COMMON GROUND

Japan Today: Tradition vs. 21st Century Reality

Program 0128 July 10, 2001


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(This text has been professionally transcribed, However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.)

KIICHI FUJIWARA: With the demise of the Cold War they turn, they are starting to turn anti-American again, or anti-West to be sure.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, nationalism, birth control, and Viagra in Japan.

TERUE SHINKAWA: [via a translator] Japan is still a male-dominated society. I think itís very unfair that the national health insurance doesnít cover the birth control pills but does cover Viagra.

KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It's produced by the Stanley Foundation. I'm Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I'm Kristin McHugh. Japanís right-wing nationalists want to expand the countryís armed forces and revise the history of Japanís role in World War II. They say they found an ally in the countryís new conservative prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi.

PORTER: Now, in order to further expand their base, nationalists are appealing to youth through punk rock bands and comic books. Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Tokyo.

[sound of someone speaking Japanese over a loudspeaker]

REESE EHRLICH: Tokyo residents have gotten used to rabid right-wingers on sound trucks trolling through residential neighborhoods and parking their mammoth RVs in the downtown business district. Every other Saturday members of the right-wing group Issui-Kai pass out leaflets and harangue passersby outside the Shinjuku subway station.

[sound of someone speaking Japanese loudly at a busy urban intersection]

EHRLICH: Kusako Hino, who heads the Issui-Kai, says he would like to reestablish Japanís military as a significant force in the world. Hino says Japan has grown too weak relative to the US.

KOUSAKU HINO: [via a translator] Japan and the United States should carry equal level of military power. But at this time, with the Japan-US treaty, there is, no such relationship exists. Itís clear that the United States is suppressing Japanese military power, and we say that this is a, the existence of US bases in Japan has led to put a lid on Japanís military strength.

EHRLICH: Hino and other right-wingers are heartened by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumiís stated desire to abolish the clause in Japanís constitution that prohibits a standing army.

HINO: [via a translator] Right now, Japan has finally grown out of half a nation and Japan is trying to become a whole nation. Since Koizumi has become the prime minister and Koizumi being a, one of the conservative members, we came forward, one step forward, to being, to being a whole nation. We would like to see Japan to lead the world.

EHRLICH: These days Japanese nationalists arenít restricting their activities to boring rallies and staid speeches. Theyíve tried to broaden their appeal among alienated youth by forming punk rock bands.

[sound of Japanese punk rock music]

EHRLICH: This right-wing punk rock group croons such tunes as "Get Japan out of the UN."

[sound of Japanese punk rock music]

EHRLICH: Karin Amamiya, the groupís lead singer, says revising the history of World War II is quite important to right-wingers. According to their view, Japanese soldiers didnít massacre Chinese civilians in Nanjing, China, in 1937. Neither were Korean or other women in conquered countries forced into prostitution, as so-called "comfort women."

KARIN AMAMIYA: [via a translator] Nanking Massacre was, did not exist. And comfort women-about comfort women, we didnít deny the existence of comfort women; it was rather that they made, they made money off of it, by doing, by doing, by serving military soldiers. And if thatís their work and thatís good for them.

EHRLICH: Nationalists also appeal to youth through Manga, or book-length cartoons. Manga author Yoshinori Kobayashiís latest and very popular manga tries to justify Japanís colonial occupation of Korea and Taiwan prior to World War II. Amamiya, says Kobayashi, is a hero to youth because of his contrarian anti-establishment views.

AMAMAIA: [via a translator] For us, Yoshinori Kobayashiís declaration of Gomansim was the bible. It derives from the Japanese word, "goman," meaning obnoxious. I saw the value in being obnoxious and playing the devilís advocate. That was kind of a footstep for me to be, to join the right-wing group.

EHRLICH: Japanís punk rockers and other youthful nationalists such as Isuikai, go one step beyond traditional right-wing views. With the end of the Cold War, they are argue that the US unfairly dominates Japan. Amamiya, for example, has penned some decidedly anti-US ditties.

AMAMIYA: [via a translator] One of them is "To, to Japan thatís being peaceful" and another one is "A bullish US-Japan treaty." Some of the lyrics from the songs were "You are the slaves of the United States."

[sound of Japanese punk rock music]

EHRLICH: Since the end of World War II, right-wingers have generally been supportive of conservative US policies. Rightist criticism of the US arose only since the end of the Cold War. Professor Kiichi Fujiwara, a specialist in international politics at the University of Tokyo, says the right wing in Japan is split into two major ideological camps. The new anti-American sentiment is really a harking back to the views of pre-World War II Japanese militarists.

Kiichi Fujiwara: The old group of right-wing organizations has always been there. And after the war they, they dropped their anti-American slogan and adopted their anti-Communist slogan. So we call them "Shembei Weoku," or pro-US right-wingers. With the demise of the Cold War they turn, they are starting to turn anti-American again, or anti-West to be sure. That itís about time to regain our history and all that. Some of them have ties with the Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party. They are, also have relations to crime organizations. On the other hand we see an emergence of juvenile right-wing organizations. They tend to be populist in character. And they do focus on foreign workers, migrant workers in Japan. Which, I donít think their size is that significant at the moment, but they can, of course, grow.

EHRLICH: The activist right-wing groups remain small, but their issues get taken up by mainstream conservative politicians. Nationalists won an important victory recently when the Education Ministry adopted a right-wing textbook for junior high school students that seriously distorts Japanese history. Prime Minister Koizumi said, although the decision was made by a previous government, he will allow the textbooks to be distributed.

[a woman at a busy office speaking in Japanese]

EHRLICH: The office of the conservative Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, is jumping these days. Leaders of the 10,000-member group claim that their right-wing junior high textbooks will allow Japanese to be proud of their history once again. For example, Society Director Akiori Takamori, says during World War II Japan helped inspire Asian peoples to rebel against Western colonialism.

AKIORI TAKAMORI: [via a translator] They witnessed the Japanese victories and they felt that it was possible for even, for them; in the textbook, it also includes statements from the locals in Southeast Asian countries and India. It also includes the fact that the, after the, after the war the Japanese military trained and also left some weapons over there.

EHRLICH: Japanese historians point out, however, that the Japanese military never had a policy to train anti-colonial fighters after the war. Tokushi Kasahara, is a Professor of History at Tsuru University, outside Tokyo.

TOKUSHI KASAHARA: [via a translator] The textbook promotes ideas different from the historical reality. In Japanese propaganda during the War, the leaders said they would free the Asian nations. However, those nations obtained independence only because Japan lost the war. Japanese certainly need to learn this fact.

EHRLICH: Professor Kiichi Fujiwara says many countries distort their own history in school textbooks. He notes that K-12 textbooks in the US donít detail government sanctioned use of chemical warfare, torture, and other atrocities against civilians during the Vietnam War.

KIICHI FUJIWARI: You see, I grew up in the United States and I attended elementary school there. And the teachers told me about the Commies. The Commies were, oh, very bad. And they were killing people in China, they were killing people now in Vietnam. Well, I told that to my parents and that we should do something about the Commies. And my parents, good liberals in the Japanese style, were simply astonished about it.

EHRLICH: Professor Fujiwara says, however, that the distortions in the right-wing Japanese textbooks are particularly egregious.

FUJIWARI: Our textbook case is even more offensive because itís kind of wishful thinking, to imagine a past that fits on their nationalist reading. This has torn apart our history into simple political rhetoric, which we cannot accept, the trouble is that it sells well. This is not Japan as a bad guy, itís about Japan as a good guy.

EHRLICH: Professor Fujiwara notes that many of the same politicians who promote a nationalist view of history are also advocates of restructuring the Japanese economy, making them the darlings of the US government.

FUJIWARA??: The younger LDP, thereís a growth of more conservative, of right-wing ideologues, within the LDP establishment. And this somehow coincides with those who advocate deregulation in our economy. So, this must be a nightmare for Washington. Those politicos that Washington wants to support in economic policy are also the politically most recalcitrant.

EHRLICH: Professor Shinichi Arai, President of the Center for Research and Documentation of Japanís Wartime Responsibility, says the conservative wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is supported by powerful right-wing groups. For years, top leaders in Japan have refused to pay official visits to the Yasakuni Shrine, a cemetery that includes the graves of Japanese war criminals. Prime Minister Koizumi announced he will visit the shrine.

SHINICHI ARAI: [via a translator] The LDP candidates, for the leaders, said that theyíre going to visit Yasakuni Shrine and made it official. LDP is supported by a lot of organizations that could pressure the party and that actually supports Japanís involvement in war.

EHRLICH: A showdown with the nationalists will come later this year over the textbook issue. Although the national government has approved the textbooks, local school boards determine if they will actually be used. They have a choice among eight books, including the right-wing text.

[sounds of people in a busy office]

EHRLICH: Back at the offices of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, Akinori Takamori claims his group is waging the uphill battle against the establishment. He says his supporters rely on small contributions from ordinary people and plan to contact school boards on a grassroots basis.

AKINORI TAKAMORI: [via a translator] We have no support from major business corporations, or a religious group, or anyone.

EHRLICH: If you have to guess, how many school districts do you think will adopt, will buy textbook?

TAKAMORI: [via a translator] We aim to receive more than 10 percent of the school districts, but we have no idea.

EHRLICH: Professor Arai, who opposes the right-wing texts, says a coalition of progressive groups plan their own grassroots campaign to convince local boards not to adopt the textbooks.

ARAI: [via a translatorís summary of his position] Araiís-his group and other groups-more than 10 groups-plan together teachers, school teachers in rural areas, regions, in Japan, throughout Japan. And try to criticize the, the book. For example, this one group, association of history teachers, the group has more than 10,000 teachers as members, throughout the nation.

EHRLICH: Professor Arai concedes that nationalism is growing in Japan, in part because of the countryís long-lasting economic recession.

ARAI: [via a translator] Within the citizensí level thereís a globalization and the economy is now, itís not a happy looking economy. And so in peopleís minds there is a nationalistic idea.

EHRLICH: Professor Arai says, however, that ultimately right-wing attempts to influence people with propaganda, punk bands, and comic books wonít work.

ARAI: [via a translatorís summary of his words] Itís true that there is a threat and an aggressiveness of nationalism and nationalistic policy, and everything, through Manga, and the pop culture. But, he thinks, from his own experience also, that he thinks that there is actually, if young people study, get educated at universities or the teachers educate the youngsters, he thinks that there is no, there is no way that thatís gonna take on.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I'm Reese Ehrlich in Tokyo.

PORTER: Viagra and birth control in Japan, next on Common Ground.

DR. TOMOKO SAOTOME: [via a translator] It is true that in our field we practice medicine based on opinions of many male gynecologists. For many years doctors warned of the bad side effects of birth control pills. They and the media created a pill scare, so ordinary people donít know what the Pill is all about.

PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details, or visit our Web site at commongroundradio.org. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

MCHUGH: For 35 years after the development of birth control pills they remained illegal in Japan. The government finally approved contraceptive pills two years ago. But womenís rights groups say the delay reflected a deep-seated sexism in Japanese society.

PORTER: Even today, however, very few Japanese women use the pill. In Tokyo, Common Ground Special Correspondent Reese Ehrlich hit the pavement to find out why.

EHRLICH: OK. You want to interview Japanese women about their use of birth control pills. Youíre a male reporter from the US What do you do? Head for the Shinjuku subway station in beautiful downtown Tokyo and hope for the best.

[a woman speaking in Japanese with background sounds of a busy urban intersection]

EHRLICH: Surprisingly, women were willing to speak openly about a very private topic. This 32-year-old woman with one child says she plans not to have more children. In the US she would be a prime candidate for using birth control pills. But she doesnít use them and neither do any of her friends.

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] I think the pill is not known yet. And I think itís because maybe theyíre afraid, afraid of the side effects. I donít even know what kind of side effects there are. I know-the only thing I know is that, is that it gives you side effects.

EHRLICH: I ambled over to a group of single women in their early twenties.

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] In schools, in sex education classes, we donít really learn too much about birth control pills. And I have heard that pills were dangerous.

EHRLICH: Do you have any friends who use birth control pills?

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] No. No.

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] Maybe because we donít have enough information about the pills. And in Japan it hasnít been spread yet.

EHRLICH: Among their friends, what kind of birth control is preferred?

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] Condoms.

EHRLICH: Condoms, yeah. Do the Japanese men agree to wear them? Because in the United States thatís a big problem.

JAPANESE WOMAN: [via a translator] [laughing] I think there are many who donít necessarily want to wear them. But they do.

EHRLICH: Using condoms: thatís good. But the prevalence of that practice doesnít answer why so many Japanese women are afraid to use the pill. The first birth control pill sold in the 1960s in the US and Europe did have bad side effects. More recently, scientists developed pills using lower doses of estrogen, which are considered far safer. But for years the Japanese health ministry and medical associations continued to issue warnings about the dangers of using even the low dose pills. Today, two years after legalization of the pill, only 4 percent of Japanese women say they have even tried it.

TOMOKO SAUTOMI: [after the sound of a chime in an office] Today is, all day, clinic day.

EHRLICH: Now, if a woman wanted to get birth control pills she could come in to see you today?

SAOTOME: Yes.

EHRLICH: Dr. Tomoko Sautomi is a an OB-GYN working at the Kanto Medical Center in Tokyo. I talked with her between patient visits at the contraception clinic. This is a very modern operation. Patients sit on comfortable couches and wait for their medical number to appear on a digital display, indicating itís time to see the doctor. The doctors are equipped with special cell phones that enable them to respond to emergencies any time. But all this modern equipment belies a serious problem. Dr. Saotome says Japan lags behind the rest of the world in attitudes about birth control.

SAUTOMI: [via a translator] It is true that in our field we practice medicine based on opinions of many male gynecologists. For many years doctors warned of the bad side effects of birth control pills. They and the media created a pill scare, so ordinary people donít know what the pill is all about.

EHRLICH: Dr. Saotome suspects that the medical establishmentís reluctance to approve birth control pills was directly related to their lucrative business providing abortions. Japan has one of the highest abortion rates in the world and the procedure is frequently used as a method of birth control. While supporting a womanís right to abortion, Dr. Saotome says from a health standpoint women are far safer using contraception than having repeated abortions.

SAOTOME: [via a translator] I think doctors who performed abortions were worried about losing income. If fewer women get pregnant there wonít be the need for as many abortions. So even after the contraceptive pills were legalized two years ago the guidelines developed by doctorsí organizations say women should visit a doctor four times a year. Thatís really not necessary medically, but it puts more money in doctorsí pockets.

EHRLICH: Dr. Saotome says thatís just one example of a medical decision influenced by factors other than womenís health. Pharmaceutical companies formally applied for licenses to sell contraceptive pills in 1990. But the Ministry of Health was still considering the applications nine years later. Meanwhile, the same ministry okayed the use of Viagra in just six months, setting a record for approval of an imported drug. Womenís groups say the decision was pure sexism, a charge hotly denied by Masanobu Yamada, a Deputy Director at the Ministry of Health.

MASANOBU YAMADA: [via a translator] We are not sexist at all It took a long time to license birth control pills because it was a very difficult evaluation. We were concerned that the pills could cause some kinds of cancer, strombosis, and other side effects.

EHRLICH: The Japanese health ministry is supposed to impartially evaluate the medical safety of a new drug, much like the Food and Drug Administration in the US. But womenís groups say a lot of politically charged issues got in the way. Politicians and conservative media argued that legalizing the Pill would increase female promiscuity. They said it would spread AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases because couples wouldnít use condoms. One group even claimed that hormones from the pills would remain in womenís urine and damage the environment. Yamada claims the ministry wasnít affected by the hubbub.

YAMADA: [via a translator] I know there were arguments about promiscuity in society. But that didnít affect our decision. We make decisions based strictly on medical criteria. It took a long time to approve the pills because there were many medical controversies. In addition, the pharmaceutical companies did not respond to our questions promptly enough. And toward the end, we had to deal with issues such as sexually transmitted diseases and environmental hormones.

EHRLICH: Dr. Kunio Kitamura, an OB-GYN and Director of the Japan Family Planning Association, says none of the health ministryís worries have proven to be a problem. Thereís been no upsurge of dangerous hormones in the environment, nor has there been rampant promiscuity or a serious rise in STDs. Dr. Kitamura recently completed a scientific survey of hundreds of women using birth control pills since 1999, and none have developed cancer or other major problems.

KUNIO KITAMURA: Japanese never experienced serious side effect; oral contraceptive is a quite safe and effective contraceptions.

EHRLICH: Contraceptive pills may be safe for most women but they are also very expensive. The pills and doctorís visits can cost $500 a year. Terue Shinkawa, editor of a womanís newspaper, says the cost is unreasonable.

TERUE SHINKAWA: [via a translator] Japan is still a male-dominated society. I think itís very unfair that the national health insurance doesnít cover the birth control pills, but does cover Viagra.

EHRLICH: Thatís right: the governmentís national health plan reimburses men for 80 percent of the cost of buying Viagra. Women pay for birth control pills out of their own pockets. The official reason is that health insurance only pays for patients who are ill. Men with erectile dysfunction are sick; women needing birth control pills, or even delivering a baby, arenít ill-and arenít covered. Anyone see a pattern here? Terue Shinkawa does.

[sound of a chime and people speaking in Japanese]

EHRLICH: Shinkawa welcomes me into her newspaper office. Itís a low-budget operation. Women volunteers type up their articles on old computers. Shinkawa says sheís one of the few Japanese women she knows who has used birth control pills.

SHINKAWA??: [via a translator] Iíve been divorced twice, but after that I was living, I was with another man for five years. And I have had one abortion in the past and so I didnít want to repeat the same experience.

EHRLICH: I asked Shinkawa why she thinks so few Japanese women use the pill.

SHINKAWA: [via a translator] Japanís sex education has not caught up and itís still slow. Thereís also no voice heard in the public places, the community where the, where women hang out. The information that, low-dosage pill is safe is not available.

EHRLICH: Shinkawa, whose newspaper offers contraceptive advice, tries to counteract some of the misinformation. She says non-monogamous couples should continue to use condoms as protection against sexually transmitted diseases. And she says birth control pills might not make sense for some women: those who donít have enough money or the discipline to take a pill every day, for example. But, she says the medical establishment hasnít really offered the pill as a realistic option.

SHINKAWA: [via a translator] One of my friends has gone to gynecologist and asked for the pill, ordered the pill. And the doctor said, "Why are you, why do you need to take pills? Because youíre a single mother and you have kids."

EHRLICH: So the doctor thought that because sheís a single mother she must not be having sexual relations? Right?

SHINKAWA: [via a translator] Exactly! [laughing] Going to see the gynecologist is tough because itís always related to pregnancy and birth, and so I even went to a gynecologist after graduating from high school. And I found it very difficult because you see, you get the stares-from the people who are waiting, from the pregnant women, and also the people at the office, the office. It draws a strange picture to see such a young girl coming into a gynecologist. Itís like "Why? Why are you here?"

EHRLICH: I know the feeling

[sound of an office chime]

EHRLICH: While waiting for Dr. Saotome at the medical center I sat in the OB-GYN waiting room. I was the only guy. I didnít mind, but apparently somebody did. I was asked to sit in a nearby snack bar. Dr. Saotome says it was an uphill battle to get the contraceptive pills legalized and it will take another major battle to change societal attitudes.

SAOTOME: [via a translator] Up until the approval of birth control pills two years ago the problem was with the Ministry of Health, which had not approved them for contraceptive use. Now the problem is with the Ministry of Education, which is in charge of sex education in the schools. There is still much misinformation about the pill and we have to educate the sex education teachers. We also have to get the word out to women through the media and through popular culture.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I'm Reese Ehrlich in Tokyo.

PORTER:. Cassettes and transcripts of this program are available. The transcripts are free. Cassettes cost $5.00. To place an order or to share your thoughts about the program, write to us at: The Stanley Foundation, 209 Iowa Avenue, Muscatine, Iowa 52761. Please refer to Program Number 0128; that's Program Number 0128. To order by credit card you can call us at 563-264-1500. That's 563-264-1500.

MCHUGH: Transcripts are also available on our web site, commongroundradio.org. Commongroundradio is all one word. Our e-mail address is commonground@stanleyfoundation.org. For Common Ground, I'm Kristin McHugh

PORTER: And Iím Keith Porter. B.J. Liederman created our theme music. Common Ground is produced and funded by The Stanley Foundation.

© 2000 by The Stanley Foundation

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