The Huffington Post
“ ‘Tokyo As a Leader for Peace, for Human Rights, and for the Environment’: Interview With Hattori Ryoichi, the Internationalist Japanese Progressive”
One of the most articulate defenders of workers’ rights in a conservative age, Hattori Ryoichi has served as a meaningful democratic alternative in Japan. Hattori served in the Japanese House of Representatives as a representative for Osaka’s third district (elected in 2009). He currently serves as director of international relations for the Social Democratic Party (Shaminto).
Hattori has engaged in a wide range of actions to defend Japan’s constitutional commitment to peace and opposes sending the self -defense forces overseas.
A close friend of former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio, Hattori has thrown himself into promoting close exchanges with the other nations of Asia, especially Korea and China. He has led delegations of Japanese politicians and NGO members to Korea and China to promote a broader dialog. Hattori is an outspoken advocate for a full accounting for Japanese crimes during the colonial period, seeking proper compensation for all victims of Japanese imperialism, not just for Japanese citizens.
Hattori fought for the removal of the Futenma U.S. Marine base in Okinawa and he opposes the construction of a new base at Henoko. He has argued for the revision of the US-Japan agreement on bases, and for compensation for the victims of accidents and U.S. military wrongdoing related to the bases.
Hattori attended Kyoto University in the 1960s but had no particular commitment to social justice. He saw the efforts of Chinese students to change society when he visited China in 1969 and decided that he had a duty to do his best for society. He left college his sophomore year to work with underpaid laborers and never looked back.
Interview with Hattori Ryoichi
Sadly, we see acts of terrorism all over the world. And in the middle of the investigations, before we even know what actually happened, various forces step in to use events for political purposes. The trend is extremely worrisome. What are your thoughts?
I certainly share that concern. After the recent attacks in France, the Abe administration and the ruling party core members started pushing for a “conspiracy crimes” (kyobozui) bill in the Diet. The bill proposed that even those who did not have any connection to a “terrorist” act could be treated as criminals just for having spoken with the parties involved. This bill is deeply disturbing. We see a radical strengthening of the powers of the police and security forces in Japan that will create a far more brutal society.
At the same time, the spread of anti-immigrant xenophobia in France and the United States makes me think that what we really need is a network of committed citizens around the world to promote a balanced and rational perspective.
Particularly worrisome is the massive increase in traditional military spending in Northeast Asia these days. On the one hand, the recent Paris Climate Change Conference in November of 2015 made it clear that a massive budget will be required to respond to climate change. So it is clear that if we respond to climate change there simply will not be any budget left over for weapons. And yet, in the face of this reality, we find an even greater emphasis on a military build-up. How do you understand this mentality?
It is a tremendous tragedy that at this moment of global crisis humanity risks once again falling into a confrontation between great powers that will lead to a dangerous arms race. Such a mentality should be a relic of the twentieth century, but we find many today who are obsessed with this militarized view of the world.
The continued division of the Korean Peninsula reinforces the traditional “Cold War” mentality in the region. In the post-war period, Japan embraced its peace constitution to push forward with policies that did not go beyond military strategy for engagement, but with the militarist policies of the Abe administration, we are seeing something quite different. The passage of the “war law’ (senoho) is a hostile move that will undermine and destroy peace and stability in East Asia.
Japan has amassed an enormous amount of plutonium and in effect uses that supply (which can readily be converted to weapons) as an implied form of nuclear deterrence. That act in itself increases the risk of a domino effect that will bring on a nuclear arms race.
The cost of welfare for our aging society is increasing massively. So the budget that can be used for the military clearly is quite limited. Moreover, if Japan follows recent requests from the United States that the self-defense forces be dispatched around the world in response to regional threats, military expenditures spiral up.
Finally, the costs of mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change will clearly require a massive budget. But the required debate extends beyond just increasing the budget for climate change; we must completely restructure our economy.
It is strange how few people these days take a long-term view on contemporary issues. CEOs in corporations think about only profits for the next quarter; politicians, bureaucrats, and even professors are increasingly focused only on their own careers.
But the problems like the nuclear accident in Fukushima and the future of agriculture in an age of climate change are extremely serious, but can only be treated in a long-term manner.
The degeneration of politics into a tool for gaining fleeting opportunity ushered in an age of politicians who see responding to the ups and downs in statistics about their popularity as their main job. Long term vision and planning becomes impossible. Today, the population of Japan is 130 million, but by 2050 it is expected to fall to only 90 million; no politician is looking ahead that far.
It is clear that we will be confronted with serious problems in terms of available labor and welfare expenditures at that time. And we will also have to revise the very concept of economic growth. There is a group of scholars in Japan who have started a “research project for a reduced society” in which they consider how our economy and our lives will evolve in the future.
One important point overlooked by politicians is the future of agriculture and Japanese self-sufficiency in food. In this respect the so-called TTP (Trans Pacific Partnership) promoted by the United States poses a very serious problem. The TTP will result in the destruction of farming, cattle, forestry, and fishing as occupations in Japan. Recent studies by the Japanese government indicate that Japanese food self-sufficiency will plummet from the current low of 39% to 13% in the future.
But what exactly is the Abe Administration thinking when it comes to the security? The threat of traditional war has faded since the end of the Cold War and the majority of Japanese oppose altering the peace constitution. And yet there are efforts made to play up the danger of confrontation with China.
But the true crisis is climate change itself and it will require enormous expenditures. We literally do not have any money left over to prepare for some imagined future conflict with China. We need those funds to respond to climate change.
Currently, the defense budget for Japan has surpassed five trillion yen, a new high water mark driven by the militarization pursued by the Abe administration. But the real challenges we face are not addressed in any way by that budget. First we have an aging society with few children. The response has been to push the consumption tax up to 10% and slash pensions and support for health and welfare. Such policies have brought around a new level of discontent among citizens.
China is Japanese largest trading partner. It does not make any sense to make plans to fight a war with one’s biggest trading partner. But the Abe administration seems to think it is necessary to cook up some confrontation with China in order achieve their goal of modifying article nine of the constitution.
I am afraid we can only interpret Abe’s policy as the traditional political strategy of creating an enemy in order to solidify one’s domestic base of support.
We simply do not have the luxury of using our limited funds to send the self-defense forces out around the world. The Abe Administration seems to take imagined security threats much more seriously than real security threats.
The freeze in Japan-Korea relations has resulted in a considerable reduction in cultural exchange. Why do these conflicts keep coming up?
President Kim Daejoong and Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo argued for a forward-thinking new relationship between the two countries which was best represented by the joint hosting of the World Cup in 2002. The Korean Wave inspired closeness between the two nations. We have seen a marked upswing in cultural exchanges between the two nations since then.
But repeated Japanese official ministerial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine soured those overtures. Abe used a “cabinet decision” (kakugi kettei) to permit the employment of the deceptive new policy of “collective self-defense” which allows for the self-defense forces to operate around the world.
Not only does Japan refuse to account for its past aggressions and its colonial occupation of its neighbors, it brazenly acts as if such historical events had never happened. Japanese schools do not try to teach the truth to young Japanese and there is a culture emerging that encourages hate speech aimed at foreigners. Such efforts will most likely continue to be criticized by the international community.
So what can we do? There remain many intellectuals with a conscience in Japan who have real influence. Japan’s politicians, scholars and other intellectuals must avoid being swayed by the policies of the present government. We must reach out to our colleagues and civil society proponents across East Asia, strengthening an exchange of opinions on a regular basis and cementing our pacifist principles across the region, including denuclearization in all its forms. This exchange needs to include young people, and we need to make it local as well as national, with local governments and politicians included in the dialogue.
Obviously it will take time, and the hurdles will be high. But I think that eventually these fundamental changes in our concept of security will come to pass.
If Japan wants to play a leadership role in the 21st century, what should the first step be?
I think that Japan needs to show itself a leader for peace, for human rights and for the environment.
Regarding peace, we know that Japan starts out with a historic peace constitution and that this ideal can and should be spread throughout the world.
The peace constitution stipulates that Japan will not use military force to resolve international disagreements and that it will not maintain an army. The commitment to use diplomatic means to create peace is the highest value in human society which Japan’s peace constitution embodies. .
We need a proper understanding of what preceded peaceful diplomacy, forthrightly reflecting on it and apologizing for it. We need to teach the next generations about our historic mistakes so that they are not repeated.
The importance of human rights goes without saying. We should not have special classes in our society, but rather every single citizen should be valued and his or her welfare properly taken care of. That is not the reality of Japan today. There remains tremendous discrimination and hateful rhetoric against Okinawans, Ainu, ethnic Koreans and ethnic Chinese (many of whom are native speakers of Japanese) in Japan.
And then there’s Japan’s mandate to serve as a global leader for the environment. Japan has a climate blessed with moderate weather, green forests and plenty of fresh water. It is entirely possible for Japan to supply all its energy needs using renewable energy without using nuclear power or fossil fuels. Japan is a technological force that can lead the world in achieving 100% renewable energy quickly, mitigating climate change as much as possible.
Can Japan lead? Japan has the capacity to rise to the occasion. However, the politics of Japan have been moving in the opposite direction the last few years. We are increasingly losing the trust of the international community because of our actions. That is why it is so important that those who are committed to a better future in Japan do their best.