JAPAN: A Letter from Tokyo


Hi all! My mom tells me that in Japan, it’s a tradition to start a letter by addressing the season.  So: For the past three weeks or so, Japan has been getting warnings of typhoons 9, 10, 11, and the upcoming 12. Do not be fooled; this has not been keeping the weather any cooler.

On the bright side, the greenery here is vibrant (don’t mean to rub it in, California), providing us much welcomed relief from the Japanese version of a concrete jungle. Nevertheless, the typhoons are probably making it more humid than usual. In 95 degree weather with 95% humidity, our shirts stick to our backs within 3 minutes of walking.  Luckily, we can pop into the underground and tunnel (aka the metro) to beat the heat.

The inescapable condition that is chasing us and irritably sticking to our backs more than anything is the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, also called the Security Policy. It is talked about on every TV channel, social media platform, and, I assume, most households.  It permeates every aspect of our lives, including our work environments. This includes Gaiko, the magazine I’ve been interning at this summer.

For those who are unaware, Article 9 was written into Japan’s constitution after WWII and states that “…the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right,” and that “…land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained.” Therefore, instead of a conventional army, Japan has the Self Defense Force (SDF) to protect the nation if it ever comes under attack.

What Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to do is expand the limits of the SDF.  According to a Japanese foreign ministry statement, the SDF will be able to “support activities to armed forces of foreign countries in situations where the international community is collectively addressing for peace and security.” In short, we could go to war, if the war’s purpose is to defend Japan. But again, PM Abe could also expand the limits of the meaning of “defense.”

On the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII this August, PM Abe is expected to deliver a statement about never taking part in war again and expressing new regret for having ever done so.  PM Abe is supposed to reiterate certain words said in previous PM statements, such as “invade,” “deep remorse,” and “aggression.” But what he will really be saying in the upcoming PM statement sounds ominous and worrying, especially since he is sticking to the new policy. Many people who are furious with the policy initiative and the PM are standing outside the National Diet building protesting with banners that have slogans such as “NO WAR” written in bold letters.

As a flower child of the 21st century, I am not for the bill, obviously.  I believe that any step to militarize, even if it is only a seemingly harmless extension of self defense, will only increase tension within the already apprehensive region. Obviously, I haven’t personally witnessed the immediate consequences of what WWII had done to Japan.  I have, however, read about it, watched various TV programs, and, most importantly, continually hear about it from my grandparents who make sure that I know all about it. I grew up with my grandpa’s words of “we must not participate in war” echoing in my head.  Japan has also been making an effort for the past 70 decades to never forget the suffering the war has caused.

There should be ways to sustain peace other than PM Abe’s current pitch of “proactively contributing to peace.”  To me, this sounds like a euphemism for “offensive attack,” rather than “self-defense.”  With Japan’s sustained economic power, upcoming Olympic event, and high culture, I do think there are ways to contribute to a lessening of tensions and an improvement in relations in the region without climbing back up the military ladder.

Whatever the government winds up doing, I doubt that the societal mentality that makes Japanese people so polite and caring for others will fade, much less be destroyed. This mentality that has caught the attention of so many tourists has more power to contribute to peace than anything else.  I have faith that this country will be all right.

Ms. Takeda is interning in Tokyo and will return to LMU/LA after a fall internship in Paris to spruce up her French to accompany her Japanese.

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