Chapter 76 – The Rightwing Strikes


1. The NBR Discussion Site
2. Discussing the Megumi affair
3. Enter the Viper: Komori Yoshihisa
4. Sankei Shimbun
5. The Exclusion Begins
6. The Mitsui Connection
7. The Bone Pointed
8. Skin-deep Regret

My Japan career had begun through trying to explain the instinctively emotional behaviour of the Japanese.

As fate would have it, that very same emotionalism would put an end to my Japan career almost half a century later. 

1. The NBR Discussion Site

I had long been a contributor to the mildly academic, US-based NBR (National Bureau of Asian Research) site devoted to Japanese affairs.  

I was debating Japanese politics with a US contributor. 

I had said, what any serious student of Japan would have realised –  that Tokyo had been using the claimed abduction of some Japanese citizens in the seventies and eighties by North Korean operatives as an excuse to refuse relations with North Korea. 

And it was doing this, even though Pyongyang had admitted the abductions, had apologised and had returned the surviving abductees.

2. Discussing the Megumi affair

Someone on the site in the US had come back asking whether I was denying Tokyo’s claims about the Megumi Yokota issue (Tokyo’s claim that a young girl, Yokoto Megumi, abducted in 1977 at age 13 was still in North Korean captivity but who had in fact died in 1994). 

Since this was an issue I had researched in depth, and since the NBR questioner was a foreigner I felt safe in saying that Tokyo’s efforts to create a ‘release Megumi’ appeal were phoney.

North Korean sources had claimed Megumi had married a North Korean and later suicided after producing a daughter. There was no reason to believe they were lying.

They had also long said Megumi’s parents could come to North Korea or any third nation to meet Megumi’s daughter, yet another proof they were not lying since the parents could easily question the daughter.

But Tokyo had said there should be no meeting. The only reason it would do this was because it had wanted to keep the truth of the tragic Megumi story concealed.

Then when Tokyo finally did allow a meeting (in Mongolia in 2014) it was clear from the parents’ report of the meeting they had not even asked about Megumi. 

In other words the parents knew she was not alive, which meant Tokyo’s propaganda was false. 

At a Tokyo symposium two years later I was able to meet Megumi’s mother and asked her just that question —why in the report of the Mongolia visit there had been no mention of Megumi.  She did not deny the implication.  

She said she joined in these government ‘save the abductee’ campaigns in the hope this would help other parents of claimed abductees.

It was on this basis I had felt able to make a rebuttal posting to the NBR contributor saying that Tokyo’s propaganda claims about Megumi’s fate were untrue and it was likely many other abductee claims were equally untrue. 

Regardless, Tokyo had established a large bureaucracy devoted to preserving the Megumi myth for political purposes — promoting ‘save Megumi’ slogans, encouraging Megumi songs and poems, collecting Megumi memorabilia, and to drag the Megumi parents, together with the memorabilia, around the globe to meet presidents, prime ministers etc. in a never-ending effort to demonise North Korea.   

3. Enter the Problem Maker: Komori Yoshihisa

And there the matter would have ended if a well-known rightwing activist, Komori Yoshihisa, had not set out to write a half page, front-page report in the strongly rightwing Sankei Shimbun about my small NBR posting

Komori was claiming that as a professor at a partly government funded university I was being allowed to poison the minds of young Japanese.

Komori had a reputation for attacking progressives who in any way were connected with government-funded operations, and it seemed I was included. 

He had managed to destroy the position of a noted scholar, Tamamoto Masaru, who had written a mildly critical article about how foreigners saw Japan in an article for the government funded Institute of International Affairs 

In my case Komori claimed the NBR website forum was a notorious hangout for anti-Japan scholars (in fact it was funded by the US government and headed by a prominent US military person). 

(But it did carry articles and commentary carefully critical of Japan’s policies.) 

He said I had claimed the entire abductee affair was ‘concocted’ (dechiage). (In fact I had said that Tokyo’s talk about Megumi’s continued existence and suffering in North Korea was concocted). 

How was it that people like me were allowed to have a position in a partly government funded university where I could poison the minds of Japan’s young students, he thundered rhetorically?

4. Sankei Shimbun

I had known Sankei Shimbun for a long time. It was originally supposed to be a newspaper devoted to the economy. 

When I was working in Nihon Keizai it was seen as a poor relation competitor trying desperately to make its way by beating up business stories Nihon Keizei had ignored. 

(Because it was cheap I had used it once for a publicity advertisement about a Japan supplement my employer, The Australian, was about to run.) 

Gradually it had realised that to survive it needed a drastic revamp. It began to move heavily into rightist defence and military threat stories.  

Circulation began to boom. Far more than I had realised there was a readership for this kind of militaristic material in Japan.

In sales numbers it was beginning to challenge Nihon Keizai.

It was the ideal outlet for someone like Komori, an English-speaker with strong US contacts, for attacks on people like myself seen as having strayed from the official Japan foreign policy line.

5. The Exclusion Begins

Quickly I could feel the shutters come down.   For the first time I began to feel something I had written about so much – the tribal ability of the authorities and the media to create nation-wide, all-powerful ‘atmospheres’ (kuuki) to sway popular opinion in the direction they wanted.

Now it was now working against me. 

Almost overnight invitations from the main lecture agencies ceased. 

That did not worry me too much since I was already getting sick of their boring lecture circuits with the constant travel and ritual audiences. 

But gradually I could feel hints of a big freeze against me moving into the society generally, into Mitsui for example 

6. The Mitsui Connection

In a bid to improve corporate governance, Tokyo at the time had been calling for the appointment of outside directors to company boards. 

From out of the blue had come a request for me to join the Board of Mitsui and Company. 

I was happy to accept; I had had a good relationship with Mitsui from The Australian days.

But the Sankei story broke only a few weeks after the formal appointment, and after Mitsu had already made the official announcement of my appointment.  

Regardless, soon a very polite Mitsui official was at my door with documents and papers for me to sign for my immediate resignation from the Board.   

I did not fight (though I guess I could have). Once again the Groucho Marx dictum came to the rescue – why bother to want to stay with an outfit stupid enough, not so much as to hire me but to want to dismiss me for such a bogus nationalistic reason.

But they did offer some attractive alternatives so I agreed to leave peacefully. 

As for the damage Sankei had done to my reputation?  Go cry in your sleep, is the usual Japanese advice.

Sankei, like all rightist publications, refuses to publish replies to whatever slanders or attacks it cares to run. 

And lawyers are no use in Japan.

I was literally hung out to dry without any hope of rebuttal, or support.

(Years later it was to be revealed that the entire Megumi and other abductee fables were a deliberate move by Abe Shinzo nationalists in collusion with US neo-cons to make sure North Korea remained excluded from international society.) *

* Top Secret Japan North Korea Negotiations, by Masuda Tsuyoshi (Ron So Sha, 2023)

Fortunately my university held firm, although even there I could smell the hints of ‘I told you so’ disapproval from the fairly rightwing faculty which Minejima had put together over the years.  

But our personal friendship allowed me to hang on till time and other circumstances ran out. 

He died soon after, mainly from the overwork in creating his new  university I suspect.

Elsewhere in Japan I had become persona non grata.

7. The Bone Pointed

Australia’s aborigines have the custom whereby if the tribal witch-doctor points a bone at a member of the tribe seen as breaking the rules of the tribe (or for any other reason), that member is supposed to wander off into the desert and die.

Japan has an equally tribal equivalent – mura hachibu. Originally it meant the undesirable person would be excluded from all village activities. 

Today it means you have broken the rules and are to be excluded, which was exactly what was happening to me.

It was a sad but decisive ending to a long career as a commentator and occasional opinion-former in Japan. 

Little did I foresee I personally would be the recipient of such vivid proof of Japan’s tribalism.

8. Skin-deep Regret 

But once again the regret was only skin deep.  I now had the chance to go off and do the things I wanted to do – write, travel, be the Boso farmer and developer I had always wanted to be etc. 

As for the sudden exclusion from the society I had been so close to for so long? To be honest, I had never really enjoyed the artificial existence of being guru to the Japanese Tribe. 

But the irony of being knifed by the very same tribal instincts that I had in a sense discovered never escaped me.