding of a broad range of problems postwar Japan must address, including actions that must be taken expeditiously to achieve JINF’s objectives. About two months later, in December, our operations got underway on schedule with a humble opening ceremony.
Over the years I interviewed Ishihara on a variety of occasions. In August 2015, I had the pleasure of hosting him on my “Genron” Friday prime time Internet news show marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Greater East Asia War. He had retired from politics the previous year after serving as a Diet member (1972-95), Governor of Tokyo (1999-2012), and again as a Diet member (2012-14). Shortly before appearing on my show, he published Standing at the Crossroads of History: Looking Back at Japan’s 70 Postwar Years (June 12, 2017; PHP Institute. Hereafter, Crossroads).
Our conversations almost always led quite naturally to memories of the war. I remember him remarking on one occasion as regards Japan’s “peace” constitution: “The peace that postwar Japanese are enjoying today is a peace for slaves, candidly speaking—like security for a kept mistress.”
Ishihara recalled that, when he shared this view with Joseph Nye, his friend and a Harvard professor, the scholar asked him to “refrain from referring to mistresses” in discussing Japan’s postwar peace and stability. How then should he put it, Ishihara asked Nye, and the reply was “a good friend would be fine.” “Don’t be ridiculous, I told Nye,” Ishihara recalled with a wry smile.
Shallow Perception of History
I believe Ishihara was essentially correct in referring to the peace savored by postwar Japanese as a peace for slaves. The peace the Japanese gained without effort during the American occupation (1945-52) has indeed cost us dearly. What that means is self-explanatory if one cares to read the liberal mass circulation Asahi Shimbun. On the day I spoke with Ishihara, I was annoyed by an interview on the front page of the Asahi’s evening edition dated August 3, 2015, in which popular actor Shun Oguri, who was 32 at the time, asked legendary Zero fighter pilot Kaname Harada, then 98:
“What made you realize that you were a killer during the war?”
Was this an appropriate question to ask of someone who put his life on the line to fulfill his duties for the nation? Asked by a reporter what Oguri thought he would personally be able to do in response to the pilot’s comments, Oguri replied:
“I believe I will be able to love others more, and refrain from doing to others what I think they wouldn’t like me to do to them.”
Oguri’s remarks were very shallow, showing no historical knowledge or understanding of Japan’s war. Ishihara observed:
“I reckon that his perception is a reflection of the easy values nurtured through our postwar education. I also think the spirit demonstrated in his remarks is attributable to the American-drafted constitution bestowed on us.”
Ishihara further stated:
“I take pity on any young Japanese who cannot help but ask this kind of question.” I could not agree with him more.
One may be critical of the wartime government’s policies that led Japan to a devastating defeat, but we Japanese today must offer our heartfelt gratitude to that older generation for the sacrifices they made to protect their loved ones and their homeland. And we must carry forward their thoughts and sentiments as a precious message for a stronger, more mature Japan.
On that day, our discussion about that older generation inevitably led to memories of Tome Torihama, known as a “mother” of Kamikaze pilots at the Imperial Army air base town of Chiran, Kagoshima Prefecture, during the closing phase of the war.
Ishihara told me that he first met Tome in 1966. Some 500 young pilots were stationed briefly at the Imperial Army’s flying school in the small southern Japanese town before flying to Okinawa on suicide missions. Married and childless, Tome ran a restaurant near the army barracks and took the pilots under her wing like her own sons. The pilots, all in their late teens or early 20s, saw an image of their own mothers in the loving care Tome gave them. Their lives hanging in the balance, the pilots adored and trusted her so much that not a few of them entrusted her with their final letters to their families. Ishihara writes in Crossroads:
“One pilot departed for Okinawa promising her that, when he died in the southern seas the next day he would be sure to turn into a firefly, as he loved fireflies, and fly back to Chiran right away to see her again. At about the same time of his presumed death the following day, Tome saw in the backyard of her restaurant a lone firefly flying out of a well under a trellis of wisteria withering in winter.”
After the war, Tome continued to run her restaurant, which now doubled as an inn. One evening, she took a stroll around the area where the flying school barracks had once stood, stopping before a spacious field of canola flowers on the now abandoned airfield. Ishihara explained what Tome saw:
Calling Prime Minister to Task
“Tome-san told me: ‘As it became dark that evening, I saw many onibi (atmospheric ghost lights in Japanese legends) blazing up across the field of canola flowers all at once. It was like turning on hundreds of gas lights at the same time…and the flames were…’ A middle-aged waitress brought me tea then, and Tome-san said ‘She was with me at the time. We were taking a walk together that evening.’ So I asked her, ‘Did you see onibi with Tome-san?’ She replied: ‘Yes, I did. To tell the truth, I was horrified at first, but it was nevertheless so beautiful and awe-inspiring.’ I thought it was an incredible story.”
When Tome died at 89 in 1992, Ishihara went to see then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.
He said to the prime minister, “Miyazawa-san, please give Tome-san the People’s Honor Award.”
“Who?” the prime minister asked.
Miyazawa initially said he didn’t know who Tome-san was, Ishihara told me. “So I started explaining,” he went on, “but he actually knew about her. And yet he told me he couldn’t give her the award because, if he gave it to her then, he would have to keep giving the award to others endlessly. So I said he didn’t have to do so endlessly because there was only one Tome-san. I emphasized to him that it was important for the government to recognize this great Japanese woman who near the end of the war was adored as their mother by so many young pilots who valiantly gave their lives to the nation. I told Miyazawa that, by showering the young Zero pilots with her benevolent affections, Tome-san significantly redeemed the sacrifices they made and the sorrow of their bereaved families. ‘And you still didn’t want to give her the award. Why?” I asked him. Finally, he said that he wouldn’t because he simply didn’t feel like it.
“So I told Miyazawa, ‘if you don’t feel like it, so be it,’ adding that I wouldn’t ask him anymore. Then, addressing him as ‘omae-san’ (a Japanese expression used when talking down to others), I told him he would ‘someday incur divine punishment and die by the roadside,’ as it were. And sure enough, the moment came less than a year later.”
He was referring to the fact that Miyazawa lost the support of power broker Ichiro Ozawa for attempting to break the backbone of the ruling Liberal-Democratic Party (LDP). In June 1993, Miyazawa was forced to dissolve his cabinet, suffering a humiliating setback in the Lower House election for the LDP two month later. Remarked Ishihara:
“Like the onibi that Tome-san saw blazing up in the canola flower field in Chiran, the emotions of those who devoted their lives to Japan are still alive. Their precious sacrifices could not easily be redeemed by the Emperor’s visits to Saipan or other former battle fields to pray for the souls of war-dead, although I myself feel such visits are appropriate. Above all else, I would like for the Emperor to visit Yasukuni Shrine. After all, he is the head of state and I am convinced that his much-awaited visit to Yasukuni will resolve numerous problems related to the war.”
I earnestly hope that we will be able to come to grips with the emotions behind the words and deeds of Ishihara and see an imperial visit take place. I hope, too, that this will once day lead to a revision of our constitution.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 987 in the February 17, 2022 issue of The Weekly Shincho)