It’s Time for the Emperor to Rev Up His Own Sound Truck

It may have escaped your attention, but there is a fraternity of gentlemen in this country who wear military jumpsuits and drive around in large trucks emblazoned with the national insignia. They spew out high-decibel renditions of enka songs about the occupation of Manchuria or the conquest of Sakhalin, lovingly intercut with snatches of political speeches, the basic burden of which is that the sun — rising or otherwise — shines out of Japan's sweaty loincloth.

The aural and other activities of Japan's high-profile ultranationalists may be hard to ignore or even stomach, but they may have escaped your attention simply because they seem to have escaped the attention of other long-term Tokyo residents, most noticeably His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Akihito.

For the average foreigner who's unable to decipher the lurid kanji or interpret the megaphone-mangled marching lyrics, the failure to notice convoys of pseudo-military sound trucks barracking the embassies of China and Russia — or some pachinko parlor or "soapland" that didn't make this month's payments — may be partly excusable. This certainly isn't the case for the native population. They know exactly what's going on, but seem to deploy mental blind spots as big as beach umbrellas every time the ultras go by.

Perhaps the fine, democratic Western traditions of heckling and throwing overripe tomatoes and rotten eggs hasn't reached this far. Or, more likely, a trembling cocktail of terror, timidity, fear, trepidation, panic, agitation, nervousness and the jitters, combined with a nasty case of sweaty palms, shivers down the spine, quaking knees, and a yellow streak a mile wide, prevents the average Japanese person exercising their democratic right to mock these absurd pseudo-fascist nonentities.

As the occasional bit of violence lies behind the puffed-up bluster of the ultras, there may be a touch of justification for such cowardice. But what can't be so easily explained is the degree to which Japan's establishment allows this national embarrassment to both contaminate the air with sound pollution and, at a time of rising oil prices, permits the prodigious waste of gasoline represented by sound-truck convoys. In particular, the silence of the emperor himself on this issue is deafening, as, from what I can tell, most of this nonsense seems to be done in his name.

Groups like Nihon Seinensha ("Japan Youth Society"), Seikijuku ("Sane Thinkers School") and Nihon Kominto ("Japan Emperor's Citizen Party") all claim to revere and respect the emperor. However, in addition to their almost touching devotion to the living symbol of the nation, most of these groups also have seedy links to yakuza gangs and have also been involved in acts of violence and intimidation.

The Nagasaki-based Seikijuku, for example, were behind the 1990 near-fatal shooting of the mayor of Nagasaki, after he suggested, not unreasonably, that the Emperor Hirohito, commander-in-chief of the Imperial Army and Navy at the time, bore some responsibility for World War II.

In June 2000, the Japan Youth Society attacked the offices of a magazine that ran a headline supposedly "disrespecting" Princess Masako. In 2006, another group launched an arson attack on the house and office of LDP lawmaker Koichi Kato because he had been vocal in criticizing then Prime Minister Koizumi's visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

In all these cases, there was little in the way of condemnation from the Imperial household. Perhaps the emperor regards it as "good form" to avoid speaking out on issues like these, even when they involve serious crimes committed in his name.

I have read that he is a noted authority on goby fish and, recently, even delivered a lecture on the classifications of different subspecies of that particular fish family to the Linnean Society of London. While hobnobbing with foreign dignitaries and fellow fish fanciers must be fun, surely the emperor’s first duty is to the comfort and safety of his people. So, rather than speaking to the champagne and caviar set about the differences between mudskippers and prawn gobies, perhaps the emperor should take time out from perusing his ichthyological textbooks and address the awkward question of thugs and bullies who act up and then pass on the credit to him and his lineage.

In other words, it's high time the emperor put Japan's ultranationalists in an impossible situation by clearly and repeatedly stating that he disapproves of all their activities. Said often and loudly enough, this will force the ultras to either listen and mend their ways or, instead, become the ones with beach umbrella-sized mental blind spots, pretending that he's not really there.

Japan Today
29th July, 2008
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