Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I have great admiration for Satsuo Matsumoto’s August 20th letter “Left keeps trying to disgrace Japan” because conceiving and
executing such a piece of writing that is so obtuse is almost a work of art. No, it is a work of art! It is a work of brilliant surrealism
that I will frame for my wall. For the record, it was home-grown Japanese political rightists that took Japan into the Pacific War and brought disgrace down upon the country. Matsumoto’s blaming of the left is like blaming crime victims for their suffering. Matsumoto san must hail from an alternate universe where everything is in reverse from what it is in this one. If he is so distraught by the contents of The Japan Times then Matsumoto is free to discontinue reading it, and avoid being lumped with us other retarded aliens. But I must say, in Matsumoto I recognize a kindred spirit of sorts. Long live retarded aliens!
Printed on Sunday, August 23, 2009 as “Letter from an alternate universe.”
Satsuo Matsumoto’s letter was one of a couple that appeared in the Thursday, August 9th paper in reference to an August 15th editorial “Dangerous revisionist sentiment” on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of WWII. Another letter appearing on the same day on this topic was Ed Moreno’s “The need for ‘revisionist’ notions.” And yet another, “Pacifist tolerance unrealistic” by Andreas Kolb was in reference to the August 16th article “Aso expresses war remorse;‘never again’.” August is the season for back-and-forth views on the war, especially on the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Ed Moreno called for a mature examination of our historical assumptions of the war’s propriety, lending sympathy to Japanese revisionist thinking by reminding us that no matter how bad Westerners and Western historians think Japan’s behavior was during the war, ours wasn’t that great, either. He expressed himself much more maturely than Matsumoto did and, predictably, more rationally and with greater emotional maturity, too.
The editorial, “Dangerous revisionist sentiment” was about former Air Self-Defense force Chief of Staff General Toshio Tamogami who was forced to retire last year because of his bold views on Japan’s total innocence re the Pacific War. In fact, I wrote a letter about General Tamogami at the time, and it was printed as “Dumb remarks deserve pity,” November 9, 2008.
General Tamogami recently has gone further in his statements than I recall him ever going before so that now, on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender, he is actively espousing the acquisition of nuclear weapons to defend itself, and it is this that Matsumoto was addressing. I think in retirement General Tamogami is ratcheting up the tone and breadth of his rhetoric. I understand that as a strategy to get at least some of one’s views acknowledged as legitimate after encountering broad disregard because I do it myself. I mean, I often feel pushed to greater extremism just to get even a small degree of recognition.
Satsuo Matsumoto’s use of the phrase “retarded aliens” reminded me of Susan McCaffery’s July 13, 1997 letter “Misfit foreigners in Japan.” Most of the reader of The Japan Times are Japanese, not foreigners, yet it remains easy to think of Mastsumoto applying the “retarded aliens” epithet to foreigners just like the “misfit”epithet twelve years ago. Of course, McCaffery was writing about the inability of foreigners to assimilate into Japanese society and the resulting difficulties we sometimes encounter when renting apartments, etc.
Chris Pulte of Yokohama wrote on Thursday, August 27th (“Bit too close to the mainstream”), that my characterization of Satsuo Matsumoto’s thinking as being from a different universe inaccurately underestimates the extent to which that kind of revisionist thinking prevails among Japanese - according to his experience.
He writes, “ ... in my universe it is something uncomfortably cloise to common knowledge that Japan was not responsible for the war, the Rape of Nanking was a fiction, Western environmentalists do not really care about whales but only use whaling as an excuse to bash Japan.”
I don’t doubt that such ideas are widespread, but I am truly afraid of the prospect that they are“common.” Still ... If it’s true it is a damning condemnation of Japanese education over the last sixty years. Or, a compliment, depending on one’s perspective.
As some writers do, Pulte wrote of his “many years” in Japan, as if that gives him credibility - or, more credibility than me. I agree that one’s length of habitation in Japan tends to give greater credibility to their comments and observations. I have been here for many years myself, but I have never written to the paper how long I have lived here because I don’t want it to become like a childish contest between letter writers about who has lived here the longest, who speaks Japanese the best, and therefore who is most correct, etc.
The same day, Timothy Khaki of Tokyo wrote criticizing Matsumoto for the shrillness of his tone - a very good and accurate point, I thought.