By Robert Whiting
I have had hundreds of book reviews in my 40 plus years as a writer—both good and bad—but I have yet to respond to any of them. My philosophy has been that the work should speak for itself and let the chips fall where they may. But Jason Morgan’s piece on Tokyo Junkie for Japan Forward, and queries from fellow journalists about its appropriateness, require me to make an exception to this rule. His was not a review but a political rant.
In his monograph, Morgan, a professor at Reitaku University, and a right wing apologist, rails about a reference to the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom index showing Japan behind the curve citing a study which termed the index an “utter fraud” done by fellow gadfly Earl Kinmonth. While the index may indeed have a “neo-liberal bias” against developing countries with state controlled media with wild swings in the rankings not uncommon, it is also a barometer that has been accepted around the world for the past two decades. There is a reason that Japan, a country that is about as highly developed as they come, regularly falls well below the top tier of countries (as does, I might add, the United States). Both Japanese and foreign journalists alike can attest to this.
One could start of course with the Kisha (Reporters) Club system in Japan wherein every major institution has its own Press Club through which it dispenses news about that organization’s activities. The Prime Minister’s office has a Kisha Club. The Foreign Ministry has a Kisha Club. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has a Kisha Club and so on. The respective Kisha Clubs are comprised solely of reporters from the mainstream daily newspapers and TV outlets whose job it is to report only on that institution. It is a system which subtly controls the daily narrative in the news business in Japan. A case in point—minor, but nonetheless instructive –was the Yomiuri Giants Kisha Club whose member reporters were compelled to report inflated attendance figures they knew to be false (namely the 56,000 per game capacity number supplied by the team, as opposed to the actual 46,134 figure supplied by the Fire Department), presumably so the organization could claim attendance records. Think about that. This went on for years, from 1987-2004, until a new revenue tax law forced club’s owner, the Yomiuri Shimbun, the largest newspaper in the world, to start reporting the truth. There are similar stories about self-censorship in the government ministry Kisha Clubs which the highly respected veteran journalist Soichi Tahara has called the ‘most serious problem in Japanese journalism.” Reporters and their editors don’t want to lose access so they play ball. (Rules prohibiting foreign correspondents from joining most Kisha Clubs is another issue that has been well discussed and reported over the years.)
Historically, the really important stories in Japan have surfaced first in the periodicals such as the weekly magazines Shukan Bunshun and Shukan Asahi and the monthly Bungei Shunju, which are not eligible for Kisha Club membership Perhaps the most famous case in this regard involved a Bungei Shunju research project into former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka’s finances. No establishment journalist would take the job, although the allegations were well known, so it went to freelancer Takashi Tachibana who went on to become famous for reporting that triggered a Diet investigation and resulted in Tanaka’s resignation.
The MSM in Japan also avoided reporting on misdeeds involving the Japan Red Cross and the Japan Animal Welfare Society out of respect for Imperial family members serving as honorary heads of those organizations, as well as one of the nation’s most famous coverups, the government’s freeze on media coverage of an event in the 1980’s when thousands of hemophilia patients in Japan contracted HIV via tainted blood products. High ranking government officials were eventually convicted of manslaughter and Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Yasuo Fukuda were moved to make a full apology. It was left for the periodicals to tackle these subjects with material often fed to them by Kisha Club reporters who had no other way to tell their stories.
There is more. The Russian film titled The Sun was shunned in Japan because of the film’s depiction of Emperor Hirohito and his historical meeting with General Douglas MacArthur, in spite of the presence of major Japanese actors in the cast (including Ogata Issei and Momoi Kaoru). No main distributor would touch it, fearing right-wing retribution due to the films depiction of the Emperor. It was a case reminiscent of John Frankenheimer film Black Sunday, about a Black September attack on the Super Bowl, which was also banned in Japan, because of fears by the Japanese government that its oil supply from the Middle East might be disrupted.
Morgan refers to “baked in prejudices” at the left-leaning Foreign Correspondents Press Club of Japan, but he might have better aimed such charges against the government friendly Japan National Press Club. Over the years there have been numerous political protestors and refugees visiting Japan who have been given the cold shoulder by the JPNC yet welcomed at the FCCJ and other international institutions. In addition to the Dalai Lama, one could count activists from Hong Kong and high-profile speakers from Taiwan among individuals whose presence in Japan made the Japanese government so concerned about damaging ties with China that the JNPC felt pressured not to host them.
The Moritomo Gakuen incident in which a Finance Ministry official committed suicide after obeying orders from above to forge documents about a shady real estate deal involving former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, was the biggest scandal of the Abe administration. Yet a key principal, Moritomo schoolmaster Yasunori Kagoike who implicated the first lady in the scheme, was not asked to appear at the JNPC. He was however invited to speak at the FCCJ where he was the biggest draw in years.
One might further note the attitude of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Communications Minister who in 2016 threatened to shut down media broadcasting outlets over politically biased reports—prompting an outcry from Tahara and other leading journalists and statements of “deep and genuine concern” by U.N. special rapporteur David Kaye about declining media independence in the world’s third largest economy. The monthly magazine Facta reported that the Abe government surveilled the lawyer who had helped Kaye while in Japan, while giving the UN rep the cold shoulder. In 2019 NHK boss Katsuto Momii decreed after assuming office that his news network, which is technically supposed to be politically neutral, should not criticize the government.
Morgan also complained about the lack of citation in Tokyo Junkie for the “rape, arson and mass murder of an estimated 300,000 men women and children in the winter of 1937” in Nanjing. But as I stated in the opening pages of the book that since it is a memoir I would dispense with the usual notes, sources and bibliography I normally include in my works and that if readers wanted to know where I got some specific item, they were welcome to contact me via my website, the address and link of which were clearly displayed, and I would provide that information. However, Morgan chose not to ask me but go for the cheap shot instead–perhaps to please his right wing paymasters. For those interested, the “300,000” figure came from Nanjing Massacre War Memorial and the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal citations. Since the number is disputed I used the term ‘estimated’ in the quote above and “by some accounts” in another part of the book where Shintaro Ishihara called it a “fabrication.” There are disagreements among serious scholars over the actual figures, which range from 40,000 (Hata, Rabe), 50,000-100,000 (Hora), 200,000 (IMTFE, Kasahara, Yoshida) to 300,000 (CCP, NWCT) and which depend on the time frame (days, weeks or months in the period from August to February) as well as the geography (within city walls, or including the areas outside the city, or along the invasion route from Shanghai). US State Department archival documents show estimates of as much as half a million.
The focus on numbers, however, is a distraction from the actual horrors inflicted, and it is quite clear from the various accounts of POW’s rounded up on banks of river and machine gunned down, attested to even by Japanese war veterans who had been there and who had been surveyed by a Japanese veterans association in 1984, as well as the photos of beheadings, people being buried alive, and babies being bayoneted, that something terrible did happen and the Chinese, for their part, have never forgotten it
Saying that the Nanjing Massacre “never happened,” as Ishihara does, would be akin to the Americans saying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happened, or that the Japanese dropped it on themselves.
Morgan further complained about liberal dezinformatsiya but is guilty of his own fabrications when he states that Yomiuiri Shimbun honcho Tseuneo Watanabe is not, as I described him, ‘conservative’, ignoring—or perhaps he is unaware of–Watanabe’s long relationship with LDP bigwig Bamboku Ono and Yasuhiro Nakasone, both dyed-in-the-wool conservatives. Nakasone became prime minister and he might not have achieved that post without Watanabe’s help. Similar distortions by Morgan label me a progressive when most people who know me are well aware that I am a conservative and a registered Republican-but also know that I am someone who doesn’t pick his friends and professional associates by their party affiliation.
Finally, Morgan lecturing me on gender political correctness is comical given that he himself is infamous for indignantly refusing to take gender awareness training when he was a grad student at U Wisconsin, something required for all teaching assistants. This and his rejection of transgender students, have caused him to receive an embarrassingly low rating by fendnow.org.
There is more, but suffice it to say that thought police captain Jason Morgan is a walking embodiment of delusional right wing orthodoxy. He reminds me in a way of the finger-wagging church elders and McCarthyites who surrounded me while growing up with in the 50’s telling me what things I could and could not read and what opinions I could and could not express. With thinking this twisted one wonders what kind of students Morgan’s classes will produce.