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11 September and the clash of civilizations: the role of the Japanese media and public discourse.

THE ATTACKS IN NEW YORK AND Washington on 11 September came as a tremendous shock to Japan. The majority of the population felt sympathy with the victims and understood to some extent the U.S. anger, which led to the emergence of a new formulation of "the war against terrorism". This general atmosphere allowed the Japanese government to take further steps toward legitimizing the overseas dispatch of its Self-Defense Forces (SDF), which had been a major public policy issue since the 1991 Gulf War. When war came to be seen as unavoidable, however, the traditional mind-set of Japanese pacifism started to set in, and a rejection of the "clash of the civilizations" thesis began to be expressed in public discourse. However, they did not reject the idea itself, but rejected its adoption to Japan; that is, Japan was seen to be outside of the two-worlds in conflict.

This general feeling of "having little involvement" may be partly due to the relatively small size of the Muslim community in Japan, which numbers only a few thousand people. Very few incidents of harassment or hate crimes against Muslims have been reported. This also indicates, in a way, that the understanding of Muslim society among the Japanese people is very poor. Here, the pacifists' logic runs as follows: we do not understand Islam nor Muslim society very well, and so we cannot pass a judgment before we learn about them. However, we know the U.S. well, and what is important for Japan is to examine our relations in order to not be a loser in this clash between "the U.S. and Islam." (1)

In this essay, I will begin by surveying political developments in Japan after 11 September, focusing especially on the debate on the overseas deployment of the SDF among policy-makers. In Part 2, I will compare the major discourses in the Japanese media regarding 11 September and "the war against terrorism." In the final part, I will look at how previous wars have defined the Japanese mind-set for facing the present situation, and how domestic factors dominated Japan's foreign policy decision-making.


The Immediate Reaction of the Government of Japan

The Japanese Government's first reaction was to present an appearance that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was devoting himself fully to this crisis. The aim of this policy was to avoid a repetition of the failure of his predecessor Yoshiro Mori. (2) Koizumi sent a message to U.S. President George W. Bush denouncing the attack as a "mean and outrageous act that cannot be forgiven," and stating that "I feel great anger." He followed by saying, "representing the people of Japan, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the US president and the people of the U.S."

Secondly, the government of Japan decided to tighten security at all important government institutions and U.S. bases. Defense Agency chief General Nakatani placed all SDF units on maximum alert to guard against possible attacks. Here, defects in the SDF legislation were revealed with regard to guarding U.S. military facilities in Japan. Though this was requested by the U.S., the existing SDF law did not allow it. In response, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) called for a legislative change, and the three ruling Parties (3) agreed to it on 18 September. Koizumi soon went much further; on 14 Sept., he mentioned that Japan planned to assist the U.S., though without the use of force, saying; "Japan will contemplate ways to provide as much assistance and co-operation as possible, once the U.S. takes specific steps."

The government policy to loosen restrictions on the activities of the SDF became obvious in Koizumi's announcement of the seven-point plan issued on 19 September 2001. He clearly stated that Japan would: (1) take steps to enable the SDF to provide logistical support to the U.S. military in the event of a retaliatory strike in areas such as medical services, transportation and logistics; (2) take steps to strengthen security measures at important facilities in Japan, including U.S. military bases; (3) dispatch SDF ships to gather information; (4) further strengthen international co-operation over immigration control; (5) provide humanitarian and economic aid to neighboring and involved countries, including the provision of emergency economic assistance to Pakistan and India; (6) take steps to help refugees, who might flee areas affected by the potential U.S. military action, possibly as part of humanitarian aid by the SDF; and (7) co-operate with other countries and take "appropriate steps" so that there would be no disorder in the economic systems of Japan or the rest of the world.

The first three points required fundamental changes to the legislative system surrounding the SDF. The third meant the deployment of an Aegis destroyer to the Indian Ocean to lend support to the U.S. retaliation. The Maritime SDF had already been preparing to dispatch ships as soon as possible, without waiting for the amendment of the laws. Finally on 5 October 2001, the government submitted three related bills: a bill for a new law to deal with terrorism, a bill to revise the SDF law, and a bill to revise the Japan Coast Guard law (See Appendix A for details of the contents). All three were approved by the Diet at the end of October. While these developments were taking place in the Diet, Japanese military C-130 transport aircraft were dispatched to lslamahad as early as 9 October 2001, in response to requests by the Office of the UNHCR. (4)

Reactions of the Opposition

Koizumi's seven-point plan and the successive legislative changes concerning the SDF turned out to be a significant watershed in the discussion on Japan's national defense and military policy since WWII. They received little resistance from the opposition parties compared to those during and after the Gulf War. It is true that clear rejection came from the JCP (Japan Communist Party) and SDP (Social Democratic Party), but these two groups had less influence in the Diet than they did in the days following the Gulf War. (5) There were also some within the LDP who voiced different opinions, including Hiromu Nonaka, a senior member of its leadership, but their number was limited.

On the other hand, Yukio Hatoyama, chief of the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan), the largest opposition grouping, expressed cautious support for the idea of creating new legislation, provided that a U.N. resolution be included as a prerequisite for dispatching the SDF, and that the transportation of weapons and ammunition be excluded from the types of support the SDF could offer. The DPJ's policy fluctuated several times in opposing the LDP's basic draft of the new law for the SDF. Initially, its condition for agreeing to it was the adoption of an additional U.N. resolution; then it insisted on revising the bills to ensure that the proposed legislation would be in effect for only one year. Lastly it said it would support the new legislation on condition that the bill be revised to require advance Diet approval for the dispatch of SDF overseas, instead of merely requiring the government to report such dispatches to the Diet. All these requests were rejected in the end, however. Watching its behavior, it seemed that the leadership of the DPJ was essentially in favor of Koizumi's ideas. Hatoyama himself said that "dispatching the SDF to provide support to the U.S. military strikes did not violate Japan's pacifist Constitution." (6) Rather, they tried to use this chance to change the power balance within the ruling coalition, as we will see later.

The Launch of the U.S Attack against Afghanistan

The initiation of the military attack against Afghanistan did not change the political situation in Japan significantly; it stirred strong anti-war feelings among the public, but only the JCP and SDP expressed concern toward the attack. The DPJ again took an ambiguous position, saying that it "understood" the U.S. actions against Afghanistan, but expressed concern about civilian casualties.

Koizumi accelerated his efforts to create a legal framework for dispatching the SDF while the fight in Afghanistan was still in its early stage, but he could not imagine that the situation would change so quickly. Following the revision of the SDF Law at the end of October 2001, the government hastily began to map out a Basic Plan for the SDF. Following deliberation it was decided that two supply ships would be dispatched to foreign territorial waters, as well as four destroyers, six Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) C-130 transport planes and one multiple purpose plane, and 1,500 personnel. Two Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) destroyers and a supply ship left for a two-month intelligence-gathering mission in the Indian Ocean, followed by the dispatch of three MSDF ships in the last week of November. Earlier in the month, the government had started pushing for the enactment of a bill to ease the restrictions on SDF activities in U.N. peacekeeping operations under the 1992 law. These changes would allow SDF personnel to use weapons not only to protect themselves but also to protect those "under their control," such as troops from other countries and U.N. and Red Cross officials.

All the efforts, however, came too late to make a "visible contribution" to the "fight against terrorism" in Afghanistan, which was beginning to ease following the collapse of Taliban regime in November 2001. Although a total of six ships were dispatched, the government finally decided not to send an Aegisequipped warship to the Indian Ocean. The revisions to the Peacekeeping Law were accepted in the Diet on 7 December 2001, but they were aimed not toward Afghanistan, but for East Timor. On 20 December 2001, it was announced that Japan would send a research mission to Pakistan to explore the possibility of lending support to mine clearing efforts in war-torn Afghanistan. However, this decision was withdrawn soon afterwards. In spite of these Japanese efforts the U.S. February 2002 list of countries who had contributed to the "fight against terrorism" neglected to recognize the role played by the Japanese government in the conflict. The U.S. administration later explained that it had simply forgotten to include Japan, and that it been an "unintentional mistake."

Pressure from the U.S.?

There were persistent rumors that pressure from the U.S. had been behind Koizumi's swift moves; however as early as 18 September 2001, the prime minister stressed that there had been "absolutely no" requests from the United States. Diplomatic sources, speaking anonymously claimed that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had made inquiries to the Japanese government through Japanese Ambassador to Washington Shunji Yanai, and Armitage was reported to have demanded that Japan "show the flag," a comment which caused controversy among the Japanese public. Koizumi kept highlighting Japan's own initiative and responsibility as a member of the international community, saying, for example, that "Japan will stand against terrorism with firm determination,"..."not only because it is an ally, but because Japan believes it should take part in efforts to eradicate terrorism as a member of the international community." In his opening speech for the extraordinary session of the Diet starting on 27 September 2001, he insisted that "the series of terrorist attacks in the U.S. are not only an attack on the U.S." but "represent a despicable attack on all of humankind." He continued that, "Japan will, in co-operation with the international community, take effective measures against this threat on its own initiative," as "the fight against terrorism is Japan's own challenge." (7)

What was the U.S. stance on this issue? On 5 October 2001, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker stressed that Washington had no intention of telling Japan what to do to support the U.S. The U.S. was, on the contrary, worried about stirring up a backlash in Japan over foreign pressure, which might put brakes on moves to revise Japan's security policy. President Bush expressed appreciation for Koizumi's seven-point plan and showed his understanding of the constraints of Japan's war-renouncing Constitution, when Koizumi visited Washington. On the other hand, there were splits between Japan and the U.S. over several points, such as the planned deployment of vessels from the SDF to the Indian Ocean. (8) Gaps were also noticed in finalizing the Basic Plan on November 17, 2001. At the request of the U.S., the Japanese government hastily added clauses providing for Japan's direct supply at sea and free supply of goods to US-led forces. In November, Howard Baker expressed his disappointment with Japan's failure to send an Aegis destroyer to Afghanistan, saying, "I am disappointed, perhaps, that the Aegis did not accompany the other forces Japan sent."

In the end, the greatest expectations of Japan were for its economic and financial contribution to the "fight against terrorism." At the APEC meeting on 20 October 2001, President Bush said that he definitely wanted Japan to take part in reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan after the U.S. triumphed over terrorism, "taking advantage of its experience in helping rehabilitate war-ravaged Cambodia." Thus, the U.S. preferred using Tokyo as the site for an international donors' conference on Afghan reconstruction, and expected Japan to contribute financial and other forms of aid. At the opening of the conference on 21 January 2002, Koizumi stressed "we must eliminate the conditions that allow terrorism to take root in order to eradicate it," and "it is essential that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan be built." He offered up to $500 million over the first 30 months of reconstruction for land-mine removal, refugee resettlement, education, health care and women's rights in Afghanistan.


Whenever incidents take place that closely involve Japan's defense policy, every media outlet in Japan is obliged to clarify its stance toward the pacifist notion held throughout the post WWII era. The current crisis was no exception; Japanese major mass media groups diverged in their notions of Japan's role in the international co-operation against terrorism. Among those who urged the government to make more use of the SDF were the Yomiuri Shimbun (newspaper) and Sankei Shimbun, which are considered to be populist papers, being conservative, right leaning, and supportive of the LDP in general. Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, on the contrary, are considered to be pacifist and left leaning, critical of the conservative circles in the LDP, and generally favored by intellectuals. (9) In this section I will note how both sides repeated their traditional stances on Japan's security policy, as "hawks" and "doves," on the issue of 11 September and the war in Afghanistan.

Opinions of the Yomiuri Shimbun

(1) Criticism of the government's inability to maintain security against terrorism in Japan.

First, Yomiuri criticized the lack of a legislative system to outlaw terrorist activities in Japan. It saw the lack of anti-espionage legislation with severe punishments for leaking national security secrets as a great danger, referring to the fact that the U.S. had "warned Japan of the possibility of terrorist attacks in Japan and South Korea by Islamic extremists" but that "this information was not smoothly relayed to the appropriate authorities and thus was not fully utilized by the government" (10) before 11 September. It also argued that Japan had no measures to cope with terrorists, as such attack would be "beyond the power of the police to ward off," and suggested that Japan needed to revise the SDF Law, as the SDF provided "the only way to deal with guerrilla and terrorist attacks." In making this argument, Yomiuri had in mind the potential threat of North Korea to Japanese security. (11)

(2) Japan should act as a responsible member of international society.

To prevent the recurrence of the horrors of the terrorist attack, Yomiuri argued, the world community should unite to counter terrorism. It strongly suggested "Japan, as a major member of the global community and a U.S. ally, must play an active rote in this call to arms against terrorism and help preserve peace and order throughout the world. This country would lose all international credibility if it failed to fulfil its obligation in this regard." (12) It further proceeded to urge that "the nation should create an emergency law, if the current legal framework cannot cope with the situation" (27 September 2001). On 1 November 2001, it praised the enactment of the new bill as "a new challenge for Japan in fulfilling its responsibility as a member of the international community." At the same time, it warned against Japan's traditional "ideal of pacifism in one country," saying that "we are blinded in our day-to-day life by the optimistic belief that we will remain safe as long as we stay away from dangerous places", as "we live in an island nation" (11 October 2001).

(3) The Japan-U.S. relationship is vital to Japan.

Here, Yomiuri's understanding is that "international society" means "the West." It argued in its editorial on 28 September 2001 that "we savour the fruits of democracy and capitalism. But because the Japanese did not make a deliberate choice, or much less have to fight for these beliefs, most enjoy these fruits without appreciation.... Someone has to fight for them." More specifically, the Daily Yomiuri expressed the understanding that the Japan-U.S. alliance should be a base for "maintaining international security" and work "as the stabilizer of the world," (13) and "terrorists attacks ... have ushered in a new perspective and challenges for the Japan-U.S. alliance." It is not surprising that it supported the U.S. military campaign against Afghanistan, saying "the U.S. had every reason to strike back."

Moreover, the Daily Yomiuri on 3 October 2001, under the title of "SDF logistic support not enough," pointed out that "the message of 'Show the flag' ... should be correctly understood ... that the U.S. wants to see Japan making a 'visible contribution' in the spheres of politics, diplomacy and the economy, and does not want it to stop at sending SDF troops for logistic purposes." Also on 1 November 2001, it argued that "the current war against terrorism would serve as a test to verify whether Japan and the U.S. can become true partners in regional security," because now "the U.S. is hoping that its allies will assume active roles in small-scale regional conflicts and peacekeeping activities in the Asia-Pacific region, partly to help lighten the U.S. burden in the post-Cold War era." This future burden-sharing would be necessary, it insisted, for normalizing its relationship with the U.S., stating "the war on terrorism has given Koizumi an opportunity to transform Japan into an 'ordinary country' ... Without its own diplomatic and security strategies, Japan will have little effect on strategic dialogues with the U.S."

(4) Criticism against those who opposed legislative arrangements for dispatching the SDF abroad.

It was natural for Yomiuri firmly to defend government proposals for a new bill on the SDF. On 21 September 2001, under the title of "Japan in danger of missing the boat," it "urge[d] lawmakers to abandon repeated meaningless debate in the Diet session and establish legislation that will enable the SDF to extend smooth and effective support to the U.S." It specially focused on the attitude of the DPJ, warning; "if he [i.e., Hatoyama] put forward these conditions with the aim of limiting the scope of SDF logistic support activities as much as possible, Hatoyama should be criticized for failing to grasp the seriousness of international terrorism." While the discussion was going on in the Diet, it repeatedly urged the DPJ "to respond in a responsible manner" and "to face reality," because "Japan cannot waste time," as "they could send the wrong message to terrorist organizations, in effect saying that Japan is too soft on terrorism." It accused opposition groups of maintaining the "selfish idea that everything is fine as long as Japan is safe or overconfidence in Japan's safety from threats of terrorism" (8 October 2001). Yomiuri deliberately remarked that more than 90 percent of DPJ supporters were in favor of Japanese co-operation with the U.S., according to a poll conducted by Yomiuri at the end of September. (14)

Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun: "the doves "

Neither of these "doves" failed to express feelings of sorrow, sympathy or anger against the terrorist attacks in the U.S. They were, however, very quick to warn the U.S. against launching retaliations against Afghanistan or any other Muslim country. The tone of their editorials and articles generally expressed an anti-war atmosphere.

(1) Pacifism, and the meaninglessness of "the cycle of violence"

As early as 13 September 2001, an Asahi editorial predicted that "the U.S. will surely retaliate," but warned that "a purely military response poses the risk of getting caught up in a vicious cycle of retaliation following retaliation ... the U.S. should try to find ways to harness co-operation with the U.N., regional organizations and allies, rather than sticking single-mindedly to 'eye-for-an-eye' retaliation." On the following day, under the title of "Japan should not recklessly support U.S. military reprisals," it also insisted "the unenviable task of Japan as a friend is to try to make the U.S. realize the folly of revenge."

(2) Searching for other methods to fight against terrorism

Mainichi also opposed the war as a means to eradicate terrorism, insisting that it is a criminal problem rather than one of war; "the ringleader ... in the attack must be brought to justice" (21 September 2001). Asahi understood this stance to be reasonable, especially since there was no concrete evidence that Usama bin Laden and his followers were really responsible for the attack.

It is not only Asahi and Mainichi that insist that terrorism cannot be exterminated without eradicating poverty and introducing democracy. The Japan Times, for example, printed the following on 25 September 2001: "the long-term antiterrorism campaign must include non-military efforts to attack the problems that lie at the root of terrorism, such as ethnic and religious conflicts and chronic poverty in parts of the developing world. Japan ... can and should play an active role in helping resolve these problems."

(3) Maintaining the pacifist legislative framework

The most important factor for the "doves" in their opposition against the easy dispatch of the SDF is the legal restriction on its deployment in Article 9 of the Constitution. Article 9 has been a kind of symbol of peace since WWII, and a "sacred cow" for a large part of the Japanese population. After condemning the terrorist attack on 11 September, Asahi published an editorial stating "no amount of shock, anger or sorrow caused by this unprecedented act of terrorism justifies ignoring the basic principles of Japan's diplomacy and national security. Cool judgment and a calculated response are what are needed most now (14 September 2001). Mainichi also expressed concern that "the new legislation for sending the SDF ... could violate the constitutional ban on using force, since transporting weapons and ammunition to war zones can be construed as being part of a military operation."

(4) The SDF should not be sent to dangerous places

Another reason raised by Asahi and Mainichifor their opposition to the dispatching of the SDF is that "there is no guarantee that retaliatory strikes will end quickly; fears have been raised that the conflict will descend into a Vietnam-like nightmare." (15) Asahi expressed a similar fear, saying, "we should not expose the SDF to reckless risks that could result in them taking actions that might be problematic in terms of the Constitution" (27 September 2001). In this context, both newspapers often carried the voices of current and former SDF personnel. Mainichi, on 21 September 2001, quoted a former SDF officer who was upset with the sudden development; "the main activities of peacekeeping forces include maintaining law and order in the area and guarding properties that are under the control of the U.N. But those activities were never discussed [in terms of the logistic support for the U.S. in Afghanistan]," end "our troops will be in a difficult situation."

(5) Doves' perceptions of the U.S.

In summary, Asahi and other doves do not recognition the provision of support to U.S. military operations as the only way to pursue Japan's national interests. This in no way indicated that they were against U.S. policy in general, nor that they held anti-U.S, feelings. After the initiation of the war against Afghanistan, however, they gradually strengthened their anti-U.S, tone, though not explicitly. Not a small number of their articles and editorials hinted at the brutality of the American way of solving problems in general, citing Hollywood movies such as Independence Day and Armageddon. Asahi often carried commentary by Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, and among the letters to the editor, one could find a considerable number that were critical of U.S. policy. Such letters contained phrases such as, "the U.S. has been imposing great pressure on other people in the world with its enormous military power," and "the U.S. should think over why there are some people who were happy to see the September 11 attack, and why the U.S. is hated."

(6) Avoiding conflict with "Islam"

Both Asahi and Mainichi published the opinions of Muslims and scholars on Islamic studies regarding the 11 September attacks, with the consciousness that it was necessary to "understand Islam and Muslim society correctly in order to avoid the clash of civilizations." (16) This was seen as advancing a belief that Japan is outside of the framework of any "U.S.-Islam confrontation" and could therefore play a mediating role between them. Kyodo News quoted from people on the street, saying, "Japan has neutral relations with Islamic countries," and "we should make the most of these relations to find a solution" (27 September 2001). The Japan Times on 25 September 2001 argued that "there is a deep undercurrent of popular sympathy for Islamic fundamentalism in regions ... there is also the danger of retaliatory counterstrikes from bin Laden's international terrorist network" if Japan joins the attack against the Taliban. Asahi worried that, "if Japan in any way gets involved in U.S. military strikes against Islamic forces, its security principles could collapse from their foundations. Japan will probably find itself in unintended antagonism with the global Muslim community" (14 September 2001).

By contrast, Yomiuri claimed that there was no other choice than to share the Pate of the West, and that Japan was already a potential target of terrorism, saying, "allies stand together to fight a common enemy because they share the same beliefs. Do Japanese not share the same beliefs as Americans?" (28 September 2001). It also refuted the "apologist" idea that "argues that U.S. policy in the Middle East lies behind the attacks," insisting that "for whatever reasons ... there is no room for sympathy with brutal acts of terrorism" (8October 2001). This argument encouraged the terrorist image of Islam, reminding readers of past crimes such as "the killing of the Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in July 1991 and the bombing of a Philippine Airlines' plane in December 1994." The writer of this article even proceeded to warn that "of the about 70,000 Muslims in Japan, 30,000 are said to be illegal aliens whose visas have expired. The sheer number cannot be ignored." (17)

Thus, in the end, both the hawks and doves took for granted the "two-worlds notion" in the conflict between the U.S. and "Islamic Fundamentalists." (18) The difference is that Yomiuri has clearly urged Japan to support U.S. policies, while Asahi suggests maintaining neutrality. Most leading intellectuals were also obsessed with this notion of "two-worlds." Takaaki (Ryumei) Yoshimoto, a famous critic and opinion leader of the new-left generation, understood the roots of the attack against the U.S. as coming from "an extreme gap between the rich and the poor on a national and racial scale," "on top of which are religious conflicts between the Christian zone advocating capitalism ethics and the poor Islamic zone." He went on to state "there is an original militant factor in Islam, and the U.S. is the symbol of rich countries." (19)

(7) The dilemma of the pacifists in grasping the shift in public opinion

Regardless of the rivalry between the hawks and doves in the media, it is true that there was a general atmosphere advocating Japanese support for the U.S., not only financially but also politically and militarily, in the days after the terrorist attacks. This was a major transformation in Japanese public discourse. It was obvious in responses to polls conducted by various newspapers at the end of September 2001, which demonstrated that a majority of the population expressed support for the U.S. and that a considerable number were in favor of allowing the SDF an increased role in support of U.S. policy (For the results, see Appendix B). Japanese public opinion has shifted from a situation where "only a handful of rightwing activists truly sought a larger international profile for the SDF," and where "the majority of Japanese people approved of their junior role in the half-century-old security alliance with the U.S. and the pacifist post-war constitution," to a stance of, "the populace is no longer satisfied to sit on the sidelines during an international conflict." (20)


In the public discourses seen above, it is notable that both hawks and doves share a common background for their perceptions of international security, terrorism, and wars: the memory of the Gulf War, and that of WWII. It also should be noted that domestic factors dominated their discussion of international security especially Japan's international deployment and contributions to the U.S efforts in central Asia. When the 11 September attacks occurred, the Japanese media immediately portrayed it as the beginning of a war, and the overall discussion revolved around Japan's military policy in general. One professor of the University of Tokyo correctly regretted that very little of the public opinion in Japan expressed any shared sense of sorrow and condolences for the victims in New York and Washington. In other words, the Japanese people were portrayed as seeing terrorism as a matter for "others," and see it as a "Japanese" matter once it becomes a matter of war. The public reactions to the 11 September attacks should be understood in the context of recent controversies between Japanese pacifism following WWII, and a tendency to reconsider such pacifist policy, especially among the new rightist generation. It is often observed that what happened to the U.S. was only exploited by those who encouraged the revision of the legislate system of Japanese SDF. In this section first we see how the memories of the previous wars were mobilized in the public discourses in order to confront with the present war. Secondly, we see what kind of domestic factors designated the foreign and military policy of Japan.

The Gulf War trauma

During the opening phases of the crisis and the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Japanese policy-makers were preoccupied by their desire to "not repeat the failure of the Gulf War." Behind the government's drive to avoid diplomatic isolation in "the fight against terrorism," "were the bitter memories of the Gulf War a decade ago," commented Kyodo on 21 September 2001. During the Gulf Crisis/War, Japan contributed $13 billion to the U.S.--led multinational forces. This contribution was not only given scant appreciation, but even invited scorn from the U.S., as the Japanese were seen as unwilling to make sacrifices in terms of human or other non-monetary actions. About 30 countries, including the U.S., were praised in a thank-you advertisement placed by the Kuwaiti government in U.S. newspapers after the war, but Japan was not included on the list. This was remembered as "a traumatic humiliation for Japan." (21) "We do not want to repeat what happened during the Gulf War" turned into a kind of slogan in the administration. Japanese Ambassador to Thailand Hisahiko Okazaki, who had advised Koizumi on foreign policy issues in the past, described this as "a rare chance for Japan ... there are people in the U.S. administration who are keen to see Japan take a firm position so bilateral relations can become closer." (22)

This perception of "remembering the Gulf War" was also shared by members of the media. Yomiuri did not hide its bitterness, saying, "Japan should not commit the same error as it did during the Gulf War.... We should not forget that fact." (23) It also held the recognition that the Gulf War "brought about a tremendous change in the awareness of Japanese people" and claimed that this was why "Japan enacted the U.N. Peacekeeping Cooperation Law in 1992" (10 October 2001). Here, great use was made of the memory of the Gulf War, mainly by the hawks, as justification for the deployment of the SDF in international conflicts.

By contrast, the opposition forces and those who were cautious about the rapid development of the SDF to support the U.S. military effort made light of the gravity of Japan's "failure" during the Gulf War. Nonaka, a senior member of the LDP, said, "it's wrong to have the same policy ideas as those during the Gulf War." Asahi, on 14 September 2001, pointed out that "the situation is clearly different from the crisis following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, which inspired the international community to unite and organize an alliance led by the U.S. to wage the Gulf War against Iraq." Analysis by the Financial Times, dated 2 October 2001, hit the nail right on the head, saying, "widespread support for a more active role in the fight against terrorism is not based so much on the conviction that Japan has a responsibility towards world peace, but by the shame of Japan's experience during the Gulf war."

Our remembrances of WWII: antagonism against war or terrorism?

Things become a matter of "ours" as Japanese when they relate to war, because the feelings of the population have mainly grown from the memories and experiences of "our" defeat in WWII. Whenever a conflict occurs which may involve Japan in any way, there emerge two opposing opinions: those who favor maintaining the pacifist ideals, and those who want to reconsider them.

(1) Memories of "being victims of war"

Pacifist groups around the country organized various kinds of movements against the U.S. retaliation, such as a sit-in protest in Hiroshima and demonstrations around the Diet buildings. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the most sensitive places in Japan with regard to wars and violence, as they are the only cities in the world to have been devastated by nuclear weapons. Okinawa is also sensitive, because of the fact that it hosts three-fourths of the U.S. military bases in Japan, and was the only part of the Japanese mainland to experience ground fighting in WWII. Civic groups in Okinawa escalated their protests to gathering at the gates of U.S. military bases, urging the U.S. to call off its attacks, and expressing opposition to the dispatch of U.S. military troops from the bases located on the island. It is worth mentioning that their logic in opposing the U.S. armed retaliation, which they believe is the way to cut the chain of hostility, is based on their notion that "there is no greater terrorist attack than the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but atomic bomb victims have been denouncing retaliation." (24)

(2) Memories of militarism and state-led-nationalism before WWII

The fear of the "return of pre-war Japanese militarism" always comes to the minds of the "doves" when they see any sign of military expansion in Japan. (25) A former deputy prime minister, Masaharu Gotoda, expressed concern that the new bill for the SDF would undermine civilian control of the armed forces, saying "people today probably do not realize that the armed forces have a tendency to become uncontrollable, but we know this from the times of the 1930s." (26) Some worry about tightening the state's control over information; the Japan Federation of Press Workers' Unions, for example, strongly opposed the new SDF bill as it would restrict media coverage of defence issues. Such regulations also reminded people of the days of the totalitarian regime during WWII.

Memories of Japan's past ultra-statism/nationalism function differently for those who oppose the U.S. track and those who support it. Anti-U.S. pacifists see a living image of Japan's extreme state-led-nationalism during WWII in the U.S. dependency on military strength for achieving its cause at the expense of individual freedom. At the same time, the suicide attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also reminded the Japanese people of the "Kamikaze" attacks during WWH. Kunio Yanagida, a well-known critic, argued that "we have seen many cases of terrorists and revolutionaries emerge from the junctions of poverty and ideology, throughout the history of various countries," referring to stories of Japanese "heroes" who had committed suicide-bombing attacks during the war against China. (27) Rightist ideologue Ken'ichi Matsumoto, when commenting on the 11 September attacks, implicitly connected them to the Young Officers' revolts against the Western-style political system in Japan on the eve of WWII, pointing out that "the U.S. aims for nninolar control over the world against Islamic civilization," with its "raging capitalism in the name of globalism," and that "it was Islamic Fundamentalists who rose against this U.S. domination." (28)

The Japanese mind-set on WWII can also be seen in their reactions to the phrase "Pearl Harbor," which most of the American media referred to when discussing the 11 September attacks. On 21 September 2001 Yomiuri tried to deny the similarity between Pearl Harbor and the 11 September attacks, saying that the latter "was not just an attack against the U.S., it was an attack against the civilized world." It is odd to see how both rightists and leftists were somewhat displeased with this analogy and consequently defended Japan's position during WWII; Katsuichi Honda, a famous leftist journalist, complained "Japan's attack against Pearl Harbor was an act of war, targeting military institutions. It was completely different from this terrorist attack in New York which targeted innocent civilians." (29)

Contrary to the pacifists who utilize their memories of war in order to avoid military development, right-wingers criticize their "negative pacifism" and their being "free rider of the peace"; they claim that it is the "time for change in post-war mind-set". In an article in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun dated 1 October 2001, (30) Masahiko Ishizuka remarked "every time a military contingency occurs involving the U.S. as the main actor, Japan is put to the test. With the U.S. maintaining key military bases in Japan, which are regarded as essential to its global strategy, the necessity of Japan's commitment to co-operate continues to grow in the minds of policy-makers and government officials.... But the reality is that there is a considerable gap between the thinking of policy-makers and popular perceptions." He concluded that this passive mentality was a legacy of the post-war regime: "The Japanese people's mind-set is a product of the way they lived in the post-war era, following their traumatic defeat. Using the Constitution as a pretext, they have chosen to close their minds to anything military, leaving their security in the hands of their U.S. ally. This has deprived them of the will for independent thinking on security issues."


One special characteristic of the Japanese stance towards 11 September and the war against terrorism is that there were several domestic constraints on external decision-making. Up until the year 2001, diplomatic policy seemed to be far removed from domestic power struggles. Under the Koizumi administration, however, reform attempts were introduced which threw Japan's foreign policy into a state of disarray. It was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) that was most wholehearted in showing its readiness to co-operate with the U.S. Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Shunji Yanai played a major role in driving Japan to co-operate with the U.S., making full use of the phrase, "show the flag." Later it was revealed that it was actually Yanai who had asked to meet Richard Armitage because of his concern over the Japanese government's "slow response," (31) and doubts arose over whether Armitage had really used the term "show the flag." Some claim the MOFA intentionally used it as a form of "foreign pressure" (gaiatsu) to influence the domestic political scene. (32)

If the MOFA was a prisoner of its "Gulf War trauma" and its obsession to make a visible contribution, its main obstruction was neither the opposition parties nor the anti-war demonstrations; it was their own minister, Makiko Tanaka (daughter of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka). The MOFA became engulfed by scandal when a former diplomat was arrested for embezzling millions of dollars from public funds in 2000. When Makiko Tanaka was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 2001, she immediately began fighting against the high officials of the ministry. Her persistent reformist efforts against the "corruption" in the ministry were highly valued by the public, but it was argued that her irregular behavior impeded Japan's diplomatic activities. (33)

Tanaka's struggle against the "gambling den" did not stop even after 11 September. As her battles with her staff became increasingly public, LDP members began to remark that Tanaka was not qualified to be foreign minister, and that she was careless in her behavior as a minister. This led the Cabinet to designate Defense Agency Director General Nakatani and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, rather than Tanaka, to handle the questioning on the bill during Diet sessions, and to exclude her from important decision-making processes. In October it was decided to dispatch former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura to the Middle East (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran). It was reported that Tanaka refused to go to observe the refugee camps in Pakistan, because she did not like to go to "dirty places". (34) In her place, top officials of the three ruling parties, headed by Taku Yamasaki of the LDP, went to the camps in November 2001. In addition, former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was appointed to represent Japan at a U.N. General Assembly session and G8 Foreign Ministerial talks in New York. The fact that Tanaka arrived late for a meeting with her Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharzai, without any reasonable excuse, did nothing to improve her reputation for poor diplomatic courtesy. We may easily imagine that the MOFA was engulfed in factional bickering until she was finally dismissed at the end of January 2002.


Despite the shock that that the 11 September attacks had on the people of Japan, the basic interest in Japanese business circles was still on carrying out successful economic reforms, and getting out of the current recession. The Japan Times pointed out that Japan's economic assistance, one of the small number of diplomatic tools at its disposal, had decreased as government revenues dwindled due to the economic slowdown (26 October 2001). More often, the media urged the government to push forward with the structural reform program that was supposed to be the fast priority in the Koizumi administration, and to hope that the "September 11 attack would not affect ... the order of national priorities."

As a result, there was keen interest in how Koizumi would tackle the crisis without affecting his own political agenda. As the Koizumi administration was supported by its high popular support, rather than by an organized political faction in the LDP, most of the Japanese mass media believed that the extraordinary Diet session would be the first real test of his agenda-setting ability. Though he was criticized for his slow response immediately after the attacks on 11 September, and for his delay in holding a press conference, Nihon Keizai Shimbun praised the fact that "he made up for it by swiftly arranging a meeting with the heads of three opposition parties, including DPJ chief Hatoyama, and asking for their co-operation in enacting the SDF mobilization bill just one day after" the announcement of the seven-point plan. (35) From this point of view, we can understand why the DPJ's stance towards the laws concerning the SDF fluctuated so frequently: the DPJ was trying to use Koizumi's popularity to push his structural reforms, which they believed were similar to their own policies, (36) and to force him to depend on the DPJ, and to fight against the conservatives in LDP. Asahi analysed the situation as follows: there were long negotiations between Koizumi and the DPJ during the discussions on the SDF bill, but Koizumi finally chose to maintain the coalition with Komeito and to avoid splitting the LDP, at the expense of possible support from the DPJ. (37)


Since 11 September, discourses among policy makers as well as in the media in Japan revolved around their internal interests: the legal legitimacy of the SDF's activities abroad, and the sustainability of the Koizumi administration's attempts at "reform." Debates on the SDF's role in international security did not provoke much antagonism because most Japanese policy-makers, as well as the public, realized that there was indeed a need to confront the "threat of terrorism" in some way.

The major media, however, whether hawks or doves, could not properly answer the people's anxieties regarding terrorism; hawks tried to connect it to the necessity of deploying the SDF in overseas battlefields, but this invited fears among the people of Japan's becoming involved in a wider war. Doves for their part could not offer any better alternative than their traditional pacifism. In the lack of intensive and constructive debates, the argument on Japan's future international role seems to have ended in personal conflicts and scandals among both politicians and bureaucrats. Though there was little visible opposition to the government policy on the SDF, popular frustration regarding the deterioration of the economy and the delay in structural reforms took the form of a high approval rating for Foreign Minister Tanaka, even though she was unable to fulfil her diplomatic duties. The population at large did not share MOFA's unaccomplished dream in the Gulf War, of being praised by the international community for its political contributions. To the contrary, it was under heavy criticism for its corruption and collusion, which was revealed in its confrontation with Tanaka.

In other words, the Japanese people are no more eager to be a leading political figure in international society than they were in the days of the Gulf War, partly because of the current economic recession. Japan's business circles seem to have lost the self-confidence to be a major economic power, not to mention a diplomatic or political superpower. This means that Japan's policy has become increasingly introverted. Japanese diplomacy cannot expect to function properly, especially while the structure of the MOFA itself is being shaken by the series of incidents of misconduct and disciplinary actions against its staff.

Appendix A

A. Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law

* Japan will be actively involved in international efforts to prevent and eradicate international terrorism and contribute toward promoting peace and security in international society.

* Japan will not engage in intimidation with force or use force.

* The area of Japan's activity will include its territorial area, the high seas and the sky above and foreign territories with consent of the nations concerned.

* Japan will supply foreign military forces with provisions except weapons and ammunition. Japan will co-operate and give support in transport, medical treatment and communications.

* Japan will search for and rescue military personnel injured in combat areas.

* Japan will rescue and support local residents suffering damage.

* The cabinet meeting will decide the outline of Japan's response. The prime minister will decide a basic plan, make changes and report to the Diet at the end of a mission.

* SDF personnel are allowed to use weapons to protect themselves and people under SDF control.

* The law will expire two years after it comes into force. The law may be extend up to two years.

B. The bill to revise the SDF law

* The prime minister may order a dispatch of the SDF to guard domestic SDF facilities and facilities of U.S. military forces in Japan to prevent possible acts of sabotage that would generate anxiety and terror in society.

* The views of concerned prefectural governors shall be heard beforehand, and consultations shall be held with the director general of the Defense Agency and the chairman of the National Public Safety Commission (NPSC) to determine the facilities that require protection and the duration of the protection.

* When guarding domestic SDF facilities, arms may be used within such premises to an extent deemed reasonable if it is necessary to execute duties and provide for self-defense.

* Upon consultation with the NPSC chairperson and approval from the prime minister, the director general of the Defense Agency may order armed SDF units to gather information in a tense situation before the government orders SDF personnel to keep order.

* The restrictions on SDF personnel's use of weapons will be eased. The SDF are allowed to fire at suspicious vessels.

* The penalties for information leakage by defense-related state employees or people in transaction with defense-related business will be strengthened.

C. A bill to revise the Japan Coast Guard law

* If a suspicious vessel is found and defies an order to stop, Japan Coast Guard personnel may shoot the vessel.
Appendix B

Polls Reported at the End of September


Concerted international action is necessary to rid the world of
 terrorism 86%
I am worried that a terrorist attack might happen here 86%
I agree with the contents of the bill to enable the SDF to guard
 important domestic facilities 63%
I oppose the above-mentioned bill 17%
1 support a build-up for the U.S. military action 44%
I oppose it 27%
Japan should co-operate "actively" 25%
Japan should do so "to some extent" 62%


I agree with Japan's support of the U.S. 62%
I oppose it 25%
I am in favor of dispatching the SDF for rear-area support 42%
I am against it 46%
I am against allowing the SDF to carry weapons 51%
I support the U.S. preparations for military action 42%
I oppose it 45%


Japan should definitely extend help to the U.S. 28%
I am in favor of helping the U.S., depending on what Japan is
 asked to do 67%
I would support the transportation of supplies such as food in
 terms of logistical support for the U.S. 26%
The SDF should provide weapons and ammunition to the U.S. 6%
Japan should join the U.S. in battle 4%
I support the U.S. retaliatory strikes against those responsible
 for the terrorist attacks and those who harbour the terrorists 52%
I do not want the U.S. to use force 42%
I would describe the Sept. 11 attacks as "atrocious crimes" 41%
I understand that the terrorists committed the attacks "in
 defiance of a world order centring on the U.S." 23%

Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Newspaper)

I oppose Japan providing the U.S. with logistic support 23%
I am in favor of a planned bill to enable the SDF to handle
 security for important facilities in Japan, including U.S.
 military bases 76%
I support Prime Minister Koizumi 79%


(1.) It might be worth noting that many books on Islam became best-sellers after 11 September, but at the same time a numbers of books and articles on the U.S. were published, most of which showed ambivalent feelings toward the U.S.

(2.) Ex-Prime Minister Mori came under heavy criticism for continuing a game of golf after learning that a Japanese ship had been accidentally struck and sunk by a U.S. military submarine.

(3.) LDP, New Koumeito, and Hoshuto.

(4.) It carried 315 tents, each capable of housing 10 people, 200 blankets, 400 water tanks and 75 plastic sheets as Japanese relief supplies to Afghan refugees. 150 ASDF (Air Self-Defense Force) and Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) personnel, armed with small arms for self-defense, were with them to handle the shipment.

(5.) In 1992, the JSP, later renamed the Social Democratic Party of Japan, "ox-walked" (a form of filibustering used in Japan where legislators walk very, very slowly toward the voting boxes) with the JCP for a Diet vote on the bill to authorize the SDF to join U.N. pencekeeping operations.

(6.) Kyodo News Agency, 12 November 2001.

(7.) Listening carefully to Koizumi's words, though, we may notice that he means the U.S. when he uses the phrase, "the international community." On 29 October 2001, for example, he emphasized that "the focus of the legislation is on whether we think of the U.S. terrorist incidents in New York and Washington on 11 September as other people's business or as our own affair." Despite these sympathetic words, nonetheless, indifference and the notion of "it's somebody else's business" was the basic stance of the Government and public opinion in Japan. According to Asahi, dated on 12 September 2001, Koizumi's first reaction to the attack was that he felt "fear, as it was unpredictable," and answered when asked who he guessed the criminals were, "I don't know, as it is a terrorist act."

(8.) The US wanted the MSDF to secure safe passage through the South China Sea, in the light of the presence of Islamic extremists in Southeast Asia. It also wanted it to transport goods between Australia and Diego Garcia and other points. Japan, for its part, wanted to send an Aegis destroyer to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to collect intelligence and conduct surveillance in the area. (Kyodo News Agency, 26 September 2001).

(9.) Yomiuri is the largest circulating newspaper, and Asahi is second.

(10.) 14 September 2001.

(11.) For example, it refers to "incidents such as the violation of Japan's territorial waters by two North Korean spy boats in March 1999." Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 September 2001.

(12.) Editorial under the title of "Change the Law, Get on the Bus," 18 September 2001.

(13.) 22 September 2001 and 8 October 2001.

(14.) This figure is only slightly lower than that of LDP supporters (i.e., 95 percent Yomiuri, 27 September 2001).

(15.) Mainichi, 21 September 2001.

(16.) Asahi, 8 October 2001.

(17.) Akihiko Misawa, the author, was a deputy city news editor of the Yomiuri. 28 September 2001.

(18.) There has long been discussion among scholars on the usage of the term "Islamic Fundamentalism," and most of them now agree that it is better to use other terms instead, such as "Islamism" or "Islamic Revivalism." The Japanese media have come to use the word "Fundamentalism" in almost the same meaning as "extremists."

(19.) Kyodo News Agency, 6 October 2001.

(20.) Financial Times, 2 October 2001.

(21.) Nihon Keizai, 1 October 2001.

(22.) Kyodo News Agency, 21 September 2001.

(23.) 28 September 2001 and 8 October 2001.

(24.) Kyodo News Agency, 16 October 2001.

(25.) Yomiuri argues against such criticism from doves as follows; "the global campaign in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States is far from a war of aggression. Japan is a democracy governed under the principles of civilian rule. In this sense, it would be impossible for Japan to return to its pre-war militarism." 9 November 2001.

(26.) Gotoda is a veteran politician who retired from political circles in 1996, and is well known as a "guardian of the rule of law." Kyodo News Agency, 17 October 2001.

(27.) Bungei Shunju, October, 2001

(28.) Bungei Shunju, October, 2001

(29.) Shukan Kinyoubi, 21 September 2001

(30.) Written by Masahiko Ishizuka, managing director of the Foreign Press Center. Nihon Keizai, 1 October 2001.

(31.) Daily Yomiuri, 30 October 2001.

(32.) Asahi, 31 December 2001.

(33.) She cancelled a meeting with Armitage in May, for example.

(34.) She denied this, saying, "I never made such remarks; what (the media) reported is wrong."

(35.) 1 October 2001.

(36.) Yomiuri commented ,"it must have been Hatoyama's true feeling that it was even more important for the DPJ to demonstrate its commitment to the reform efforts". 5 November 2001.

(37.) This pragmatic attitude towards domestic issues led several members of the DPJ to be disloyal to the leadership; they were mainly ex-SDP members who stuck to the idealistic notion of pacifism. In the beginning of December 2001, the DPJ punished 28 of its lawmakers for not following a party decision to endorse the government's dispatch of the SDF overseas.

Keiko Sakai is an Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies (Azia Keizai Kenkyusho) in Chiba, Japan.
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Title Annotation:Part II. Realities: policy and practice
Author:Sakai, Keiko
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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