What an interesting group you are. All l have to do is mention toilets and I am flooded with emails discussing the merits of the Japanese toilet. Well I am delighted that you were entertained, but now it is is time for something a little more serious
I felt I should address the elephant in the room. It is a large, dark, threatening elephant
When you are my age, and dear readers I hope you are not, it is impossible to tour Japan without remembering the atrocities the Japanese committed during World War II. However much I enjoy Japan and appreciate the Japanese and their culture, somewhere in the back of my mind there are flickering images reminding me of what these people are capable of. I try to forgive but, while I was born shortly after the war, there are those who were born during or before the war, who find it much harder to forgive. Their memories are more real. In fact I have heard from some who say those memories have so scarred them that they cannot visit Japan
That is the elephant in the room and it seems there is no simple way of persuading it to leave.
Remember Mr Hayasaki in Nagasaki who preaches forgiveness for America dropping the bomb? I have no way of knowing whether he is the exception or the rule, but when he preaches that peace is better than war he has a simple idea that we could all embrace. There is an entire generation today who know little of our inglorious past and we can only hope they will grow up heeding the advice of Mr Hayasaki.
During the American Occupation of Japan, the Americans drew up a new constitution for Japan and it is written in Article 9 of that constitution that Japan will renounce war and will never have a military force. And it must be said that the average Japanese person on the street has apparently embraced that Article.
But the average person on the street is not running the country
Japan now has the 8th largest military in the world. But the government claims this force is there solely to protect the country and it is not there for war. And if you believe that you might also be prepared to believe that the man responsible for this force, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a gentle peace loving middle of the road kinda guy. He is anything but, with ideals that lean far to the right.
Also far to the right is the Uyoku Dantai party which, although a minority, is becoming more vocal as it becomes more powerful. They are hostile towards China, Russia and Korea and try to justify Japan’s role in the Second World War, while denying that any war crimes were committed by the military. They are known for their vans and buses, usually black, that are decorated with the Imperial Seal, the flag of Japan and the military flag and are fitted with loudspeakers.
They drive around the cities blasting out propaganda, military music and the national anthem. We didn’t see them, but we certainly heard them. They are very loud and very intrusive. They get away with the propaganda because the Japanese Constitution allows for freedom of speech. There is however a strict noise ordinance which if enforced would be ample justification to shut them down. However the police are too frightened to enforce the law. A vocal right wing party is certainly not something that is limited to Japan but Japan maybe the only country where the party is supported by the mafia, and the mafia supports these propoganda vans. Hence they remain free to make as much noise as they want.
Japan has the largest, deadliest and wealthiest organised crime syndicate in the world. It is called Yakuza by everyone except the Yakuza. They call themselves Ninkyo Dantai, which means “chivalrous organisation” It is anything but. They make billions of dollars a year from blackmail, prostitution, illegal gambling and arms trafficking. They are known for their strict code of honour and feared for their extreme brutality
And they operate completely in the open. There are over 100,000 members and they have a large office building in the heart of Tokyo. They make no attempt to hide their identities. The bosses travel openly in flamboyant outfits that make them completely recognisable
They are famous for their tattoos which are unique to the Yakuza so that even without their flashy clothes they are still recognizable
They also have a charming custom of cutting off the end of their pinky finger as a form of apology to their bosses if they offend them. You would think a simple “I am sorry” would do – particularly as the missing finger part is one more feature that makes them recognisable as a member of the Yakuza. Plus it advertises that they did something so stupid they had to cut off their finger. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to advertise.
And in a strange twist of reality, the Yakuza are the reason there is so little petty crime in Japan. They don’t like petty crime as they think it gives organised crime a bad name! How is that for lateral thinking. But it does mean you can thank the world’s largest crime syndicate for making Japan such a safe place to visit!
The Japanese ethic of bowing to the will of the community and suppressing any form of individualism explains so much about them as a people, and perhaps lies behind the ability of so many to commit such horrific war crimes. Maybe it also explains the success of the Yakuza.
In discussing the elephant in the room I have painted a bleak picture of Japan, which was not my intention. And it is certainly not my intention to persuade you not to go there. Today, there are many countries in the West and East whose tourism is not affected by their equally frightening politics.
And Japan is seeing the seeds of a new movement taking hold of the younger generation. There are now those who do not want to conform. They do not want to be the salary men of the next generation. They feel comfortable expressing their individuality by dyeing their hair and wearing fashionable clothes. They want to look different and express their own ideas. They are a small but visible group of whom the elders do not approve. The elders refer to them in Japanese as “a new gene of human beings”. They say that as if it is a bad thing, but perhaps a new gene is just what Japan needs
And Japan is very fortunate because while this new gene of human beings is rebelling it is also embracing traditional Japanese history and culture. There is a trend among them to wear kimonos and traditional dress, especially when visiting the old temples, which they love to do. We saw this in almost every town we visited:
So, as is always the case, with the young there is hope. And as long as there is hope Japan will remain a fascinating country. There is so much beauty and so much culture to enjoy.
We will return.