Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Forbidden Phrase Resurfaces

"Hakko ichi-u" (八紘一宇) is found in the Nihon Shoki, the words of the prayer "ama no shita oite is to nasamu" (掩八紘而爲宇) the ancient era Emperor Jimmu is reported to have said at his accession.

(By the way, Foundation Day, February 11, is the day of Emperor Jimmu's accession.)

This "Hakko ichi-u", in simple terms, "Shall I not found a nation where all can live together as one family?"

The text "Building of a Nation" (建国) written in Showa 13 [1938] says:

"Hakko ichi-u" means that the whole world should be tied together as though one family. What that means is as in a single family, the strongest member does not exploit the weakest. In a family the system is that the strongest works for the weakest. Has this been the basic principle demonstrated in standard international behavior? No, standard international behavior has been "the strong devour the weak as prey." Strong countries exploit the weak. Anything is allowed, based upon strength. A strong country thrives; the weaker races are laid low. When throughout the whole world a system is put in place where the very strongest countries work for the weak nations and weak races, that is when the world will know peace. Japan has become the strongest of countries, where the hearts of all that stand in between Heaven and Earth beat as one. Is it not commanded that we work on behalf of the weaker races? (1)
It is not often that Minister of Finance Aso Taro is struck speechless. He almost never intimidated by a microphone. More often than not, Aso Taro's tongue and public manner are way too loose, resulting in outrageous, off-the-cuff bombshells that are the despair of his bureaucrat handlers.

On Monday, March 16, however, Aso Taro was struck speechless. Well, not exactly speechless, just wishing desperately, hopelessly, in sweating, head-shaking abandon that he could find a way to get away from a microphone WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING.

Mihara Junko, House of Councillors Budget Committee Session, 16 March 2015

LDP member of the House of Councillors Mihara Junko has been turning heads since she was 13 years old. In that year she appeared in her first television drama. Her reward for her precociousness was getting herself kicked out of her elite private school, having not cleared her appearance beforehand. She finished her middle school years in a public school.

Two years later, Mihara dropped out of high school when she rocketed to fame as a cold-blooded juvenile delinquent in a television drama. Her character's explanation on how to properly abuse a victim

"Not the face. The face is bad. Do it to the body, the body."

became a catchphrase for calculated evil, famous enough for Mihara to reprise as a joke in a personal healthcare product ad years later:

At 16 she began a singing career. Her debut single "Sexy Night" (no, I am not making this up. Here is the cover)

was a surprising (?) hit. Her burst of hit singles landed her a place on NHK's end-of-the-year Kohaku Gassen program two years later.

From then until her marriage in 1999 Mihara appeared in numerous acting roles, though always seemingly typecast as either the villain or the evil accomplice. She was also a much sought after model and product spokesperson.

In 1991, she took up competitive auto racing (again, I am not making this up):

Over seven years she compiled a record of 23 finishes out of 31 starts in three different car classes, her highest finish being a 9th place in 1995 (Link). Her driving career also reportedly featured seven accidents resulting in broken bones.

In 1999, Mihara married television celebrity and talent agency manager Coala (real name: Miyatani Nobuya) and settled down to what she must have thought would obscurity with her husband as the breadwinner.

In 2007, however, her husband's talent agency went bankrupt. The couple divorced (as it turns out, it was to be her husband who was to fade into obscurity. Nikkan Gendai found him in 2014 running a production company organizing shows at shopping malls). A year later, Mihara was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She had a complete hysterectomy to save her life.

Recovery from cancer transformed Mihara. She became an activist for women's health issues, primarily the free provision of the HPV vaccine. It is in this role of health activist that she won international recognition. (Link)

The political recruiters came knocking, and soon. In addition to her fame, her inspirational story of cancer survival, her looks (she caused a stir when she had her face remade on camera, having botox, laser spot removal and minor facial surgery done live) Mihara had also revealed herself to be a rock-ribbed conservative. She said (and continues to say) all kinds of internationallly problematic things about comfort women, about the Asahi Shimbun and about Yasukuni (she pays her respects at the Spring and Autumn festivals as well as on August 15). She is against separate surnames for married couples (Link - J) -- kind of surprising, given her former profession and divorce.

On Monday, Mihara was the seventh and penultimate questioner in a session of House of Councillors Budget Committee session. Sitting in the front row of the seats reserved for Cabinet members were Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, Finance Minister Aso Taro, Economics Minister Amari Akira and Rural Revitalization Minister Ishiba Shigeru. They waited for the questions Mihara was to put to them.

They waited a long time. Mihara began with a long and pretentious speech about the social and government response to the Jogan Earthquake in 869 CE. It seemed a bit of a stretch to start out with a tale of Emperor Seiwa reducing taxes in the affected provinces of Mutsu and Dewa (the modern Tohoku) in a question time session supposedly about getting tough on corporations. However the tale of Emperor Seiwa's response to an earlier Tohoku disaster did set up Mihara's introduction of the supposed Emperor Jimmu prayer for hakko ichi-u as a model of modern international behavior.

Mihara's hobby horse, upon which she was to ride into controversy, is corporate tax avoidance. For her (and for many others, all around the world) it is wrong for "companies like Amazon to make use of Japan's infrastructure and yet pay no taxes to maintain it." It is also wrong in Mihara's view (and again, for many, many others) that corporations can claim tax exemptions through legal but clearly spurious corporate registrations in places such as the Cayman Islands and Guernsey.

It was in this context that Mihara introduced, or reintroduced, the phrase hakko ichi-u. Would it not be better, she asked Finance Minister Aso Taro, if the global standard of corporate behavior be one of hakko ichi-u, where the strongest corporations play the role of leaders and protectors and providers in their countries? She then read out the passage, paraphased in the blog post above, from Shimizu Kentaro's Kenkoku (1938).

Aso Taro is not a man necessary familiar with the thought of economic and social writers of the pre-war era. He knows when to steer clear of the land mines of public discourse, though.

The phrase hakko ichi-u is one of those landmines. While the text at the top of this post exhibits an admirable desire for a post-imperialist world of the strong defending the weak (a world which we live in now, more or less) the final two sentences of the passage foreshadow the interpretation of the phrase favored by pre-1945 Japanese leaders and intellectuals. For those running and leading in Japan in 1938, hakko ichi-u was the justification for the presence of Japanese soldiers and colonists in Korea, Manchuria, China and the South Pacific. Japan was not invading or occupying these non-Japanese territories of East Asia. It was protecting them, in the stern and possessive way a father protects members of his family, from the invading forces of the western imperialists. (Link - J)

Since 1945, the phrase hakko ichi-u has been toxic and explosive. How explosive? The U.S. Occupation directive ordering the dismantlement of State Shinto has a specific ban on the use in public documents of two phrases. One is of those phrases is Daito'a senso - "the Great East Asia War." The other is hakko ichi-u. (Link - J)

For an equivalent event, think of the response if a member of the Christian Democratic Union were to ask the Labor Minister, in a live televised Bundesrat session, about modification in Germany's apprenticeship programs, with this:

"You know, we used to have a phrase in this country 'Arbeit Macht Frei' that really expresses the liberating feeling of being involved in gainful employment. Mr. Minister, what do you think of this idea as a model for our contemporary era?"

To Mihara Junko's blithe resurrection of a forbidden and fraught phrase, the normally loquacious Aso Taro could only offer a spluttering, shuddering response:
Well, uh, there were only two of use here (gesture) born before the end of World War II. Uuhhhh. There isn't anyone else here I think. Uh, there is standing in Miyazaki Prefecture a so-called Hakko Ichi-u tower. Noone from Miyazaki Prefecture here? (gesture). There is a hakko ichi-u tower, isn't there? You don't know yes or no? Well, uh, oh, Fukushima-san [former leader of the Socialist Party Fukushima Mizuho - Ed.] you know about it? I have no connection to Miyazaki Prefecture but uh hakko ichi-u is that kind of thing, you know.

You see they brought all these stones from every prefecture of Japan, piled them all up and called it hakko ichi-u, and it is in Miyazaki Prefecture, I think...and it appears in pre-1945 songs, like in Ike, hakko to ie nashi and such...there are lots of such songs. Anyway, that there was this kind of thing where, well it was one kind of mainstream thought, I think.

As for myself, well, you know...hmm, how to say this...because this was in a world of more than 1500 years ago, where if one is going to say anything, what we call the country of Japan today, that country, when saying the same word is the same place, for any place other than Japan of these emperors of the unbroken line back to the beginning of time, it's not applicable. Other than Japan there is probably not a country that exists now that existed before the 10th century when Denmark appeared, or thereabouts... where in the 5th century the Nihon Shoki existed as a document written in a foreign language and the Kojiki existed as a document written in the Japanese language, a well established nation state...well there aren't any. That the country has continued to exist in this form, uninterrupted is perhaps what this Mr. Shimizu was trying to say in his writing.

That a person of Mihara-sensei's generation would have this is as a way of thinking, is frankly astonishing to me. (2)

Aso then strode away from the dais, quickly.

The monument to which Minister Aso referred does exist. It is, as he surmised, in Miyazaki Prefecture. It was built in 1939 for the 2,600th anniversary celebration of the accession of the Emperor Jimmu, a 1940 event remembered by few now living. A few years back Kenneth Ruoff of Arizona revisited the all-encompassing commemoration in his Imperial Japan at Its Zenith (2010).

And as you can see in the top photograph and on the website for the park, the incongruously named Heiwadai Koen ("Peace Plateau Park" - Link - J), the monument is a stunning, sinister, Brutalist Angkor Wattish stone tower, with the phrase prominently displayed on the front.

Gotta go there someday. Really.

Here, by way of reference, is the Asahi Shimbun's English language version of the story (Link). I disagree with their characterization of Aso's response. In the archived video on House of Councillors Television (Link - J), Aso looks absolutely furious about being questioned on hakko ichi-u.

Later - Many thanks to reader MK for the link to the Heiwadai Koen website.

Later still - Thanks to reader JK for pointing out that Ken Ruoff is at Portland State. (Link)





Mihara Junko blog post "Hakko ichi-u to wa." Retrieved at


もうここで戦前生まれの方というのは、2人くらいですかね、あの、他におられないと思いますけど、これは、今でも宮崎県に行かれると八紘一宇の塔というのが立っております。宮崎県の人、いない? 八紘一宇の塔あるだろ? 知ってるかどうか知らないけど。ねえ、福島(みずほ)さんでも知っている。宮崎県関係ないけど、八紘一宇っていうのは、そういうものだったんですよ。




Huffington Post, "'Hakko ichi-u' to wa nani ka? Mihara Junko giin ga hatsugen shita kotoba wa GHQ ga kinshi shite ita." Retrieved at


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I noticed a headline about this in the Asahi (J) but did not know the background, which you have clearly explained.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Glad you recommended watching the video; she finally ends at 6:42:50, and Aso has to jump in immediately.

Marcus said...

Ha. I was there in Miyazaki a few years ago (my only visit to Kyuushu) and I had no idea what I was looking at. I enjoyed the funny figures in the forest more than the tower though.

Anonymous said...

I thought that tower was in North Korea from the looks of it...

As for Aso-san, I'm glad he's now trying to avoid landmines in public discourse, as I thought he was keen on laying them himself (even if unintentionally).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the vid link! How very kind of Ms. Miyazaki to come prepared with info papers on hakko-ichiu for her colleagues. I probably would have reacted like the good MP behind her who appears to have preferred spending his time reading the newspaper.

Site note: I'm impressed by the Diet's video archives that allow you to go directly to a speaker in any given video segment. More countries should have such user-friendly archives.

MTC said...

Mr. Cathcart -

She does allow others to speak...but not to answer. She is delivering a soliloquy, stopping only to ask her respondents to read from their bureaucrat-drafted fact sheets or to make a minister confirm what she already knows.

It is a performance without any interplay or even a sense of interplay.

Marcus -

Perhaps you should your snapshots to the web. The place is likely to become famous now.

Anonymous #3 -

It is said that Imperial Japan taught the North Koreans under its rule everything they needed to know.

However, the presence of trees makes it clear the photo is not from North Korea.

Anonymous #4 -

Yes, the archiving and accessibility of Diet session videos is superior to what is available from most countries. More folks need to use them in their work.

Aryeh said...

Unbelievable that the author spends the first 2/3 of the article attempting to demean a survivor of cancer and one that exemplified a strong independent woman in a society that it is extremely difficult to do so. Disgusting!

You politically are obviously opposed to her viewpoints, and have a revisionist mindset in attempting to contextualize the issue with a number of anachronisms involved, but to attempt this ad hominem attack on a successful self made women is truly misogynistic.

And finally, the attempt to say that today we live under what the Hakko Ichiu described is a false, economic justice is far from a reality, and its only getting worse. Predatory Capitalism is rife in Western nations, that espouse a liberal democratic ideal as well as the so called Democratic Socialist states. Real economic justice is far from a reality. Hakka Ichiu is more akin to many economic and civil rights calls for justice in the disparity that prevails under the modern system. To compare it to Arbeit Macht Frei is both a false analogy and a subtle marker of Anti-Semitism on your part. To compare a genocidal racial regime to one that even in the excerpt you pointed out, calls for a system of social and economic equality is misguided at best, a horrid attempt to equate the Nazis with the Japanese at worst.

If anything can be compared it would be perhaps Marxist calls for a revolution of the proletariat, now known to cause violence and an excuse for those in power to usurp it at the expense of the lower class, but nevertheless believed by millions and when formulated believed in the best intention.

MTC said...

Aryeh -

Thank you for pointing out a clear flaw in my post, my dwelling on as the past of Mihara Junko. One of the primary goals of Shisaku posts is clarify that politicians are human beings with complex pasts affecting both their political beliefs and the public and media perceptions of their actions.

In the case of Mihara Junko the cardboard cutout view that one can glean from English language sources is "heroic cancer survivor with hard line views on history and security." Japanese voters know in addition that she has risen in the world by being both the object and the manipulator of male fantasy.

This was a first throw of the dice. It did not come up double-sixes.

Your defense of fascism and imperialism as overenthusiastic, non-Marxist means of pursuing economic justice is is beyond appalling.

As for the contention that my use of "Arbeit Macht Frei"' is a marker for subtle Anti-Semitism on my part, that is just insane.